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Worldcon's success disaster

Started: 2017-08-26 16:33:05

Submitted: 2017-08-26 18:49:28

Visibility: World-readable

10 August 2017: In which the intrepid narrator visits Worldcon 75 in Helsinki and sees many interesting things

I slept soundly for the first part of my first night in Helsinki, but jet lag woke me up much earlier in the morning than I should have woken up. The early-morning sun coming in the window, combined with jet lag, and Julian's fussy response to jet lag, kept me up for several hours while I should have been sleeping. I managed to get back to sleep for a couple of hours and woke up again at a reasonable hour in the morning.

While I was sleeping, Kiesa had visited the local grocery store and bought food for breakfast. After breakfast we took the train to Messukeskus to attend Worldcon.

Jaeger at Worldcon 75
Jaeger at Worldcon 75

Kiesa and I had come up with a schedule that involved passing our children back and forth as we tried to see panels that looked interesting, while also taking our children to things they might be amused by. When we reached the con, Kiesa headed off to a panel titled "In defense of the unlikeable heroine". I needed coffee, so I joined the queue at the cafe in the convention center entrance and also got hot chocolate for Calvin and Julian. Calvin drank most of his, but Julian was not amused; he was still feeling a little unwell and spent most of the day in something of a daze.

Calvin and Julian drink hot chocolate at Worldcon
Calvin and Julian drink hot chocolate at Worldcon

I dropped Calvin and Julian off with Kiesa at 11:00 for them to go on a family picnic to a nearby botanical gardens, then tried to find my first panel of the day, "Engineering in fantasy and SF", but by the time I arrived the audience was full and the door was closed. I took the opportunity instead to wander around the convention center to orient myself -- especially to match the handful of maps in the program with what the venue actually looked like in real life. I found the dealer room, where I bought a Worldcon 75 t-shirt; and looked through the exhibit hall, where a large table was set up with a bunch of models, including elaborate figures from Discworld. (Once he saw the Legos, Calvin wanted to come back and stare at them multiple times during the con.)

Carrot, Detritus, and Vimes in Lego
Carrot, Detritus, and Vimes in Lego

In addition to all of the panels (assuming I could get into any of them) and the nerdy exhibits and vendors, and the elaborate costumes, one of the simple pleasures of Worldcon was walking around with authors and podcasters and other people who are Internet-famous in the sci-fi community. I would walk past someone, or hear a voice behind my head, and think, "Oh yeah, I know who that is". Sometimes I'd read people's convention badges hanging around their necks to try to figure out who they were -- and at least once I think I saw someone squinting at my badge trying to figure out who I was (and whether they should know who I was).

Jaeger and Major Ursa at Worldcon
Jaeger and Major Ursa at Worldcon

I walked right up to Mur Lafferty at her signing table, said "You're Mighty Mur!", and got her to sign the autographs page at the back of my souvenir program, since I had decided against bringing books to be signed. I've heard her disembodied voice coming through my earbuds for years, as host of Escape Pod and on her podcast Ditch Diggers, and I've purchased and enjoyed a number of her novels, including this year's Six Wakes -- but this was my first time to actually see her in person and solicit her autograph. (Next year Worldcon is down the road in San Jose, so I have every expectation that I will be able to bring my entire library and get it signed then.)

I did make it to my 13:00 panel, "Bootstrapping a nation", where , and Malaysian author Zen Cho explained Malaysian history in terms of the "carrot" (the Malay Peninsula, the part connected to the Southeast Asian mainland) and the "turnip" (the island, which was effectively operated as a colony for the benefit of the carrot). One of the panelists discussed the history of Finland's national identity. (In 2017, Finland celebrated the centenary of its independence from Russia.)

I did miss my 14:00 panel, "Logic of empire: economics of colonialism in fantastic fiction", which sounded like it would appeal to the same group as the earlier panel, but was in a smaller room.

By the middle of the afternoon it was clear that Worldcon was having a success disaster: So many people had shown up that they had overwhelmed the available capacity. From the con's Twitter feed, and their official twice-daily newsletter, it sounded like they hadn't expected as many people to show up: the con was in Finland, at the edge of Europe, only the third time Worldcon had ever been in a non-English-speaking country. The con stopped selling memberships and day-passes at the door and started asking the venue for more space for popular sessions. (I wondered whether there was any correlation between interest expressed in a particular session in the online programs and actual attendance -- and whether that interest was noticeable enough in advance to actually acquire more space.)

I found Kiesa and took charge of our children so she could attend "Military SF by women authors", which sounded like it wasn't quite as good as it could have been, since the panelists were not themselves female authors of military SF or especially knowledgeable about the topic. (I began to formulate a hypothesis that it was more interesting to see people on panels rather than the panels themselves; but that breaks down when there are people who really are interesting experts in the subject at hand whose names I don't actually recognize. I also contemplated the virtue of a mechanism where audience members could vote panelists off the stage.)

Julian and Jaeger with Major Ursa at Worldcon 75
Julian and Jaeger with Major Ursa at Worldcon 75

Kiesa headed back to our Airbnb with Calvin and Julian, and I headed to my last panel of the day: a live recording of the podcast Ditch Diggers, a hilariously-irreverent podcast about the toil involved in writing (ie, digging ditches). Cohost Matt Wallace couldn't make it, so instead Escape Artists owner Alasdair Stuart (whose disembodied voice I've also heard for years on my earbuds) filled in, wearing a t-shirt that read, "I am Matt Wallace". Guests on the panel included the experimental hip hop group clipping, including Daveed Diggs, best known for originating the role of Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in Hamilton. The program was "The Hugo Games", an amusing attempt at mashing up the Hugo Awards and The Hunger Games.

Ditch Diggers panel at Worldcon
Ditch Diggers panel at Worldcon

After the program, I headed to a nearby Nepalese restaurant to get takeout for supper (along with, it appeared, a bunch of other people from Worldcon), then took the train back to our Airbnb. We only had one key to the apartment, and Kiesa had already taken it to get in early, so I attempted to message her to let me in, but she did not respond for fifteen minutes because her phone was accidentally on silent. I was not especially impressed.

After supper I dropped by the local grocery store for additional supplies, then Kiesa and I looked through the program to figure out what we'd want to see the next day at Worldcon.

There are a few acceptable redhead jokes. There's nothing wrong with
inspiring fear and trembling in the hearts of men.
- Gem Stone-Logan, 15 October 2002