Worldcon 75, Helsinki 2017
Where do I start?
Worldcon, for those who don’t know what it is (and I in no way fault you, since I had no real idea before 2015 or so), is the annual World Science Fiction Society’s convention. It’s the great-grandparent of them all, it’s been around … well, at least 75 years, and you might know it as That One Where the Hugo Awards Happen, among other things.
This was my first Worldcon (and a first for Mrs. Hatboy, Wump and Toop as well), and I have been counting it down for the past twelve days here on the blog. It’s been a heap of fun, absolutely exhausting and … well, it’s another world, really. I’m at a loss as to how I can describe it.
My fiction references a small group of humans of the distant (and not-too-distant) future, the tiny fraction of the species that continues to look up at the stars, continues to dream and to think and to strive to surpass the legacy of the angry, fearful, hate-filled ape from which we are descended.
These people, the doomed and romantic Best of Us, were known as the Elevator People.
Worldcon, in short, is an annual gathering of Elevator People, or at least their ancestors. And if that seems elitist, well. I’m sort of beyond caring at this stage. Facts are facts. But you don’t need to feel bad just because you weren’t there. The community is always accepting new members and we are very open to outsiders. The Elevator isn’t quite in our blood – not yet – although every generation brings that day closer.
It is a shame that an event like Worldcon is such an expenditure of time, energy and captial. People should under no circumstances be excluded because they can’t afford one – or all three – of those expenses. But still. This post is about Worldcon, so if you weren’t there – my regrets. You missed out. But that’s just my opinion.
Worldcon 75 officially opened on Wednesday, but we’d been preparing for a considerable time. While I couldn’t afford a table in the traders’ hall or merchandise to sell, I wanted to be as involved as possible and drum up as much interest in independent authors and – naturally – my own work as possible. We are unlikely to have an event like Worldcon drop into our neighbourhood again any time soon (although Dublin in 2019 is a distinct possibility and planning is already underway).
So I signed up to moderate a panel on Independent and Dependent (Traditional) publishing, and to take part in a New Authors Meet and Greet. I was also active on the Q&A board although my answers weren’t particularly useful. All of this, including my esteemed panel members, can be found in the 12 Days of Worldcon super-post.
Now, as a result of this involvement, and according to a little poll and stuff behind the scenes, Mrs. Hatboy and I were invited to a pre-Worldcon welcome event at Helsinki City Hall. Which was fancy and fun.
It was great to meet my fellow authors J.S., Irene and Raita in person, and I did see Tom there as well although I wasn’t certain if it was him, so I didn’t get a chance to introduce myself until later in the week. That was a failure on my part.
I also had a chance to meet and chat with Walter Jon Williams, one of the guests of honour and apparently a very famous author and game creator although I must admit I have to plead ignorance there. With any luck, it ensured that I was able to talk to him like he was regular folks, and maybe he appreciated that. I didn’t go full-on voice-cracking fanboy the way I did with Robert Silverberg.
Wednesday saw the opening ceremony, and a few other panels and signings and things. Mrs. Hatboy and I took turns wrangling Wump and Toop, who were terribly excited by the ribbons (Wump was saddened by how few I had) and somewhat bored by the actual events.
Wednesday also saw the full extent of the Worldcon organisers’ misjudgement of how popular the event would be, with massive overcrowding and lock-outs of all the programme events. The day-pass people were critically outnumbering the members – I have seen total numbers in the 10,000 range, which blows previously-anomalously-high Worldcon ticket sales out of the water – and there was a lot of unhappiness from people who had crossed the globe to attend the convention.
In the end, the organisers took a leaf out of Migri’s book and decided to sell only 100 day passes each morning from then on, and turn everyone else away. This brought things down to a manageable anthill.
The opening ceremony was great. And Wump and Toop got some amazing balloon animal creations made for them, which hardly popped at all before we got them home.
Thursday was my big day for panels and shmoozing, and they went very well. I think dreameling was there and taking pictures at least for the panel I moderated, but we’ll give him a few days to get his photos together.
The panel went well. I was working with four really articulate and experienced authors, one of whom was Tom – we finally got to meet and he was a great guy. It was a genuine pleasure to discuss the ups and downs, ins and outs of the publishing game with such excellent peers.
Mrs. Hatboy was forced to miss the panel because she was getting a book signed by the very charming and friendly Scott Lynch, I wish I could have met the bloke but there’s always next time.
I also took part in the Meet and Greet where I handed out a lot of Arsebooks (it was the only book I had lots of copies of), a couple of Eejits, and a bunch of sample chapters and cover art from Bad Cow. Met some great new authors too.
But by far and away the greatest thrill of Thursday, and indeed the most amazing part of the whole extended weekend, was attending Keith Kato’s famed secret chilli party.
The kudos and acclaim for this really belong to Mrs. Hatboy, since she was the one who made it happen and was the actual guest, I was just a plus-one. Indeed, I was essentially labelled as “Mister Janica” for the evening, and am now more or less resigned to being known as “Mister Janica” forever.
Don’t care. Attended the secret chilli party.
So, just to explain this a little (and it is still more or less a secret thing so I want to be classy about my fanboy bragging), the secret chilli party has been going on for a solid 40 years, with Keith Kato driving things. Keith is the President and Chairman of The Heinlein Society, a very worthy group of thinkers and doers who provide scholarships and a heap of other things. Go sign up.
Keith started hosting a chilli cook at Worldcon, and such masters of the genre as Robert Silverberg (and such rockstars of the genre as George RR Martin) regularly attended. And still do to this day. Martin talks about it very briefly here in a post from 2013, and risked bringing the whole thing to light since the fanboys gush over everything he says. On this occasion, I will tell you, Martin did not make it to the chilli party. I did, and I ate Martin’s share.
So, how did Mrs. Hatboy score us tickets? Well, she saved the chilli party for 2017, pure and simple.
This was on Wednesday afternoon. Finding the Heinlein Society table as a rich source of con ribbons (see Day 12), Mrs. Hatboy got to talking with Keith, who is a lovely gent. He was desperately trying to arrange his secret chilli party for the next night (chilli requires at bare minimum this much cooking, obviously), and had come up one pot short. Mrs. Hatboy offered our 10-litre pot from home, and later made the run back to Pasila to deliver it to Keith and his pals while I performed the vital assisting tasks of putting the kids to bed.
She also stayed with them long enough to help him get some ingredients, since he couldn’t read the Finnish food labels. They were unfortunately unable to get hold of moose meat to make a moose chilli, but most of the other ingredients were purchased and the chilli party was saved.
So, that evening we turned up at the little building where they’d booked the party to occur.
We sat and chatted with some lovely folks, most of whom I am guessing were members of the Society. Among them were Joe Haldeman and his wife Gay, who were very nice people and – again – I was spared any embarrassment with fanboy gushery by not knowing exactly who Joe was. Worldcon has left me with a wealth of authors I need to read and classics I need to re-read. Some of these, I haven’t looked at since I was a teenager and I was left very embarrassed by my out-of-touchness.
To put the whole Society in perspective, Gay Haldeman mentioned that this was their 50th Worldcon. Or, she specified, it was her 50th, and Joe’s 49th. He missed one because he was in Vietnam. That’s … a reasonable excuse.
So yeah, now I need to find and re-read The Forever War and maybe check out Marsbound, which doesn’t seem to be getting much love on Amazon. Ooh, or maybe this one, it was written in collaboration with his brother who was not at the convention but was mentioned a few times in conversation. It looks good.
Also present at the party was guest of honour John-Henri Holmberg (or “the Swedish guy” as he was described later, which makes me feel a bit better about being “Mister Janica”), and of course science fiction giant Robert Silverberg.
“Eighty percent of my friends are no longer with me … but it’s better than the alternative.”
I didn’t want to rhapsodise about this event too much, but since it has been one of the highlights of my authorial and creative existence – not to mention my chilli-eating life – I feel I should at least talk about it almost as much as I talk about Random Hollywood Movie of the Month #217.
Keith Kato’s chilli, as was explained to me by the man himself, was of two distinct varieties. This year there was a third, since he made a vegetarian version, but the two main ones were as follows.
1. The Silverberg, aka. Keith Kato’s hottest red:
This is the hot variety (as you can see from the fire extinguisher being on standby above), because Silverberg historically loves himself a hot chilli. I knew I admired him for a reason. It was indeed very tasty, and very spicy – without being a trial by fire to eat. Keith told us that Silverberg scored the chilli according to how many times he had to mop his forehead while eating it – five times was lethal, apparently. I myself mopped my forehead innumerable times during the eating process, but I am a naturally sweaty guy, especially when eating spicy food.
I had three bowls. I was only going to have two, but Keith informed me that having the chilli with rice and too much fixin’s was “cheating”, so I had to take a third bowl all on its lonesome just to show that I Was A Man. Keith congratulated me thereafter, and declared that I Was Indeed A Man.
2. The Marion Zimmer Bradley:
This is the mild variety, because apparently once at a chilli party of yore, Marion Zimmer Bradley was complaining of the over-spicy chilli. It’s possible at this point that she was already eating the mild version Keith had cooked up, but he nevertheless crafted an even milder version and gave it her name forever more.
I didn’t try the mild or the vegetarian varieties.
There were snacks, and some moose and reindeer sausage, since we were unable to get actual meat in time for the cook. I wonder if there would have been anything useful in our freezer … but too late now.
Silverberg arrived quite late in the evening after already having been at dinner somewhere else, which Keith said was not without precedent and there was always room for chilli. He declared the chilli “pretty darn hot” in his quite, thoughtful tone, although he refused to assign a metric to it. I was watching, though, and he may have mopped his brow once while eating. But not more than that.
I mentioned my pal Mr. BRKN’s plan to make squirrel chilli, and this met with general approval.
Keith had a laugh about Martin not showing up, although I’m sure he was hoping he would, for old times’ sake. He reminisced about how Martin’s enthusiasm for the chilli had led him to blab about it in advance on one occasion – up on stage at the Hugos, I think it was – almost destroying the Fight Club-esque secrecy of the event as it was flung into the public light.
 Obviously it would have been exciting for us if he’d come too, but … I found I was quite happy either way. Martin is something of a rock star, as I’ve mentioned, and the event was low-key and highly enjoyable.
 Someone I was talking to during the convention was saying that Martin has been a bit of a victim of the Game of Thrones phenomenon. There were few huge stars to become the face of the television show, and the story was such that he wound up being the main guy. Suddenly everyone knew what he looked like and he couldn’t go anywhere without being mobbed for autographs and things. It was rather self-evident but still interesting to note.
Well, the evening went on. I could babble about it like a happy little nerd forever, but I’ll just make a few closing comments.
The anecdotes about Heinlein, Asimov, Silverberg and the rest … it was like a living treasury, an oral history of these giants that our civilisation will never see again. I wish I could have recorded it. But there are things that are Not Done at conventions and particularly these sorts of parties, and paparazzi style photographing, recording and – worst of all – handing over of unsolicited books and manuscripts … yeah, I’m glad I dodged those faux pas. Still, it was amazing to just sit and listen to the veterans talk, and the few snippets I’ve written down here will have to suffice. It was a ridiculous thrill.
One anecdote that really hit me was not really related to any name-dropping or amusing party shenanigans. It was regarding the chilli party of 1978 (which I didn’t have the heart to point out to them was the year I was born), when for whatever reason, the party was being held on a certain floor of a hotel – and, Keith said, along with other logistical issues and amusing encounters with the elevator operators (Because back then they still had human operators in elevators), the hotel had placed the chilli party and other convention-goers on the same floor with a bunch of “mundanes”.
Mundanes. That is, non-readers, non-science-fiction fans, outsiders. Before there were muggles, there were mundanes.
Well, now I am signed up and will be doing what I can to help the Society, which seems the least I can do. We’re definitely going to make Dublin 2019 happen.
Friday was a quick day, since I had to spend the morning at work before I could finally run out of there and dash back to Messukeskus to be with My People. Well, more about that philosophical angle later, I suppose.
Having found the Locus magazine stall and spent a ton of cash on old editors’ proof copies of books, I got in line (or rather I created a line, with the help of a couple of other eager early arrivals) to get my copy of Nightfall signed by Silverberg.
The book was already signed, which had made it super-expensive, and Silverberg was amused to point this out, but I got him to re-dedicate it to me. I admit I gushed.
After getting home to find my editorial copies of Bad Cow had arrived, I contacted Mr. BRKN who showed up to pick up his copy, and also hung around to help me with my coloured contact lenses for the first time. Putting them in, and removing them, was an absolute nightmare. But they were surprisingly comfortable once they were in.
The lenses were for tomorrow’s cosplay.
On Saturday, I had decided, I would dress up as a Noro Metak.
So, originally, the idea was to dress as Captain Nak Dool, who is the only Noro Metak character we directly see in any published canon. He is … not a great example of the species, of course, with his penchant for piracy and feeding people to each other. The Noro Metak we see out in Six Species space generally speaking are a fairly interesting and wild bunch compared to the majority of the species who remained in peace and quiet on their home world, but Dool was uniquely interesting.
Moreover, he was heavily armed and armoured, and – like the average Noro – he was huge. I couldn’t pull off any of his costume with any level of faithfulness (although I was looking forward to making the necklace of human teeth that were under no circumstances foggle tiles).
So, instead, I wrote the preliminary sketch of a new Noro Metak character.
dreameling asked me, that day, whether any author had ever cosplayed as their own characters. I happen to know that they most certainly have … but I like to think that I am among the first to actually create a character specifically to be cosplayed with relative ease.
Tabo “T-Bone” Norid is small for a Noro, although probably still bigger than me so future costumes may need to incorporate elevated hoof-boots. He doesn’t wear armour or carry much in the way of weaponry, being a different kind of adventurer. He collects postcards and promotional materials from the places he visits, usually marking them with his own comments before sticking them to his battered old coat.
As you can see above, I made some amazing postcards from Gabriel’s artwork, and am deeply appreciative – and apologise deeply for defacing it with T-Bone’s graffiti.
Other than that, T-bone is your average Noro. He’s covered in short bovine hair, has red eyes, and heavy horns. All in all, although they’re descended from cows, the Noros don’t really look like them any more than humans look like their ancient primate progenitors. That is to say, they look somewhat like them, and some have more a brutish appearance than others, but generally … well. Noros look more like demons than cows.
 I substituted face-paint, mostly ostensibly-beard-grey but with a hair-brown patch over my eye, all of it turned out a bit too dark but it doesn’t matter.
The horn-holding-on wire showed up a bit too much because I had to keep adjusting them as they slipped and sagged, so a new solution is needed for next time. I would have liked to have the hair parted side-to-side and the wire tucked under it, then re-puleld back and braided over the top, but that was a lot of work. So amusement park horn-headband thing had to do.
I did get a lot of stares, exclamations, photographs, and at least one kid called me a “härkämies” (bull man), so I guess I was close enough. And while waiting in line for Joe Abercrombie’s autograph, I set off a fit of terrified crying in a young girl nearby in the line. I greeted any number of people I’d made friends with over the past few days, and of them all only Gay Haldeman recognised me immediately. The rest did major double-takes.
I have to admit, the eyes were pretty shocking. Wump and Toop were also a bit nervous about them, and Wump was downright traumatised when I first put them in.
Taking them out was an enormous relief.
And that was my Saturday. A signed copy of Best Served Cold, more brilliant conversations with people in the many queues and just passing by in the corridors, a good dose of cosplay, some random kids’ activities and hydraulic rocket launching and a Skype conversation with my sister who was shocked to her core when I answered the phone in full Noro – and then home.
 I can’t stress this enough, every single person I stood near for more than two or three seconds had a smile, a brief greeting, or a longer and always-interesting conversation for me. After almost forty years on Earth I have found My People. It’s sad that I had to wait so long out of simple ignorance, but wonderful that the veil finally lifted.
We got home just as the insane storm front rolled in, and basically thunderbolted southern Finland to within an inch of its life Saturday night. Power outages, trees down, huge amounts of damage everywhere. And yet the show went on!
Wump and Toop came with us again on Sunday. They’d cosplayed along with me on Saturday, but today it was just a casual mask for Wump and a chill-out-in-the-pram day for Toop.
 I was a little disappointed – after giving up on the plan to make my own armour I had made sets for them, to wear as part of their “warrior fairy” costumes that included masqquerade masks and fairy wings. There were many pictures taken of them too, but sadly I don’t have many. Anyway, when the time came for us all to head off on Saturday, the armour proved too difficult for them to wear and I was not in any position to help them with it every five minutes, as dressed up as I was. So we canned the armour and just went with the wings and masks. Toop’s mask failed after thirty seconds, and Wump’s over-eagerness caused her to bust her wings after forty seconds, but I got them fixed. While wearing full Noro gear. Without help. Just saying. Where’s my parade?
The storm had levelled the little blacksmith village set up outside Messukeskus (“Lucifer fukt us”), and they were asking for donations to help them repair the damage. We helped out.
The kids had a good time. Wump filled out her scavenger hunt requirements and got her Scavenger Hunt ribbon, and then gloated at me. We did some more kids’ activities, Wump learned to juggle, and I got to take a little break and attend a great panel with Stephanie Saulter, Ian Stewart, Ian Watson and Joe Haldeman (or “Ian Haldeman” as he declared himself). The subject was near and dear to my heart, addressing the TL;DR / We’re Tired of Hearing From Experts anti-intellectual disease that is wrecking humanity. I wasn’t left with the feeling that there was anything we could do about it, but I was left reassured that I wasn’t alone.
I was also pleased to see that Ian Stewart had forgotten his name plaque, just like I had for my own panel.
Finally, and not without sadness, it was time for us to pack up and go home. Worldcon 75 is over.
Back at work. Trying to get back into the mundane world.
Oh, and our forest got smashed by that storm.