A number of you have written me privately to say that you’re going to be attending Chicon 7 — the Worldcon — at the end of August. Many of you have never attended a Worldcon before, so I thought I’d post a little primer here for first-timers to help you find your way through all the intricacies. Worldcon can be a mystifying experience for the uninitiated, but once you learn your way around it — and hopefully this will help — it’s like nothing else in the world of science fiction. It’s been the highlight of my year since Carol and I started attending back in 1963, and I hope this will help make it the highlight of yours as well.
► PARTIES ◄
You’ve heard endless tales about the parties. Well, there are all kinds of parties — the single events, the pro events, the bid parties, the hospitality suites. You’ll get most of your info from various bulletin boards, and also from the twice-daily (and often thrice-daily) convention newsletter, which will made available in most public places.
Every group that’s bidding for a future Worldcon will have at least one party, most two, a few every night. These are “open” parties and will be posted/advertised all over the hotels and in the newsletters.
For this Worldcon, the bidders who will have open parties include:
● London in 2014.
● Orlando in 2015.
● Spokane in 2015.
● Kansas City in 2016.
● Japan in 2017.
● New Orleans in 2018.
A number of regional conventions will also have open parties to interest you in attending their upcoming cons. Almost any new con will also have an open suite to announce its existence.
The winners for next year usually have open suites: San Antonio in 2013 (and traditionally, next year’s winner also hosts the Hugo Losers Party).
And often the previous year’s host has an open “thank-you” party: Reno in 2011.
Then there will be open and semi-open Hospitality Suites. These will probably include:
● The Con Suite (hosted by Chicago).
● The CFG Suite (Cincinnati Fantasy Group) — semi-open; if they know you, you’ll get in.
● The N3F Suite (The National Fantasy Fan Federation Suite), for new fans. They have a suite every couple of years.
● The SFWA Suite (The Science Fiction Writers of America). You’ll need a SFWA member to get you in the first time. If you want to return, you can probably pick up a sticker for your badge that will get you in.
● The ASFA Suite (The American Science Fiction Artists). The pro artists’ hospitality suite.
There will be pro parties. They’re not exactly open, and not exactly closed. You’ll probably need a pro or a well-known fan to get you in, but once inside they won’t have to stay with you or vouch for you:
● Tor always has a big party, sometimes two.
● Baen always has a party.
● Avon often has a party.
● Bantam used to have parties, then substituted a dinner with all their writers. I don’t know their current plans/policies.
● DAW usually holds a small party. You’ll need to get a DAW author or freelance editor to accompany you.
● Del Rey and Ace/Roc rarely have parties, but check anyway, as you never know when they might change.
● Asimov’s and Analog will have a party, but it usually consists of renting out the SFWA suite and supplying food and booze one evening.
Many of the small presses and e-zines will have parties and there are more of them now than ever before.
Almost every special interest group except the Burroughs Bibliophiles, who were numerous enough to split off from Worldcon 30 years ago and hold their own conventions, will have a suite at Worldcon. There will be parties that specialize in Bad Book Fandom; in hearts tournaments (part of Southern Fandom); there are always a couple of big-money poker games; CFG usually sets aside tables for Wizards and mah jong, and so on.
First Fandom, a last-man organization consisting of anyone who can prove he was active in science fiction prior to 1938, will have a suite and a party (it gets smaller each year).
Any foreign group with enough attendees from home will throw a party. The English will, of course, since they’re hosting the 2014 Worldcon. The Japanese usually have one. So do the Australians. The Slovakians occasionally do. Ditto some of the other European fan groups.
There’ll be 15 or 20 rooms where fans have brought their favorite movies or TV shows, legitimate or (more likely) bootlegs, and will show them to anyone who wants to watch. This won’t be advertised, but just walk up and down the hotel corridors, and when you find an open door, take a peek in — it’s usually a small party or a group watching DVDs.
And of course, I’m barely scratching the surface. Despite the 15-track programming and the Hugos and the masquerade and the dealers room and the art show and everything else, 70% of a Worldcon (and almost all of the business) takes place from 9:00 PM at night until 4:00 AM or 5:00 AM in the morning, once you know your way around.
And how do you learn where these things will be? All the open ones will be posted everywhere — bulletin boards, elevators, program areas, any place they can tack a sign. As for the others, you ask. You find someone who has been around — a writer or a fan, or anyone else you know has been to a few Worldcons, and ask. If it’s a party you need a little help to get into, that’s what the writers you know are for. If there’s a writer, an editor, or a BNF (Big Name Fan) you want to meet, never be shy; pros are as approachable as fans. Most of us are just fans at heart, so never be reluctant about approaching a pro at any convention.
► STANDING EXHIBITS ◄
There will be a number of standing exhibits, open from 10:00 AM until 6:00 PM (or thereabouts). Two are huge, most aren’t; the two big ones are easy to find, while some of the others take some looking for:
● The Dealers’ Room, a/k/a the Hucksters’ Room. It used to sell only books and magazines, but these days it sells games, CDs, toys, clothes, jewelry, videos, anything associated with science fiction. Probably 40% of the dealers still sell books and magazines, which is a lot, since there will be about 300 tables and a number of booths. The big mass market publishers won’t have their own tables — you’ll buy their books through the new book dealers — but the small presses and magazines often have tables of their own (and if not, they’ll have shipped their titles to a new-book dealer.)
● Autograph sessions. They’ll be announced well in advance, and are usually held in or near the dealers’ room. But those are just the “official” Worldcon autograph sessions. Most of the popular writers will also be signing at dealers’ or publishers’ tables as well. This year, for example, I’ll do the official session, but I’ll also autograph at book dealer Larrry Smith’s table, publisher Arc Manor’s table, probably the Asimov’s and SFWA tables, and perhaps one or two others as well, maybe 5 or 6 hours in all, spread over 5 days. (And if you see a writer in the hallways, just walk up and ask for an autograph; that’s part of what they’re there for. You’re paying good money to attend, so don’t be shy about asking for anything at all.)
● The Art Show. Just about every major artist will display some of his paintings here, as will hundreds of minor artists. The hangings will all be in the middle of the room; sculptures and other 3-dimensional pieces will be on tables lining the walls. Almost everything will have a minimum-bid pricetag on it. The auction rules change from year to year, so ask how you bid at the entrance to the art show — but know that 90% of what you see will be sold on Sunday and Monday, and some of it sooner.
● Kaffeeklatsches. These are one-hour (and occasionally two-hour) periods where you sign up to meet with your favorite writer or artist. They serve coffee and sweets (gratis), and usually there are 12 to a table — the writer and 11 fans who want to talk to him, find out what he’s doing, what he has coming out, what he thinks of things. You can’t count on their availability, with me or any other writer, so as soon as the con opens, sign up for the kaffeeklatsches you want. It’s always first-signed first-seated.
● Fanzine room. There is always a room devoted to fanzines. Usually it’s a small, unpublicized room, difficult to find, but it’s worth the hunt, because it gives away dozens of fanzines. Not the perennial Hugo nominees like File 770 and Challenger, but more than enough to get you started.
● Fanhistorica room. This doesn’t occur every year, but it’s present more often than not, and will be a room devoted to the history of fandom — books, photos, artifacts, famous (and incredibly valuable) old fanzines, program books of Worldcons from 1939 up to the present, everything you’ll want to know about SF fandom from its origins in the 1930s to the present day.
● Fan lounge. Most Worldcons have a fan lounge, a practice that began in Boston in 1989. It’ll be somewhere near the dealers and lecture rooms, and you’ll find tables where you can plop down, relax, get soft drinks or coffee, read fanzines (which will be supplied), and meet other fans.
● Hugo exhibits. The location varies, but Worldcon always displays 30 or 40 old Hugos from different years. The gleaming silver rocket ship is always the same, but the base differs each year. It’s generally considered that the 1976 base (designed by Hugo winner Tim Kirk) and the 1991 base (taken from an Apollo launch platform) are the loveliest.
● Costume exhibit. This doesn’t occur at every Worldcon, but when it shows up, it’s stunning. It’ll be a display of the greatest masquerade costumes of the past 20 years, draped on mannequins. Check to see if they have it at Chicon 7 when you get there.
● Photo exhibit. Over the years SFWA’s former attorney, M. Christine Valada, who is also a photographer, has taken black-and-white portraits of just about every pro who attends Worldcon, and there is a standing display of them every year.
● Fan photo exhibit. Encouraged by Valada’s traveling photo show, fandom now has its own portrait exhibit.
There will doubtless be more exhibits, but these are the ones that tend to show up every year, or at least most years.
Some years there are “one-shot” exhibits as well; Chicon 7 will be recreating the Hubbard room from Agent Guest of Honor Jane Frank’s house, including several original pieces of art inspired by the writings of H. Rider Haggard by artists such as Eggleton, Maitz, Whelan, etc.
Anyway, hunt them all up. You do yourself a disservice if you travel all the way to Worldcon, pay all that money to become a member, pay even more to stay at the hotels, and then don’t take advantage of all the exhibits that your money is paying for.
► SPECIAL EVENTS ◄
Along with the regular programming, which we’ll get to shortly, every Worldcon has its share of special events.
Hugo Ceremonies. This is where the Toastmaster gets to shine (if he shines at all; some don’t). 16 Hugos will be presented in the pro and fan categories, but that’s not all. Dave Kyle, who has replaced the late Forrest J. Ackerman as the administrator, will present the Big Heart Award. The Japanese will present the Seiun (Japanese Hugo) for the Best Translated Novel and Short Fiction of the Year. Depending on what perks the Worldcon committee gives them, First Fandom may present the First Fandom Hall of Fame Award — but more likely they’ll do it at a regional convention, as they’ve been doing the past few years. There will be photo ops for everybody, and you can probably watch the Hugos and the Masquerade in your room on closed-circuit television. I would imagine that at least the Hugos will be streamed out over the internet on the Chicon 7 web page as well.
The Masquerade: This is the biggest draw of the Worldcon, though it’s a mere shadow of its former self. All during the 1970s and early 1980s the Worldcon masquerade used to draw well over 100 costumes and take at least four or five hours, often longer. Now, thanks to Costume Con and the proliferation of minor costume conventions, the masquerade barely draws half its former numbers…but it’s still a fun event to go to. And if you’re an author, nothing gives you a bigger kick than watching a fan who spent months of effort creating a costume based on one of more of your characters.
Opening Ceremonies: The Toastmaster introduces the Pro and Fan Guests of Honor. You’ll be told where to find everything, and then sent off to do just that.
Bitch Session: Always held on closing day (Labor Day), it’s exactly what it claims to be. The Convention Committee listens to everyone’s complaints, answers those that they can, apologizes for those that they can’t — and hopefully future Worldcons will learn from their mistakes.
Closing Ceremonies: I’ve never been to one. (I even boycotted the one where I was Toastmaster). So I can’t say what goes on. Nothing too important, I should imagine.
Pro Guest of Honor Speech(es): There used to be just one Pro GOH, and 90% of the time it was a writer. These days there’s always a Writer GOH, usually an Editor GOH, always an Artist GOH, amd occasionally a Publisher GOH, and each will have an opportunity to make a speech. Check the schedule; some are at awkward times, as not every one of the Guests of Honor is a big draw.
Fan Guest of Honor speech. There’s always a Fan Guest of Honor, the GOH always gives a speech, and since Worldcon is put on by and for fans, this honor carries a little more weight than you might think.
Hugo-nominated movies: These will play free of charge, at least once, before the Hugos.
There may be other special events. In fact, I know that Chicon 7 has rented out the world-famous Adler Planetarium for its members on Thursday night.
Anyway, check your program book to see what other special events there are. They can be as diverse as a miniature golf tournament (1991), a pro vs. fan basketball game (1986), a trivia contest (just about every year), the world premiere of a science fiction movie (A Boy and His Dog in 1974; Watership Down in 1978) or an advanced peek at a new TV show (Star Trek in 1966).
► PROGRAMMING ◄
OK, I’ve mentioned 15-track programming and the like, but until you encounter it, I don’t think any of you can truly realize the magnitude of Worldcon programming. I’ve got the pocket program from Chicon 6 in 2000 (which used to take 2 or 3 pages of a digest-sized Worldcon program book back when I started going, and these days is a separate publication, as thick as a paperback
Let’s take a typical hour. Not even a weekend. Let’s say Friday. Maybe 4:00 PM, late afternoon, when some people are taking naps to prepare for the parties, others are sneaking out for early dinners, and things are going about as slowly as they ever go at a Worldcon. Let’s see what programming was going on then.
Now remember: all the standing exhibits — the dealers’ room, the art show, the fanzine room, the fan lounge, the Fanhistorica room, the Hugo displays, any other special exhibits — are all up and running. In addition to that:
● Grand Ballroom A: IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE. The NASA Space Product Development Program.
● Grand Ballroom B: CRITICS’ VIEW OF THE RECENT CROP OF SCIENCE FICTION MOVIES. Panel with Bob Blackwood, Paul Barnett, Randy Dannenfelser, Matthew Springer, John Flynn.
● Grand Ballroom C-D: VOLCANOS AND ICE. The Last Days of the Gallileo Spacecraft, A Bill Higgens slide show.
● Regency A: MILITARY ISSUES. Elizabeth Moon, John Laprise, John T. Major, Charles Walther, Jim Groat.
● Regency B: THE JAMES TIPTREE AWARD AUCTION.
● Regency C: CREATION OF A PUBLISHING HOUSE. Jim Baen, Tom Doherty, Toni Weisskopf, Lois McMaster Bujold, Mark Shepherd.
● Gold Coast Room: 21ST CENTURY FANHISTORIANS. Joe Siclari, Filthy Pierre, Moshe Feder, Keith Stokes, Dick Smith.
● Buckingham Room: SHOULD THE VOTE BE EARNED, A LA STARSHIP TROOPERS? Audience panel.
● Picasso Room: 50′S-70′S VINTAGE. Using clothes from the 1950′s through the 1970′s for costuming.
● Columbian Room: ANCIENT AND MEDIEVAL ECONOMIC SYSTEMS (AND HOW TO USE THEM IN YOUR WORK.) Greg Costikyan, John Fast, Mike Moscoe, S. M. Stirling.
● Haymarket Room: HOW TO MAKE A MILLION DOLLARS PUBLISHING A FANZINE. Charles Brown, Ed Bryant, Gary K. Wolfe, Mark R. Kelly.
● Addams Room: IS THE SCIENCE FICTION BOOK CLUB STILL NECESSARY IN A WORLD OF ONLINE BOOKSELLERS? Steve Miller, Andrew Wheeler, Alice Bentley, Therese Littleton.
● Fishbowl Room: BOOK TO COSTUME TO PAINT. Bob Eggtleton, Joy Day.
● State Room: LITTLE ANSWERS TO BIG PROBLEMS. Wil McCarthy, Larry Ahearn, John G. Cramer, Howard Davidson
● Regent Room: ASFA AND THE CHESLEYS. Panelists discuss the art awards. Teresa Patterson, Mel White, etc.
● Crystal Room: PRESENTATION OF THE PROMETHEUS AWARDS.
Ambassador Room: THE FUTURE OF THE HUMAN FORM. Lee Martindale, Edwin Strickland, etc.
● Embassy Room: COMICS UNDERGROUND. Len Wein, etc.
● Childrens’: CHILDRENS’ BELLY DANCING
● Childrens’: CHILDRENS’ LIVE ACTION ROLE PLAYING
● Childrens’: LAND BEFORE TIME WORKSHOP. Hal Clement.
● Kaffeeklatsch: Kevin J. Anderson.
● Kaffeeklatsch: Linda Dunn.
● Kaffeeklatsch: April Lee.
● Reading: M. Shayne Bell.
● Reading:: Carol Berg.
● Reading: Mary Marshall.
● Reading: Sue Blom.
● Tour of Fan History Exhibit: Mike Resnick.
● Autographing: Nancy Kress.
● Autographing: Jerry Oltion.
● Autographing: Karen Haber.
● Autographing: Edward Rosick.
● Autographing: Orson Scott Card.
● And of course the round-the-clock movies were proceeding on schedule.
…ALL THIS AT 4:00 PM!
I could pick any other hour of daytime programming and it would be just as crowded, but I’m tired of copying from the pocket program so you’ll have to take my word for it.
So understand on the front end: when you arrive at Worldcon, there will be programs on writing SF, on selling SF, on criticizing SF; on hard science, on soft science, on fantasy, and on horror; on science itself; on research; on academia; on movies; on costuming; on fandom and its history; on fanzines; on art; on futurology; on editing; on publishing; and there will also be a couple of tracks for children. Constantly. Every hour on the hour. All at the same time. Starting at 9:00 AM or 10:00 AM every morning, continuing through 6:00 PM every night. And while the number of panels diminishes at that point, they do continue through midnight. Checking that same Friday at Chicon 6, there were 4 panels each at 10:00 PM and 11:00 PM, and 2 more at midnight.
Now, if Chicago is like its predecessors, it will publish the programming schedule a few weeks before the con on its web site. Download it and study it at home, mark those things that you feel you absolutely have to see, work out all your schedule conflicts . . . and you’ll save 4 hours of doing the same thing at the con, where you’ve got better things to do, friends to make and contacts
But I hope this one example will give you a notion of exactly what goes on, hour by hour, during the day at a Worldcon.
► WHAT TO BRING ◄
OK, so it’s your first Worldcon. What do you pack? What do you bring? What do you leave behind?
Clothing: There is no panel or party where you won’t be accepted wearing a t-shirt, shorts, and sandals . . . so what else you bring depends to a great extent on what makes you comfortable and where you plan to go when you leave the hotel.
If you’re dining out with editors, or simply plan to visit some upscale restaurants, bring along the appropriate clothes. If you plan to use the hotel’s pool, bring along a swimsuit. (The skinny-dipping days of the 1970s and 1980s Worldcons are long gone.)
If you’re a Hugo nominee, at least bring a suit, and a tux is not out of place (and if you’re a woman, dope out the comparable items to wear.)
If you’re entering the masquerade, make sure you pack your costume in a way that won’t break or otherwise harm it.
If you plan to participate in the Regency dance (yes, every Worldcon has a Regency dance, don’t ask me why), you might bring the appropriate Regency costume.
If you’re on any medication, bring enough to see you through the convention; it’s murder trying to fill a prescription in a strange city on a holiday weekend.
If you’re bringing your laptop, understand that most of the hotels will charge incredibly high connect rates, measured by the minute if not the second.
Bring any books you want autographed. This is your one chance all year to find 80% of the major authors in the field in one place, and they’re all there for your convenience. Ditto any magazines.
Bring any guide books you may have purchased. Why try committing them to memory?
If you’re into photo memories, bring your camera, or videocam, with enough film, tape, DVDs, batteries, and whatever else you need so that you won’t have to go out to purchase any.
Bring cash and/or credit cards. No one in a strange city wants to cash your checks.
Above all, bring the one item I never do without, the most important single item you can bring: a small blank notebook that fits easily into a pocket — or these days, a Blackberry or the equivalent.
Well, to begin with, you’ll write down the titles of all the books you’re looking for in the dealers’ room, as well as the dates of all the magazines, before leaving home, to make your searching a little easier.
You’ll want to write down the room numbers of all your friends — and that could come to a cool 100 numbers right there. Impossible to remember them all.
As you find out when and where the parties are, you’ll want to write down the times and room numbers of each. That’s dozens more numbers and times.
You’ll want to write down those events that you absolutely don’t want to miss. Still more times and places.
You might also write down the addresses and phone numbers of all the restaurants you want to visit (and, this being a holiday weekend, all the better ones, inside and outside the hotel, will require reservations.)
If you’re a hopeful writer, you’ll want to write down whatever it is you have sold, or promised to send, to which editor. Even if you’re not, it helps to write down anything you promise to send/sell/trade with other fans.
If you’re trading addresses, either street or e-mail, with new friends, you’ll want to write them down.
So be sure you bring that notebook. You’ll fill it up soon enough.
► SAVING AND SPENDING MONEY ◄
Worldcon isn’t cheap. There are a few ways — not many, but a few — to save money. To wit:
● Car pool to get there. With gas prices going through the roof, and airfares ditto, the cheapest way to get to any Worldcon (at least, any Worldcon on this continent) is to car pool. You might also look into these dirt-cheap “super busses”.
● You’ll hear stories of fans sleeping ten and twelve to a room. They are not an exaggeration, but it seems a bit excessive to me. Still, Chicago has a pretty high room rate, and it certainly makes sense, if you’re traveling on a budget, to share a room.
● If you’re a writer and you’re dining with an editor, remember: the editor or publisher always pays for meals; the writer never does.
● If you see a second-hand book or magazine you want in the hucksters’ room and it’s too expensive for your budget, make an offer. Half the time you’ll find the huckster is willing to deal.
And now a couple of proper ways to spend money:
● The maid who makes up your room doesn’t work a 7-day week, so for the best service, and just to be fair, leave a dollar or two on your pillow every morning when you go out for the day, rather than leaving $10 US or $15 US in a lump at the end of the week.
● Most parties don’t want your money. But a few hospitality suites will have a bowl out with a note asking for donations. Put a couple of bucks in, or you may never be asked back.
● If there’s a bid you approve of, by all means buy a pre-supporting membership. If they win, you’ll probably get a rebate on your attending membership — and if you don’t buy one, and they lose, well, it’s people like you who stop them from having enough money to make a winning bid (which runs about $65,000 US these days — and sometimes more, if there’s competition). Remember: all bid committees consist of nothing but unpaid volunteers; they offer their time and effort, so someone else has to chip in the money.
Okay, now you know enough to step in and get your feet wet. I think you’ll decide, long before the convention’s over, that the water’s fine.