Last weekend I went to the Nine Worlds 2016 convention in London – a gathering run by geeks, for geeks, celebrating all things geek. Over the course of the next several weeks (possibly months, seriously, I took so many notes) I’ll be writing up the various sessions I attended. Before that happens, though, I have to do a certain amount of translating my own handwriting and I ran out of time this week. So instead, with apologies for the slight cheat, here’s an abridged version of the overall review that I was invited to submit to the British Fantasy Society journal.
I don’t go to many conventions. In fact, Nine Worlds 2016 was the second ever and is a different beast to the World Fantasy Con, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was also – I’ll be honest here – quietly freaking out because I’d volunteered in a fit of madness to speak on a panel for the first time. But more on that later.
I wandered along on Thursday evening to pick up my ticket, rather than stand in a time-sapping queue the following morning (Top tip #1: this is a Good Plan). The Novotel Hammersmith is in a convenient spot, transport-wise, but extensive scaffolding combined with a natural propensity to get lost ended up with me going in through the loading bay.
The badges had optional add-ons of pronoun stickers and coloured films indicating whether the wearer was interested in talking to strangers. I’ve never come across this before, and it set the tone of the Con for me. This was an event where the expression of, and respect for, self-identity was at the forefront – a tone which carried through into the programming, where there was a heavy focus on gender and identity issues in genre.
The programme was massive: nine tracks on everything from VR programming to kaiju-colouring for kids. There was also an agenda of social activities (including pirate knitting, which sounds wonderfully whimsical). There was stuff on films, TV, books, comics, fanfic, gaming, and creating props and costume.
And, wow, the costumes. About 25% of the attendees were in costume and some of the skill on display was truly impressive. Everyone got five blue tokens with their badge which were, quite literally, tokens of appreciation to give out to people wearing stuff you liked. I’d given mine all out by 11am on Saturday. There was high-quality cosplay, roving packs of Ghostbusters, some gorgeous misc Steampunk, very short Stormtroopers (I’m guessing seven years old?), and a man with a giant squid on his back. I don’t know who you were, sir, nor what the squid was about, but I enjoyed the absurdity.
There are two main approaches to Cons, it seems: academic and social. Obviously you end up doing a bit of both, but for me the main focus was panels. If people like James Barclay, Jen Williams and Lisa Tuttle are willing to give me tips on how to improve my writing, you can be sure I’ll sit and take copious notes.
What I didn’t realise beforehand was that tracks at Nine Worlds fall on a spectrum ranging from full-on academic papers to geeks frothing about cool stuff with each other. This means there’s something for absolutely everybody, but it also means you need to work out which sessions cater to the way you want to engage. The Living Words and Academia & Humanities tracks were for people hoping to learn new things. Alternatively, Crafting & Creating and Fanworks were for those there to share their love of the weird and wonderful.
My agenda went out the window pretty quickly once I cottoned on. The first session I attended – a panel about world-building techniques – was an interesting revision of stuff I already knew but it didn’t have any revelatory moments. The second session, on the other hand, was a presentation on the history, development and cultural impact of Chinese SF&F which was fascinating and completely new information to me. The third was a series of short papers by academics on the use of foreign language in genre fiction, and I came away from that with a fresh understanding of the assumptions and associations readers can draw from, for example, Latin as opposed to Welsh. Don’t worry, this is all good stuff I’ll be sharing with you guys over the next couple of months.
I became more relaxed about my self-appointed schedule, which was a smart move. It gave me the leisure to continue fascinating conversations about literary constructs and megatextuality with people I’d just met, or had known at a distance for years but never actually sat down and talked to.
Top Tip #2: people at conventions like this are generally awesome. Yes, the idea of talking to a stranger can be terrifying to an introvert, but everyone’s there because they love the same things. I knew a total of two people, going in, and by Saturday morning there was a loose coalition of around eight of us that eddied around a couple of sofas in the bar. It gave us a home base to operate from – somewhere to go between sessions, people who would keep an eye out for me if needed, and a guarantee of good conversation which I could just slide into. In the hour before I was due to talk on a panel, there was also somewhere to sit and collect my thoughts, even bounce some of them off sympathetic listeners, and generally keep my calm at acceptable levels.
Funny story about the panel session: I’d volunteered to be involved in speaking in some capacity a while back (I’m currently on a ‘kick through the walls of my comfort zone’ drive) and, knowing that Dr. Nick was also going to the Con, I’d extracted a promise from him that he’d sit in the audience as emotional support. What I didn’t know was that he’d also volunteered. The day the organisers emailed me to say which panel they’d put me on, I got a text from him saying ‘I can’t be in the audience at your session.’ Quite by coincidence, the organisers had put us on the same panel. Which was great for me, since emotional support was therefore sitting on my immediate left, but a tad boring for him at times because he’s heard all my stories at least twice before.
The panel was in one of the ‘geeking out about cool stuff’ streams and, frankly, I didn’t expect much of an audience. Who cares about how to use real-life knowledge of naval architecture, ancient history, cyber security or historical costume in running roleplay games? Quite a few people, as it turned out. I was very nervous but the moderator, Ash, had given us a list of questions in advance and started us off on some of the easier ones so I found my footing relatively fast. The conversation was largely anecdotal, rather than containing any ‘how to’ suggestions, but we got enough questions to run out of time and several people came to chat afterwards. I think I even managed to convert someone to Live Action Role Play, which I’ll take as a win.
So there you have it: what I did on my Nine Worlds holiday. I’ve come away with new friends, new ideas, an invitation to submit to an anthology and the British Fantasy Society journal, and a reading list two pages long. In fact, that reading list might earn its very own blog post, as the final one in my ‘here’s what I learned at Nine Worlds’ series.
Next week: what James Barclay said about world-building. 🙂