Montreal WorldCon: the science column

Every now and then I attend a science fiction convention, and when I do, I like to talk about it in this column, as part of my ongoing evangelical campaign to raise the profile of science fiction and win the genre new readers.

Well, I just finished a doozy of a convention, the grandaddy of them all: the 67th annual World Science Fiction Convention in Montreal, a.k.a. Anticipation.

Yes, there were people in costumes (though I only saw one Star Trek costume—an original series one, at that—and not a single Klingon). And, yes, the media tended to focus on those people. Which is fine: they’re the eye-catching ones, and they’re an important part of science fiction fandom. (And as someone who loves performing in musical theatre, I am hardly one to disparage the wearing of costumes.)

But there is so much more at a World Science Fiction convention. In fact, it’s a veritable buffet of goodness for the intellectually curious: where else, for instance, could you listen to Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman in conversation with British science fiction writer Charles Stross?

To extend the buffet metaphor further, WorldCon is an all-you-can-eat-and-then-some buffet. At any given moment, there could be a couple of dozen choices of things to do.

For example, at 2 p.m. on Friday, among the offerings were a presentation by McGill students of science posters they had created; a panel on creating science fiction haiku; “My Parents Made Me Do It” (about growing up in science fiction fandom); “SF in French-Speaking America;” and “In Conversation with Tarl Wayne” (the fan artist guest of honor).

During that same time, the aforementioned Paul Krugman was giving a presentation on how reading science fiction led him into becoming an economist, and there was a panel on the “Greatest Fan Writer,” several author readings, a presentation on “Computing Before Computers,” a panel on “Food: Ancient, Modern, Future, Near and Far,” a writers’ workshop on creating alien languages, a panel on modern graphic design in publishing, and a costuming panel on embellishment techniques.

There were also panels in French, a look at the fiction of Neil Gaiman, this year’s Guest of Honour, a program for teens on how to present yourself in frontof an audience; a panel on “The Future of Gender,” a presentation by Prof. Gail Chmura, a climate-change specialist at McGill University, a panal on environmental issues in science fiction and fantasy, a discussion of who should win the Hugo Award (science fiction’s top fan-voted award) in the Short Form Dramatic Presentation category, a panel on what the people behind the camera do in television and movie production, and a panel introducing book binding, archiving and preservation.

That was just one hour to hour-and-a-half time frame—and I left a few things out.

See, here’s what people who rely on media stereotypes of science fiction fans (you know, can’t get a date, live in their mother’s basement, etc.) don’t realize: the kinds of people who are interested in science fiction are often the kinds of people who interested in everything.

Among the panels I personally attended were one on star maps from antiquity to today; a rather depressing discussion on the outlook for manned space flight in the U.S. post-shuttle; and a panel discussing the exploration of Mars from the persepective of the Canadian Space Agency.

At its heart, though, WorldCon is still focused on books. The premiere award of the weekend is the Hugo Award for Best Novel, which was won by Neil Gaiman for The Graveyard Book.

Among the other awards given out at WorldCon: the Aurora Awards for the best Canadian science fiction and fantasy…and I was honored to receive the Aurora for Best Long-Form Work in English for my novel Marseguro (DAW Books).

Obviously, that alone made the 67th annual World Science Fiction Convention the best in history, as far as I was concerned.

But if you’re interested enough to read this column every week, there’s a good chance you’d enjoy a science fiction convention even without winning an award.

Next time there’s one in your neck of the woods, why not give it a try?

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    • on September 5, 2009 at 3:55 pm
    • Reply


    It was nice to meet you, too. I’m glad you enjoyed Marseguro!


    Hey, I like that! A gigantic pot-luck dinner. You’re right, that describes the experience much better. Just watch out for the egg salad…you can’t be sure how fresh it is.

  1. Your all-you-can-eat buffet analogy is a good one, but the one I prefer is that it’s a gigantic pot-luck dinner. At a buffet restaurant, you pay money to someone to feed you. At a pot-luck dinner, everyone brings some dish of his/her own, and if it’s a big enough dinner, everyone has to chip in to help pay to rent the hall in which the dinner is held. That’s a Worldcon. It explains the variety, and why the quality of the dishes varies so widely.

  2. It was a pleasure meeting you, if only briefly, at your autograph session. Just finished Marseguro and enjoyed it a great deal.

    Choosing amongst all those great panels was tricky, made the more challenging by the beautiful city that lay outside the doors, waiting to be explored. Maybe that’s why Boston’s big con is held in the winter; keeps everyone inside! 😉

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