Over the last few days I’ve been at Nine Worlds Geekfest. It’s the third year it’s happened, the third time I’ve attended, but the first time I’ve stayed in the main hotel. In previous years I’ve commuted in each day (2 hours each way …), aiming to get there for the second panel of the day and staying as long as I could (usually to tea-time) before going home. Which makes for a very exhausting way of doing a con, without any of the evening fun which would at least give one a reason for feeling tired.
Of all the cons I’ve been to, Nine Worlds feels the freshest, most energetic and most welcoming. It prides itself on its inclusive atmosphere and has programme tracks dealing with feminism, LGBTQIA issues, race and culture as well as tracks on books, films, comics and tv shows. Panels contain a mixture of famous names and new voices. People from various minorities are not just confined to their own programme tracks, and there is a huge amount of cross-over, with programme items crossing over more than one track. But this approach to diversity and tolerance goes beyond programming. Panel members are briefed not to refer to audience members by their gender during Q&A sessions, and prounoun badges are available so that the transgendered and gender-fluid can indicate in a more subtle way how they wish to be referred to.
All of that is in marked contrast to other cons I’ve been to. LonCon3 (WorldCon) last year felt like East London had been colonised by the USA for five days. Marvellous as it was to see and meet so many big names from the States, it would have been even better if they’d made some concessions to not being in their own country. (I recall Jeff VanderMeer giving me the side-eye when I spoke about the cognitive dissonance I was feeling from all this US cultural imperialism. Of all the people there, I thought he would get it.) EasterCon (the BSFA’s annual event) feels like the redoubt of a certain generation of fans: a cliquey gathering that it’s very difficult to break into, full of in-jokes and making little or no effort to welcome new people, beyond exhorting them to volunteer to help run the con.
So, I was very excited about going this year, and particularly that I’d managed to persuade some of my geeky friends to come along to. As I’d learned last year, staying over at a con is only fun for me if I know you have a core of people to hang out with. Evenings are no fun if everyone else is enjoying themselves and you have no-one else to talk to.
Cosplay was a big part of my Nine Worlds experience. Having had so much fun dressing up at LonCon3 last year, I wanted to repeat the experience, and Nine Worlds has a much higher density of cosplay than any other con I’ve been to. So, on the Friday I dressed up as Missy. (Regular readers will have seen the series of posts documenting the process of making my costume). I was expecting to be only one of several Missys – every set of con photos I’ve seen recently seems to have included a mandatory group of Missys. But it turned out I was the only one there.
One of the items on the programme that day was a panel on Gender Fluid Time Lords, and I bumped into the moderator and another of the panel members, both of whom insisted I come along. When I walked in the room for the start of the panel they gave me a big cheer. (The photos in this post were taken at the end of that panel). I was quite struck by something Laurie Penny said in that panel about Missy looking a bit like a suffragette. So I think the next step will be to add a suffragette sash and rosette to my Missy costume. Instead of “Give Women Votes” I think it will have to read something like “More Women Time Lords”.
On Saturday I reprised my Nyssa costume, from last year. Which led to the writer Simon Guerrier (the one I’d fangirled at about his Blakes 7 audio dramas at a Doctor Who event at Conway Hall a few days before) confessing that Nyssa had been his first childhood crush, a fact an old friend of his had once accidentally confided to Sarah Sutton (without knowing who she was) at a party.
There were some amazing costumes there, ranging from the clever and witty, to the laboriously screen accurate. The sheer level of creativity on display was astonishing. I have very few photos, I’m afraid (having too much fun …) but some of my favourites were knitted Wonder Woman, a woman who came as the bowl of petunias from Hitchhiker, an amazing Imperator Furiosa, a clutch of Peggy Carters and a woman who came as Sherlock’s wallpaper (dress with a black and white damask print on it, with a yellow smiley face embroidered on it).
There were many, many amazing programme items, ranging from the deeply silly to the very serious. The hotel’s lack of chairs (yes, really) meant that it sometimes proved difficult to get into some of them unless one was very early indeed. But there were plenty of alternatives on offer.
Some particular highlights:
- The Gender Fluid Time Lords panel I mentioned above. It provided a fascinating insight into how Missy had been received by people from the transgender community. It was interesting to hear their anxieties (boob jokes, a fear that the gender swap would be presented as a consequence of the Master/Missy being crazy and unstable etc).
- A fantastic gin-tasting from Jensen’s gin. Their Master Distiller and one of their Brand Ambassadors took us through the history of gin and their distillery. While plying us with gin. £5 well spent.
- A talk by Dr Lewis Dartnell, author of The Knowledge, a book about how to reboot civilisation after an apocalypse. He’s a very engaging speaker and brought along lots of toys to play with. And who knew that you could prove the heliocentric model of the solar system using just Miley Cyrus (with her wrecking ball) and a watch.
- Death in Genre. A discussion of death and violence in fiction, including its anthropomorphic personifications. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Joe Abercrombie suggesting Death could be a squirrel, hoarding acorns, each of which is the soul of the departed.
- The F-word in Fantasy. This was a late night panel on sex in fiction, which had me laughing myself silly. But one of the best parts of it was seeing Laurell K Hamilton (who was playing it as if it were a serious panel) being gently teased and deconstructed with a very British sense of humour.
- Dancing with Imperator Furiosa while Peggy Carter was singing Bon Jovi.
Coping with the awesome
Cons are exhausting places to be. There is no denying it. The sheer quantity of people, and the amount of content in the programme can be overwhelming at times. I think I’m still struggling to find the right balance so I can have the maximum amount of fun while staying sane and not collapsing with exhaustion.
As one of life’s outgoing, confident introverts, rooms full of people are fun, but incredibly draining. Add to that a lot of programme content that one needs to pay active attention to, and it’s an exhausting mix. Much as I love that mix of people and content, I need a lot of downtime to re-energise. Half an hour of fighting my way through the crowds to get to the next panel is not going to cut it.
Some of the best parts of the weekend were the times I got to spend quietly with just a few friends: a quiet dinner with a friend and her baby, or sitting outside the hotel in the sunshine with a few other friends. I need to find ways to build those times into my weekend in the future, and not be afraid to skip a panel to grab a nap or get some quiet time so I can enjoy the evening entertainment.
Ironically, while cons are the best places to meet fellow geeks and hang out with them, the sheer overwhelmingness of the con environment means you will never find me at my best or most engaging. I’ll probably be struggling to some degree or other with the scale of the event, punchdrunk and trying to wrestle my introvert self (with addded Imposter Syndrome) into some semblance of sociability. Last year I bumped into one friend, and I was so spaced out all I could do was hug her and squee incoherently. Conversation was entirely beyond me.
Finding a route through all that is definitely still a work in progress.