LonCon 3 was the largest convention I’ve been to this year and the one with the most relentlessly varied, and huge, program. In the space of 3 days I recorded a live podcast, moderated a panel, sat in on several other panels, met some of the best people in the field and realized I couldn’t discuss this in a single column. So, below is a look at the structure of LonCon 3, what it did well, and what it didn’t. My personal experiences will be in the next column along.
I’d go get a coffee.
You’ve got time.
What was the shape of LonCon 3? A couple of years ago my friend Pablo Cheesecake described Edge Lit as a little like being inside his Twitter feed. LonCon 3 was a little like holding your twitter feed in front of your face and letting the information smack you in the face for three straight days. It was an intense, for the most part incredibly positive experience.
Aside from actually getting in, that is.
We arrived on Friday night, having watched the twitter feed of the immense queues with growing concern. When we got there, around 5, we were the only people registering. Marguerite asked to pick up a day badge so she could get into the live recording we were scheduled for and was treated to a long, roundabout explanation that basically boiled down to ‘Go see that guy over there.’ She did so whilst I waited for my stuff to be retrieved and got to listen to the gentleman who’d just advised her explaining, in great detail, to one of his colleagues about what she needed to do. Again.
She was, at this point, maybe three feet away.
I was given my stuff (Or so I thought) and went over to see how she was doing. She’d been asked to fill out a registration form, despite already being registered, by another volunteer. This was after around five minutes of explaining the extremely simple she wanted; a day ticket. She explained she was already registered, but the form had to be filled out anyway, despite, it turned out, it not being necessary. After a further ten minutes, during which her address was mistaken for her name, the process was finally complete.
By the time we got in, it had taken twenty minutes, despite the amount of volunteers involved outnumbering the people trying to get into the con by a significant margin.
It didn’t stop there either. As a program participant I also had to register in the Green Room which was fair enough. Spending another ten minutes pingponging between three separate desks before I could be handed an envelope I was never more than six feet away from was ridiculous though. The drink chits each guest was given (One per event you were part of) was a perfect example of how badly this stuff was handled. Each guest had to register, then visit a second desk to confirm what events they were part of before their drink chits were issued to them. A friend of mine had no idea this was the case for the first two full days of the con, not because the information wasn’t there but because it was buried beneath three layers of well meaning, but frequently obfuscatory, volunteers.
To be clear I’m not saying the staff were all bad, they weren’t, and an old friend of mine, Zoe was flat out brilliant throughout. Additionally, three separate members of registration in the Green Room were immensely helpful and the redshirts on the floor did amazing work. I am saying that registration was a catastrophically overdesigned pain in the arse for us, not just in the amount of time it took but in the way we were made to feel. There was a real air of ‘Now listen, young man’ to at least one interaction I had and, intentional or not, that’s absolutely the last impression staff should leave.
Once we got through the Registration maze however, things improved considerably. A good chunk of that was thanks to the shrewd choice of venue. The Excel is a sprawling collection of rooms, suites and halls constructed around a colossal central corridor, lined with various food stops (Many with actual protein in their produce!) and that not only encouraged movement but socialization. By the second day, we’d got a system; sit at a table by the coffee shop, wait for people to walk past. We weren’t the only ones either; a group of authors staked out one table for basically the entire convention and the geography of the building meant it was surprisingly easy to run into people you knew. It was a convention as an artery, always in motion, always heading somewhere, always busy.
That idea was built on with the Fan Village, a location so perfect I have friends who were amazed that it wasn’t a standing fixture of WorldCons. The idea was simple; think an indoor Village Green rounded by tents and with a bar down one side. Again, always busy but far more decompressed and a welcome pressure release valve for the whole event. In the space of three days I saw a surprisingly competitive Quidditch game, some medieval re-enactment and Tai Chi all being done there.
There’s an interesting side note to the Fan Village, pointed out by the insanely brilliant Andrea Phillips. The shady, positively Gallifreyan politics of who gets to host WorldCon next were previously decided by wooing prospective voters in room parties. The Fan Village not only enabled larger scale, more open and relaxed events but also pulled the teeth of any potentially skeevy individual in the building. If you were starting to feel uncomfortable you always had space to move back or somewhere else to go. Not so in room parties.
In fact, let’s put that out in the light for a moment;
Room parties. Let’s all go to a hotel room that could politely be described as functional, get drunk and decide the future of the world’s most prestigious science fiction convention.
My God, it’s like my first two years at University just with fandom politics and sexual tension instead of endless tabletop RPG sessions.
Turning the flippant off though, the Fan Village is the one thing that has to become mandatory for future WorldCons for those exact reasons. Anything, at all, that makes a con an unhealthy environment for harassers of any stripe and severity is necessary and the increased social cache of having an event space to host these events is the icing on the cake. Every sub set of every fandom is talking about how the community needs to grow up. This is an easy, massive step towards that.
It was also the biggest asset LonCon 3 had and the more I think about it, the more good I realize it did. Nine Worlds was the friendliest environment I’ve seen at a con but, weirdly, LonCon 3 felt more welcoming. That central corridor and the Fan Village meant that the various groups present mingled far more than they tended to at Nine Worlds and it also meant that the implied social barrier of the bar, and who was sitting with who, was largely eliminated. The end result was, as I mentioned above, a fire hose of information. That meant, inevitably, you missed as much as you caught, but what I caught, and what I thought of it, will be in the next column. Or to put it another way;
Next! On Not The Fox News!
Why Breakfast is the most important meal of the day!
Mur Lafferty: Awesome…or AWESOME?!
Why ‘So You Want To Be A Podcaster?’ needs to be a panel that never happens again!
Livestreaming the Hugos on British transport!
Okay maybe not that. Regardless, see you in a few days.