Worldcon Report

Exhibit Hall with art show on left, exhibits on right, and dealers’ room at rear.

This was the first time I’ve been able to attend Worldcon. Before I went, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. The experience both met and fell short of my expectations. I’ve managed to make it to World Fantasy twice, and at both events it seemed like I bumped into a professional writer every time I turned around. That wasn’t the case for Worldcon. I’d known going down that Worldcon was a fan centered convention, while World Fantasy was geared towards the professional writer.

Still, I’d heard stories about the number of attendees at Worldcon. I had to teach class Thursday morning then drive for six hours to San Antonio, so it was about 5:00 when I got to the hotel. I had time to check in at both the hotel and the convention center. I made a quick pass through the exhibits and the dealer’s room, then went in search of food. What I found instead was an opportunity, in the form of Adrian Simmons, editor of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly. He had an invitation to a private reception for James Gunn, one of the Guests of Honor. It allowed him to take a guest. I had the privilege of being that guest.

James Gunn reception; Gunn is seated n the center.

I’d met Gunn once before, more than two decades ago. Since most of the attendees were former students of Gunn, I didn’t get to speak to him much, but I did tell him that I’ve enjoyed his work. I also picked up a signed copy of his latest novel later in the convention. After learning of the death of Fred Pohl (whom I’d met at the same event I’d met Gunn), I was glad I took advantage of the opportunity.

Thursday night I went party hopping. The best by far was the Bookswarm party, which had the theme Eat a Bug, Get a Book. (I ate a mole cricket and a dung beetle and got copies of Exile by Betsy Dornbusch and the last copy of The Other Half of the Sky edited by Athena Andreads.) The best thing about the party, though, was that I got to meet some of the best new fantasy writers working today. In addition to Martha Wells (whom I’ve met multiple times because we live in the same state), I met Courtney Schafer, Brad Beaulieu, Zachary Jernigan, and Douglas Hulick. If you haven’t read them, I strongly recommend you do.

Which bug would you eat for a book?

Friday was one of those days when all the panels and readings I wanted to attend were all scheduled at the same time. Some of the panels I managed to make were about Robert E. Howard’s Other Heroes, SF of the 50s, Texas writers who have passed away, trends in sword and sorcery, and myths and facts about Robert E. Howard.

I should mention that there was a strong emphasis on Robert E. Howard. Howard was a Texas writer, and one who wrote a lot more than just Conan. The Conan stories were only about 10% of his output, with much of his other work being westerns, boxing, and historical adventure. I’m a member of the Robert E. Howard Foundation, so I spent a great deal of my time with the group from the Foundation who were in attendance.

Portion of Exhibit Honoring Robert E. Howard

I heard more than one person on Friday say that the place would be packed on Saturday, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. There were, I think, two reasons for this. The first was that the convention was so spread out. The convention center is large, and I didn’t make a number of events and/or panels I wanted to because I couldn’t get there. This was partially due to reasons of geography and also I kept running into people I hadn’t seen in a few years and catching up with them.

A portion of the exhibit honoring James Gunn.

The other reasons attendance seemed to be low was because Worldcon had been scheduled opposite Dragoncon. There’s really no excuse for that. I heard a number of authors choose to attend that convention rather than Worldcon. Since Worldcon had little emphasis on media, while Dragoncon by all accounts is much more inclusive, that’s hardly surprising. More attendees means more exposure to potential readers and more sales.

I haven’t seen the official attendance numbers for Worldcon, but the unofficial ones I heard indicated that while attendance wasn’t bad, it wasn’t record setting either. The overall impression I had was that it was a mid-sized con on steroids.

Saturday and Sunday went much as Friday did. I attended as many panels as possible (which means not nearly enough), visited with friends, and helped the Howard Foundation when they needed a hand at their booth. I did take a bit of time Saturday morning to visit the Alamo with a friend from Indiana. He’d never been, and I hadn’t paid my respects in several years.

I elected not to go to the Hugo Awards. I’d had enough of sitting in the chairs as I could take for one day. Not being all that excited about most of the nominees in the first place, I chatted with some friends and dropped in on parties until they became crowded.

Sunday I caught a couple of panels, bought a few last items in the dealers’ room, and hit the road about noon for the long drive back.

Banner Closeup Worldcon
Closeup of Banner Hanging in Exhibit Hall Featuring Art by Darrell K. Sweet

One of the highlights was the Darrell K. Sweet portion of the art show. Sweet had agreed to be the Artist GOH, but then he passed away. He was one of my favorite artists growing up (my tribute can be found here), and I really enjoyed seeing so much of his work on display. I’d been lucky enough to attend a couple of smaller cons at which he was GOH but he didn’t have as many pieces there as he did here. While the rest of the art show was as impressive as some I’ve seen, the DKS portion more than made up for it.

I wish the space the convention had been more centrally located rather than spread out over three floors of the convention centers. I never made it to the top floor where the films and some of the other events were being held. Nor did I make it any publishers’ presentations of what they have coming out over the next six months or so. There were several people, mostly authors and editors that I wanted to meet but never connected with. There were others I saw from across the room but never got a chance to speak to. The only other blogger for Amazing Stories I met was Steven Silver.

Sword and Sorcery Panel, (r. to l.) Stina Leitch, Lou Anders, Sam Sykes, Saladin Ahmed, Chris Willrich

Overall, I liked the programming, but I felt it could have been scheduled a little better. I mean a panel on sword and sorcery opposite a panel on Robert E. Howard? Really? I had a good time, am glad I went, and would do so again if Worldcon were within driving distance or if the airfare weren’t too expensive. I don’t think I would travel to some other country solely for the experience I had (key word being “solely”).

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