What I did at Worldcon: Thursday

by , under expeditions, life


Because I got to meet my absolute favourite author (Caroline Stevermer) and she turned out to be a nice normal woman who I have even more in common with than I already thought. She looks almost exactly like someone I know in church, so much that I thought “what is [this other woman] doing here?” when I saw her walk the corridors before the actual meeting.

But let’s not rush things.

That’s what the train thought, too, so I didn’t get in until 9:20 and I was afraid that Caroline Stevermer’s kaffeeklatsch would be fully signed up, but I was number 6 or so (of 12). *Whew*. “I’m in!” I squeeed to the people we’d been on the train with, a couple organizing the New Zealand bid for 2020.

NZ man, on the train: I was having trouble with my nick.
Me (thinking): … he wanted to be called Tom but everybody is calling him Jim? Oh! He’s from New Zealand!

And yes, it was his neck he’d been having trouble with.

Then I got a message from David or Kaleissin or Kechpaja (can’t be hedgehogged to check) that the conlang film would be screened EXACTLY at the same moment as the Kaffeeklatsch. Sorry, but meeting Caroline Stevermer is basically the thing I came to Helsinki FOR and I won’t skip it.

If it had been later in the week I’d probably have been confident enough to sign up for the “How to craft a scene” workshop with Ellen Kushner, but I went to a panel instead.

Religious Diversity in Fiction

This turned out to be all about quests, more than about actual religious diversity in the fiction itself. Everybody was very polite and (as I found out later when I talked with one of the panelists) cautious not to offend the others of different faiths, so it didn’t take off and soar like the Diana Wynne Jones panel.

I was still at the taking-notes stage then — gave it up later and occasionally livetweeted instead. I misspelled Confucianism as Confusianism, which is symptomatic of those notes: I can’t really make sense of much. Some points that I’d like to mull over:

— cultural appreciation versus appropriation
— Olaf Stapledon in Last and First Men (need to read that, I think): “secular religion”
— what is the Creator’s purpose? Creation. It’s none of our business why.
— Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin: it’s about someone’s quest, but religion doesn’t enter into it unless you think that dealing with Faerie is religious

Naomi: you bring your own religious background as a reader, also as a writer

Brad: (grew up [word that I parse as “damn” but probably isn’t] Catholic); religion in fiction should be more than 18th-century exoticism

— a feeling of otherness, in a good sense

Naomi: in SF you see things that look like religious rituals but are also technology

Marie Brennan’s Lady Trent series: the quest is SCIENCE! — people have their religions but the story isn’t about it.

(why does all the interesting discussion happen in the questions? is that normal for worldcon panels?)

My notebook seems to indicate that I ran into my roommate between panels (we both came from different things and went on to different things) because we brainstormed names for the Diana Wynne Jones con in Bristol: Howl’s Moving Con, Bristolia, Hotel Babylon. Others, on Twitter, came up with more: Here Now, 12A, The Real Place, The Mythosphere, Ayewards, The Place Between, Class of 2Y Reunion, The Merlin Convention.

Appeal of the Bland Protagonist

I had such high hopes of it because it would be my first glimpse of Caroline Stevermer (it wasn’t, see above, but I didn’t know it was her then). What I didn’t realise was that it had an Actual Celebrity on it! Robert Silverberg, who moderator Kari Sperring referred to as “on my left I’m in the presence of greatness”. And RS made a blessing gesture!

Apparently we needed to know who the women were, but not who the men were, because only the women had their nameplates out. “Well, we know who one of the men is,” the person next to me said.

I’ll give RS the benefit of the doubt: I don’t think he actively did something to make the panel about him and his celebrity status, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. I tweeted (abbreviations expanded): “I suspect many people came to hear the celebrity talk instead of (like me) to see the undeservedly obscure writer fumble with the microphone.” That was probably why it was in a very large room, too.

The result (both of RS eclipsing the others and it being in a very large room that I was almost at the back of) was that I didn’t catch much of the actual discussion. There is one desperate note in my notebook: “Is this going to be all about the celebrity? Not impressed by celebrity. Impressed by greatness.”

And there’s this:

Yes, if I had the power to sue him I would. I was right in the middle of a row and didn’t want to make a statement badly enough to disturb people for it, but if I’d had an aisle seat I’d have walked out as quietly as possible and YELLED IN THE CORRIDOR.

Some salient points, after all, mostly from the questions:

Kari: All my characters are bloody weird.

Audience: Do you need a blander protagonist the more fantastic the setting is?
Me (thinking): Probably yes. But perhaps they only to have to be bland for the setting.

Audience: Some of my favourite bland protagonists are English.
Kari: I’m Welsh, I’m not bothered by that.

Baffled by Robert Silverberg wearing a First Worldcon ribbon. Why? (ETA: It was a joke. He’s been to every Hugo ceremony since 1953. Reinforces my opinion of him.)

After this panel I was too excited to do anything else before the Kaffeeklatsch, except eat a falafelburger which turned out to have actual whole chickpeas in it, not just anonymous mush.

I had some trouble finding the Holiday Inn lobby, but once I was there who came out of the lift but Jacey Bedford, on my list of people to meet! She was on her way somewhere, but I met her later with Carl Allery (from the old rasfc crowd, like Jacey) and we had coffee together.


She’s even nicer than I already expected from her writing. We talked about her already existing books, and her new book that will come out under the name of Cynthia Stevens, and our own various writing troubles as far as they matched hers — half the people in the room were writers as well as readers — and more about books. Right at the end I got up enough courage to fangirl at her and slide a USB stick across the table and admit, in public (well, only 12 people that I’d got to know a little in those three-quarters of an hour), that I’d dedicated the first book “to Caroline Stevermer who I want to be when I grow up”.

And she was so touched. She gave me a business card. Or at least she tried: the first card was blank, and I asked “is that intentional?” but it wasn’t and I got a real one that she signed on the back. When I said, on leaving, that she’d made me so happy, she said “You’ve made me happy too!”

Caroline: I’m so happy, I want to hug someone.
Me: You can hug me! (And we did.)

We ended late: we’d also started late as the lifts were having trouble and one woman was using a mobility scooter that she had to dismount from and climb the last flight of stairs laboriously (but she managed). It was all right, I didn’t want to go anywhere anyway because I was limp with squee, so I hung out with Jules Jones for a while and then had a smoothie and a sweet bun before changing into my new NetHack T-shirt (“I explored the Dungeons of Doom but all I got was this blessed +5 T-shirt” on the front and “@ a human or elf (peaceful thaumaturge called Raisse)” on the back) as well as the ridiculous hat.

selfie with ridiculous @ hat

The ridiculous hat!

NetHack fan meet

This was my personal bit of programming, the one I got the Programme Participant ribbon for. I had no idea how many people would show up — I knew of five including myself, and one had already said she couldn’t come because of her own book launch party — but it must have come out at about twenty. One of whom was my partner in crime — I’d asked him on IRC “are you going to do a fan meet?” and when he said no, “if I do it will you come?” and he said yes. He was behind me, counting, so I’ll ask him on occasion how many people he actually counted. (ETA: 22 at peak. My estimate was right.)

I already knew about the fan lounge and its horrible acoustic properties, so having to SPEAK UP if not SHOUT didn’t make me nervous, and not having the meet take off until we all had a spot where we could actually understand each other didn’t make me nervous either. We shared war stories, stupid deaths, frustrations, victories, more stupid deaths. It was good to finally put faces to names and IRC nicks. It was, on the whole, good. I’ll probably do it again in Dublin. Perhaps someone who isn’t me will do it in San Jose, but I have no power over that.

I must have eaten with my roommate because I remember saying that I’d catch up with her at the Japanese Adaptations of Western Fantasy panel later because the woman I asked where she’d got her crocheted snood took me to the Chaos Costuming shelves where she’d seen one for the taking. (Thank you, Helena! It was perfect!)

When I got into the room I thought was 101d it was dark and the projection screen was on, which made perfect sense to me because, well, it was about anime, right? So I waited and waited until 12 minutes past the hour (even tweeted about that), and then suddenly an enormous din broke out and some people came on stage and started shouting. This was actually the Clipping concert, in 101b which had been joined to 101a for the purpose!

I fled, trembling in terror.

In the corridor Jo Walton and Greer Gillman were sitting on a bench, so I sat down next to Greer and asked her to touch me and she put her hand on my wrist, and Jo gave me dried raspberries, and the two of them saved me from embarrassing meltdown.

Then my roommate turned up as well, and we went to wait for the next thing.

Random person in queue: What queue is this?
Roommate: I’m sorry, I haven’t a clue.

This was SO HILARIOUS. Just what I needed! I still can’t sing Frère Jacques without hearing the words of “I’m too sexy for my shirt”. And book titles with a letter missing: Harry Otter, the sequel to Wind in the Willows. We did a few Diana Wynne Jones titles later: the only one I actually remember is Hols Moving Castle (a way to spend your summer holidays usefully). What occurs to me now, but not at the time, is Cat and Cwidder (a musical disaster).


The only time we managed. Roommate and I found out that we have very similar voices and compatible ideas about harmony. We considered practising Sam’s troll song from The Fellowship of the Ring to the tune of Daddy Fox (it’s absolutely possible, and more likely than not Daddy Fox is what inspired Tolkien) but never got round to it.

After midnight we found ourselves at the tram stop because we didn’t know if there were any trains running, We were in a congenial crowd. Someone wanted to give us tiny long-dog ribbons which would have fit perfectly at the blank top of the First Worldcon ribbon, but she couldn’t find them in her spacious bag full of different objects. I never found her again: the con was full of small dark-haired women in wheelchairs but none of them were her. Ah well.

This was also the only day that I went to bed late, but that didn’t matter because I didn’t have to get up early on the Friday: breakfast appointment at 9:30 instead of elaborate breakfast at 7:45 and train at 8:30.

  1. Felix

    Sounds like an awesome day! Just one thought: religion in fantasy is a thorny issue, and each author handles it however they feel comfortable. The contrast between Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, for instance, is telling. It’s also telling that modern authors such as yourself or Brandon Sanderson can make up intricate fantasy religions that drive entire plots (though the latter has a streak of cynicism that reminds me of Frank Herbert’s treatment of the topic). As for me, I tend to simply forget, religion not being a part of my life, and only recently managed to write about it without sounding awkward.

    In unrelated news, if you’re going to read The First and Last Men, brace yourself for a frightening, appalling level of racism and sexism, even for the time when it was written (and that’s saying something). Also for a book that just goes on and on, droning. I have a two-part review of it on my website; take with a grain of salt, but maybe it will help anyway.


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