The 72nd World Science Fiction Convention was held a few weeks back in London. Worldcon dates back to 1939 and only missed a few years in the 1940s because of World War II. But, unlike many other conventions, Worldcon is held in a different location every year. It’s also the annual host of the Hugo Awards, one of the most prestigious and long-running awards in science fiction. This is the third time it’s been in London, and so this year’s show was also called Loncon 3.
Interestingly, the city also hosted London: Nine Worlds the weekend before. It’s only the second year for that show, and consequently is considerably smaller than Loncon. While Nine Worlds is billed more as a “geek fest” than a pure science fiction convention, there’s some obvious overlap between the two, but that they both occurred in the same city a week apart, the comparisons are inevitable.
More than a few people noted a distinctly different tone and style in the conventions. The crowd of Loncon was considerably older and considerably more exclusionary, despite the larger attendence. Gavia Baker-Whitelaw noted, “Younger fans would regularly cringe as Worldcon veterans stood up to make some kind of mildly offensive or irrelevant comment—or to steamroll young female panelists when they tried to talk.” And Bertha Chin added, “I did not pay a considerable sum of money to voluntarily speak at a convention only to be yelled at, have fingers snapped at me or have disdain shown me when I introduce myself as an academic.”
In some respects, it’s hardly surprising. Being a much older show, Worldcon has been attracting fans for decades and, in many cases, the same ones. A culture has grown up in and around Worldcon itself, and the self-selection that helped to define what a “typical” Worldcon attendee looked/acted like was set down a generation ago. Nine Worlds, being so much younger, hasn’t defined its attendees nearly as rigidly yet. Further, while Worldcon was originally established as means to legitimize science fiction as a respectable genre, Nine Worlds’ aim is considerably different. From their website: “From the beginning, Nine Worlds aimed to be an umbrella for all different types of fandom and geekery to get together, party, and share their favourite stuff with each other… Diversity and inclusion are important foundations for Nine Worlds, wide ranging in not only scope of content, but in attendance. Specifically, we’re working to dump the sexism that infests many geek spaces and sci-fi cons.”
Every group, consciously or subconsciously, sets out to define who and what they are, both as a collective and as individuals. Worldcon—or, more accurately, the attendees who help to steer things by virtue of their numbers—wrote those definitions over half a century ago, and has been unwilling or unable to update them to better mesh with contempoary mores. What convention organizers need to recognize is that such changes do occur and, by way of harrassment policies, accessibility policies, etc., can help direct what they expect of attendees. Even the veteran guests who claim that’s just the way things have always been. Without deliberate efforts along those lines, we’re then left looking at a convention that, while ostensibly celebrating the future, looks very much like a relic of the past.