Attending the 2014 WorldCon in London

The 2014 World Science Fiction Convention It’s official. I will be attending the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention in London this summer, which is shaping up to be the largest WorldCon ever outside of the United States. We’ve moved the family vacation to the summer so I can attend, and are in the process of arranging a dog sitter to stay with our dogs.

I’m really looking forward to it. The last WorldCons I’ve been able to attend were Chicago in 2012 and Denver in 2008.

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My Winners from the 2012 Worldcon

I attended the 2012 World Science Fiction Convention, or Worldcon as it’s usually known, in Chicago. It was held at the end of August and extended into early September. At Worldcons, authors are on display. It’s their chance to hobnob with fellow professionals, do some wheeling and dealing, and, perhaps most importantly, connect with the fans who buy science fiction and fantasy books. Impress enough fans, and you might just kick-start enough word-of-mouth about your books/stories to propel your career to the next level.

I thought I’d blog about my winners at the Worldcon, the writers who hit my radar screen in positive ways.

For the 2012 Worldcon, the four writers that were my biggest winners were:

  • Hugh Howey
  • Seanan McGuire
  • Jo Walton
  • Kij Johnson

Wool by Hugh HoweyHugh Howey: I saw Hugh Howey on my first day at the conference. He was participating in a panel called “To Indie or Not Indie,” which basically turned into a debate between several indie-published writers and a more traditionally published writer of a military SF series (Mike Moscoe, who writes as Mike Shepherd). Having successfully sold a number of indie books previously, Hugh was starting to have what looked like some break-out success with a book called “Wool.” It had even been optioned by Ridley Scott, the director of such famous SF films as Alien and Bladerunner.

I ended up having dinner with Hugh and a bunch of his fans at a meet-up that he’d scheduled online earlier with his fans. I had a great time, and Hugh even bought dinner for everybody (something I certainly wasn’t expecting). The next day, I had no trouble plopping $20 down for the trade paperback of Hugh’s novel, “Wool,” which had been recommended to me by all of his fans as “his best book.”

When I subsequently had a chance to read the book, I was pleased to discover that it was, in fact, a very good book. Equally interesting, it had been indie-published in five parts, some of which even featured different viewpoint characters, all of which slotted together nicely to form one highly coherent novel with numerous plot twists and surprises. The novel that I bought was, in fact, an omnibus of those five original stories.

Since Worldcon, I’ve had a chance to publish a review of Hugh’s book on this site, as well as mention him in several blog entries. “Wool” has indeed become Hugh’s break-out book; he recently signed a lucrative deal with traditional publishing to augment the indie sales of his novel, and is currently indie-publishing a prequel to “Wool.” I feel like I’ve helped discover one of the field’s up-and-coming writers.

Deadline by Mira Grant (aka Seanan McGuire)Seanan McGuire: I discovered Seanan McGuire because of her pseudonymously published “Newflesh” trilogy, a horror series that takes place twenty years after the human race has successfully survived a devastating zombie plague. Under the pseudonym of Mira Grant, her second novel in the series, “Deadline,” was nominated for the 2012 Hugo award for Best Novel.

I soon learned that the first novel in the trilogy, “Feed,” had likewise been nominated for a Hugo award the previous year, and that the concluding novel, “Blackout,” had just been published. Oh, and her related novella, “Countdown,” about how the zombie plague began and propagated, had also been nominated for a Hugo for Best Novella.

Before the end of the conference, I owned the entire “Newsflesh” trilogy, and even had them signed by Seanan McGuire. She also publishes fantasy under her own name, most notably the October Daye series, so I bought some of those books as well. Since the convention, I’ve been gradually buying all of her books. She’s a multi-talented writer with a wicked sense of humor that often comes through in her writing. She’s now pretty much on my must-buy list.

Among Others by Jo Walton, Hugo winner, Nebula WinnerJo Walton: Jo Walton’s “Among Others” was nominated for, and won, the Hugo award for Best Novel. It also won the Best Novel Nebula award as well, making it one of only seven novels to accomplish this feat.

It’s an odd, but strangely mesmerizing, coming-of-age story featuring magic and the discovery of science fiction by a traumatized teen-age girl. It may not be for everybody, but I thought it was a carefully crafted gem of a novel. Jo Walton may never be the type of writer who hones in on the SF bestseller list, but she’s certainly willing to push the boundaries of science fiction and fantasy to attempt something new. She’s a brave, unflinching writer who deserves more readers.

Since reading “Among Others,” I have begun picking up all of her other books. “Farthing” was equally delightful, albeit in much different ways, and “Tooth and Claw,” a semi-Victorian story featuring dragons, is next up in the queue.

The Man Who Bridged the Mist by Kij JohnsonKij Johnson: Kij Johnson authored the novella, “The Man Who Bridged the Mist,” which I thought was easily the best novella of the year (and it did, in fact, win the Best Novella Hugo). I’ve been advising all of my friends to read this story. I think it’s a legitimate classic. Since then, I’ve begun reading other stories that she has available online. To my knowledge, she has not yet written any novels.


While these were the four writers who dominated my attention the most at Worldcon 2012, they weren’t the only ones that I noticed:

  • Jack McDevitt was impressive on panels; he’s a gracious panelist, as well as a consummate craftsman as a writer. I’ve been gradually working my way through all of his novels, most lately with “Eternity Road.”

  • Neil Gaiman was very nice to talk to in person, and even let me get a photograph with him. I already own most of his works (both graphic novels and novels), which is the only reason why he’s not one of my “winners” this year.

  • Mary Robinette Kowal’s Hugo-nominated novelette, “Kiss Me Twice,” was excellent. I checked out her web site, and it turns out that she’s written two novels: “Shades of Milk and Honey” and “Glamour in Glass.” Both have been well received by critics, and look interesting to me, so they’re both on my “to buy” list.

  • Carolyn Ives Gilman’s Hugo-nominated novella, “The Ice Owl,” was very good. Accordingly, she’s on my watch list, and I’ll be checking out more of her stories.

  • B. A. Chepaitis was impressive on a panel about storytelling, as well as one on screenwriting; I have since picked up one of her books second-hand to “try her out.”

  • Lyda Morehouse and I had a surprisingly witty exchange during a long and crowded elevator ride; I was left thinking that if she writes nearly as well as she speaks off-the-cuff, she might be worth checking out.

  • I accidentally discovered Laura Mixon’s new book, “Up Against It,” written under the pseudonym of M. J. Locke. Her best book yet, and set in one of my favorite venues, the Asteroid Belt.

  • It was also nice to discover that the influential “Bordertown” series is alive and well.

Writers, don’t discount the impact of the Worldcon. I, like many other readers, vote with my wallet. If you can get my attention in a favorable way, I will spend money on you. And if I like what I find, you may very well become part of my own personal SF subscription, as did my own personal top four winners from Worldcon 2012.

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Neil Gaiman at the Chicago World Con

I was kind of bummed out because I had to leave the Chicago World Con a little early. My flight was at 6:00 PM, so I’d be flying out about two hours before the Hugo Awards even started.

I’d already checked out and left my suitcase in storage with the bellhops while I went to a few final sessions. Now I was back collecting my suitcase. This was it. The end of the convention for me. In just a minute, I’d be leaving the Hyatt Regency, the convention hotel, for good.

I turned around and Neil Gaiman was right behind me. He was storing a bag. I was pretty sure he wasn’t leaving since he was up for a Hugo Award for writing the screenplay for a well-regarded Doctor Who episode.

I probably sounded like the usual star-struck fan, but I quickly asked him if he wouldn’t mind taking his picture with me. He graciously agreed, shook my hand and asked my name. Quite frankly, he was very nice about it all.

I snagged the first passer-by I saw to take the picture, which turned out to be a middle-aged woman walking with her husband and two teenagers.

Her husband was clearly a science fiction fan and quipped about us being “old friends.” The woman had no idea who Neil Gaiman was, but she snapped the picture quite competently anyway. I thanked Neil Gaiman for the photo opportunity and he shook my hand again before he walked away.

After he was sufficiently far away, my photographer asked me who the man was, while her husband chortled at her.

I explained: “That was Neil Gaiman. New York Times bestselling writer. Hugo winner for his novel American Gods, which is like the Oscars for the science fiction field. Author of the Sandman series of graphic novels, probably the most celebrated graphic novels of all time. He’s also the screenwriter for successful movies like Stardust, etc. He’s probably one of the most prominent writers at this entire convention.”

Strangely, even though I was leaving the convention, I wasn’t bummed out anymore.

Thanks, Neil.

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A Report on the 70th World Con: Part 4

Last day of the conference for me. I have to leave early today to get back to Virginia. I’ll be on a plane by the time the Hugo Awards start.

Fortunately, I manage to cram two excellent sessions into my schedule in the morning.

WorldBuilding

The first was “World Building Work Shop 3: The Ecosystem,” with panelists Eytan Kollin, Dani Kollin, Nancy Kress, Derek Kunsken and Brenda Cooper. This was part three of a six-part world-building exercise. I’d missed the first two parts because they were held in the early mornings and I’d been somewhat sick for the entire con. The last three were scheduled for after I left. So, I was really looking forward to catching at least one of these sessions.

And what a session it was, with full audience participation. In previous sessions, they’d designed a non-oxygen world and some basics for that world’s ecology. In this session, they were designing the ecosystem, including key predators, prey animals, plants, etc. Truly a stand-out session.

One of the conclusions that the whole crowd reached was that this whole exercise should be released as open source, and anybody should be able to leverage the notes and commentary related to the workshop. They solicited web-knowledgeable volunteers to help them out, so I tendered my name to Dani Kollin as a volunteer. This is a project I’d be proud to get behind.

Screenwriting

I’ve always been interested in screenwriting. The second session I attended was called “INT: Screenwriter Brain,” with panelists Michael Cassutt, Melinda Snodgrass, B. A. Chepaitis and Harry Kloor. All of the panelists thought the name of the session was dumb.

They all had a good time talking about screenwriting, and how it differs from novel writing, for one thing, being much more visually-oriented. I’m not sure I learned a lot, except that it was fun listening to some professional screenwriters reminicing about their craft.

Conclusion

Sad to leave the convention. It feels like it’s over way too soon, and that I never had the energy level to see or do everything that I wanted to. But next year, it’s San Antonio, TX. And I’ve already got plans for London in 2014.

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A Report on the 70th World Con: Part 3

Still feeling under the weather, but determined to have as much fun (by damn) as possible at the convention.

Found out that some events are being co-hosted over the Internet with Dragon Con, which is being held in Atlanta. Coincidentally, I was in Atlanta last week speaking at the GFIRST Cyber Security Conference (for my day job), which was held at the same hotel as the Dragon Con, the Marriot Marquis.

Let’s talk about scale for a moment. GFIRST was a 1675-person technical conference. World Con was a 6000-person literary convention. Dragon Con was a 35,000-person media event. I just thought it was ironic that if I’d stayed in Atlanta for just a couple more days, I’d have ended up at a great convention there, too. Anyway, the two conventions arranged things so that the Hugo Awards (on Sunday, tomorrow) would be shown simultaneously at both conventions, a true first.

Sessions

My Pepsi bottle (strictly medicinal, for much-needed caffeine and carry-as-you-go cough syrup alternative) and I attended four sessions today:

Another View on Character Building
Panelists: Carol Berg, Barbara Galler-Smith, Paco Ruiz, Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Moral Ambiguity in SF
Panelists: Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Nancy Kress, Charles Stross, Jay Lake, Lissa Price

Vivid Character Building
Panelists: Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Carol Berg, Kay Kenyon, Randy Henderson, Teresa Frohock

Series, Why Do We Love Them? Why Do We Hate Them?
Panelists: Mike Shepherd Moscoe, Eric Flint, Ferrett Steinmetz, Jack McDevitt, Lyda Morehouse

The first three sessions were entertaining, but not overly memorable. The last was quite nice, with an excellent give-and-take between Mike Moscoe, who has a successful military series; Eric Flint, who has the outrageously successful and popular 1632 series; and Jack McDevitt, with his Priscilla Hutchins space exploration series and the Benedict SF mystery series.

An Unexpected Event

There was one highly unusual event, today. I saved somebody’s life.

Returning from lunch, I entered the hotel lobby. The escalator down to the Bronze level was about 20 feet away from me to my right. I saw a large, obese man on a hotel scooter accidentally hit the wrong control on his vehicle and drive it down the escalator.

I immediately ran after him, grabbing him and the vehicle from behind. Together with two other gentleman who were underneath him, we kept him from tumbling down the escalator, as well as preventing anybody else from getting hurt. When his scooter got jammed at the bottom, I was the only one powerful enough to unjam it and get him and the scooter out-of-the-way.

Totally unexpected. I still don’t know if the guy realized how dangerous that escapade was.

I felt pretty good afterwards, though. I saw a crisis, and acted quickly to prevent it. It’s not every day that you get to do something like that.

Conclusion

I went out for a nice Thai dinner and went to bed early. Highly unusual for me, but I was running on empty by the end of the day.

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A Report on the 70th World Con: Part 2

Friday at the 70th World Con in Chicago. My lingering cold and sore throat kicked back into gear, and I clearly wasn’t firing on all burners anymore. I had to start carrying a bottle of Pepsi with me as a ready-made cough syrup so I wouldn’t bother everyone too much with my coughing. Yes, I was that guy in the back of the room, with the hacking cough.

Sorry.

Anyway, back to the WorldCon.

The Venue

I haven’t really talked about the venue, the Hyatt Regency. Basically, the hotel had two towers. It also had three or four underground floors, depending on how you counted them. All events were held in one of five or so floors, within each tower, with the lowest level, the Dealer’s Area and associated display areas, spanning both towers.

There were escalators between floors on each side, and multiple connections between the two towers. Once you got used to the layout, it was extremely convenient. Everything was so stacked, that it was never too far to get to another room.

Much better than the extensive distances I’ve had to traverse in a convention center, or in dispersed buildings. Honestly, of the six World Cons I’ve been to, I thought Chicon had the best setup for the sessions and events of any of them.

The hotel fell down a little bit when it came to the parties, though. There just weren’t enough elevators. The management was aware of the problem, though, and worked diligently to maximize the elevators they did have. They had elevator operators to manage the lines on key floors and to maximize elevator fill rates. They also brought the maintenance elevators into the equation and used them as well.

All in all, the hotel did their best to alleviate the elevator issue, and deserve quite a bit of credit for their efforts.

Another nice feature of the hotel, they had a 24-hour snack bar with reasonable prices. No matter what time of day or night, you could get cold sodas, snacks, a pre-made sandwich, etc.

Finally, the hotel was right on the riverfront, with restaurants and interesting sites all within easy walking distance.

Late Start

Because I wasn’t feeling that well, I got up late and stumbled over to the Emerald Loop for a killer brunch. Highly recommended. Many thanks to Hugh Howey for introducing me to the place.

Got back to the con and circulated around the Dealer’s Room like a kid in a candy store. I’d read Mira Grant’s Deadline in the Hugo Voting Packet, and had been reading Feed, the first book in the series at lunch, so I jumped at the chance to buy Blackout, the final book in the trilogy. Picked up a bunch of other books as well (sigh, so many books, so little time, even less money, alas).

I spotted Hugh Howey in the signing area, so I bought a copy of Wool from him, and naturally had it signed. I’m looking forward to reading it after hearing everybody talking about it last night. Then I helped corral a few more people into his queue. He’s got a new book, I, Zombie, that he’s selling.

As I was exiting the signing area, I noticed that Seanan McGuire was also signing. She also has Mira Grant as a pseudonym, and her line was short. So I got her to sign Feed and Blackout, plus I’d just bought the first book in her October Daye urban fantasy series, so she signed that, too.

Writing Novelettes

I attended a session on “Writing the SF Novelette,” with panelists Eleanor Arnason, Brad R. Torgerson, Connie Willis, Michael Coorlim and Bud Sparhawk. It was a pleasant discussion without any startling revelations. Robert Silverberg was mentioned as one of the best novelette writers ever, which is absolutely true. I like his novelettes far better than his novels.

Electronic Publishing

I attended another session on “Electronic Publishing,” with Eric Flint, Amanda Luedeke, Jason Sizemore, Joshua Bilmes and Paul Genesse. What ensued was a wide-ranging discussion of electronic publishing, digital rights, the resistance of certain major European publishers to non-DRM publishing, and many other topics.

Eric Flint has been one of the pioneers in electronic publishing, particularly with his work for Baen Books and his 1632 shared-universe series. His perspectives, and those of the other panelists, were well worth the time spent in the session. The general consensus is that the publishing industry has changed forever, but nobody knows what shape it will finally take.

Conclusion

Another great day at the World Con, despite feeling a bit under the weather most of the day. There’s just so many other things that I wanted to do that I never got to. I think I need that time travel spell that Hemione Granger had in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

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A Report on the 70th World Con: Part 1

I flew from Washington Dulles Airport to O’Hare International Airport to attend the 70th World Science Fiction Convention, or World Con as it’s usually called. This was the first World Con I’d been able to attend since Denver in 2008, so I was really looking forward to the event.

Getting into Town

It was pretty easy to make my way into town, I simply took the subway to downtown Chicago, to the area they call “the Loop.”

I’d never been to Chicago before, so the subway was a great way to go. Much of the track was elevated and went straight though the city, so it was a great exposure to some of the old buildings and architecture that’s prevalent in the city.

Once I got off the subway, it was an easy walk to the Hyatt Regency where the convention was being held. As soon as I entered the hotel lobby, I knew I was in the right place. It’s hard to mistake the kind of crowd that attends a World Con. I’m part of that crowd, and we definitely move to different drummer than a lot of other folks out there.

Opening Ceremony

I got my room situation settled, dropped off my suitcase and laptops, and went looking for registration. This was simple, painless, and just a few minutes later I was settled in the back of the Main Auditorium for the Opening Ceremony, hosted by John Scalzi.

This event was run like a late-night talk show, with Scalzi interviewing guests on-stage, including Erle Korshack, who co-chaired the original Chicon in 1940 (the first time the World Con was held in Chicago — this was the fourth time it was being held in Chicago), Guest of Honor Mike Resnick, Kathy Morrill (sister of Artist Guest of Honor Rowena Morrill, who was absent due to health issues), Artist Agent Guest of Honor Jane Frank, Fan Guest of Honor Peggy Rae Pavlat and former NASA flight controller Sy Liebergot. Oh, and let’s not forget Deb Kosiba, the designer of this year’s base for the Hugo Award.

I’d never seen the Opening Ceremony food a World Con before, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I also liked the early reveal of the 2012 Hugo Base, and the presentation Deb Kosiba gave about the influences on the design. Well done.

Storytelling Time

After the Opening Ceremony, I attended a few sessions. My first choice was, I think, directly influenced by experience with Toastmasters and my efforts to improve my public speaking abilities. I’ve become interested in storytelling. Not interpretive reading, but outright storytelling. So I attended a very entertaining session called “Storytelling the Old-Fashioned Way,” featuring M. Todd Gallowglass, Marie Bilodeau, Deirdre Murphy, Michael R. Underwood and B. A. Chepaitis.

Each panelist started out by telling a short story, which ranged from your basic short joke to an elaborate fairy tale that required audience participation. They talked about what worked and what didn’t work when they told stories, as well as some specific stories about when things went wrong. All in all, it was good fun.

Self-Publishing or Not?

Next, I attended a panel called “To Indie or Not to Indie,” which was about the pros and cons of self-publication. Panelists included Mike Shepherd Moscoe (an established writer and the moderator), J. Kathleen Cheney, Hugh Howey, Matt Forbeck and Bill Housley. An interesting discussion ensued, with the moderator, the most established writer, coming the closest to defending the status quo in publishing.

Of the Indie-published, Hugh Howey appeared to be the most successful, with an Amazon bestseller, and a story, “Wool,” that had been optioned by noted film director Ridley Scott. The general conclusion seemed to be that it was a great time to be a writer, because you had so many publishing options.

By the time the session ended, it was about 7:30 PM and I was starving. Hugh Howey announced that he was meeting a bunch of his fans at an Irish restaurant, the Emerald Loop. Any of us who were interested in talking further were welcome to come along.

Hanging Out at the Emerald Loop

I, and a bunch of other folks, followed Hugh Howey to the Emerald Loop, hanging out at the bar until the rest of the folks arrived, and then taking over the back room. I met some of Hugh’s fans, who told me emphatically that his best book was “Wool Omnibus,” which collected all five wool stories into one complete volume.

I had an excellent Fish & Chips dinner, some great conversation with Hugh and the other folks who were there. When I went to pay for my share of the evening, Hugh told me he’d already paid for everything.

I said, “You do realize, I’m like the only person here who hasn’t read any of your books?”

He just laughed and remarked about what a great time we’d all had. Heck, I’d even had my picture taken with him, and I wasn’t yet even sure whether I was going to like his books (although I’d already resolved to buy his “Wool Omnibus” that everyone had been talking about.

What a great first day at the World Con.

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