Worldcon 2017: A Publicist's Adventures


Worldcon 2017: A Publicist's Adventures

I’ve had the pleasure of working at Head of Zeus for coming up to two years now, and one of the things I have most enjoyed during my time at the company has been my induction into the world of science fiction and fantasy as I became at first familiar with, then eventually fan girl of, our science fiction and fantasy list curated by Nicolas Cheetham. In my time here I’ve toured the UK and witnessed J.K.Rowling-level fandom for Cixin Liu, author of The Three-Body Problem, marveled at the mind-blowing wisdom of Ken Liu, and raised one-too-many glasses with A.J. Smith at Fantasy in the Court. But nothing could have prepared me for the weird, wonderful, and incredibly welcoming community at Worldcon.

I’m lucky because I’m familiar with Finland as a country, so my culture shock was limited to the inside of the messekeskus (conference centre) where Worldcon 75 was being held in Helsinki. As I descended the stairs of the bridge the messekeskus faces, I was greeted with signs reading ’Welcome to Worldcon 75’ and flags fluttering in the brilliant August sunshine.

A band of not-so-merry men dressed in furs and smeared in oil, Mad-Max style, worked with smoldering irons creating and selling jewellery outside the entrance. Past me meandered groups of Pokémon, Sherlock and Game of Thrones cosplayers, grinning and giddily reveling in the atmosphere. I joined the registration queue behind a couple of Vulcans grinning ear to pointy ear and collected my pass and gift bag. In it contained two Worldcon ribbons - little did I know at this point in time that others would already be running through the conference centre, collecting numerous ribbons to attach to their lanyards and creating rich tapestries that would hang from their necks like hipster scarves. The atmosphere was electric.

Over the next 5 days I witnessed some brilliant cosplay - my favourite being Arthur Dent, closely followed by a scarily authentic looking Mulder and Scully - and had the pleasure of meeting some lovely, kind and fascinating people.

But, as always for me, the highlight was the absorbing the wisdom of our fascinating authors. Joining me at Worldcon were Ken Liu, author of The Dandelion Dynasty series, the multi award-winning The Paper Menagerie, and editor of Invisible Planets; the aforementioned Cixin Liu, author of the Remembrance of Earth’s Past series and The Wandering Earth; Stanley Chen, whose debut novel, The Waste Tide, will be published in 2018 by Head of Zeus; Ada Palmer, author of the Terra Ignota series; Django Wexler, author of The Shadow Campaigns series; and Arthur C. Clarke award-winning writer, Adrian Tchaikovsky, whose novel Dogs of War is out in November.

Panel topics ranged from ‘SFF in Musical Theatre to Translating Science Fiction’, the Cyborg Dog in the Science Fiction canon to debates on ‘Who Needs Gender Pronouns?’ As I rushed from talk to talk, my mind over-stimulated and desperately trying to snap enough pictures of our authors or film an Instagram story for our social media, I realised just how important science fiction is at reflecting the modern world we live in. One panel on ‘The Future is Approaching Quickly: SF as an Alternative to Future-Oriented Think Tanks’ discussed the theory that science fiction is doing a better job of proposing solutions to issues that plague our time - climate change, antibiotic resistance, oligarchical power structures - than think tanks are. Name-checked numerous times was our very own Cory Doctorow, whose recent novel Walkaway is set some time in the next century and explores the idea that new Utopian societies can be built on the ashes of a world wrecked by climate change and economic disparity. That this end-game of our western consumer society feels so realistic, so near, is one of the great strengths of Cory’s writing and, although gaining eternal life by uploading ourselves as data to a server feels some way off, his speculations on alternative systems of governance and societal structures could be perceived as feasible and even aspirational.
I also learnt the origin story of our wonderful Chinese science fiction list, whose roots lie with Lu Xun, before the mantle was taken up by Ruhan Zhao and Cixin Liu (both in attendence) whose success now influences the new generation of writers bursting onto the scene - Summer Xia Jia, Qiufan (Stanley) Chen and Hao Jingfang - the latter two of whom are joining the Head of Zeus list in 2018.
The highlight, for me, was a panel on ‘Portrayals of Scientist and Science in SF’, which mercilessly mocked the archetypal scientist characters speckled through the SF canon, including the mad, obsessive Frankenstein, the egotistical and prophetic Ian Malcolm, or the engineer type, played by Bruce Willis, whom Hollywood decides ‘it is easier to teach to become an astronaut, than to teach an astronaut to use a drill’ (my favourite quote of Worldcon, from Adrian Tchaikovsky himself).

But the highlight of this wonderful week of events, networking, meetings and rapidly shovelled-down voileipä was the Hugo Awards Ceremony. The support from the crowd, peers and fans, for each award-winner was spectacular and heart-warming.

This was not an awards ceremony that had the air of competitiveness or gritted teeth, but one of genuine delight, whooping cheers of celebration and overjoyed speeches full of humour, gratitude and over and over again the appreciation for the support of the ‘community’. The icing on the cake was to be there to see Ada Palmer collect the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer for her debut novel Too Like the Lightning, and to hear her incredibly moving speech about invisible disability. You can watch the video of Ada collecting the award here (apologies for the shaky camera, I was very excited) and read more about her experience of living with invisible disability and collecting the John W. Campbell Award here. It was the perfect climax to an incredible week, the final step of my indoctrination into the SFF community, and a wonderful moment to witness. I can’t wait for Dublin 2019!