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Bar-sur-Loup Provence France

Me and Worldcon

It was my first. Indeed, fanboy all my life, at the tender age of 44 I finally made it to a Worldcon. As a Clarion grad I sort of felt like I hadn't really received the diploma until I went; somehow I wasn't really part of the greater community until I showed up, until I got my space cowboy spurs.

And you know what? At the end of it all, I still don't feel like part of a larger community.

Firstly, the number of conferences on offer had an incredible splintering effect. With over 900 different events you'd be lucky to have an average of ten at each one. And with Harlan Ellison drawing a disproportionate 85 billion people for his speech/diatribe/swan song, the average must even be lower. I felt as if I was going from place to place in this sprawling hotel complex, sitting with strangers, listening to panelists that I didn't know (with the laudable exceptions of Jim Kelly and John Kessel) discussing stuff that I hadn't had time to read.

All would-be writers are told to "get on a Worldcon panel" to get out there and meet people. I remain sceptical. You'll meet ten people, and among them some won't speak English, some will sleep, some are only there to shake the hands of the other people on your panel, and the rest don't have the money to buy your book anyway. Who, me, jaundiced?

Praise be to the deity of your choice I ran across Jack Skillingstead -- a great guy and a great writer with whom I have communicated off and on since Clarion -- plus Greer Woodward from my class (who seems to be doing brilliantly) accompanied by the ever-imperturbable John. Other than that, it was mostly just weird. I did manage to inform Elizabeth Bear of my near-limitless adulation, and I said a brief hello to Kessel and Kelly. Leslie Howle was there, and she was as always wonderful and warm and human. But the rest was Stranger in a Strange Land to me.

The worst of it was Connie Willis' turn as toastmaster for the Hugo awards. She's wonderful, she's a brilliant writer. Yes, Harlan groped her, and I'll write about that later. What bothered me was that her bits between the award presentations were an unending stream of winks, nods, and in-jokes to those who had been present at the last ten Hugo awards presentations and had read every Locus issue for the last ten years. At least that's what it felt like. It was a long evening of jokes that other people laughed at.

It's doubly annoying because the theme of the "us-and-them"-ness of Sf and mainstream literature kept coming up during various conversations during the two days I was there. Are they allowed in here, are we allowed in there, are we one big happy family or warring tribes... the discussions are still going on. I have always thought of myself as an "us", but after the obscure references of Connie's jokes I was one of the "them." The kid at the restaurant window, that's what I felt like.

Again, this is only my problem. Lots of other people laughed and had fun; I got to see Robert Silverberg be charming and Jim Kelly present his idea for applying the metric system to story lengths (novel, novella = decanovel, novelette = centinovel, short story = millinovel, short short = nanonovel). It's not that I didn't have fun, but I didn't like the exclusiveness, the feeling of a No Girls Allowed sign on the treehouse.

But maybe that's just WorldCon. Someday I'll make it to something of a more manageable size, and hopefully I will rediscover the faith. Because I want to. I miss feeling like I'm part of "us."

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Bar-sur-Loup Provence France

December 2011

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