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The London Report (1/3): The geeky bits

Mark Gerrits
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Microbadge: Race for the Galaxy fanMicrobadge: Age of Steam fanMicrobadge: Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization fanMicrobadge: Glory to Rome fanMicrobadge: KeyForge fan
The main reason/excuse for my London trip were two almost back-to-back geeky conventions, Nine Worlds and Loncon 3 (aka the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention). I'm horrible at initiating conversations with strangers (which is actually one of the reasons I like board games as they give a framework for casual conversation with strangers) so I didn't get the full con experience (no barCon for me) but I still had a great time attending panels and other events.

Nine Worlds

This was only Nine Worlds' second year (and also the second time I attended) but I think it has a long, strong future ahead of it. It's organised as a collection of separate tracks with diverse themes (books, food geekery, science, Whedonverse, geek feminism, comics, knitting, …) so there's really something for everybody (and I had some tough choices on which simultaneous panels to attend!)

What really sets it apart though is its complete dedication to inclusivity and diversity. You can see it in the programming (with feminism, race & culture and LGBTQAI tracks) and in the code of conduct and strict anti-harassment policy. And there's all the little things: pronoun badges, clips to indicate what level of interaction you're comfortable with, quiet spaces, lots of priority seating,… All of that seems to create a very safe space and the most diverse, tolerant (and probably also youngest) crowd you'll see at any convention. Spending a few days at Nine Worlds is like catching a glimpse of a better future.

Some of the highlights for me included:
- Getting a signed copy of Zen Cho's Spirits Abroad and hearing her read part of one of the stories later on
- The New Voices readings which are basically 5 minute slam readings where a lot of beginning authors get to strut their stuff (often nervously as it might be their first reading!).
- The Science Fiction vs Fantasy panel, pretty much the literary equivalent of a WWE cage match (turned literal at the end with an arm wrestling match between Liz Bourke and Geoff Ryman)
- The Bifröst! Queer Cabaret, though I couldn't catch all of it as I had to run to the New Voices readings, but hearing Amal El-Mohtar perform her poem Peach Creamed Honey live was pretty awesome (there's a video from another performance here)

Loncon 3

After Nine Worlds, Loncon was a big readjustment. It was huge! Biggest World Convention ever apparently. Not surprisingly the audience was less diverse, but it wasn't as bad as I'd feared! (And I actually heard several remarks that this was one of the youngest, most diverse Wold Cons ever)

I'd taken a hotel almost right next to the Excel Center entrance. Unfortunately, it was at the other side of the center, a ten minute walk to the side where the convention was held! I heard some people complain about the big, impersonal feel of the Excel Center (likening it to an airport even) but I must say I appreciated the large variety of (fast) food options after nothing but McDonalds during Nine Worlds.

Some highlights:
- Lots of great readings! Best performance award definitely goes to Lauren Beukes. I attended some readings because I was a fan of the authors and others out of curiosity and I didn't regret any of them.
- The Loncon Orchestra's concert. My hat's off to whoever came up with the programme. There were the kind of things you'd expect: Superman, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Star Wars, but also some more offbeat geek music (like Kingdom Hearts and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and a few surprising classical pieces (Mars & Jupiter from Holst's planets suite were maybe to be expected, but what about Charles Ives' The Unanswered Question? That took some guts). A great concert (the only minus was that the theremin could barely be heard during the Doctor Who theme)
- The kaffeeklatsches. They're basically opportunities for up to 9 fans to chat with an author. I only went to three of them but if I ever attend another world con, I'll be sure to sign up for more because they were all great (and not at all as awkward as I'd feared!)
- Some panels just had the perfect combination of interesting guests, an interesting topic and a strong moderator. The two that immediately spring to mind were An Anthology of One's Own (about feminist SF anthologies) and The Wrong Apocalypse (about the dearth of climate change apocalypses in SF)

But the biggest highlight (and biggest surprise) was the Hugo Awards ceremony. There'd been some very nasty controversy with the Hugo nominations but even when there isn't any controversy, the awards often seem to go to the biggest fan followings instead of the best works. So I only really attended out of morbid curiosity and because there wasn't much else programmed during the awards. It started off strong with Sofia Samatar winning the Campbell (NOT A HUGO!) award for best new writer and kept going with two awards for Kameron Hurley. Then John Chu deservedly won best short story for The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere and gave the most touching speech of the night. Charles Stross' win for best novella looked like a return to the usual suspects and I was fully prepared to see The Wheel of Time (which got nominated in its entirety due to a loophole) win best novel.

Oh well, at least we got a few good wins in there.

And then Ann Leckie won with Ancillary Justice and the crowd went wild. The novel with the singing space ships and tea ceremonies and space battles and distributed AIs, the novel which interrogated gender roles and colonialism, that novel had won. And analysing the statistics afterwards, it had won by a large margin. Such happiness.

It really feels like fandom has turned a corner and moved toward a brighter, smarter, more inclusive future. Clapping and whooping in the auditorium, I felt proud for the first time to be part of SF fandom. Maybe next year when the convention is back in the US and the membership will be by necessity smaller and less international, things will take a step back. But maybe not, maybe the vision of Nine Worlds is closer than we thought.
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