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August 2014 Trip: Loncon 3


Loncon 3 was my eighth World Science Fiction Convention, and by this time they are beginning to seem a bit familiar. A bit been-there-done-that. Of course this could have something to do with the fact that in my first 25 years of going to conventions, I made it to only three Worldcons, while in the past nine years I've been to five. Maybe I need to go less frequently if I want to maintain the thrill. Familiarity breeds contempt, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and 3/25ths is clearly greater than 5/9ths. Then again, my two absolute favorite Worldcons were 2005 and 2009, which were both part of the recent burst, but the fun of those two was the result of purely personal factors that really had little to do with the conventions themselves.

I guess part of what I'm trying to say up front here is that I anticipated that a London Worldcon would be something pretty special, because of the location in one of the world's great cities, and while from an objective or empirical viewpoint it *was* something pretty special (c.f. over ten thousand total members, which is the most ever for a Worldcon), my personal experience of it was comparable to, say, the Reno Worldcon in 2011, which was the last Worldcon I'd been to. I had a good time, but I really didn't have anything resembling desperate fun. Well, maybe I came pretty close to desperate fun a time or two. Let's see how the story unfolds.

One of the standard complaints about Worldcons is that they're so big it's hard to find your friends. I actually have pretty much the opposite problem: There are so many friends and acquaintances for me to talk to at a Worldcon that it's hard to find any down time, which is an important commodity for an old introvert like me. I actually have a similar problem at Corflus, where there are so many people I want to talk to that I feel like I'm on stage -- furiously tap-dancing -- the whole damn time, and it wears me out. At least at a Worldcon there are more places you can go to get away from the socializing when you need a break, and the Dealer's Room has often served that function for me in the past. This time, because I didn't want to haul a bunch of books back across the Atlantic (because I was hauling a bunch of beer back across the Atlantic), I spent more time in the Art Show and the rather fascinating Exhibits Hall. Interestingly I was much more likely to be spotted by friends in the Exhibits Hall than in the Art Show. I'm not sure what that says about my friends.

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Christina Lake, Lennart Uhlin, and Doug Bell are not at the Art Show

Not that I didn't have that experience, so common at Worldcons, of spotting a friend once and never seeing them again. However, sometimes those encounters were just as much fun as more extended or multiple interactions. I only saw Sue Mason long enough to get a hug, but it was the perfect hug! She was utterly radiant, and so was the hug. Likewise I only talked to Tony Keen for about five minutes, but that was long enough for him to give me his impression of Nine Worlds, which is a new convention in London that's seeking to address the younger generation's grievances against Eastercon and the old, white, male fannish establishment. (Are you looking at me? You must be looking at me.) If there was a subject that seemed to come up again and again over the long weekend, it was the clash of generations, and getting Tony's informed take (as a middle-aged, white, male participant in Nine Worlds) on this institutional expression of the clash was quite fascinating.

The old, white, male fannish establishment (aka Graham Charnock)

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TAFF delegate Curt Phillips reports for duty

I was going to say that Worldcons are like an enormous family reunion, but that characterization really gives short shrift to the way in which Worldcons are this fantastically complex aggregation of projects. I'm not talking about the enormous number of events bundled into the official program of Worldcon, which in itself represents a vast array of fannish and professional obsessions and endeavors as they have evolved and infused themselves into the Big Circus over the decades. After all, that's another thing people mean when they say the Worldcon is too big: It's too big for an individual to see and experience it all. But even above and beyond that, it's full of people who are doing something or working on something or being fascinated by something entirely outside the official scope of the convention. On some level it feels like there's this epic battle for attention going on amongst a numberless collection of fascinating, energetic people -- all of them with deep backstories and histories that interconnect in surprisingly powerful ways, possibly even with your own.

Over here are Roy Kettle, whom I only just met at the Portland Corflu last year, and Chris Evans, who surprisingly halfway remembers me from the 2003 Eastercon in Hinckley, where he was Fan Guest of Honor and was called up by Graham Charnock during the Astral Leauge Show to give an unforgettable reading of Pat Charnock's old Wrinkled Shrew piece, "The Descent of Women: Telling All about How They Came Down from the Trees". Roy and Chris have collaborated on a novel called Future Perfect. (You should read it.) It is, amongst other thing, a paranoid conspiracy thriller that's set in part at a Worldcon. It's also bloody big, as a physical object. After I buy a copy in order to have it autographed, I complain about the size.

"Sorry," says Roy, "we'll be happy to tear some pages out for you."

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Roy Kettle signs his bloody big book

And it's like that with practically everyone I talk to. Here's Dave Langford with the entire Encyclopedia of Science Fiction on a storage device the size of a finger nail. Well, maybe two finger nails, but still. It's like a metaphor for the Worldcon: the entire fannish universe condensed into a single space. Here's Pete Young, charming wife and beautiful child in tow, beaming with elation at the publication of two massive new issues of his fanzine, Big Sky, with reviews of every book published by Gollancz in the SF Masterworks series (including a review of Dick's Ubik by yours truly), and confiding that there has been interest expressed in maybe publishing this blockbuster effort as a book. Here's Rob Jackson proudly brandishing books with covers by a person -- or perhaps people -- who I believe are related to him. Here's John Coxon confessing to having joined the WSFS Mark Protection Committee.

"I'm going to protect Mark Plummer!" he exclaims.

Young John Coxon has joined the the Mark Protection Committee, for fuck's sake.

"I'm actually very old," Young John Coxon confesses, aging before our very eyes.

"With that hair, you actually look like Ben Yalow," I observe.

John is pleased. He wants to cosplay Ben Yalow now. "Does anybody have a bow tie I can wear?"

20140815_Mette Dalek
Mette Hedin shows her inner Dalek

Instead he dresses like Mike from the Young Ones, with España Sherriff as Neil, Mette Hedin as Vyvyan and someone whose name I missed playing Rick. But of course that was earlier in the chronology, but we have long since entered the temporal vortex. Where was I?

Ah yes, waiting in line for an hour and a half to register on Thursday. By the time I got to the registration desk, I was desperately thrusting my photo ID in front of me, as we'd been repeatedly told to do by staff herding us down the hallways.

"I don't need to see that," said Deb Geisler, with a sardonic grin.

Right. As I said, despite the huge hordes of people, you run into people you know everywhere. Thirty seconds later I had my badge. If you arrived at the convention three hours after that, there was no registration line, so that would've been a good idea. In the meantime, however, I'd had several pints of ale with Alun Harries, who was ghosting the convention but kept having to borrow my badge so he could go outside and smoke a cigarette. Except that was chronologically on Sunday.

20140814_Harries and Langford
Alun Harries and Dave Langford in the library

And so it went. Usually at a Worldcon I'm too discombobulated to go on any dinner outings, but I actually went out to dinner three out of my four nights at Loncon. One was a curry expedition to Brick Lane organized by Seattle's resident Briton, Dave O'Neill. As I was looking for Dave at the assigned time, I ran into Del Cotter who said, "Randy, we should go out for curry one night. Too bad Ron Drummond isn't here to join us as he was in Montreal." I agreed this was a fine idea, and went off to find Dave. When I did, I saw that Del had already joined him. "Well, yes, Del," I said, "looks like we should go out for curry tonight." I should have remembered that I first met Dave and Del arguing about space colonization in the bar at the 2003 Eastercon. Other members of the Brick Lane outing were Paul Cray, Dave's Seattle neighbor Bill, and a guy named Derek who wasn't attending the convention and joined us at the restaurant. The food was very good, and Bill and Derek are great bullshitters who kept the stories flowing. Three hours passed before anyone thought to inform me that we were in the neighborhood where Jack the Ripper committed his murders. There's no place like London, as Sweeney Todd sang.

Everybody knows David Hartwell, right?

My second dinner outing was with David Hartwell, his two youngest kids, and Rachel Holmen. It had been many a long year since I'd last had a meal with David, and I'm not sure I'd met the kids before. His young daughter is a total hoot and whip smart. On the way to the restaurant we spotted the Gollancz party roaring in the Aloft bar, and David said we should check it out. As minor as it was, this was one of the things that almost qualified as desperate fun, since it was spontaneous, chaotic, and a little crazy. Ooh, look, it's Geoff Ryman! However, I wasn't interested in schmoozing, so I took my complimentary margarita and sat down with Elizabeth. She immediately let me know, in a world weary sort of way, that she was used to people sucking up to her to try to impress David. I just bet she's met a few too many wannabe writers already in her young life, but these days I'm a wannabe amateur with no reason to try to impress David. So we compared badge ribbons. She had way more than I did, but I had one that John Coxon had given me -- Game Recognise Game -- that she didn't have and that nobody could understand. That's called having game, bro.

Eventually our little party retreated to a restaurant in a different hotel, since the one in the Aloft was booked an hour out, and soon I was getting an earful from David about the generational clash in fandom. I also got caught up on his separation from Catherine, and about his son Geoff's current gig playing western music (I think it was, not country, but maybe I got that backward) around Manhattan. Hard to imagine Geoff as a shit-kicker. When I asked David when he was going to retire, he referred me to his boss, Tom Doherty, still going strong at 79. David loves his job.

Another three hour meal, and a wonderful conversation with somebody I've known in fandom for at least three decades. As David said in the end, "Now *that* was a real Worldcon conversation."

The third dinner was organized by Lilian Edwards, who corralled me, Andy Hooper, Carrie Root, Christina Lake, and Dave Hicks into an outing to a very good Lebanese restaurant near the convention center and thus teeming with other fans. Conversation once again raged around the topic of the generational clash in fandom, although I confess that by this point on Sunday I was starting to lose steam and probably wasn't a very good contributor to this conversation or very good company in general. But it was nice to spend some quality time with Lilian, whom I'd otherwise only seen in passing and in text exchanges. The others I'd communed with more frequently, and I don't care what They say, spending time with close friends from your own city (i.e., Andy and Carrie) in a foreign land is a good thing to do, because it brings a sense of shared adventure to the friendship.

"I actually talked to España Sherriff and John Coxon for forty minutes last night," Andy told me, "and I almost felt relevant again."

20140815_Hooper Root Rowse
Andy Hooper, Carrie Root, and Yvonne Rowse looking familiar

I ended up not making it to any panels at all, although I tried to go to one on the SF Encyclopedia. When I stuck my head in the room, it was so packed with people I immediately felt claustrophobic. The only complaint I heard about the number of people at the convention was that the program rooms were often swamped, although I'd say that on Saturday you could tell that the Fan Village was more crowded than usual with all the Saturday-only members. In fact, one Saturday-only member introduced himself to me and said that this was his first science fiction convention. Wow. I told him that the tents in the fan villages were parties serving free alcohol, and I saw that he was still in the bar when it stopped serving at 2am, so I guess he found it all entertaining enough.

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The Village Green

The Fan Village worked extraordinarily well and avoided being "a bunch of tents in a hangar," which I think was the fear going in. During the day the tents were things like bid tables, and at night they were things like bid parties. There was a large "green" in the middle (astroturf) that was dedicated to children, and there did seem to be a large number of children at the convention, having an absolute blast in Fantasyland from what I observed. Huge kudos to the convention and to people like Cat Coast for making the thing kid-friendly. It was also interesting to see that the mysterious Beijing bid for 2016 did show up to promote themselves, and they were handing out the makings for a paper dragon. They all looked very young, and I hope that more socially adept folks than I were reaching out to them and making them feel welcome. There was actually a lot of interest in their bid, I think, even though nobody expected them to win this time. (Indeed, Kansas City won by a large margin.) By Sunday night their booth was abandoned, and a bunch of us, including Jim de Liscard and Meike Pingopark, occupied their table. Robert Newman was there gloating over the fact that Vox Day had lost to No Award in the Hugos. Having lost to No Award in the Hugos myself in the past, I found it harder to gloat.

What Vox Day didn't win

I spent a lot of time in the Art Show, which I thought had a lot of great stuff. Yes, it had a lot of crap, too, and fairly typical crap that represented adolescent sexual fantasies and twee cat and dragon combos. But there was quite a bit of professional art, as you would expect at a Worldcon, and even amongst the amateur work there were striking bits such as Dalek Descending a Staircase by EIRA, which both pastiched Duchamps' famous painting and incorporated a joke about a Dalek's design shortcomings when it comes to descending a staircase. The same artist did a cubist Dalek that I also found very appealing, although I'm not expert enough in cubism to know whether it was merely a funny gag or a well-executed example of the style. The 3D acrylic virus paintings by Steve Crisp, which incorporated huge mounds and smears of acrylic, were also impressive, and the artist came up to talk to me as I looked at his work. This is the first time that's ever happened to me in a convention art show, and then it happened again when I stopped to look at Christopher Gibbs' covers for varous SF Masterworks volumes, including Unquenchable Fire and The Difference Engine. His artwork has a surreal bent that I really like and that really stood out from the naturalistic styles of most of the artwork on view. Gibbs confessed that he's "a bit of a mercenary" and will do just about any kind of book cover he's asked to, so the SF work was just an offshoot for him. Judith Clute's paintings were also on the fine art end of the scale, and I really liked her "Punctuated Equilibrium," while Fangorn's paintings tended more toward the standard stfnal, but his sexy, moody, dreamy winged women really hit a sweet spot with me, as objectifying as they no doubt are. He won an award for some kind of best-in-show, so I guess my tastes are mainstream after all. For objectifying I don't think you could best Artist Guest of Honor Chris Foss' near pornographic photos of naked, wet girls pasted into stfnal settings.

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A memorial exhibit for Iain Banks

I also spent a lot of time in Exhibits. I'm not sure if I've just been oblivious to Exhibits at past Worldcons (an unfortunate likelihood) or whether Exhibits at Loncon 3 were exceptionally good, but I've certainly never seen anything quite like it. I spent time in that area all four days and kept seeing new stuff. There were several very moving exhibits related to Iain Banks, who was a Guest of Honor even in death. There was an oddball exhibit of material from the time that John Sladek, Tom Disch, and Pamela Zoline shared an apartment. (I'm really curious who put that particular exhibit one together.) There was the famous Tiptree Quilt, which was brought by Fan Guest of Honor Jeanne Gomoll and which I wasn't very impressed by at first sight, but once I started reading about the design and construction process found more and more fascinating. There were also the memorial benches, part of the tribute to Guest of Honor Megan Lindholm/Robin Hobb and her novel Wizard of the Pigeons. People were asked to sponsor the benches by paying for plaques that memorialized whomever you wanted, and I organized a sponsorship by the Seattle Vanguardians in memory of thirteen of our friends who have died over the years. The one frustration I had with the convention was that our plaques weren't put out until Sunday, because of an entirely understandable logistical problem. Still, when they were finally placed on one of the benches, I found myself sitting there nearly in tears, thinking of lost friends. Even before that I had been very moved by the other memorial plaques. A great idea, and another form of fannish time-binding.

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A horoscope for Tom Disch hand made by John Sladek

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The Tiptree Quilt

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The Wizard of the Pigeons

But the other thing at Loncon that almost approached desperate fun were the Abstrakt tastings. These were a private party organized by Claire Brialey and Jim de Liscard for the purpose of tasting all of BrewDog's limited edition releases put out under the Abstrakt label. As the website says, "They are designed to be aged, collected and savoured with an air of aristocratic nonchalance." Claire and Jim had between them collected all 16 Abstrkts so far, and they proposed that we work our way through all of them. This ended up taking two sessions, because of our aristocratic nonchalance. Other parties to these tastings were Tobes and someone I hadn't met before, Silas Potts, as well as Meike and Mark. Tom Becker joined us for the second tasting. The different beers, none of them less than 10% ABV and several considerably stronger, were almost all completely wonderful, and we topped it off the second night with a six-year-old bottle of Big Time Old Wooly Barleywine, which was the third bottle I hauled with me from Seattle. (See Croydon Interlude for the other two bottles.) What can I say? I love drinking great beer in great company, and those two tasting sessions were amongst the highlights of the convention for me. Many thanks to Claire and Jim for putting it together and contributing the beer.

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Silas Potts and Tobes prepare to drink excellent beer

Well, I'm just nattering on and on here, and I feel I should wrap it up. My own eyes glazed over long ago, so I'll be amazed if anybody has read this far, other than for ego-scanning. And I haven't even mentioned Brad Templeton's telepresence robot, which had to be one of the most stfnal things at Loncon. This robot was a platform on wheels with a gantry attached that held a screen (and no doubt a camera) at about eye level, or maybe a little lower. You could see Mr. Templeton's face in the screen, often joined by his wife. He could speak with people who spoke to him. I have no idea how signals were relayed, but you'd think there must have been a satellite delay involved. He must have been driving the thing from his home in Idaho, and yet I never saw it crash into anything or even look hesitant about where it was going. Really an impressive display of technology, and I regret not speaking to him to ask a few questions about how it worked. Probably if I googled it I could find some information. There were many jokes about how the future of conventions was telepresence robots, but there will have to be advances in teledildonics for this to become really popular, I suspect.

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Bill Bodden, Rob Jackson, Dave Hicks, Jim Mowatt, and Rob Hansen say, "Cheese!"

Okay, I'll try to leave it with this, although I cringe at all the people I haven't mentioned. At some point Johan Anglemark joined a circle of us that included Ulrika O'Brien. It turned out there was another Scandinavian fan there, the Danish fan Knud Larn, whom I'd never met before. Knud and Johan started talking about a large collection of fanzines that Johan was going to pass along to Knud. I asked Knud how he had become interested in fanzines, and he told me that when he was 15 he went to a convention and attended a speech by Bob Shaw. Shaw made some mention of fanzines and asked if anyone didn't know what he was talking about. Knud didn't know what he was talking about, but he didn't want his ignorance to interrupt the talk. Later, however, he approached Shaw in the bar and asked him about fanzines, and Shaw told him if he'd buy him a drink, he'd explain. So Knud bought him a drink (which wasn't easy as a 15-year-old), and Shaw told him about fanzines.

Speaking of fannish generations, this story already seems of a bygone era, doesn't it? But it's such a charming example of how the torch is passed that I find it irresistible. I hope that whatever clashes we're having about inclusiveness and the old white male establishment, torches are still being passed along somehow. Surely some of the young people traipsing around the Fan Village at Loncon are having their senses of wonder permanently warped by the exposure. Maybe they'll express their fannishness in some other venue -- a near future offshoot of Nine Worlds perhaps -- but I like to think that even those of us who are beginning to decay and stink up the joint would recognize a kindred imagination.

On that utopian note, let me also say that I hope to see you all at Sasquan in Spokane next year. I'll be in the Lost World Fanzine Lounge, pretending to be in charge while a crew of hard-bitten fanzine fans actually run the show. Stop by, why don't you, and think like a dinosaur for a while.

By Johan Anglemark
Your unreliable narrator (photo by Johan Anglemark)


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 7th, 2014 06:40 pm (UTC)
Well, I avidly read all the way through and there was no chance of egoscanning, so there you go.

I think younger fans are going into different venues like anime, cosplay, and comicons. Wiscon has a generation gap, but it doesn't lack for younger participants (20s-30s).
Sep. 8th, 2014 03:04 pm (UTC)
What's interesting about the current generational clash is the political nature of much of it. There was probably some of that back in the '60 and '70s too.
Sep. 7th, 2014 09:08 pm (UTC)
Eira the artist is my oldest fannish friend, we were at art collage together in 1981.

And it was smashing to see you too, even if it wasn't for long enough.

Sep. 8th, 2014 03:05 pm (UTC)
I love it. Fandom really is a small world, isn't it? Or is it just that there are so few artists?
Sep. 8th, 2014 11:45 pm (UTC)
Well Eira is married to SMS whom Ian, I and ( inter alia) all the Glasgow lot have known since what early eighties?
Old fandom is a pretty small world in general i think :-) ( a generation clash advantage no less!)
Sep. 8th, 2014 08:01 am (UTC)
Great report! What would be really cool would be if there was some way you could print it out as a booklet with a nice layout.
Sep. 8th, 2014 03:05 pm (UTC)
Sounds expensive.
Sep. 8th, 2014 05:32 pm (UTC)
Ghod that final photo is heaving with angst. Or something.

I too enjoyed the dinner at the Lebanese place. Many, many dishes and I think we went a bit berserk with the starters (probably my fault we seemed to have about three pounds of whitebait). Sadly they only did Shawarma at lunchtime, thus killing my feeble joke about "I don't know what it is but I wanna try it".

On the generational gap thing - I've realised I don't care. The 'hard bitten' fanzine fans may be old these days but still dangerous and fun. In fact may I take this opportunity to claim for my own future satirical use: "REF! Retired: Extremely Fannish" With Helen Mirren as Lil, Catherine Z-T as Spike; Bruce Willis as Randy Byers; Morgan Freeman as Dr Jackson, John Malkovitch as Graham and a surprise cameo from a younger Alan Rickman as me.

Keep well.
Sep. 8th, 2014 05:38 pm (UTC)
Dude! Bruce Willis?! That's sooooooo sweet!
Sep. 8th, 2014 11:40 pm (UTC)
And Helen Mirren? man. In my dreams :-) ( and maybe even other peoples!)

THat meal and the room party after ( which Randy sadly didnt get to) were definitely the nearest I got to desperate fun at that con!!
Sep. 9th, 2014 01:20 am (UTC)
Sorry I didn't make it to your party, but I was really running out of energy on Sunday. I left the bar at 1am, an hour before it closed, causing Jim to accuse me of being a lightweight.
Sep. 8th, 2014 11:47 pm (UTC)
This mAkes me wonder if the big mistake I made was going to panels! All the reports but yours have majored on programme but sounded kinda worthy but dull. This one makes me wAnt to go back and do the con over again...
Sep. 9th, 2014 01:19 am (UTC)
The grass is always greener?
Dec. 13th, 2014 04:11 pm (UTC)
Finally got around to reading this, and it made me guffaw; great trip report! :D
Dec. 13th, 2014 05:28 pm (UTC)
I just read Claire's Loncon report in No Sin But Ignorance, and I thought she had some very funny jokes about you and Mark Protection too.
Dec. 13th, 2014 11:34 pm (UTC)
Hers was rather good :)
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )

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