The thing I like best about the World Science Fiction Convention (aka Worldcon) is that it gives me a reason to travel to places I probably wouldn’t choose on my own. In 2007, the honor (or sentence, depending on how the individual interprets it) of hosting it was awarded to the Montréal bidding committee, who held it August 6–10, 2009. With several members of the Torcon 3 convention committee on the bidcom, I knew some people hated the idea of the Canadian team doing it. However, I recognized half the names as my colleagues from ConAdian, which was one of the best Worldcons I ever attended and worked on. In spite of how poorly some things were done, Anticipation was a trip I found worthwhile. Not only was I joined by several friends from home, but also those I’m only in touch with from afar. Worldcon is about the only time I see many of my contacts face-to-face. Overall, Anticipation was a mixed bag of quality. I’d give it three out of five stars because of its inconsistency. Following describe my experiences at this year’s Worldcon.
The Palais des Congrès was the convention center used for most of Anticipation’s programming and was an interesting venue in itself. At one corner was an entrance to Montréal’s Metro system. The first floor was used as commercial space year round. It had many restaurants and shops that not only convention goers took advantage of, but many of the locals did too. Anticipation took place on the second and fifth levels and that building was huge. Anyone going to back-to-back panels would have been challenged if he had to take a long walk from one end of the building to another. It also remained open for late programming, which was refreshing. Most evening Worldcon programming usually moves over to its party hotel because the convention center charges way too much stay open.
The Delta was the party/light programming hotel. The con suite and a party or two were on the 5th floor and the rest of the open parties were on the 28th. The writers workshop was scheduled in some of its function rooms. Its bar was poorly set up for informal groups, so most of the writers went to the Intercontinental to hang out. Unfortunately, I looked for a lower rate and chose Hôtel La Tour Centre-ville, which turned out to be purgatory at Anticipation. (Anyone interested in more details about that can click on the link for my review on Epinions.) I was really disappointed in the concom for selecting La Tour as a part of its room block.
After the long lines at Denvention 3, Lea Farr did an excellent job organizing at-con registration. There was no separation of members by last name. Everyone entered the same snake line. At the table, members provided their name and ID and were promptly given their badges and publications.
I personally had problems because I missed upgrading my supporting membership before the final deadline. Hoping to save a little money, I bought a second-hand membership only to find that the member who sold it to me provided the wrong details. Staffer Elayne Pelz (who, by the way, is one of the most efficient administrators in fandom) dealt with the problem fairly and competently. I learned my lesson. I made a point of upgrading my Aussiecon 4 membership before I left Anticipation.
This had to rate as the poorest Worldcon hucksters’ room I’ve seen to date. Most of the vendors there were publishers promoting their books or magazines. Not that it was a Bad Thing, but the variety of merchandise was so limited. There was only one jeweler, some books, plenty of T-shirts, and some media-related toys. For anyone looking for a prized collector’s item, it was unlikely they found it there.
This really came as no surprise. After the holdups so many vendors had going through Canadian customs documenting every single piece of merchandise for Torcon 3, American dealers didn’t want to face it again. I know that’s why Cargo Cult Books and Springtime Creations declined to vend this year. Talking to a couple of artists at Denvention 3, they said they had been pulled aside by Canadian customs, too. They told me that even though the transporting was more expensive, it was so much easier to go through customs in the UK or Australia. That might explain why American dealers gave it a miss, but there must be more Canadian dealers than were there. What happened to them? If I go to a Canadian convention, I’d prefer to purchase items that are uncommon in the U.S.
For anyone who finds the dealers’ room important, I can imagine this will affect any Canadian bids in the future.
Although there was some good stuff in the art show, very little of it really stood out to me. The only pieces I particularly remember was a cute series of portraits copying those of Henry VIII and his six wives, except replacing their faces with those of mice. Since I have a Tudor fantasy novel in progress, those would command my interest. Hugo Nominee Artist Alan Beck had chosen one of the portraits wrong, though. The one that was long believed to be that of Henry’s fifth wife, Katherine Howard, has been correctly identified as that of the sister of either Jane Seymour or Catherine Parr. Anyone who carefully looks at the original portrait will see that the woman appears to be in her 30s. Katherine was around 20 when she was executed. Another portrait has since turned up that is believed to be her.
Off-site excursion: ghost walk of Old Montréal
One of my favorite things to do when I travel is take the local ghost walking tour. I found one in Montréal, but the English language tour regularly took place on Wednesdays and Saturdays. I was traveling on both Wednesdays of my trip. I know I would enjoy the ghost walk more than the masquerade, but also hated the idea of losing the option to see the costumes. (As it turned out, I was too tired to attend, thanks to my problems at La Tour.) Putting on a group tour, I could arrange with the operator any day I wanted and I was confident it was genre other members of Anticipation would enjoy. Unofficially, I put together one at Denvention 3 and decided to do it again for Anticipation, but this time I pursued it a little more aggressively since any shortfall would come out of my pocket. René Walling, Anticipation co-chairman, graciously allowed me to post an announcement under the tours section of the official website. The webmaster, Mike McMillan, was even kind enough to modify the map I sent him to include Anticipation landmarks. Advance ticket sales did pretty good. I needed to sell 20 to cover my ass, and 41 members made reservations. We would need two guides to see after us properly.
Paying in advance insured that the people who said they would be there showed up at our meeting point, the Place d’Armes, which was a couple of blocks away from either the Palais des Congrès or Embassy Suites. Three more people dropped by at the last minute. While we were clustered together, two fellows in goth garb suddenly appeared.
Five never checked in with me, so I hoped that meant they tagged along with the other guide. Our guide, Donovan, was absolutely delightful. We walked up Rue Notre-Dame hung a right at Rue Bonsecours and then right again at Rue Saint-Paul and ended our walk at Place Jacques-Cartier. We stopped at several spots along the way where Donovan told us some of the local history and ghost folklore of that particular location. He was pleasantly dramatic and constantly teasing our group, particularly a six-year-old girl who came with her parents. Many stories would end with “I’ll bet Spock couldn’t come up with logical explanation for that!” Everyone seemed quite delighted with the excursion.
The following day I found a message on the voodoo board from one of the missing five. They thought we were meeting at Places des Artes.
OMG. This has to be one of the most visible departments of any convention and its organization at Anticipation was probably the worst. Terry Fong, who was the programming division manager for Torcon 3, was given a second chance to do it again for Worldcon 67. The only improvement over Torcon 3 was the lack of personal yet public internal bickering going on amongst the committee. I heard the acronym SNAFU (Situation Normal—All Fonged Up) over the weekend and again after returning home.
The biggest bone of contention was the schedule changes. Granted, no matter what the size of a convention, there are going to be last-minute changes. One never knows when a program participant is going to have an emergency and sometimes a conflict is overlooked. The grid that was initially released as a pocket program was more likely inaccurate than correct. We were told that the pink sheets were latest and greatest, but then they were inconsistent themselves. It was so hard to plan my time when half the stuff I wanted to do was incorrectly documented. As a matter of fact, I was scheduled for an item in kids programming and had asked to be removed. I never saw that correction announced anywhere. I even went to prog ops for some definitive answers but the staff there knew no more than I did.
A great deal of praise should go to Farah Mendlesohn for pulling together a fantastic schedule of panels. I enjoyed the couple I attended and thought she did fantastic job moderating the “Handicapping the Hugos (Part 1)” panel. I heard several people rave about the quality of the topics and the people who were scheduled on them. I’m at a loss as to why the announced times became such a mess.
Once again, my biggest grievance was about the hosed-up schedule. I weighed down my luggage by bringing five books I wanted signed by attending authors and only managed to acquire two autographs. The schedule kept rearranging and I could never find a clear answer as to when I could find one author, John Robert Columbo, at the table. John Scalzi was rescheduled opposite the writers workshop section I was moderating. The only option I had was to stalk these guys at panels, but I grew weary with all of the running around I was having to do.
After spending about 15 years of my life to promote critique groups at science fiction conventions, I gave up fighting for them when one former Worldcon chairman told me that SMOFs thought they were a trivial issue. With Oz Drummond taking over the reigns, I was relieved to see it back at Worldcon this year. I further appreciated Farah’s zealousness in protecting the writers workshop sections, which had not been seen at four out of the last five Worldcons.
Oz did it a little differently than mine, but the only real complaint I have was that manuscripts were distributed less than two weeks before the convention. I would have liked more time to properly prepare my critiques before I left home, but I work full time and had to finalize my travel arrangements, among other things on my plate during that time.
The pros in my section were Steve Miller and Laurel Anne Hill. The entrants in my section accepted their criticism in a mature manner, but I had to remind them to keep quiet while in the hot seat. Another friend of mine, Joe Rhett, who was an entrant in another section, said he found the advice he received invaluable.
Too bad SMOFs fail to appreciate that.
Once again I was snared by the rearrangement of the schedule. This year WSFS members were dealing with the very contentious issue of the “Locus Award.” Out of the last 25 Hugo awards given in the semi-prozine category, 21 of them were given to Locus. At Devention 3, a proposal was made to eliminate the category from the Hugo lineup.
I had mixed feelings about the award. It is a legitimate category, but there’s something unsettling when the community keeps giving it to the same publication almost every year. Some film directors keep being nominated for the Oscar year after year, but the Academy rarely honors the same nominee more than two years in a row. The problem is obviously with the Hugo voters. While I grant Locus provides a valuable service to the science fiction industry, it has its weaknesses too. My guess is it kept winning because voters were too lazy to take a look at the other nominees in the category.
This year John Scalzi, who himself was nominated in three categories, made a concentrated effort to collect as much of the Hugo-nominated material as possible and distribute it to every member of Anticipation so they could better consider their choices.
Before Kevin Standlee hopped on his train to Montréal, he told me the WSFS administrators planned to have the deciding vote on the fate of the semi-prozine category on Sunday. I was sorry to see that vote was arranged before the Hugo ceremony, since the results could have some influence over how I would vote. Once again I was thwarted because I never learned the scheduled was changed yet again to have the vote on Saturday and I was never able to exercise my right to vote. That stinks.
What I liked least about the venue for the Hugo ceremony was that all of the seating was on one flat floor. The stadium style auditorium at Denvention 3 saved me from having to worry about someone tall sitting right in front of me and obstructing my view. While this year’s base was beautiful, the ceremony seemed more utilitarian than others I’ve attended in the past. I missed seeing Connie Willis and Bob Silverberg amongst the presenters.
Since Neil Gaiman was guest of honor, it was no big surprise when he was given the award for best novel for The Graveyard Book. He’s such a popular author, he probably would have won it regardless. The big upset was seeing the semi-prozine award go to Weird Tales. After that, I was happy to see the category stay. Perhaps that Hugo nominee package was what the voters have been needing for a long time now and I understand every effort is going to made to continue this practice in the future.
Diane Lacey, who overlapped her duties in the Hugo awards department with taking over hospitality, was certainly a busy woman during this convention. Her whiz of a staff did a fantastic job of hosting Anticipation members in a friendly atmosphere. For those who were busy throughout the day, the fifth floor of the Delta was a great place to make a pit stop, grab a little something to eat, and socialize with other members. In my case, the hot spaghetti that was served Sunday night was a savior, since I had no appetite before the Hugo ceremony and was hungry afterward. The evening parties at Worldcons rarely rev up before 8 p.m., so the con suite provided a pleasant, laid-back gathering place during the day.
Every night I like to spend an hour cruising the open parties. They were held on the top floor of the Delta and those suites were so impressive. Some were split level, but all of them had spectacular views, especially since we had a couple of nights with a full moon. I would go back to Montréal just to spend a couple of nights in one of those suites.
There were the usual lot of bid parties and others to promote some regional conventions, including one in Scandanavia. A Texas group announced a bid for another Worldcon in San Antonio in 2013. They handed out some marvelous margaritas. Japan is throwing in their hat for another Worldcon in 2017. The Chicago bid for 2012 will be going to the polls next year. I wonder if the DNC will follow Worldcon again?
The bottom line
While there have been worse Worldcons in the past, Anticipation gave its fair share of angst. What I was happiest about was seeing the writers workshop come back. What made me the most miserable was the poor communication about schedule changes. Did the progcom reschedule John Robert Columbo’s signing at all? I never learned. No one could answer my questions. Montréal was a beautiful backdrop for Anticipation, but the disorganization of its schedule did affect my enjoyment of this year’s Worldcon. At least I was able to have my annual visit with friends I rarely see. My final assessment of it is neutral.
On the other hand, I’ll be attending my first World Fantasy Convention this year. Maybe that will help make up for it.