Worldcon 2008

The first day of the Worldcon had finally arrived and for once we were already in the city and ready to get started. I got going so I could register before the first panels started at 11:30.

Although I arrived at the convention center and found the right line at 10:45, it was almost an hour before I was through registration. I have no idea why it took that long, there were maybe 30 or 40 people in front of me and once I got to the front I was given my materials in short order, but it didn’t bode well for the organization. This Worldcon won a close contest against other bids from Chicago and Columbus that were both considered more viable, I only picked Denver myself because it was the only one not on Labor Day weekend, which interferes with the kids school. It’s a completely volunteer-run event, so even though some groups do a better job than others of making you forget that fact, I at least am willing to put up with a certain amount of disorganization, and by and large things were ok. The convention center itself is vast, there was another convention going on in the front of the building that you had to walk through to get to the Worldcon stuff in the back. On Wednesday there wasn’t much in the way of signs, so it took a little more initiative to figure out where everything was, but I worked it out.

Something else in short supply at this year’s edition were big name pros. Several people you normally see at Worldcons like Kim Stanley Robinson and Greg Benford were not in attendance, and several others like Fred Pohl and Robert Silverberg were present but kept a low profile. We’ve lost a few major writers recently, Jack Williamson, Arthur C. Clarke, Algis Budrys and Tom Disch, to name a few, but they weren’t regular attendees in recent years, so I’m not sure where everybody went. It was challenging in some time slots to find panels that had any significant number of pros that I wanted to hear beyond the usual NY/New England contingent that I see at Boskone and Readercon already. Most panels were populated either mostly or entirely of people I’d never heard of, and I feel like I’m fairly well-informed about who’s who in the field.

One interesting new twist with this year’s Worldcon was a series of panels focusing on specific books written in 50 years ago in 1958, advertised as a sort of reading group and publicized in advance so you could actually go out and read the books ahead of time. I got the one I was missing at Readercon a few weeks ago, but unfortunately the order of the panels wasn’t announced until this past weekend, so the book I’ve been trying to read all week while in the mountains of Wyoming was the last one on the agenda. But the first one for today was Blish’s “A Case of Conscience”, which I finished on the plane coming out last week. The group was organized and run by John Hecht, a man of many opinions who ran the discussion with an iron first and monopolized the better part of the conversation, such that the hour went quickly. About 20 or so people were in attendance, a respectable number I thought. I mentioned to him afterwards how my classics group had picked Asimov’s Foundation a few years ago and what a disaster that was since it was short on character and style, to which he strongly disagreed, so that conversation didn’t last very long.

The other panels I attended were sub-par. Wil McCarthy gave a short, vague talk (with no visual aids) on programmable matter, a subject that should have been more interesting than his presentation let on. Usually the Worldcon is good for a fair number of science-oriented panels, this was certainly true in Anaheim two years ago and Boston before that, but this edition didn’t seem to have much to offer. Later in the afternoon Elizabeth Moon and Larry Niven teamed up with GoH Lois McMaster Bujold and Robert Silverberg to talk about older protagonists in SF, which should have been more entertaining than it was.

A full day of panels are on tap for tomorrow.

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