I came fairly late to British SF conventions, dipping a toe in the water cautiously (and not terribly happily) in 2007, and then not until Eastercon 2011, where I got into the swing of things and then again in 2012 where I sat on my first panel. Despite some inconvenient things about the hotel venue (Radisson Blu at Heathrow), I enjoyed myself enough to become a regular attendee. Since then I’ve attended at least one, and probably two or three conventions a year, usually with a migratory group of writer friends. Not all friends attend all conventions, but we’re a broadly similar group.
I was lucky that in 2013 World Fantasy came to Brighton, and then in 2014 Worldcon – The World Science Fiction Convention – came to London’s Excel Centre.
Historically Worldcon has been held in the USA, but 2014, 2017 and 2019 have all been on this side of the Atlantic, and I’m taking full advantage. Last August I ventured out of the UK to Helsinki for Worldcon there and this year I’ll be in Dublin for the Irish Worldcon. Emboldened by that, I’ve already bought my membership for Worldcon in New Zealand in 2020. It’s official name is ConZealand, but I’m pretty sure some of us are already referring to it as Hobbitcon. I’ve never been to a worldcon in the US (though I’ve been to the US many times for other reasons), but I’m coming round to the idea. I believe it’s in Washington DC in 2021. (Air and Space Museum, here I come!)
So here are my thoughts.
LONDON 2014: Worldcon is BIG, but the Excel Centre is bigger. Worldcon was tucked away at one end of it, but some of the hotels and restaurants were way down at the other end, and some of the workshops and parties were held in a suite of function rooms halfway down the Excel. When I say the Excel Centre is BIG, I looked it up. The internet tells me it’s 600 metres from one end to the other, but I can tell you it feels longer than that. There are six hotels, more than 30 bars and restaurants on the campus, and there’s a Docklands Light Railway station at either end of it. But it needs to be big to accommodate the crowds who turn up from every part of the world. A bunch of us who ‘met’ on a Usenet writers’ newsgroup were able to arrange a get together, which was wonderful. The downside of the size was that my feet were killing me by the time I’d been there half a day, and it was especially disappointing not to be able to get into some of the panels I wanted to see because of space issues in the smaller meeting rooms. Some of the panels were too popular.
HELSINKI 2017: The convention centre in Helsinki is big, but not as daunting as the Excel Centre in London. My friend, C and I were lucky to be in the convention hotel attached to the venue.
It meant we were outside the heart of the city, but we took a few days after the convention to see Helsinki and to take the ferry across to Tallinn, which was wonderful.
Again, however, some of the panels were oversubscribed, resulting in huge queues for the more popular panels, and some hurried rearranging by the con to increase some of the room sizes. I didn’t attend the Hugos in London, but I did in Helsinki – my first Hugo ceremony – and had a surprisingly good time. Right then and there C and I signed up for Dublin and New Zealand.
IRELAND 2019: It’s only a few weeks to the Dublin Worldcon, held in the fancy new-ish convention centre. Our hotel (on the riverside) and flights are booked. We’re arriving on the Tuesday (the day before it kicks off) and departing on the Monday (the last day of the convention). The guests of honour include Diane Duane – writer, Ginjer Buchanan – editor, and Dame/Prof. Jocelyn Bell Burnell, the celebrated Irish astrophysicist. I’m listed as a programme participant, but at the time of writing I don’t know the details yet. [*Edit: 2 panels on the Friday] Whatever I’m doing, it will be fine. I’m really looking forward to meeting up with old friends, and getting to see my editor, Sheila Gilbert. She’s been nominated once again for a Hugo for Best Professional Editor, Long Form again (she won it a couple of years a go), so I’ll be there to cheer here on.
There’s probably still time to get yourself to Dublin and join in.