|SFX magazine column by David Langford: issue #95, September 2002|
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As I write in July, it looks like a shoo-in. The only declared bid for the 2005 World SF Convention is British, with a Glasgow venue as in 1995. They'll count the votes at the 2002 Worldcon in San José, California, for a 1 September announcement, and only a massive, organized write-in campaign can alter the outcome. Unlikely – as author Bob Shaw liked to say, "Fans will not be organized. They will band into groups to prevent this ..."
Some of us have mixed feelings about the 1995 Glasgow event, but the 2005 team reckons the problems have been fixed. It wasn't the Worldcon's fault that Glasgow's famous maglev railway between the city and the Scottish Exhibition & Conference Centre wasn't working in 1995. Or that John Brunner, dismayingly, became the first major SF author to die at a Worldcon. That cast a cloud.
The SECC itself was disliked for its dreadful acoustics, with one huge hall partitioned into four function spaces without ceilings, so wherever you sat you could hear four simultaneous programme items each trying to outshout the others. Problem solved, they say, by purpose-built rooms in the SECC's new "Armadillo" building. Not for nothing was the 2005 bid newsletter titled Once More, With Ceiling!
Worldcons have been happening for 63 years, mostly in America. They began with the 1939 New York "Nycon". The event first went abroad to Toronto, Canada, in 1948 (the city's third "Torcon" is next year), and overseas to London in 1957 – returning to Britain once each decade ever since. Germany hosted its only Worldcon in 1970 and the Netherlands in 1990; Australia has had three since 1975, all in Melbourne, all subtly named Aussiecon. Now Japan is bidding for 2007 ... a truly science-fictional prospect.
What's the attraction? It's the big international SF event, the gathering of the tribes (as Brian Aldiss calls it), a chance to mingle with hundreds of SF professionals and thousands of fans. Besides choosing the location of the Worldcon three years down the line, members can vote for their favourites in the Hugo awards. At the Hugo ceremony, you see winners in really bad tuxedos waving their rocket trophies in triumph, while the auditorium resounds to the pitiful gnashing of losers' teeth.
There are countless panels and speeches about every imaginable SF topic, a vast art show, a dealer's room crammed with books and memorabilia, a masquerade event for fans who like to dress up, and much more. Something for everyone. Also, except in certain ghastly American convention centres that forbid alcohol, there will be several bars where sots like myself can be found swapping gossip about the appalling convention organization, the decline of SF, the overpriced beer, the personal failings of absent writers and editors, and the unspeakable horror of the literary life. What's not to enjoy?
Well, if you hate crowds, Worldcon probably isn't for you. If you're short of money, it's wise to sign up early; membership fees rise steadily with time, and are astronomical at the door. I was lucky enough to have my first overseas Worldcon trip – Boston in 1980 – paid for by one of SF fandom's most delightful inventions, the TransAtlantic Fan Fund, which sends annual delegates from Europe to North America and vice versa. A similar deal got me to Aussiecon 3 in 1999, and for Brighton in 1987 I was a guest of the convention itself. These tricks may not work for everyone, but they beat taking out a second mortgage.
Ah, those Worldcon memories. Christopher Reeve accepting the drama Hugo for Superman at Brighton in 1979, and boggling at the huge roar of applause for the runner-up, the original radio Hitch-Hiker. Harlan Ellison at Boston in 1980, greeting us Brits to the hotel complex with "Stop fouling up the goddam hallway, you fucking Limeys." Collecting two Hugos at Brighton in 1987, and later throwing beer over a leading L.Ron Hubbard promoter (he started it, honest). Interesting incident with mini-skirted author Pat Cadigan at the Hague in 1990, since when she has always addressed me as "Langford, you dog." Presenting the first Live Thog's Masterclass (don't ask) at Glasgow in 1995. Getting locked out of a Melbourne hotel after one 1999 party, to find myself trapped in a sealed car-park resembling one of the less healthy levels of Doom II ... I'd better stop there.
Worldcons are hard on the wallet, hard on the liver. I keep telling myself I can give it up any time I like. See you in Glasgow?
David Langford recommends a look at the Glasgow 2005 website, http://www.interaction.worldcon.org.uk.
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