Attending Worldcon, Forty Years On

Though I have been a WSFS member continuously since…well, many years ago…it’s been quite a few decades since I was last able to attend a Worldcon.

The preceding may be confusing to some, so allow me to explain:  Worldcon – the World Science Fiction Convention that was first held in 1939 and has been conducted on a continuous basis since 1946 (shutting down for a minor interruption generally referred to as WWII), hosting a total of 75 conventions (the 76th coming in just under two weeks from now) is an “unincorporated literary society” that, among other things, oversees the selection of a committee that then organizes and hosts the actual convention.

Everyone who attends the convention has WSFS membership status conferred upon them through their purchase of either an “Attending Membership” or a “Supporting Membership”.  (The latter can be converted into the former by paying the difference between the fees assessed.)

With the exception of attendance at the WSFS Business Meeting and voting for site selection (selecting where a Worldcon will be held a few years hence), Supporting members enjoy the same privileges as attending members – nominating and voting for the Hugo Awards (some of which may be curtailed by when the individual purchases their membership), receiving the convention’s publications, etc.

One part of my book collection is convention ephemera – program books, progress reports, promotional flyers, pocket programs – and the only way to obtain such (except for Ebay) is by purchasing a Worldcon’s membership.  But that is by far not the only reason I have purchased a supporting membership for so many years.  I like to nominate and vote for the Hugo Awards as well.  But even that is not my primary reason.

I genuinely support the idea of the Worldcon and if fifty or sixty bucks is the price I have to pay in order to get my name on the rolls, then so be it.  It really is a very small price to pay to help insure that when I can actually attend, they’ll still be holding Worldcons.

All of that by way of saying that preparing to actually attend a Worldcon is something I’ve not had to do for nearly exactly 40 years.

Yep.  The last time I actually attended (and worked on) a Worldcon was Iguanacon, the 36th Worldcon, held in Phoenix, Arizona.

It’s great to be going back (an earlier attempt – MidAmeriConII – was aborted by my wife’s illness;  others by financial constraints), but boy how things have changed.

For one thing – no smoking on airline flights.  For another, no “spoke and hub” air transport net.  I caught a flight directly from Newark NJ to Phoenix AZ.  A “red eye”, which meant cheap and sleepy.  I did get a meal though.  A full, hot, (airline food) meal.  And snacks several times and constant offers of drinks. There was even a mid-flight movie (though I don’t remember which one) and – BIG difference here – I couldn’t feel the seat’s handrests pressing into my sides, there was room to stretch out my legs and I could actually recline the seat.  By way of comparison, this time around I have to fly from Manchester to somewhere and then on to San Jose.  No smoking, my legs will cramp up after about the first hour in the air, the only food will be what I bring with me (and get through TSA) and I can watch whatever entertainment I want to watch, so long as I bring a tablet or laptop and purchase WIFI access.

I’d probably be more comfortable if I tied a bunch of helium balloons to a lawnchair.

Another major difference 40 years on are the accomodations.

Needless to say, there was no internet in 1978 and so, no need for services like AirBnB (the Amazing Stories team is staying off-site.  We’d rather spend the money on stories and art).  Even if there had been, the economics of the era would have rendered such a thing nearly pointless.  Hotel rooms – even in four stars – rarely topped sixty bucks a night.

True, adjusted for inflation that sixty bucks a night is the equivalent of today’s suite costs, but such didn’t faze me back then – I was going to find “crash space” or sleep in the film room, two forms of accomodation I could COUNT on.  (As it turns out, Iggie took a couple of comped rooms and made them available as crash space for staff and volunteers.  Besides, working security pretty much meant I was on call, if not actually out and about, 24/7/5.  Even if I’d want to, I’m too old and decrepit to do that anymore.)

Meals?  Hah.  This time around I’m actually going to have to pay for them.  Canned tuna and ritz crackers stuffed into a knapsack don’t cut it anymore and Bonanza Steak Houses got wise to freebooters hitting the salad bar well before they got picked up by some megalithic company.  (Not to mention that ConSuites used to have better fare before the hotels caught on and people started getting sick, possibly because the unsealed food they’d been eating might have had issues.)

There’s been a lot of change packed into the past 40 years.  Both in myself and on the convention scene.  It’s no longer like going to a hotel in a distant city and camping.  Even though I do miss some of that, (I miss the hallway swordfights too…) there have been a number of positive changes.

For one thing, I don’t have to beg, borrow or steal a guest invite to the SFWA lounge and parties – I’m now a member (though far too many people I’d want to hang out with are no longer attending – death is the ultimate no-go).  For another, instead of sitting in the audience at panels and wishing I was sitting up at the Big Table regaling adoring fans with tales of Worldcons forty years old, I’ll now be sitting at the Big Table (no doubt annoying fans witth tales of Worldcons forty years old).

Now truth to tell, when not working a convention, I generally find a handful of panels I’m really interested in (and sometimes get roped into attending friend’s panels to insure they have a decent audience) and then spend the rest of my time circulating between the lobby, the consuite and the dealer’s room.  Sadly, dealer’s rooms have fewer and fewer book & pulp sellers these days, but I will be helping to rectify that by hosting my own booth.  And yes, we’ll have both books and magazines on hand.  (Not to mention nifty badge ribbons and enamel pins.)

As best I can tell, the booth will be located right next to the SFWA booth (if booth numbering is anything to go by), which makes things VERY easy for attendees – one stop shopping for your favorite authors and your favorite magazine!  (That last may be a bit presumptious at this point in time, but wait a couple of weeks and see if I’m not being accurate.  And one can always hope!)

But the biggest difference this time around, alluded to in my title, is the prep work going into this convention.

Back in the day, prep for a con involved stuffing two or three days worth of clothing into a knapsack (hotels often had laundries and fans could be counted on to find the closest laundromat to the hotel), sticking a couple of books in there, putting a large heavy duty garbage bag in there as well (for the inevitable acquisitions) and filling the remainder of the space up with a can opener, a heating coil, tuna, ritz crackers, trail mix, poptarts, instant coffee, cup-o-soups and whatever other non-perishable food stuffs I found marginally palatible. (Cheese was usually in there too.)

This time around?

Hoo Boy!

My living room has become a staging field.  Polo shirts, display banners, tablets, ribbons, pins, books, easels, framed cover art, locks, wire grating, wire ties, table cloths, extension cords, surge protectors, kitchen sinks.

Long gone are the days of catching a greyhound and riding in the luggage rack of an overcrowded bus.  (Yes, I actually did that on one occasion.)

I’m actually going to have to pay the (outrageous) checked luggage fee to the airline.

Yep.  Things have really changed over the past forty years.  But  I wouldn’t miss it for the world!

Looking forward to seeing you all there!  Make sure you stop by the booth (or catch me at registration) for your free copy of the Fall 2018, Volume 76, Number 1 issue of AMAZING STORIES!

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