The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Loncon3: Five days in geek heaven

with 25 comments

LonconLogoI’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?

Or should I try to make you understand how cool it was to have a one hour long conversation with Adrian Hon? He’s one of the creators of the running app Zombies, Run! and also the author of A History of the Future in 100 objects, which is one of the most inspiring, thought-provoking and fun-to-read science fiction books I’ve encountered in years. He’s so interesting that you feel smarter just being around him.

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.


The audience. Photo: Sofia Karlsson

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.

The programme
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.

Hugo winners of 2014. Photo: Johan Anglemark

Hugo winners of 2014. Photo: Johan Anglemark

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.

Signing queue for the very popular George R.R. Martin. Photo: Johan Jönsson

Signing queue for the very popular George R.R. Martin. Photo: Johan Jönsson

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.

The Worldcon Philharmonic Orchestra. Photo: Johan Jönsson

The Worldcon Philharmonic Orchestra. Photo: Johan Jönsson

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 exhibition hall. Photo: Johan Anglemark

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.

Written by Jessica

August 31, 2014 at 10:35 pm

25 Responses

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  1. Everyone I know who was at Loncon tells me it was a really topnotch worldcon . . . thereby doubling my misery that I wasn’t able to go to it! I’m glad to hear you had such a good time.


    August 31, 2014 at 10:57 pm

    • It was. But it was really hard to let go of it. I lived in a weird post-convention mindset, like in a bubble, for days afterwards, unable to let go of it and accpet that it was over.


      August 31, 2014 at 11:06 pm

  2. Sounds awesome! I’ve never attended any type of sci-fi convention, though it’s on the list. It’s exciting to see that it’s coming to KC in 2016. That’s only four hours away!

    Dan Heaton

    September 1, 2014 at 4:15 pm

  3. Hear, hear! This one will be hard to match, I imagine. I leaned more towards the fantasy stuff and had a wonderful time listening to a very initiated discussion about the morality in killing orcs.


    September 1, 2014 at 5:18 pm

    • There was so much to do and see! I suppose there will always be something special about your first worldcon. Next time I go will surely be enjoyable, but it won’t come as surprise how good it is. My expectations are in the sky already.


      September 1, 2014 at 6:29 pm

  4. It was brilliant. I’m only sorry we never got to actually meet, maybe in Helsinki! My most memorable moment (aside from meeting Dave Langford who I always admired when he wrote the book reviews in White Dwarf) was the Girl Genius radio play — it was very very funny and the Foglios are great. And the pigeons 🙂


    September 1, 2014 at 7:38 pm

    • It was silly that we didn’t meet! But not all that surprising Even to cover basic bio needs was a struggle. I rarely got the chance to eat anything before 3 pm and then I just took a quick sandwich so I could get back to the programme asap… But next time! 🙂

      Perhaps I can tempt you with Archipelacon next summer?


      September 1, 2014 at 9:10 pm

    • Glad you enjoyed the radio play; it was a lot of fun to do and thanks to Phil for letting me be in it. –Othar Tryggvassen, Gentleman Adventurer! (or at least the guy who got to play him)

      Tom Galloway

      September 6, 2014 at 8:25 pm

    • Echoing what Tom Galloway said: I’m glad you enjoyed the play. I really enjoyed doing it. — Kevin “Deathwish DuPree” Standlee.


      September 6, 2014 at 9:20 pm

      • Now I feel terrible for missing this out. But again: you missed out 90 percent of the content of the convention, now matter all your efforts. Our requests for time-turners were in vain.


        September 6, 2014 at 9:29 pm

  5. Welcome to Worldcon and I hope you get to another one some day!

    Laurie Mann

    September 6, 2014 at 8:16 pm

    • Thank you! I’m certain there will be more Worldcons in the future!


      September 6, 2014 at 9:19 pm

  6. Glad you enjoyed the Worldcon. I had a great time at Loncon, too. One of the con-related highlights for me actually had a Swedish connection: A group of fans who were in London for the con bought a block of tickets to see the play based on Let the Right One In the day after the convention. My wife and I had loved the film, and the play really did it justice. I urge you to go see it if you get a chance.

    In any event, welcome to the family! I look forward to meeting you at a future convention. Look for me… I’m the fat, white, middle-aged American with a beard. (Doesn’t narrow it down much does it? Sorry…)

    John Pomeranz

    September 6, 2014 at 8:58 pm

    • I’m the fat, white, middle-aged American with a beard.

      Well, at least it excludes all the I’m the fat, white, middle-aged Brits with a beard, like me!


      September 6, 2014 at 9:07 pm

      • Oops, try that again . . .

        Well, at least it excludes all the fat, white, middle-aged Brits with a beard, like me!


        September 6, 2014 at 9:08 pm

    • Hey there and thanks for dropping by! Maybe you’ve had enough of Let the Right One In by now, but in case you haven’t I just have to recommend the original novel that became a film that became a play. It’s brilliant. My most recent experience with the author, John Ajvide Lindqvist, was Little Star, which I listened to as an audio book, read by the author, who happens to be a great performer. Very creepy and yet somehow touching, once again about children who grow up as outsiders. Another recommend.

      Thank you for the kind welcoming. If you look out for me I’m the short woman in her mid 40s with her hair sprinkled with grey. Just ask around. 🙂


      September 6, 2014 at 9:26 pm

      • Thanks, the novel was already in my reading queue, but I’ll try to move it up.

        John Pomeranz

        September 6, 2014 at 11:37 pm

  7. Nice report. I’m glad you had a good time. My only regret is that you didn’t mention or seem aware of fanzine fandom. Check in to Bill Burns’ admirable site for more info:

    Graham Charnock

    September 7, 2014 at 2:55 am

    • I am very much aware of it. I joined fandom in 1985 and I’ve had my share of ink stains while printing fanzines on an oldstyle mimeograph. I have a lot of love for fanzines and sometimes I think that I should make an effort and make one again.

      I wrote this post about fandom at a blog I used to run during my wow playing days.

      At Loncon I’m afraid that the traditional fannish track wasn’t where I spent most time. Not that I didn’t want to mind you. Too much to do, too little time… Oh, hopefully there will be more worldcons for me.


      September 7, 2014 at 8:44 am

      • Fanzine fandom has it’s own convention, of course, usually in the USA, but next year we are hosting it in the UK. You might consider coming along. Far more cosy and manageable than a Worldcon.

        Graham Charnock

        September 7, 2014 at 1:28 pm

        • It looks lovely – provided that you actually make fanzines. I haven’t made one in 25 years. 😦 Currently my energy goes into running this movie blogs, which includes all sorts of films, though I think my readers can tell how much I love science fiction. But who knows, maybe the memory of glowing corflu will pull me back one day. You never know. 🙂


          September 7, 2014 at 6:43 pm

  8. Welcome to Worldcon! We’re all glad you enjoyed it. Might I suggest you consider volunteering yourself? It’s a great way to meet people. This is my 38th year of volunteering and I love it.
    Mary Kay Kare

    Mary Kay Kare

    September 7, 2014 at 4:33 am

    • Thank you! I actually did volunteer a bit though I didn’t mention it in the post. I spent most of my first day at the con helping out with the media wrangling. I did feel a little bad not helping out more, since there obviously was a shortage of volunteers. Egotistically I wanted to see as much as possible of all the great content. But I’ll definitely try to help out again in the future, and hopefully a little more.


      September 7, 2014 at 8:52 am

      • Cool! I don’t think you need feel any guilt at all. Not many people volunteer at their first. I need a better balance between volunteering & attending myself. (There was a program?)

        Mary Kay Kare

        September 7, 2014 at 7:18 pm

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