Dublin 2019: An Irish Worldcon

Dublin 2019: An Irish Worldcon

A couple of weeks ago saw Worldcon come to Ireland for the first time, and España and I were there with bells on. COMMENCE THE CON REPORT.

When I was newer in fandom I generally didn’t start with the programme, but the programme formed a big part of my Worldcon this year. I really liked the programme in Dublin! It felt big and varied, and there were very often too many options in a slot, which meant I didn’t get to see everything I wanted to (which is a good thing, I think). I focused almost exclusively on panels about tabletop gaming in the end, but with a scattering of panels on space science and other topics (I’ll give a rundown of the panels I attended and my notes on them in the penultimate section of this report, because my notes are looooong). Most days I went to programme at 10am and only wrapped up quite late in the evening.

The split site was an interesting thing. I’ve seen criticism online, and honestly the two sites were probably right on the boundary of what would’ve worked in terms of their distance from one another. The first time I made the trip to the Point I thought it was pretty badly signposted, but the steady stream of people later in the week helped with that a lot. The Point was split into three, effectively – art show/exhibits/reception spaces in the Warehouse, Odeon screens being used for programme items, and two panel rooms in the Gibson Hotel next to the main building. I was on panels in the Odeon and the Gibson Hotel and I attended a reception in the Warehouse, and each seemed to have people, although the audience for my panel in the Gibson Hotel was slightly anaemic (not sure whether the panel was too niche or the room too difficult to find). I was worried that the art show would be poorly attended as a result of it being set aside from the CCD, but the big queues for Odeon panels indicated that people were making the journey and España’s artwork did super well, so maybe my fears on that front were unfounded.

The CCD was quite close to the maximum capacity it could possibly have sustained, and I’ve seen some pretty vitriolic criticism about the access issues with the amount of queuing that was required, but I’m not sure what the answer is to that. As someone that doesn’t have any issues with my physical fitness yet, I’m not well-placed to comment. I am curious, given that Loncon 3 and Helsinki also had a lot of issues with overcrowding and queues, as to whether they handled the issue better than Dublin — if you have an opinion on this please comment below! In general I liked the CCD space other than the queues, the green room upstairs was great, the auditorium was great and the dealers’ room seemed very well suited to the space it was in. The bar was a bit crowded a lot of the time, and could’ve done with more seats and some real ale, but it was a good place to spend time and right around the corner from the games room, in which I spent entirely too little time.

George RR Martin presenting the Alfie Awards
George RR Martin presenting the Alfie Awards

On the topic of the auditorium, I should mention the masquerade and the Hugo Awards. The masquerade was really fun, and I especially loved the Captain Marvel entry which was witty and well done. I was a Hugo Award finalist this year for my work on Journey Planet in Best Fanzine, which meant that the Hugo Award ceremony was a bit more fraught than usual. We came in third and were behind Lady Business, who do good stuff, so that’s great. I was generally very happy with the winners, actually, so it was in general a good ceremony. The losers’ party was held at the Guinness Store House. The issues around the party have been discussed in great length over on Twitter (check out Abigail Nussbaum‘s Twitter thread on the topic from the time if you’re curious), so I won’t discuss that here, but as someone who lost a Hugo and was at the party, I had a good time. The problem with the party for someone who isn’t an author is that it’s filled with people who you feel a bit awkward striking up conversations with, and less filled with people on your level, so I mostly hung out with the people I knew from Journey Planet, plus Dave O’Neill. The Guinness flowed freely and the various bits of food did too, and I discovered I really like the milk stout that Guinness do.

Dublin’s social media was…not great. I tweeted various questions and suggestions for changes at them, none of which were responded to in any way — the only peep I got out of them was when they retweeted a positive comment I’d posted within 5 minutes of the post, which rather suggests that the social media team were not really actually using the social media channel to engage with the members, but very much using it as an advertising mechanism. That’s fine, I guess, but it’s frustrating and unhelpful when it could be put to much better use.

Finally, let’s talk parties. These were so much better than Loncon 3 and Helsinki, and represent the first party scene outside a US Worldcon that I’ve thought really worked. The model of having programme rooms by day become party rooms by night worked well, and in general it was a fun time. There was a failure mode — the queue to get a drink in the Glasgow in 2024 party was as big as the room, making it difficult to actually enjoy the party after you’d got your drink through no fault of the organisers — but most parties were a good mixture of people, pleasant to spend time in, and had interesting drinks and snacks (although the expense of having to use conference centre catering meant these often ran out quite early). Having the bar just down one floor meant that if you got bored of the parties you could head back, and vice versa. This felt nicer than the fan village in Loncon 3 mostly because that space was one, gigantic space with no nooks or crannies, which to me fails to capture what’s nice about drinking at Eastercon, i.e. the ability to find a little niche and settle with friends, or go from niche to niche changing context. Dublin very much captured that feeling, and the nightlife felt much, much more like a giant Eastercon than it did at Loncon 3. I liked that the bar was named in honour of Martin Hoare, who died shortly before the convention.

An image of James Bacon having a €20 note waved at him by Christopher J. Garcia
“No thank you for the moment” — James Bacon

On a more personal note, I really enjoyed the people I saw at the convention! We bumped into Alissa, Andrew, Chuck, Garcia, and Vanessa almost immediately upon getting to the CCD, and saw many people besides throughout our time. We had dinner with Garcia and Vanessa on the Wednesday night, dinner with Tobes on the Thursday, dinner with Anna, Hogg, and the Januaries on the Friday, and dinner with Tobes, Dave O’Neill, his brother and his friend on the Monday. I spoke briefly to Jeannette Ng and Dominic, and saw many other friends from British and Irish fandom besides. It was great to catch up with people, although in hindsight perhaps I should’ve tried to grab food with more friends from the USA, but there’s never enough time for that at a Worldcon!

All in all, Dublin was a really good convention. I’ve very much taken a broad overview and not gone into great detail on the social aspects, but España has covered that bit brilliantly on her blog. I’m looking forward the next Worldcon in Ireland (despite the fact that James Bacon was reluctant to take €20 from Christopher J Garcia for the next one…).

Panels I saw

The first panel I attended was the ‘Beyond Dungeons and Dragons’ panel (Gregor Hutton, Ell Schulman, Rebecca Slitt, and Michael Cule). This was a fantastic panel and I ended up taking a lot of notes. The panel highlighted places to find interesting games, like the TTRPG tag on itch.io or self-published games on DriveThruRPG, and the Indie Game Developers’ Network (IGDN). They talked about various games: Fiasco, Firebrand, Polaris, Powered by the Apocalypse, Wicked Age, 13th Age. They recommended Jenga-based games like Starcrossed and Dread; Tarot-based games like Everway and Spindlewheel; and two-player games like New Normal and Breaking Nice. They also mentioned conventions: Ropecon (Helsinki), RPG cons in Cambridge, Continuum (Leicester), Double Exposure (New Jersey), Luca, Metatopia, Big Bad Con.

‘Apollo at 50’ (Ian Sales, Jeanette Epps, David Stephenson, Geoffrey A. Landis, Mary Robinette Kowal). This panel was mostly retrospectives about Apollo, featuring (as it did) knowledgeable people telling great anecdotes about Apollo. One interesting thing was when Sales posed the question of whether Apollo was a socialist programme, and Epps took that question and had taken it straight back to NASDAQ and commercial spaceflight within two minutes — very on-brand! Someone, and I forget which of the panellists it was, pointed out that the most lasting legacy of Apollo is arguably the Apollo-Soyuz mission which was the first step to lasting international cooperation in space. Kowal further highlighted how exciting it is that the forthcoming Artemis programme is being designed around science objectives and is not as politically motivated as Apollo.

‘The impact of Kickstarter on the gaming industry’ (Ric Bretschneider, Steve Jackson, Aidan Doyle, Tom Lehmann, Brenda Noiseux) was my next panel. This focused much more on anecdotes from the panellists about the experiences they’ve had with the platform rather than looking at the wider impact of Kickstarter and how that affects the games being made. This was interesting, and there was some interesting discussion on how to engage with backers and deal with their expectations/manage their requests, but I had mostly been interested in discussion of the large-scale impact of Kickstarter on the industry in general, so I asked a question about it at the end. I was surprised about the pessimism in response to that question: Jackson said it let him bring games back from the dead, but that it would eventually kill brick-and-mortar stores, with which Lehmann disagreed. Jackson also noted that the economics of supporting countries outside the USA means that they will shortly stop shipping Kickstarters outside the US.

‘Stories from other media turned into games’ (Michael Cule, Rebecca Slitt, William C. Tracy, Marie Brennan, Keith Byrne) was interesting but I didn’t take many notes. Tracy mostly talked on videogames, but I think it was mostly a bit of a board game slant. The focus was very much on roleplaying games and videogames until I asked whether the panel had thoughts on exposition in board games and card games, and Brennan highlighted the mechanics of the different clans in Legend of the Five Rings as a form of exposition teaching you about the clans’ characteristics.

‘GoH interview: Steve Jackson’ (Colm Lundberg, Steve Jackson) was interesting, but I don’t think I took any notes at all! Hearing the story about the Secret Service raids on his company was interesting, having an audience member ask a question about the UK Steve Jackson was almost obligatory, and ruminations on the origins of the industry were very interesting.

‘The history of tabletop gaming’ (Colm Lundberg, Steve Jackson, Tom Lehmann, Helena Nash) was mostly as anecdotal as the title suggests, but there was some interesting tidbits around the current state of the industry — the question of whether the current proliferation of tie-in games and the increased breadth of themes means we’re in a bubble, for instance. Jackson thinks that a collapse is coming which surprised me with its pessimism, so I asked about it — Lehmann thinks that the hobby might be growing to encompass new perspectives and Nash thought it had permanently broadened. Jackson thinks the best we will do is plateau at a point that’s sustainable, and I take the point that infinite growth is probably unrealistic.

The panellists of the 'Artemis: Apollo’s big sister' panel
The panellists of the ‘Artemis: Apollo’s big sister’ panel (by Chad Dixon)

‘Artemis: Apollo’s big sister’ (Alan Smale, Jeanette Epps, Becky Chambers, Ian Sales, Geoffrey A. Landis) was quite a general panel about ‘why it’s good to go to the Moon’ and not much specific about Artemis until closer to the end. It was interesting though!

‘Inclusive game design’ (Ian Paul Power, Ell Schulman, Carrie Patel, Carlos Hernandez) was a good panel. I hadn’t realised it was TTRPG Non-Binary month, so that was cool. Members of the panel expressed pleasure at being able to play female characters (e.g. in Mass Effect) but pointed out that a male/female choice plays into binary genders and is alienating to non-binary people. It was suggested that you ask players ‘do you see characters you want to play’, and have people read your content for sensitivity. Hernandez shared a story where he wanted to have a coin flip mechanic but realised that might be exclusionary to some people so actually changed it to something else. This was generally a panel filled with interesting anecdotes and useful advice!

‘Narrative and storytelling for games’ (Carlos Hernandez, Carrie Patel, Nicolette Stewart, Yen Ooi) was a panel I was looking forward to but which ended up disappointing me as it talked almost entirely about videogames. In hindsight, I should have recognised this would be the case from the panellists, so that’s mostly my fault (and obviously videogames are worth discussing in their own right!).

‘The golden age of animated SF’ (Amal El-Mohtar, Edward Kramer, Mari Ness, Eliza Chan) was a panel for which I had high hopes. Unfortunately, without a moderator and (seemingly) without any pre-panel discussion, the panel meandered and didn’t really answer the question it posed, digressing into questions such as ‘what is genre?’ and ‘what is animation?’ before getting to some light discussion of the eponymous topic in the last 15 minutes. It wasn’t really anyone’s fault, but I was a bit sad about it.

My wife and I on the last day
My wife and I on the last day (by Andrew Hogg)

‘Holy forking shirtballs: The Good Place panel’ (Abigail Nussbaum, Alex Acks, Ash Charlton, Jeffery Reynolds, Ginjer Buchanan) was a lovely feel-good panel which Nussbaum introduced by saying “we’re going to talk about why this show is great until it’s time for questions”. My notes on this panel are pretty long, but in essence, there was a lot of discussion about being good for its own sake rather than for reward, and on the intersection of personal responsibility vs. trying to change systems for the better. Generally a very good panel!

Panels I was on

‘Fanzines now!’ (Phoebe Wagner, Greg Hullender, Philippa Ryder, Joe Siclari) was the first panel I appeared on. I beat my traditional drum on the topic of “why don’t more online fanzines include fan art and great design?” while subtly disagreeing with points made by my other panellists on the nature of fanzines. Hullender is from the brave new world (as editor of Rocket Stack Rank) while Ryder is an old-school fanzine fan and Siclari is digitising old paper fanzines. In general, the panel was very good-natured and I think it went well. Lots of comments-not-questions at the end.

‘DC: TV vs film’ (Dan Moren, Mari Ness, Ginjer Buchanan, Simon R Green) was the first panel I moderated and went super well. We touched on what we did and didn’t like in the TV and the movies at the start of the panel and then spent a large chunk of time discussing what the movies get wrong and what they get right before coming back to contextualise that in terms of TV and in terms of what the MCU is doing. People seemed to enjoy it!

‘The comics galaxy of Star Wars’ (Stephen Mooney and Gabriel Petersen) was the second panel I moderated and was in the Gibson Hotel, with a relatively small audience. Petersen is a huge Star Wars fan who’s read most of the Marvel comics, and Mooney has worked on the comics professionally, as well as being the only one of us who had read more than a couple of the Dark Horse comics, so they were good people to have on the panel. We split roughly evenly between discussing the business constraints on Star Wars comics (for example, making the art more and more realistic sells more copies, even if my personal preference is for more interpretative artwork). I found it interesting, so I hope other people did too!

Myself and the other panellists on the 'Forty Years of the Force' panel
The panellists of the ‘Forty Years of the Force: Fab or fail?’ panel (by Chad Dixon)

‘Latest results from asteroid missions’ (Guy Consolmagno, Bill Higgins, Michele Bannister) was the last panel I moderated, and was a really great panel. It was the only panel where I thought we could comfortably have talked for another hour on the topic, since we were just scratching the surface of what there was to discuss. Each of my panellists were very witty and well-spoken and had different perspectives, with Consolmagno and Bannister professionals in the field and Higgins a very informed layman. I was super proud of how it went.

‘Forty years of the Force: fab or fail?’ (Boaz Karni-Harel, Claudia Fusco, Jackie Kamlot) was the second panel I was a panellist on, and probably my favourite panel of the week. I was the only person who had read any of the Legends stuff, but otherwise there was a broad range of expertise and opinion. I got a bit ranty at points but my aim in doing that was to be entertaining, so I’m hopeful the audience enjoyed it. I could talk about Star Wars all day!

That’s all for now, check out my Dreamwidth if you’re interested in the more personal aspects of my con.