Worldcon 75 - 9-13 August 2017 - Messukeskus, Helsinki, Finland
by Judy Newton
Review by Judy Newton
Date: 09 August 2017
Just Us and Seven Thousand Of Our Closest Friends:
Many agreeable things happened in Helsinki in August, most of them connected to Worldcon 75. It was, after all, the focus of our visit to Iceland, Finland, and Estonia. One theme of our trip could be "Game of Thrones and the Remarkable Confluence of GRRM", for George R.R. Martin and GoT were seemingly everywhere, even before the start of the con. Walking in downtown Helsinki, we came across some buskers, a string sextet, playing pleasant if unremarkable music. As we stopped to listen, they segued into the theme from Guess What? So it was literally in the air. And a highlight of our stop in Iceland was the Game of Thrones Tour.
George was at the con but was making himself scarce on the program. He was scheduled for only one item at first, in addition to being a Hugo presenter, but was added to another panel at the last minute. He also had two autographing sessions. For the first 2:00 p.m. session, the line had started to form at 8:30 a.m. The first person in line was a Finn named Meri Vayrynen, who had read all his books and was nervous about meeting him. I told her she had nothing to fear.
Hugo Non-Controversy, and Other Program Items
The Hugo winners represented an almost complete sweep of the awards by women. I hope the assorted puppies have had their comeuppance and have taken their marbles and gone home. Good Riddance!
Speaking of the Hugos, the Best Fancast award went to Emma and Peter Newman's "Tea and Jeopardy", an episode of which was presented live directly following the Opening Ceremony, so I could appreciate the high polish and quality of showpersonship, and singing chickens, involved. Also, GRRM just happened to be their guest and victim.
The Losers Party was held at a steampunk-themed bar in downtown Helsinki. Co-sponsored by Worldcon 76 and (wait for it) George R.R. Martin, the food was delicious and plentiful (Reindeer tartar! Roasted duck! Chimichurri beef fillet!) and the drinks flowed. Winners were "mocked mercilessly", as advertised on the invitation, but many showed up anyway. They were made to wear funny hats.
For a Worldcon masquerade, the event was minimal. Better to dwell on the halftime entertainment, a performance by Sassafrass. This group, founded by the multitalented Ada Palmer (the John W. Campbell award winner), alone made the event worthwhile.
Other program items I attended were enlightening. James Bryant expounded on book collecting, at edifying length. He was also the moderator of one of the panels I was on later in the con. Joining him and some other fans for dinner at an Indian restaurant, I had an agreeable conversation with Guy Consolmagno, Jesuit priest, fan, and Director of the Vatican Observatory.
The next day, I attended a panel on "Times that Shaped the Science" with Guy, Shana Worthen (who had been on my panel the day before), Ada Palmer, and Brad Lyau. Initiating a con theme which sustained over at least two other panels, Ada rushed in late, blaming the tram. The panel was nonetheless fascinating.
In a rare exception to the other con theme, that of very full rooms, Nalo Hopkinson's Guest of Honor presentation was sparsely attended. It was given in the expansion space, which was opened before the new room numbers were fully publicized. (More about What Went Wrong, below.) Ms. Hopkinson graciously ignored the empty seats, reading two unpublished excerpts to the delight of the audience - even though I had to disagree with her assessment that "Dhalgren changed my life."
In a fit of self-reference, I attended the Convention Report Workshop. Anna Davour gave six of us from the US, Australia, and Europe tips on how to improve our writing. Much useful information, which could be applied to any essay; I hope it improved this one!
Ubiquitous cosplayers added another atmospheric element to the hallways and exhibit halls of the Messukeskus. Those halls included the huge open space combining Art Show (minimal), Dealers Room (interesting; the most-original award goes to the custom cuneiform vendor), fan lounge (with a BookCrossing station! Awesome!) and fan tables (including an impressive array of international fan groups, with two from China). A refreshing change from the overcrowded hallways of the program areas.
Which brings me to
What Went Wrong
Overcrowded. That's the one word to best describe the program and the program spaces. The original area was inadequate for the unexpected crowds, and even after expansion space was organized on Friday, the outstanding features of this con remained the logistics of navigation, and strategies for arriving at desired program items in time to have a chance of getting into the room.
It became obvious that it was not possible to attend two consecutive program items, since the line for each formed well before the scheduled time, and Devil take the hindmost. The con runners were zealous in enforcing the rule that all butts were to be in the official seats; no standees, and even perching on other flat surfaces in the room (table- speaker-, not to mention floor-sitting) was strictly forbidden. Moreover, they insisted on clearing the room after each item, so the time-honored strategy of ducking in for the last few minutes of the previous hour (assuming that there were seats available, not often the case), was no guarantee of staying for the next one. There was little room for those lines - one space became known as the "hallway from Hell."
It did also seem that Finns were much more oriented toward attending program than other nationalities, but that's just a subjective observation. On the positive side, both the panels I was on had all seats filled!
But despite the overcrowding, I had a pretty good time at this con. It helped that I was wearing three hats. The con committee granted me press credentials, allowing me to sit in reserved seating at the major events; I was the designated acceptor for Hugo nominee Steve Stiles; and was a program participant (which reminds me that I do have one more rant! Indulge me here).
Your program participant ribbon admitted you to the Green Room for exactly 15 minutes before your items, no more. Now, does this defeat the entire purpose of this space, which is to meet your fellow participants and prepare for your item in a relaxed atmosphere, and maybe even hang out a little if you have an unscheduled few minutes during the day? Why, yes, IMHO, it does. But, upon entering the room, I immediately understood the rule. The space was tiny. No hanging out here!
But There Was Serendipity
There were some nice surprises. Free tram passes to anywhere in the city limits, including the ferry to Suomenlinna, for the duration of the con. The con app, without which the chaos of room changes, especially with the expansion space opening, would not have been navigable. And Karl Fazer chocolate.
There did seem to be more flailing around by the con runners than during the average Worldcon, but on the whole, most of those seven thousand warm bodies had a good time. And on the whole, so did I.