The 77th annual World Convention of Science Fiction was held from the 15th to the 19th of August at the Convention Centre Dublin (CCD) and Point Square.
Worldcon is one of the oldest international conventions in the world, and over the last few years the city hosting the event has alternated between a European and an American location.
The event itself has changed a bit over the years as the tastes of audiences have changed. Worldcon was around before comic-cons and cosplay. Its primary fare has always been books, short stories, and fandom itself. Whilst there is content that covers all of the different mediums, with large amounts of attention devoted to television, comics, movies, games, and roleplaying games (RPGs), the event keeps authors at its heart.
Many of the biggest names in science fiction, fantasy, and horror attend Worldcon. George R. R. Martin attends every year and there are opportunities to get many of your favourite books signed by their authors, although you may need to queue up! There are readings from new works, launches, panels, presentations, and talks throughout the weekend.
Worldcon also hosts the Hugos, the world’s premier award in science fiction and fantasy writing. When you attend a Worldcon, you don’t buy a ticket — instead, you purchase a ‘membership’ of the convention. This entitles you to nominate and vote for works in the Hugo long and short lists.
This year’s event was a testing occasion for the organisers, who had been planning for it since 2015. The Thursday start is always a tricky thing to manage, with many volunteers unable to arrive until Friday. That meant a lot of the initial social media feedback focused on long queues and some disorganisation, but solutions were found. Refreshingly, the hosts acknowledged where things went wrong and tried to implement solutions, with a regular ‘you said, we did’ approach to feedback and improvements.
The dealers’ and exhibitors’ hall was the centerpiece of the CCD, on the ground floor of the main hall. As you walked in, right in front was a replica of the Back to the Future DeLorean, gull wing doors open and lights flashing as if it were ready to go.
Around the exhibitors’ hall you found a variety of trade stands and fan tables. The former are market stalls from publishers big and small, with Gollancz and Harper Voyager running their own tables. Forbidden Planet was also there, offering a selection of the kind of titles you find in bookshops or heavily promoted on Amazon.
However, of more interest (to this writer at least) are always the indie publisher stands. The United Kingdom and Ireland both have thriving small press industries in science fiction, fantasy, and horror, so getting a chance to browse stores from PS Publishing, Luna Press, Newcon Press, Interzone and more was a treat. There are definitely gems to find amongst all these displays.
The fan tables were a mixture of: Worldcon bid cities, trying to get support for their petitions to host the event in the future; membership societies, like the British Science Fiction Association (of which I’m chair); and specialist organisations who are offering a specific service, like fandom archive service FANAC (Fan History Project) who look to digitise and collate all the published information they can from a variety of publications.
Running a table at a convention was a new experience for me but it did suit our involvement this time, giving us a base in the main hall to plan our activities from. It also meant we got the chance to talk to other table runners next to us and sit down with all sorts of attendees who are interested in British science fiction.
The programme, available as a PDF and a searchable document through the Grenadine app or via the website link, was huge. Hundreds of different activities could be found with a quick search for a topic, participant, or keyword. When attending events like this, it does make me wonder how on earth we ever managed before we had the internet!
The panels and talks cater to a vast array of interests. Applications to feature content were sent out months in advance of the event and many researchers had prepared papers and other support material for their audiences. Much of this was presented at Point Square, a mile away from the convention centre. I had a paper and a discussion to participate in at Point Square and a panel to contribute to at the CCD.
A highlight over at Point Square was the art exhibition, with a huge room on the first floor devoted to displaying amazing artwork by painters, crafters, and other creatives working in science fiction, fantasy, and horror.
I met some amazing people on the panels and discussions I contributed to and attended as a member. There wasn’t enough time to attend everything I wanted to — which is the mark of a good convention.
The Hugo Awards ceremony took place on Sunday night, attended by an audience of convention members and live-streamed into the bar at the convention centre. This year wasn’t without controversy, as the John W. Campbell Award winner for best newcomer, Jeanette Ng, took the opportunity to (quite rightly) call out the deceased editor after whom the award was named as a fascist. After the convention, on August 27th, it was announced that the award would be renamed The Astounding Award for Best New Writer, honouring Astounding Science Fiction, the magazine of which Campbell was once editor.
The complete list of Hugo Winners is here:
The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)
Artificial Condition, by Martha Wells (Tor.com Publishing)
‘If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again,’ by Zen Cho (B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog, 29 November 2018)
BEST SHORT STORY
‘A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies,’ by Alix E. Harrow (Apex Magazine, February 2018)
Wayfarers, by Becky Chambers (Hodder & Stoughton / Harper Voyager)
BEST RELATED WORK
Archive of Our Own, a project of the Organization for Transformative Works
BEST GRAPHIC STORY
Monstress, Volume 3: Haven, written by Marjorie Liu, art by Sana Takeda (Image Comics)
BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, LONG FORM
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, screenplay by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman, directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman (Sony)
BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, SHORT FORM
The Good Place: ‘Janet(s),’ written by Josh Siegal & Dylan Morgan, directed by Morgan Sackett (NBC)
BEST EDITOR, SHORT FORM
BEST EDITOR, LONG FORM
BEST PROFESSIONAL ARTIST
Uncanny Magazine, publishers/editors-in-chief Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas, managing editor Michi Trota, podcast producers Erika Ensign and Steven Schapansky, Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction Special Issue editors-in-chief Elsa Sjunneson-Henry and Dominik Parisien
Lady Business, editors Ira, Jodie, KJ, Renay & Susan
Our Opinions Are Correct, hosted by Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders
BEST FAN WRITER
BEST FAN ARTIST
Likhain (Mia Sereno)
BEST ART BOOK
(A one-off category created as per WSFS rules by Dublin 2019)
The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition, illustrated by Charles Vess, written by Ursula K. Le Guin (Saga Press /Gollancz)
The following awards, which are administered by WSFS and voted on alongside the Hugo Awards, were also included in the ceremony:
LODESTAR AWARD for BEST YOUNG ADULT BOOK
Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi (Henry Holt / Macmillan Children’s Books)
JOHN W. CAMPBELL AWARD for BEST NEW WRITER
Jeannette Ng (2nd year of eligibility)
There were also some issues with the automated closed caption system provided for deaf and hard-of-hearing convention members. Again, the convention organisers did apologise for this after the awards ceremony had concluded, with the convention chair, James Bacon, taking full responsibility.
There is a traditional after party for the Hugos, where the nominated finalists are traditionally celebrated above the award winners — leading the party to be dubbed the ‘losers’ party’. This emphasis has taken on greater significance in the last few years as the Hugos themselves have come under attack from the activist groups Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies, who in the past have tried to manipulate the short lists. However, these movements have now faded away.
The losers’ party at Worldcon 2019 was to be held at the Guinness Brewery. It is traditional that hosts of the next Worldcon organise this part of the event, so CoNZealand 2020 were in nominal charge of the party. However, many of the Hugo award nominees found themselves shut out of the event due to overcrowding. This was particularly hard on them, as — after not winning the award — the way in which the science fiction community traditionally embraces nominees is normally an encouraging and positive experience. Being stranded on the pavement looking into a party you have an invite for is not cool. This was particularly traumatic for those refused admission who had disabilities and had difficulty standing for long periods. The social media accounts and comments in person the next day revealed a great deal of anger and hurt, which apologies from Dublin 2019 and CoNZealand 2020 didn’t really address.
Monday morning saw the convention winding to a close. Some of the Hugo attendees were understandably sore over the previous evening’s events, but continued to fulfill their commitments to the convention — a testimony to their character. Hopefully lessons will be learned and the situation improved for future years.
After packing up our fan table we left the hall to return later for the Dead Dog’s party – an after-convention celebration. This was a good opportunity to get a drink and chat with people we hadn’t had time to see all weekend.
We flew home on Tuesday evening, having had a great time at the event. Despite the issues mentioned, Dublin 2019: An Irish Worldcon was an excellent event and much credit goes to the organisers for pulling it off.