CoNZealand, The Future of Conventions, and The Hugos

This blogpost has some context, some not-so-humble-bragging, and a response to current events in the literary community. You have been warned.

WorldCon, the annual celebration of science-fiction and fantasy works, where all full members select and vote on the best works of the year, was supposed to be in New Zealand this year.

This, being 2020, CoNZealand was held virtually.

Thanks to many of their staffers helping out with Virtual Balticon, I wanted to return the favor. I offered to do a few moderation shifts on Discord and up to 4 hours a week of other work.

And then the training staff reached out — most of whom I had worked with at Balticon.

I ended up having over 34 hours of check-ins and training sessions, not counting showing up early, not counting staying late to debug issues.

I created a virtual tour because I knew from the past that the different technologies are confusing and intimidating at first. I, and another staffer, ran these twice a day, until the last day of the con.

And, as I mentioned last week, I was on a couple panels myself.

This “new normal” might be temporary, but we’re not going back to the old ways of doing things. I’ve talked with staffers of various conventions about the tech, about the challenges, and I have a few predictions.

While hosting a fully in-person and virtual convention simultaneously may be beyond the staffing and budget reach of most conventions, I expect there to be some overlap.

Depending on the size convention, I expect at least one room set up for virtual panelists. I expect a chat app that people are on, maybe even upvoting questions during live panels. I expect, at first, the in-person attendance to be light, although the parties may be epic. I expect mask fashion to be the newest huge-geek-trend. I expect lots of hand sanitization and handwashing. And? If we’re lucky? More people paying attention to their health and less con-crud — i.e. the standard cold-or-worse many con-goers get when they’re attending in-person conventions.

But for now? For last week? It was all virtual.

I’d intended to teach beforehand and then attend panels, but when the zoom host schedule came out, so filled with holes, I couldn’t not step up. I trained 14 zoom hosts during the first 3 days of the con and did my best to support them as they went out into the field. Between supporting them, monitoring discord, and my own zoom room hosting, I was basically on duty 10 hours a day from Tuesday through Saturday.

That being said, I did make it to two events. I made it to a workshop I’d signed up for before the zoom host schedule even dropped, and I managed to watch the first two hours of the Hugo awards.

There’s been a LOT said about the Hugos and its Toastmaster, who’d been tasked with providing Hugo context to a lot of newcomers.

He also gave us a great, heaping scoop of the fandom that had been and whose shoulders we stand upon. Of the old guard.

I mourn the stories that were never shared because their writer wasn’t given the support, the market, the time away from paying bills or caring for family. The ones shut out because the market said they “just didn’t connect” with a story that was simply outside of their experiences.

I listened to our toastmaster’s stories and watched his hat changes. I watched as the internet boiled in rage that he couldn’t take 5 minutes to google a name pronunciation. I know where that rage comes from. But me? I think of the dad in Pleasantville, whose complacency with a world made for him is rocked when other people’s happiness starts to matter. These didn’t use to be the rules, but now the world has progressed beyond him.

And I watched the winners. In all their diversity, in all their talent, in all their JOY.

Winners so far out from the old guard, that they’ve probably got whiplash.

Now I like the idea of the sf community having its own awards. I like the idea of them being more accessible, not just pay-to-play.

But right now? The Hugo’s are still a big deal and, if we stop looking at who’s handing out these awards and look at what the community if voting for, if we look at who’s winning these awards? The sf community already has a foot into the future. And we don’t look like we’re turning back any time soon.

What do you think?

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