Torcon Memories

Once again an attempt at SF prediction slips on the banana skin of dramatic irony. My last column looked forward to alcoholic excess at the World SF Convention in Toronto. In the event, the 4,760 attendees enjoyed five days of a totally dry convention centre attached to a hotel whose ground floor was being noisily rebuilt, closing the bar for the duration.

Nevertheless, thanks to outside bars, restaurants, and heaps of promotional parties at another hotel, I survived! Special thanks for lavish hospitality to Tor Books, who had to explain rather frequently that this third Toronto Worldcon, just like the previous two, was named Torcon for the city and not as an ad for Tor. Although, thanks to that name, Tor hadn't been able to resist sponsoring the event after all. Is that clear? I thought not.

Chaos reigned when I reached the convention centre. "The souvenir book's still at the printers – this ticket entitles you to one when it comes. The pocket programme isn't ready either, but that's OK because we've made so many changes since it went to press that we're junking it and printing new programme sheets every day...." Happily, the tiny golden rockets for Hugo nominees had arrived, and I attached my two to corners of the vast Torcon badge slung round my neck. A British friend immediately remarked that the effect put her in mind of pierced nipples. I spent days trying to cleanse my mind of that thought.

The first famous professional I ran into was Robert Silverberg. "Where's the dealer's room?" he said. Upstairs, I explained, and off-limits to mere members during setup, with an implacable security guard at the escalator. "We'll see about that," said Bob, and mere seconds later waved from on high. Later he explained: "I just said: I'm Dave Langford, I've got more Hugos than anybody, and I need to be up there." Readers are warned that Mr Silverberg writes fiction and may sometimes make things up.

When I penetrated the dealer's room at last, I was accosted by a bearded, sinisterly hatted figure. "Mr Langford!" said Terry Pratchett in tones of deep suspicion: "Have you permed your hair?" I still hope this was subtle humour.

Joe Haldeman and Harry Harrison didn't say anything witty, but it was nice to see them anyway. Over lunch, Diane Duane and Peter Morwood gloated about delivering their screenplay for a TV miniseries of The Ring – not Tolkien's but Wagner's. David Brin berated me. Neil Gaiman expressed horror that I'd bought the wrong edition of his Adventures in the Dream Trade: "They sold you the hardback! There are typos! There are paragraphs out of order! Please, please remind me to send you a paperback copy to read...." Most authors no longer have a conscience about these things.

Torcon's second evening was my time of terror, as I presented Live Thog's Masterclass – a compendium of dodgy prose from SF – with the strong possibility that some of the abused authors might be lurking in the audience. China Miéville was definitely around somewhere, and I'd quoted Perdido Street Station: "Isaac threw up his face and swung it around him, desperately searching for light." Could I smell tar and feathers brewing somewhere?

This being a Canadian Worldcon whose emblem was a certain rodent, I finished by quoting Lionel Fanthorpe's classic Rodent Mutation, which evokes soul-searing fear: "Police! Help! We're being attacked! We're being attacked by a gigantic beaver!" Then I ran for it before the audience could recover.

Later George R.R. Martin, a Torcon guest of honour, told me that I absolutely must read a certain recent fantasy which he insisted was full of splendid Thog material. I won't put George at risk of libel suits by identifying his recommendation. Changing the subject, can anyone lend me The Fifth Sorceress by Robert Newcomb?

Saturday night and the Hugo ceremony. Agonizing tension mounted as toastmaster Spider Robinson sang, played his guitar, mocked the USA, banged on about the space race, anything but actually start the presentations. SFX have published the results elsewhere, so I merely mention a statistic. Despite winning ridiculously many Hugos from 1985 onward, I hadn't actually been to a North American Worldcon since 1980 and so had never personally collected the award on that continent. But when I modestly remarked that this was a completely new experience, no one seemed to believe me.

When it was all over, I faced the challenge that had supposedly got a whole lot worse since 11 September 2001. How do you smuggle a massive, solid metal, very obviously rocket-shaped object through airport security? Wrapped in a couple of spare shirts in a paper carrier bag, of course. The woman at the X-ray scanner displayed a range of fascinating symptoms. Her jaw dropped, her eyebrows vanished into her hairline, she made strange inarticulate noises. I detected my cue and began: "I think I know what you're looking at...."

And so, after a certain amount of very careful explanation, my 23rd Hugo came safely home to Britain. I really must try to give them up. Thank you, Canada.

David Langford's house luckily has a lot of huge old Victorian mantelpieces.