Last year, Nine Worlds was held at two hotels, the Radisson Edwardian Blu and the Renaissance Heathrow. The former was used for some of the gaming tracks (IIRC), the latter for the bulk of the con. This year, the whole con was held in one hotel: the Blu. While having all of the con in one hotel is a great idea so that con-goers who are following one track don’t feel cut-off from anyone, my main complaint about the con was that the service at the Blu was dire. The hotel is constructed strangely, with small gathering areas (as compared to the large, open ground floor lobby and bar in the Renaissance) and a lot of staircases, and we experienced rude service, with ‘optional’ but still tacked-on service charges for *everything* at the hotel. This wasn’t the fault of the 9W crew, but by the end of the con my friends and I were looking forward to getting out of the hotel.
Nine Worlds is an amazingly fun and inclusive con. People are free to express themselves in whatever way they want, and I appreciated seeing the loos with labels on them describing what could be found in the room (urinals, sanitary-item bins, etc.) rather than who was ‘allowed’ into the room. I further appreciated the colored tags that we could attach to our con badges to indicate to others whether or not we welcomed conversation. I didn’t grab any but knew that if I felt I needed one I was welcome to them.
Because it’s a smaller con, there wasn’t the feeling of separate ‘classes’ of people: that is, fans and pros. Everyone hung out in the same bar. This was a contrast to LonCon3. The first day of LonCon, a YA author friend asked me where the bar was where people were hanging out. I had to tell him that I had no idea (likely because I’m not—yet—a novelist and so not part of that world). And that’s when it hit me: we were in a conference centre, not a hotel. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I was recruited as part of the exhibits hall volunteer crew a year ago when Farah Mendlesohn asked me if I could build an exhibit for the hall: some sort of fantasy garden. This matches my PhD topic, so of course I said yes, and over the past year I attended meetings where several of us gathered around her dining room table to plan the Guest of Honor booths. Unfortunately, because of the time and energy I’ve had to give to my PhD (as well as teaching and life stuff and sleeping every now and then), I had to drop out of building the garden, but Farah had plenty of exhibits by then so it was all okay. I was still ready to help with the ‘move in’.
I got to the ExCel the day before the con started, a day or so after most everyone else volunteering for set-up; the exhibits hall already had booth walls but there were boxes everywhere, empty tables, etc. We spent all day putting the Robin Hobb booth together: hanging fabric on the walls, hanging the figureheads Kirsty Harris (a fellow PhD student) created, hanging a giant dragon (that Serena Culfeather built) and decorating with herbs, both real and fake (to represent poisonous and medicinal herbs in Hobb’s books).
That dragon. That damn dragon. It’s gorgeous and huge and did NOT want to be on that wall! We spent hours trying to get it to stay, ended up rigging up a sliced-in-half-lengthwise cardboard tube and sewing it along the dragon’s underjaw to keep it from falling off. We were so nervous about that dragon that we had ‘Do not touch the dragon’ signs printed. We all checked that dragon every morning and throughout the day to see if it was still there, sure that it had fallen in the night, taking the figureheads and a small child with it.
It Never Wobbled!
So, spent all day Wednesday in Hobb’s booth, and the spent the first half of Thursday moving benches, moving walls, setting up the Gomoll booth, collecting and arranging pigeons for the Wizard of the Pigeon exhibit, and doing whatever needed to be done. It was nearly one o’clock before I realised I hadn’t registered and the doors were about to open to the hall, so I booked it downstairs and was allowed to jump the hour-plus-long queue and get my tag (the power of the blue LonCon vest—but it didn’t get me my panel sticker or packet; I had to go back later for them).
And then the con began. And I was asked almost immediately where the bar-con was going to happen. I had no idea. In hindsight, I think the ExCel was a good place to have World Con. Though it’s far from central Lodon and we were sort of stuck eating wherever we could find in or near the halls, as others have noted, I never had to queue for a loo or for food. The only time anything felt crowded was when I was in panels that ended up being booked in rooms that were too small for the audience (and, really, the schedulers couldn’t know what was going to be that popular).
It took a couple of days for the con to feel ‘intimate’ to me, or close to as intimate as a smaller con feels, just with more people, if that makes sense. My first con experiences were in the US, where there are room parties at night hosted by publishing houses, and I am usually on the lookout for info on where and when parties will be held. I ended up with a couple of invitations to ‘room’ parties, held in the loooong hallways where rooms S19-30-ish were. But what was so cool was the Fan Village, where there was always something going on, free books to be found, free food and drink at tent parties (or at the volunteer tables in the back, a fab perk of being a helper!). There was, however, still that feeling of separation. One night we ended up at the Aloft and crashed the Gollancz party for a while. But after the Hugos, we only saw two of the winners come down to the Village with their awards, meeting people and getting photos taken. And I heard a story about a novelist friend who was completely snubbed in the green room by another novelist. I can understand how annoying it must get to be hounded by people wanting your autograph or a photo taken (well, I can try to understand; it’s nothing I’ve ever experienced and am not likely to, and that’s okay). But this is where the contrast was strongest between these two back-to-back cons.
The extras at LonCon more than made up for that, however. The exhibits hall had so much STUFF going on. There were a dozen panels and events at any one time. I pre-scheduled myself, choosing what I wanted to do (and often had 3 or 4 things ticked at the same time), and ended up at only 2 or 3 panels each day. I felt bad about that, but when meeting Emma Newman she said something that stuck: ‘People before panels.’ I never even made it to the art show. On Sunday I got to help Dr Bettina Beinhoff in her Alien Languages panel; I was her lovely assistant, handing out and collecting survey packets. I danced at a ceilidh. I ended up with 11 free books. I met some amazing people. And I got to go to the Hugos, something that I never expected to ever do. It felt like a bit of a mix between ComicCon and Nine Worlds. What helped it feel smaller was something I didn’t expect: social media. Twitter was the means by which my friends and I kept track of what was going on elsewhere in the con: what panellists were saying, what meetups were happening, who was doing what and where. It became everyone’s message-board to share dinner plans, photos, lost & found, kudos and complaints.
Planning LonCon3 took the people involved a year, and I saw them all working hour upon hour during the con. Their hard work and vision showed, and I can only add my voice to the crowd when I say how much I appreciate what they did and what a success it was.
In the end it was all rather overwhelming and I am still sorting out ideas in my head. There may be another post on that in the near future.