Glimpses of Loncon

Did I still have the stamina for this kind of thing? I'd drifted out of the Worldcon habit since Glasgow in 2005 and was worried that Loncon 3 would be a long haul. The jolly email confirmation sent to some members implied no less:

You have bought Adult admission for Saturday Saturday Saturday Saturday Friday Friday Sunday Saturday Sunday Monday Saturday Saturday Saturday Thursday Sunday Saturday Saturday Sunday Saturday Sunday Saturday Saturday Thursday Sunday Thursday Thursday Monday Friday Saturday Saturday Friday Sunday Thursday Friday Saturday Friday Saturday Saturday Saturday Saturday Saturday Saturday Thursday Sunday Sunday Saturday Sunday Friday Friday Saturday Sunday Friday Saturday Saturday Friday Friday Thursday Friday Monday Sunday Saturday Sunday Saturday Saturday Sunday Saturday Sunday Saturday Saturday Friday Saturday Sunday Saturday Friday Thursday Thursday Friday.

Though missing that particular excitement, I was a lucky recipient of the mailmerge extravaganza that began: "Hi, Steve Cooper / With Loncon 3 only a few days away we thought you might like details of what to do when you arrive at the ExCeL centre [much text snipped here] Your membership number is: 11 / - You have bought admission for / We hope you enjoy Loncon 3.Hi, Alice Lawson / With Loncon 3 only a few days away we thought you might like details of what to do when you arrive at the ExCeL centre ..." and so on for every member up to my own number, 443 ("Hi, David Langford"). The march of the mailmerge robots continued well into four figures before they managed to stop it.

Everything went swimmingly once I'd reached the London ExCeL venue, though hours late because my fast train wasn't. Thus, tragically, I missed the opening ceremony with its promised Harry Potter theme (Ian Sorensen later praised his own peculiar brilliance in using a propeller beanie for the Sorting Hat). First fan sighting: Lisa Tuttle on the Docklands Light Railway. The first in ExCeL itself was Kees van Toorn, a lucky meeting since I was about to join what looked like the end of an interminable registration queue. Kees spared me the humiliation of being frogmarched to the queue's real entry point – a long flight of stairs and several hundred yards farther away – and wafted me to a programme-participant desk with no queue at all. What a hero.

Fans wise in the ways of registration tut-tutted at the delays for mere mortals, but the Loncon machinery otherwise hummed along nicely. When it was all over, the infallible Langford notebook proved to contain only two notes (perhaps a measure of the distracting power of the Fan Village bar, whose entirely drinkable beer and cider did not run out). One is a Thog's Masterclass contribution dictated to me by GoH Bryan Talbot: "Under his beard, Torin frowned." (Keith R.A. DeCandido, Dragon Precinct, 2004). The other, an unattributed Overheard, gave me a moment's sense of wonder: "Is Ansible still going? I haven't seen it nominated for a Hugo for years." Between the otherwise pristine notebook pages I found an unused badge ribbon lettered SAUSAGE MAKER OF FANDOM. So much for note-taking.

Though strenuously avoiding the programme for traditional deaf twit reasons, and failing to memorize a million cheery conversations, I committed the public nuisance of taking photos. If our nice editors will indulge me with one of their famous URL footnotes, your eagerly anticipated namecheck may be here.* Were there really 5324 programme events for me to miss? The numbering ran from 1003 to 5324, but this proved to be secret code for Day 1 Item 1 to Day 5 Item 108.


Mostly I hung around the Fan Village, whose cunning plan of breaking up ExCeL's featureless Level 0 Capital Hall with stalls and marquees might have sounded a little desperate at the planning stage but was very effective indeed in practice. Besides tents full of eager-to-please SF societies and convention bidders (including a bevy of dishy young ladies unsuccessfully promoting the Beijing Worldcon), and not quite enough places to sit down, there were assorted games, attractions and follies. David B. Wake provided a life-size Tardis as a much-exploited photo backdrop, with another in reserve at the rear of the hall. What was inside the locked Tardis? I happened to be looking when the dread portal opened to reveal a life-size Captain Tartan puppet. Now you know. Other landmarks included a fake tree and the now inevitable Iron Throne: "This throne will be leaving at 6pm Saturday". The library area – strong on Gollancz omnibuses – was soothing, and when attendees were asked to help disperse the collection I bagged a battered hardback of William F. Temple's The Fleshpots of Sansato in hope of learning what fearfully hot stuff caused the NEL paperback to be abridged. One day....

Fan Village food (more basic than a very basic thing) and drink were OK if you remembered to keep intoning the mantra "London prices." Several recognizable sights featured in David Ziggy Greene's "Scene & Heard" cartoon spot in the next Private Eye: the Tiki Dalek (with coconut-shell knobs) that grated "DO YOU LIKE PIN-A COL-A-DA?", the heart-rending Lost Tribble alert on the noticeboard (US fan Sarah Gulde, whom I'd met before she lost the tribble, was cheered to have her plea immortalized), our very own Omega with an enlarged inset of her multi-ribboned badge, the Millennium Falcon in Lego from the splendid exhibits area above, and more. Greene has irritating stylistic tics, like the identikit Big Gabby Mouth he draws for all his talking-head characters, but clearly did serious research. His panorama omitted the terrifying spectacle of organized Humming & Swaying, actually Tai Chi exercises on the "village green". What strange folk we are.

The Guardian agreed; but though its Friday headline scored highly on the sf journalism bingo card with "World Science Fiction Convention 2014 beams into London / Nowt so queer as filk as Loncon at the ExCel centre allies sci-fi and fantasy to draw a horde of fans", the coverage was friendly and even appreciative. Strange, after all, is the new normal.

As a reminder of which city we were in, there were big white 3D letters on Level 1 spelling out .LONDON, albeit in mirror capitals when viewed from the Loncon halls. Liberties were taken: a security guard was spotted turning the D the right way around, and later a plaintive sign told fans, "Please do not sit on the letters."

Wandering round to ExCeL on Friday morning, I found Robert Silverberg taking the air at what he confided was his sixtieth worldcon without a single year's respite (though "I missed the earliest ones because my mama wouldn't let me go when I was of single-digit age."). This seemed to be preying on his mind: "Everyone who won a Hugo before me is now dead." Remembering I was a newshound from the gutter press, Bob kindly added a vital statistic: "I've calculated that George R.R. Martin's annual income exceeds my total net worth. And I am not a poor man." Distracted by this solemn thought, I failed to take a Silverberg photo and never got another chance.

Let's not get too linear. Random Loncon memories include breakfast in the Travelodge hotel with Nina Allan and Chris Priest, during which various characters were blackened; afternoon tea with Jo Walton courtesy of an ExCeL teashop called Mint Leaves, with much deploring of the report that Tor doesn't dare publish John M. Ford's last novel Aspect for fear of litigation by his appalling, genre-hating relatives; George R.R. Martin, also in the fast-food arcade, plotting graphically horrid butchery of his fans' most beloved snacks; Jim Burns's embarrassment at missing his Chesley Award win for lifetime artistic achievement – not being on the ballot, he'd thought he could safely go to a party instead; twelve issues of a rather good newsletter (The Pigeon Post) masterminded by Flick; Sandra Bond worrying about a controlling Puppet Masters slug on my back (harmless lipoma; it's been there forever); and being accosted by Pat Cadigan with "Langford, you dog," the seal of a Real Convention.

At some stage I met famous collaborators Chris Evans and Roy Kettle – who would like a plug for Future Perfect here, but I am incorruptible – and ghoulishly told Chris about the American author who shares his name and is known for the Iron Elves fantasy series. Chris pretended to be stoical, but was later required to sign one of his namesake's novels for an eager young fan. Someone else (Peter Crump) confided to Roy that he thought Chris Evans long dead. Chris: "He'd conflated me with Dr Christopher Evans and was pleased to discover that I was still alive, though not half as pleased as I was."

Friday presented a challenge as the day of nearly every party on my list – the other two clashed on Saturday – with my sole programme item wallowing amid hours of boozy hospitality. The Long March to the semi-secret ExCeL South Gallery rooms reserved for private parties (also rehearsals, left-wing conspiracies to manipulate the Hugos, gatherings of the Illuminati, etc.) began with a prolonged trudge through the huge bare unused Hall S8 and up many stairs to an endless corridor overlooking the gigantic combined emptiness of Halls S4 to S7, the whole suggesting a parking bay in one of Iain M. Banks's General Systems Vehicles. Weaklings turned back, but Langford is made of sterner stuff when vital issues like free wine are at stake. From the South Gallery party balcony, high over the waters of the Royal Albert Dock, you could see another, subtler Banks homage in the form of a dry-docked vessel out of its element, causing Use of Weapons fans to nudge one another significantly. Well, I'm almost sure they did.

The hugeness was such that several more conventions of equal size could have run simultaneously in that kilometre-long venue. A music festival called Jabberwocky nearly did share ExCeL but got cancelled through general ineptitude, happily for Loncon since it gave us the run of the long Level 1 Boulevard (caffs and fast-food outlets) without an official Berlin Wall to prevent illicit event-mingling. One music website also approved the Jabberwocky cancellation: "The ExCel Centre is not a known music space. Not only is it kind of a pain in the arse to get to, but nobody wants to see Nils Frahm in a sparsely populated, untested conference centre with a fucking science-fiction convention next door."

Parties began at 3pm on Friday, with spry youngsters Dave Clements and Charlie Stross celebrating their fiftieth birthdays. This and subsequent thrashes held in indistinguishable South Gallery rooms now tend to blur together. (The Plain People of Fandom: We think we know why.) Next I formed part of a large rabble of editors musing on "The Evolution of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction", where we shamelessly bragged about reaching 4.5 million words on 1 August, and I was allowed a bit of business regarding the size of the first edition, an inch and a half thick; the second, three inches thick; and now the third on a teensy USB stick, two millimetres thick and only 0.5% full at that. The room was gratifyingly crowded despite eighteen rival attractions in the same time slot. Peter Nicholls, self-confessed Editor Emeritus, watched benevolently from the front row. No one hurled rotten tomatoes, or asked hideously technical questions as at our 2005 Worldcon panel. That seemed to count as a win.

The SFWA party, in the same rooms as the Clements/Stross thrash, followed almost immediately. Though not a member I'd been invited by kindly Michael Capobianco, who surely earns a Get Out Of Thog Free pass. No industry secrets to report, alas. With Connie Willis I shared a brief flashback to our first meeting as Hugo nominees – never then winners – at Noreascon II. Thirty-four years ago. Gulp. I did not disgrace myself as in 1987, since no tiny Scientologists were present to pick fights, but Michael Swanwick strangled me for the benefit of various cameras. Fade to black ...

Some conscientiously healthy exploration of the surrounding area next morning proved hazardous, with "Rat Race" charity runners charging in clumps along the path between ExCeL and the Royal Albert Dock, apparently with an unlimited licence to trample. Later I saw them jumping merrily off a high platform to splash down in the doubtless sewage-laden dock. [IRONIC FOREBODING ALERT:] Surely even a Worldcon must be healthier than that? Next came a secret meeting of the InTheBar email list, where TAFF delegate Curt Phillips was taught such arcane passwords and countersigns as "It's My Round." What else transpired behind closed doors in the Ramada Hotel is too boring to relate.

On Saturday afternoon, carousing with low companions in the Fan Village, I remembered the bag of TAFF auction stuff to be retrieved from in Martin Hoare's big red van. Text messages ensued, leading to Martin's once-in-a-lifetime triumph of creeping up behind me and texting "Boo." The ExCeL motif of vastness extended to the car parks beneath – fitfully illumined by phosphorescent fungi, with the occasional sound of drums in the deep. Large areas were swathed in bulgy tarpaulin, maybe concealing the crushed vehicles and bones of parking-fee defaulters. It was a relief to thread my way back to civilization and dump the TAFF bag at the Operations tent in the happy belief that [HEAVILY IRONIC FOREBODING ALERT] I needn't worry about it again.

I missed the double victory of Rob Jackson's amazing steampunk mechanisms in the Great Pork Pie Race, which clashed with the other panel about the SF Encyclopedia: a "Reunion" of survivors from the 1979 first edition, long before I became ensnared in the Clutean web. ("Why didn't I ask you in the 1970s?" Peter Nicholls wondered: I reassured him that I was then an insignificant neofan with a day job.) Supported by world-bestriding critic John Clute and galaxy-spanning publisher Malcolm Edwards – both Loncon guests of honour – Peter overcame the ravages of Parkinson's to spill the beans, more slowly than of old but still fluently, about the creation of the original SFE. At panel's end, following a hint from Malcolm, he received a long standing ovation as First Founder ... a very nearly tear-jerking highlight of the weekend. I really shouldn't have congratulated Peter afterwards on a better-timed ovation than John Brunner's in 1995. Still, he did laugh.

By then, after a further trudge along that South Gallery corridor that recalled the one-dimensional infinity of Greg Bear's Eon ("The seventh chamber went on forever."), we were at the Beccon Publications party. Roger Robinson's alcohol-fuelled trebuchet duly launched Messrs Clute and Kincaid, or rather their new collections Stay and Call and Response, into the literary empyrean ... with a share of glory for Judith Clute (Stay cover art) and Leigh Kennedy (both indexes).

Here I met Henry Wessells of Avram Davidson Society fame, often described as a snappy dresser, and marvelled at his resplendent striped suit and bow tie. The Langford reminiscence subroutine disgorged a memory of struggling in vain with a bow tie just before the 2005 Hugos in Glasgow, until deterred by a passing Greg Pickersgill's remark that this was the sartorial choice of a fucking great pansy. Faintly shocked by the notion of struggle, Henry assured me that he could tie that bow in his sleep. I didn't have the heart to explain that the problem had been a too-small shirt (I never usually button them at the neck), while the bow was of the pre-tied variety. This datum might have provoked distressed noises echoing the title of Henry's latest Davidson chapbook, The Wailing of the Gaulish Dead.

Saturday night saw one of the Fan Village tents converted to a mock casino – Jim Mowatt's fundraising brainchild. For those immune to the glamour of high-stakes gambling with paid-for wads of not otherwise negotiable "fan money", the great attraction was former GUFF winner Kylie Ding. She'd responded nobly to Jim's call for a "really tarty" casino cigarette-girl, and sold fan-fund memorabilia from a little tray which was perhaps her most voluminous item of clothing. This heroism won Kylie a deserved hall costume award. The curtain is now briefly lowered and raised to spare you the sordid details of the night's further public partying. Balloons were involved.

At Sunday lunchtime there was no time for such fripperies as lunch: the Fan Funds auction ran from noon to 1:30pm. I'd steeled myself to part with three small stained-glass panels made by the late great Bob Shaw, acquired for peanuts at some 1980s Novacon art show. Would anyone buy such memorabilia now? The point became moot when halfway through the auction an ashen-faced, panic-stricken Jim Mowatt whispered: "We can't find them!" He'd made multiple searches of the secure store and crawled round the Ops tent on his hands and knees, to no avail.

This was my cue to run all the way from the auction room (ExCeL Level 3) to the official Ops-tent repository where I'd handed in the stained glass for pickup (Fan Village, Level 0), and to exercise my secret superpower of knowing what that bag of auction stuff looked like. Then, even faster, back again. Puff, gasp, is this what heart attacks feel like? With Justin Ackroyd – who very much wanted one for himself – as auctioneer, Bob Shaw's creations sparked furious bidding: one went for £140, the next for £250 and the third for £400, but none of them to Justin. Racked with powerful emotions, he had to let Jim take over while he reflectively chewed the carpet.

Let us also honour the living. A large disc of soap hand-illustrated with a Jim Barker cartoon ("very early in my career," he nervously admitted) went to Jerry Kaufman for three quid. More popular was a remarkable "External Brain" woolly cap knitted by Ulrika O'Brien, with lifelike pink lobes. I failed to match the frenzied bidding for a jar of Vegemite, or for GUFF delegate Gillian Polack's stash of ethnic delicacies known as Tim Tams, small objects of chocolate-coated desire. Each packet's nine or eleven (it varies) individual morsels of unhealthy eating proved to be separately and lucratively auctionable. I forget whether their many flavours include Vegemite.

Chatting to Henry Wessells again by the Village bar, I noticed a wooden crate of buns on the food counter, lettered S.DORE GLAPWELL. It became clear to our cosmic minds that S. Dore Glapwell was an sf author of the pulp era, who probably knew G. Peyton Wertenbaker and inspired Vector Magroon. We both photographed him for posterity. If this evocative name should turn up in some future Avram Davidson Society publication, you now know its esoteric origin.


Sunday night was Hugo night, an occasion so fraught with past engrams of personal stress that I cravenly fled to have dinner in the Fox pub. No, not that Fox pub where several publishers held parties; the other Fox pub that was once the Connaught House Hotel. (Multiplying the possibilities of hilarious confusion, the ExCeL environs also boasted two Travelodges and two Ibis Hotels. Amusing complications ensued.) Martin Hoare was there, having a drink with Pebbles Karlsson Ambrose from Sweden, and a few pints later checked the Hugos online. All bloc-voting efforts appeared to have failed and Ann Leckie, having won practically everything else, added the novel Hugo to her collection.

Back at Loncon, internationally celebrated Hugo pundit Kevin Standlee was wearing a broad smile of relief. This may or may not have been connected with the revelation that the unlikely nominee Vox Day was ranked below No Award in the full statistics for best novelette. Cory Doctorow had accepted Randall Munroe's short-story Hugo wearing the red cape and goggles which according to are his canonical vestments, and I found novella winner Charlie Stross counting on his fingers: "All right, Langford, I just need another twenty-six to catch up with you." Ah, egoboo.

Ian Sorensen, with Julian Headlong egging him on, urged me to add an unofficial ribbon to my badge reading "Ashamed of my Tribe". This, along with a deeply cryptic Weeping Shield of Umor cartoon in the souvenir book, was apparently all about Jonathan Ross withdrawing as Hugo ceremony MC because certain people said horrid things on Twitter. Noted for the record, though I'm more of an uncertain person myself, perhaps inhabiting the Wimpy Zone.

Loncon ended on Monday 18 August with a flying visit from Brian Aldiss, who was at the first Loncon in 1957 and who turned 89 that day. At the closing ceremony, unforgettably, the entire audience serenaded him with "Happy Birthday To You". It is not recorded whether he murmured, "It's a long time since you sang me that, you miserable bastards."

Some time that day, a last Fan Village chat with Charlie Allery and Wendy Bradley pondered the question of why female mages in the Wheel of Time sequence spend so much of their lives doing laundry. It must be a mystic exercise, I suggested, part of the career training. Like the chaos wizards in L.E. Modesitt's Recluce books who have to practise their fireball-hurling on fatbergs and other smelly blockages in the Evil Wizard City's sewers.

Laundry, Charlie opined, shapes the careers of Jedi Knights. Those white robes are such hell to get blood off that they had to develop nice clean cauterizing lightsabres. Offscreen, Yoda says things like "Never your whites with your coloureds mix."

Me: "You need a portentous Gandalf voice for that kind of thing. 'Rinse, you fools!' he cried, and was gone."

After which there seemed nothing to do but go home.

Discounting the subsequent seven weeks of coughing up varying forms of unpleasantness (several attendees were diagnosed with whooping-cough: Farah Mendlesohn and I think we had it too), I confirm that Loncon 3 was hugely enjoyable. If only I could remember some of the other 5,271,009 conversations.