[META] Worldcon, The World’s Longest Running Science Fiction Convention

This is the first in a series of posts on fannish issues surrounding Worldcon, the longest running science fiction and fantasy convention in the world, by the 2014 Worldcon academic track organizer Emma England. First up is an intro to Worldcon and its fans.

The World Science Fiction Convention is the longest running SF convention in the world. The first Worldcon, retrospectively known as Nycon I, was held in New York in 1939 with an attendance of 200 people. The Guest of Honour was Frank R. Paul. The convention has taken place every year except during the Second World War, usually around American Labour Day weekend. By the mid-1970s attendance rose to about 4,000-5,000 fans, with more or less attendees depending on the host city.

Traditionally, Worldcon is a space for fans of literary science fiction, although in recent years media in all its forms has been popular. Chicon 7, the 2012 Worldcon in Chicago, had panels on The Walking Dead, Firefly and Torchwood to name but a few. Increasingly, there are panels, talks, and workshops on Anime/Manga, costuming (barely, if at all, distinguishable from cosplay), academic criticism, the history of fandom, gaming, and most other topics of interest to the wider “geek” communities.

There are only three essential requirements of a Worldcon:

(1) administering the Hugo Awards,

(2) administering any future Worldcon site selection (and if Worldcon is being held outside of North America, NASFIC, the North American Science Fiction Convention), and

(3) holding a World Science Fiction Society Business Meeting.

In reality, Worldcon has developed many traditions which fans expect to see. These include a Hugo Awards Ceremony, the Masquerade, Opening and Closing Ceremonies, a Regency Dance, signings, readings, the art show, exhibits, dealer’s room, guests of honour speeches, 15 tracks of programming (all running parallel to the permanent exhibits, hospitality suites, signings, readings and other activities), children’s activities, many parties every day and more.

The events are all included in the membership fee. This also includes the souvenir programme book, which has been known to be a hardcover and slipcased tome, as well as the Hugo voting pack. Members of each Worldcon get to vote for the Hugo Awards, the world’s most prestigious science fiction award, which has been held every year since 1955. People who cannot attend Worldcon can still vote by buying a supporting membership which entitles them to all of the publications including the Hugo Awards voting pack. This pack is an electronic collection of all of the nominated works and is worth considerably more than the price of membership (attending or supporting).

The location of Worldcon changes every year and with it so to does the name. In 2013 Worldcon is called Lonestar 3 (Texas, USA) and in 2014 it is Loncon 3 (London, UK). The site for each Worldcon is voted for at the convention two years prior. At Lonestar 3, the site selection for 2015 will be made and the choices are between Spokane (Washington, USA), Orlando (Florida, USA), and Helsinki (Finland). All Worldcons are organised on a not-for-profit basis by volunteers. Although there is some continuity as people volunteer for many Worldcons, each convention is organised by different people. The staff alone, without onsite volunteers acting as gophers and stewards, can number 200 people.

Fans who attend Worldcon can be broadly categorised in three ways. They are:

1)      the regulars, people who go most years and who may have been going for sixty years already,

2)      the irregulars, people who consider themselves part of fandom and who may go to other events and happen to go to a particular Worldcon because of the location, the guest of honours, the cost etc., and

3)      the walk-ins, people who go because it is local to them, they may only go for the day to visit the dealer’s room and get some books signed.

All of these groups of fans are important to the continuing success of Worldcon. The event has a unique place in fan history and for scholars of fans and fandom, or fans who just want to try something different or meet a specific guest, Worldcon is an institution not to be missed.