Loncon3: Five days in geek heaven
I’m starting to write this post with the intention to share some of the atmosphere and the joy I felt as one of the approximately 8 000 members of the world science fiction convention of 2014, Loncon3, which took place in London in the middle of August.
I know already that I will fail. How could I possibly give you an idea of what it was like? Should I begin with the symphony orchestra that played the Star Wars suite so well that the audience of several thousand science fiction fans refused to let go of them until they had played the Superman intro another time?
There are so many moments of wonder to choose between. I saw a real guy from NASA, how about that? And how about the science fiction fan from New Zealand, who clearly was “one of us”, but also had been working at Weta since the beginning of the Lord of the Rings movies. He had now advanced from making elf ears to doing digital special effects. He revealed that it takes a couple of weeks to make just a few seconds of fire breath from Smaug.
There were moments of darkness. I went to a panel about the usage of drones an was stunned by the testimonies we got there from former soldiers who had served in Iraq and shared what it’s like to kill people with the help of drones and why it’s problematic.
With up to 20 different events going on at the same time in parallel programme tracks, you could only see a fraction of what was going on at any given moment. My experience is completely different from the one of anyone else. There was a special program track for academics. People who like young adult fiction could spend their entire convention discussing only this. For film fans there were a number of movies and panels to choose between. Fans of literature, art, music, science, anime and games – everyone had plenty of content available just for them.
We’re really a diverse group of people when you think of it. And yet there’s something that keeps us together: the love for things that are imagined. Some of us prefer visions of the future that build on science and are fairly plausible, others are fans of fairy-tales for adults, scientific or not.
A safe spot
I would say that fandom is a place that is slightly more tolerant for differences than the ordinary world outside. It’s a safe spot for everyone, from my experience. I’ve been a science fiction fan since the middle of the 80s, an I’ve never been harassed or looked down upon because of my gender. There are other female fans who disagree on this, but nothing I’ve heard of has been anywhere near the level of misogyny that has been reported recently from the gaming community. I’m sure that even more can be done, but even as it is now, I dare say that the science fiction fandom has come a great deal further in terms of gender equality, diversity and inclusion than society in general.
Like all worldcons, Loncon3 was entirely run by volunteers – many hundreds of them – who do it for fun, not for profit. And this is what sets it apart from commercially run conventions. You don’t go to the convention as a customer and you’re not mostly a target for marketing from various movie and game franchises. While there is a small area where you can buy books, art and t-shirts from vendors, it’s not what the convention is about.
Whatever you pay to get inside (which honestly isn’t all that much considering what you get) isn’t an entrance fee. You’re buying a membership- As a member of the convention you’re there on the same terms as everyone else. Those who run it, those who participate in the programme, those who listen to panels and participate in discussions – we’re all there as equals. Your appearance at the convention may not cause the same queues as George R.R. Martin. But basically you’re just as responsible as he is for making it a great convention. We are science fiction fans having a great time together.
I’ve already mentioned a few of my top moments at my convention and here are some more highlights. Remember though: this is by no means the whole thing. It’s a sample of what I saw, which was a lot more than this. And all in all there were over 1 000 programme items.
Space on screen
A panel discussion about the different visions of life in space that are offered in movies with Elysium and Gravity as examples of extremes, where one goes for realism and the other one for political consciousness. The most interesting perspective was given my Chris Baker, who worked as a concept artist on Gravity, was surprisingly lukewarm towards the movie he’d been a part of making.
Time in the Novel
The science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson held an interesting talk, where he compared the narrative pace in works by various authors, with Virginia Woolf and Olaf Stapledon as examples of two extremes. One of them can let millions of years pass over a page, the other one can linger over a few seconds for pages. Robinson wrote off the prevalent “truth” that “show, not tell” always is better. It’s all more like music. There are different beats and you need to know when to use what. Something that is just as true in the case of movies.
Sherlock Holmes and science fiction
This was a lecture by the scholar Amy H Sturgis, who spoke about the many connections between science fiction and Sherlock Holmes. I already knew about Data’s inclination towards dressing up as SH at the holo deck in Star Trek TNG, but it turned out there’s a lot more to it.
Zombies Run! New Ways to Understanding Games
The writing team of my favourite game was there and since more or less the entire audience consisted of fans like me it turned into what I’d call a love party for the fans.
Audrey Niffenegger’s lecture on HG Wells
HG Wells was a president of the English PEN, and in the honour of him, the author of the bestseller The Time Traveler’s wife held a wonderful lecture about the power of imagination, inspired by one of his novels. It was said that this lecture will be available on the net at some point, though I haven’t been able to find it yet.
Furry Fandom: Not What You Think
This was one of the least attended events that I went to, but definitely one of the nicest. Members of the Furry Fandom described what it’s about and also made a demonstration of what a furry dress can look like. If you ever thought that it’s related to kinky stuff in the bedroom, I can assure you it’s not. Furry fandom is a place for highly creative and adorable people who are brave enough to not give a crap about what others think of them and while I doubt that I’ll ever be a part of them, I’m glad that they exist. I was a little shocked to hear though that their upcoming world convention will attract some 5 000 people. There might be a day when furry fandom is bigger than science fiction fandom, believe it or not.
Book covers: The Good the Bad and the Ugly
A panel of artists, art directors, editors and writers presented some of their favourite and no-so-favourite cover artwork. This was immensely fun to watch and also made me think about movie posters. I really would like to pay more attention to those than I do. There’s a great deal of work put into them. Some are great, others not. There are entire blogs that focus only on this and I have no ambition to become an expert, but I would like to give my opinion about it every now and then, from the perspective of a consumer.
The Hugo Awards Ceremony
To be completely honest, it wasn’t that much to be excited about. Award ceremonies rarely are to be honest. And the Hugo’s don’t even have the budget of the Oscars. Besides there had been some fuzz around the appointment of the hosts. The first one was swipped out because some people had found some of the humour things he’d done in the past offensive. We ended up with the authors Justina Robson and Geoff Ryman, who did their best to not be offensive to anyone. And that doesn’t make for good entertainment. Nevertheless I can’t deny that it was a little cool to be in the same room as some celebrities. The creators of the TV series Game of Thrones were there and received their award in person. Some Doctor Who actors were there too. They didn’t get any award, but fans could talk to them and get their pictures taken.
The Fan Village and the future worldcons
Finally I need to mention the fan village. While I spent a lot of time listening to various lectures and panels, I also spent some time hanging around with science fiction fans from all over the world, friends as well as new acquaintances. Every night there were parties with free booze thrown by different groups of fans who were aspiring to arrange a worldcon in the future. (We ran a Scandinavian one too, where fans were treated with Swedish vodka and candy). If I had been a little tad younger and a little more unwise I would no doubt had stayed up longer and become quite wasted. But I prioritized sleeping so I could get up in time to enjoy the programme items. Next time maybe, if the programme isn’t as awesome as it was in London.
Speaking of which: if you’ve been with me this long you may wonder about how to catch a worldcon in the future. When and where will you find it? Well, the next two are already decided: Spokane in 2015 and Kansas City in 2016. The following one will be chosen through an election next year. Helsinki in Finland is one of the candidates and I hope they’ll win, because that would mean that I’d attend for sure.
If should also mention that there will be a Nordic convention next year, Archipelacon, which is held at Åland, a group of islands situated in the sea between Sweden and Finland. Obviously it will not be anywhere near the size of a worldcon, but smaller conventions are nice in the way that you get a lot closer to the writers. You’re more likely to get the chance to meet them in person. The guests of honour are George R.R. Martin, Karin Tidbeck and Johanna Sinisalo. If you’re planning a holiday in Scandinavia and have a soft spot for science fiction and fantasy, this may be something for you.
There is one more little thing that I wanted to report about from Loncon3: I saw a lovely little science fiction movie from Sweden, LFO: The Movie, which you probably haven’t heard of since it only has been shown at film festivals until this point. But it deserves a blog post of its own.
For this time I’ll finish my report from the five days I spent in geek heaven. My only regret is that it was my first worldcon. I should have done this way earlier in my life.
Edit: A commenter pointed out that I didn’t talk in this post about the fanzine part of fandom. This is definitely an overlook from my side. I just didn’t spend a lot of time with that at this con, but it’s a topic that is very close to my heart. The making of fanzines is the origin of the fandom which I’m proud to be a part of. I wrote about it a few years ago at my former blog.