Now the extended Hugo commentary is out of the way, here is my WorldCon 75 report with plenty of photos. Many of the photos are already in this video I posted on YouTube, but here you can see them without effects.
So, as most of you already know, I went to WorldCon 75 in Helsinki, Finland. It was my first WorldCon as an attending member after a near miss with Loncon in 2014, where I had an attending membership, but couldn’t go in the end. This time, however, I jumped in with both feet, filled out the programme participant form and wound up on four panels.
The night before the start of the convention, there was a reception for convention staff, programme participants and other volunteers at Helsinki’s beautiful city hall. I got an invitation to the reception, but wasn’t sure about going, since I don’t feel very comfortable in formal social situations where I don’t know anybody. But in the end, I went anyway and had a good time. There was a speech by Helsinki’s deputy mayor, a buffet consisting of feta salad, salmon salad and lentil salad as well as free drinks. And though I didn’t yet know any of the people at the reception, a shared love for SFF always makes for good conversation.
Of course, I took some photos as well:
The convention proper opened the next day. My Mom and I set off to the Messukeskus convention center and arrived fairly early, when the registration lines weren’t very long yet. We got our badges and goodie bags and went in. The trade and exhibition halls weren’t open yet and there weren’t any panels or other programming, so we hung out in the seating area opposite the Hesburger inside the convention centre.
I’ve heard some complaints about the lack of places to eat near the convention center, but IMO Messukeskus itself was well supplied with eateries, including several cafés, a burger shop, a sandwich shop, a pizza and pasta shop, a curry restaurant as well as the restaurant of the adjacent Holiday Inn. The only problem was that they all closed in the evening, so if you wanted dinner you had to go to downtown Helsinki or the restaurant at the Holiday Inn. But since Helsinki has a good public transport system and all WorldCon attendants were provided with a free travel pass for the time of the convention (which saved a lot of money, cause a single tram or train ticket was 3.20 EUR), that wasn’t much of a problem.
The widely reported overcrowding, on the other hand, was a problem, albeit one that the con com immediately took steps to solve. And in the end, WorldCon 75 turned out to be the second largest WorldCon ever (after the 1984 WorldCon in Anaheim, California) with more than 7000 people on site. The crowds weren’t so notable in the trade and exhibition hall, but panels were full and queues were long. The layout of the Messukeskus convention center didn’t help either, since it required people exiting panels and those queuing for the next panel to move through a fairly narrow corridor that was quickly dubbed “the hallway of death”. In general, I found the layout of the Messukeskus convention center very confusing. I’m not a person who gets lost easily, but I kept getting lost inside Messukeskus until the very last day. None of this is the fault of the con com – they had to work with the building that was there.
I wasn’t on any programming on the first two days, so I had plenty of time to go to panels, meet people and wander around the trade and exhibition hall. There was one panel I didn’t get into, because of overcrowding. After that, I learned and came early to queue up.
The “Romance and the Power of the Female Gaze” panel was very interesting, by the way (and it’s available online here), even if its very existence has infuriated SFF’s least favourite rabid dog so much that he decided to take it as yet another sign for the impending death of science fiction (no link, because the post is basically just offensive remarks about the panelists’ appearance). I guess he missed all the panels on military SF (I counted at least three and I might have missed some), space opera (okay, one of them talked about – gasp – colonialism in space opera) and other properly nutty nuggetty subgenres as well as the many science panels, which usually had the longest queues.
As a panelist, I was on four panels, about alien languages in science fiction, adapting the Hugos to a digital future, machine translation and book blogs. All of the panels went well IMO and the audience seemed to enjoy themselves. I don’t have a lot of good photos of myself on panels, because my Mom is not a very good photographer. However, two of the panels I was on, “Alien Language in Science Fiction” and the “Digital Hugo” panel, have been recorded and are available at the official WorldCon 75 YouTube channel, where you can also see recordings of plenty of other panels and events.
I also wound up moderating the Book Blogs panel, because the WorldCon 75 team didn’t have enough moderators. They asked me and I said I’d do it, if there was no one else, whereupon I was promptly taken up on the offer. Luckily, the panel I moderated was on the final day of the con, so I had plenty of opportunity to watch how other moderators handled their job and to see what I did and didn’t like about their approach. What is more, I had to remember that English was not the first language of many people in the audience, which sometimes led to awkwardly phrased questions. I’d seen moderators at other panels not dealing very well with that, e.g. getting impatient at a non-native speaker who was having problems finding the correct words, and that was something I wanted to do better. There were some technical challenges as well, e.g. the microphones at Messukeskus were highly directional, so you had to get very close and speak directly into them (which is easy to forget, especially if you’re used to more sensitive microphones). In the end, I think I didn’t do too badly. The audience seemed to enjoy it, too.
And now let’s have some panel photos. Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo of the “Alien languages in science fiction” panel, but a Finnish fan named Melanie Marttila who was in the audience tweeted this photo:
— Melanie Marttila (@MelanieMarttila) August 11, 2017
The next two photos were taken by my Mom. She’s not a very good photographer, especially with a smartphone camera. Still, some of them came out okay.
Finally, WorldCon is also a chance to meet old and new friends and to finally meet people you only know online in person. I don’t have a lot of photos of this, simply because you often forget to take a photo, if you’re having fun and geeking out. Still, I have a few, mostly taken at the File 770 meet-up at the Belge Bar & Bistro. File 770 has a few more photos of that meet-up, taken by Eric Wong of Rocket Stack Rank.
Finally, here is a really nice photo Paul Weimer took of me on the first day of the con:
— Paul Weimer (@PrinceJvstin) August 17, 2017
All in all, I had a great time at WorldCon 75. I also think the convention staff did a great job, even if there were some hiccups. And indeed, when I still had some of the German candy I’d brought to Helsinki left over on the final day of the con (the chocolate was all gone by this point), I gave the final two bags to the program ops team, because they really deserved a thank you for all their hard work.
Coincidentally, my Mom enjoyed WorldCon a whole lot, too. She’s not a hardcore SFF fan – SFF is just something she enjoys watching and reading on occasion. However, she was very impressed by the sheer number and variety of people who’d been brought together at Messukeskus by their shared love for science fiction and fantasy. There were fans of all ages, shapes and sizes at WorldCon 75, from babies being carried in a sling at their mother’s chests to people in their eighties and beyond (Robert Silverberg, now 82, was the oldest person I recognised). It was a testament to what a welcoming place fandom is.
The 2019 WorldCon will be in Dublin, Ireland. I already bought my membership at the con, so see you there.