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Anticipation, the 67th Worldcon -- August 6th - 10th, 2009
Review by Daniel Dern
SFRevu  
Date: 06 August 2009

Links: Anticipation English / Show Official Info /

In early August, my SO and I spent a little over a week in Montreal, Canada, first playing tourist and then attending Anticipation 2009, the 67th annual World Science Fiction Convention (a.k.a. WorldCon). In case you don't know what a WorldCon is (here's its Wikipedia entry, it's:
  • the annual convention run by the World Science Fiction Society, each year in a different city from the previous year. (Locations are selected by a multi-year process of lobbying and voting.) Last year's was in Denver, Colorado; 2007's was in Yokohama, Japan (nearish to Tokyo); the 2010 WorldCon will be in Melbourne, Australia.
  • a volunteer-run not-for-profit event
  • a great place to meet many of your favorite science fiction and fantasy authors, hear them speak, do readings, be interviewed, and have panel discussions; buy books, sf art, t-shirts, jewelry, and sundry tchotchkes
  • a great place to see classic, obscure and other movies, TV episodes, anime; play role-playing and other games
  • see people wandering around dressed like elves, Klingons, Imperial Stormtroopers, etc.
  • see, dine with and schmooze with old friends, and make new friends
  • stay up too late, wake up as early as you can, and have fun
  • Watch the presentation of science fiction fandom's annual Hugo Awards for best novel, best movie, et cetera, as selected through voting of Worldcon attendees (well, paid members, which is close but not quite the same thing)
  • See a new/different city, area, country; eat in new restaurants; etc.
  • all of the above, and more.
Here's the near-final draft of the official Convention Guide, which includes full details on the convention, main guests, events, program sessions, etc.

This year's WorldCon, the 67th (the first WorldCon was in 1939, but, due to World War II, none were held from 1942 through 1945) was held in Montreal, Canada, a city I don't recall having been to before. (I've been to Canada many times, including for Torcon 3, the WorldCon held in Toronto back in 2003.

We ended up going there by Greyhound bus -- the air fares from Boston were exhorbitant, and, sadly, the east/west and north/south trains schedules didn't match for a same-day transfer. (The three-week-advance-purchase price was $163 round-trip for two people -- less than gas, tolls, and overnight parking for a week's stay.)

Anticipation (all WorldCons, indeed, all science fiction conventions, have names, e.g., Boskone, PhilCon...) officially ran Thursday, August 6, 2009 through Monday, August 10, 2009. (Most of the US-based WorldCons take place over the US' Labor Day Weekend; non-US ones often are sometime in August).

We got to Montreal a few days earlier -- deliberately -- giving us time to play tourist, e.g., see the Botannical Gardens and the BioDome, ride the underground and bus public transit, go to a farmer's market, walk up Mount Royal, visit the local magic shops (that's my thing), check out a Schwartz's smoked-meat deli (not the same as corned beef) and two bagel-bakers, the river walk, etc. The weather was mostly great, with only a day's worth of overly hot/humid, and a few hours of rain.

Interestingly, Montreal has lots of rental bicycles ("Bixies") situated along many streets.

THE PLAYERS: Guests Of Honor, And Other Notable/Noted Folks Spotted

All WorldCons (and pretty much every fan-run science fiction convention) has Guests of Honor. . Sometimes I know who they are, sometimes not.

Anticipation's GoHs were:

  • Guest of Honour: Neil Gaiman (who was in sufficient demand that there were lines and lotteries not just for a seat at his Kaffeeklatch, but for the chance to ask a question or get a book signed. I'm not faulting Gaiman here; these seemed like reasonable approaches, and better than uncontrolled crowding, shoving and rude behavior. Fortunately, I'd heard him read Coraline at Boskone, several years ago, and gotten one thing autographed way back then...)
  • Invitée d'honneur: Elisabeth Vonarburg
  • Fan Guest of Honour: Taral Wayne
  • Publisher Guest of Honour: Tom Doherty
  • Editor Guest of Honour: David Hartwell
  • Master of Ceremonies: Julie Czerneda
Other SF writer notables I saw nearby, went to readings by or panels they were on, or even schmoozed with included, in alphabetical order:
    Gardner Dozois,
    Scott Edelman,
    Joe and Gay Haldeman,
    Geoff Landis,
    George R.R. Martin,
    Larry Niven,
    Robert Sawyer,
    Robert Silverberg (who I sold a short story to, for New Dimensions 8, way back when),
    Charles Stross,
    Michael Swanwick,
    Bill Willingham (author of the DC/Vertigo FABLES series).
Plus lots of well-known fans, from many countries.

(Here's Anticipation's posted list of Programme Participants and Also attending lists.)

WHAT I DID AND DID I LIKE IT

One of SFRevu editor Ernest Lilley's questions. Sheesh. OK. Set brain dump to stun. I was on about half a dozen programming items; I'll deal with those separately.

(Again, see the near-final draft of the official Convention Guide for details of all this stuff.)

I went to a bunch of readings. Of all the things one can do at an SF convention, this can be, in my opinion, the biggest treat. (Some panels can be fabulous, of course.) Mmmm, I heard Rob Sawyer, reading from his "the Web wakes up" trilogy. Gene Wolfe, from a not-yet-published (I think) work! Woohoo! Sean McMullen, author of the MOONWORLDS series and the GREATWINTER series (both great), from something just published in F&F magazine.

Interviews. Joe and Gay Haldeman, interviewing each other on "the writer's life"; Analog magazine editor Stanley Schmidt and Asimov Science Fiction magazine's editor Sheila Williams comparing and contrasting their magazines (which are owned by the same publisher).

A big-room full-house one-on-one conversation between SF writer Charles Stross and Nobel-prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, who turns out to have read lots of SF when he was growing up. Fabulous.

The Opening Ceremonies. Included a short performance by a contortionist. I think most of the audience hurt just watching her.

Panels. Some panels you go to for the topic, some because of who's on them. Some to learn, some to enjoy. Some, all of the above. Bill Willingham moderated a great panel on comic books, without spoiling what's coming up in the next 100 issues of Fables.

Panels I took notes during included: podcasting how-two, foreign/translation rights, "The Middle Ages: Getting It Right," and "Online Markets."

"Kaffeeklatches" -- It feels like these are a relatively -- within the past five or six years -- invention at cons, although I could be wrong. Here, one (or two) people "hold court" at a table of (usually) no more than ten people. You sign up in advance. Sometimes they talk, sometimes you get to ask questions. They're informal, and offer access in a way that's very different from being at a panel or reading or interview. (At ReaderCon 20 back in July, I went to Gene Wolfe's!)

Mark and Priscilla Olson's SF Trivia contest -- One of my favorite events (they do it at Boskone), competing against hyper-knowledgeable fans to see who can call out the right answer fastest. Much to my happy surprise, I came in fourth or fifth, if I recall. (Conveniently, triviameister Tom Galloway had a schedule conflict. Tom doesn't think that was a coincidence.)

We didn't make it to the Masquerade (costumes by amateurs and professionals) -- there was a fireworks display on the other side of the river, which we watched from the roof of the Palais des congrés de Montréal convention center -- or the Hugo Awards Ceremonites. I didn't make it to the "Trailers" video session, often one of my favorites. You can't do everything.

SESSIONS I DID/WAS ON:

In addition to the core committees and the many other volunteers that make any science fiction convention happen, another way to partipate is as part of 'programming' -- being on one or more of the panels, readings, kaffeeklatches, etc. I like being on panels (and it's good exposure, of course); I ended up being on about half a dozen at Anticipation.

I wear a bunch of hats, as it were ("changing them accounts for the bald spot"), so it's not surprising that I was on a range of things. My "day job" is freelance technology/business writer. I write (and have sold some) science fiction, have been writing dozens of not-yet-sold short-short ("flash-length") childrens stories (my Dern Grim Bedtime Tales & Other Stories). I'm a comic book fan. And I'm an amateur magician.

ANTICIPATION VERSUS OTHER CONS

Ernest's question: "How did this compare to other cons? Were there operational issues?"

No two cons are identical. Ditto no two attendants' experiences at the same con. No con goes perfectly; some more or less so than others. Anticipation started with a few operational rough spots, like program grids that were hard to decode and had the wrong times, and no signs on the rooms. Much of this was under control by the second day. Sometimes it was hard to hear speakers; nothing new there.

Anticipation went smoothly enough, overall. There were lots of sessions, enough of interest to me (some people go to cons primarily to schmooze with friends, or to do just one or two things, go figure), but not too many everything-interesting-at-the-same-time. The weather was cooperative enough. The hotel we were staying at was an easy few-block walk from the Convention Center where most of the events were.

Negatives: the Con Suite (where attendees could hang out, get a bunch of free food, etc.) was in a hotel a good ten minute (I think) walk from the Convention Center. We never made it there. The Dealers' Room (people selling books, media stuff, etc.) was relatively sparse -- not surprising, as many of the usual vendors were from the U.S., and presumably didn't want to have to deal with border issues. Some programming events that seemed near-identical to the one in the next room.

Pro's: Again, a lot of good programming events, certainly enough. Some fascinating topics and participants. Good enough food in the convention center (when open) and nearby, and a pretty good guide to local eating, done by Jo Walton. (Note, although Chinatown's bakeries open around 8AM or so, they're really prepping for lunchtime traffic.)

Probably lots more that went well and that went badly or so-so that I never noticed or heard about. Again, WorldCon, and most cons, are run by volunteers. It's a lot of work. Some of the people have been doing it for years, even decades, and know what they're doing; some are just learning. A lot goes right that attendees don't notice, and there's a lot of as-it-happens problem-solving. Kudos and thanks to all involved!

CONCLUSION: ENOUGH FUN!

All in all, Anticipation was a good-enough WorldCon, and we enjoyed touristing in Montreal. Good people, good weather, good food, good stuff to do.

And I got to try/test a new Lenovo S12 IdeaPad netbook (12" display, very sweet) and Olympus' new D620 DSLR digital camera -- thanks again to both vendors for the press review loaners. (Now to write up those reviews, for SFRevu's sibling site TechRevu.com... and organize and post some pictures.)

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