I am kind of embarrassed to admit that I wasn’t … really … looking forward to Nine Worlds? It is not because it didn’t sound cool. I am just really lazy! And Heathrow is so far away, and I had found myself signed up for four panels and a reading, and nearly all those panels involved Real People™, and I wasn’t going to KNOW anybody, and it was going to be like WorldCon ‘07 when everybody thought I was Japanese but it’s not like I could hang out with the Japanese fans since I don’t, y’know, speak any Japanese, and it was going to be like Wiscon only without my friends, who were the best part, and mrr mrr mrr mrr mrr.
But um, it was actually awesome! It was super awesome! A large part was because I did have friends, since happydork (hereinafter referred to as “Katy”) decided to come about a week before, and I cheerfully attached myself to her coat-tails and met all her nice friends. And I was really impressed — by the organisation, because I never noticed it, which is surely kind of astounding for a con in its first year; by the number of non-binary-gender-conforming fans and fans with disabilities (though fewer of the latter, IIRC); by the sense, with the audiences of the panels I attended, that there was a significant number of people there who valued the things I valued.
With the last thing, I don’t just mean social justice issues, which are, of course, super important — but you know, the fact that I could basically sit on a panel of editors and published authors and ramble on about the amazing ‘90s fanfic I read as a teenager, and have multiple people say/Tweet in response: OMG, RIGHT???? At a con not solely dedicated to fanfic, in a track not about fanfic? AWESOME.
And you know, it was not perfect: for one thing, I am gender-conforming and not disabled and omnivorous and extroverted and not overly bothered by crowds and all these things that make cons not as stressful for me as they are for other people; for another, stuff still happened to make one raise a quizzical eyebrow. But I think it says something about Nine Worlds that it was the first time I’ve been in a geek space in the UK and felt so comfortable. (Don’t get me wrong, it would have been even lovelier to see more non-white fans around — there were a number, but I got to recognising the others since there weren’t that many of us. It took real effort not to go up to all of them and creep on them. “You have melanin too! BE MY FRIEND @_@”)
But the word that keeps coming up on Twitter is “safe”. It definitely felt that to me.
So — huge congrats and thanks to the con organisers for formulating and expressing their commitment to diversity and inclusivity so effectively. I am sorry I didn’t believe it was going to be so awesome! orz
On to the detailed con report! … The Fellowship of the Ring.
I arrived mid-afternoon on Friday, and received my bag with a bunch of advertising materials — and a free book! Woo. The panellists for my Diversity in Steampunk panel had all said they were going to be at the Queer High Tea, so I wandered over there. I hovered for a while with a cup of tea, feeling epically awkward and wishing I could go home again.
But then people I knew showed up! Alex Dally MacFarlane appeared upon the horizon, and also Katy showed up and attempted to introduce the wrong person as her girlfriend, which of course put me at my ease. (I am sure this is why she did it, and not at all because she failed the basic relationship test of Being Able to Recognise Your Own Girlfriend.) I did eventually meet the correct girlfriend, as well as Tori Truslow, who ran the Queer Fandom track and did a fabulous job, and Sam Kelly, who was on the Diversity in Steampunk panel and is a visual artist who does cool work.
My first panel was the first All The Books track panel, Cake or Death, with Marcus Gipps moderating Charlie Stross, Paul Cornell, Liz de Jager and tiny meeeee. It was about whether you want to/should give your characters cake (happy things!) or death (sad things :( ). By way of preparation for the panel I had put the question to my sister before the con, and she’d said, “Happy things! Duh! The market for stories where only good things happen is super underserved. Can you think of any show or book where nothing bad ever happens?”
Me: “But Sister, if bad things don’t happen you won’t get invested in the character what. You know how you like all these manly noble characters, like Cyclops and Aragorn and all that? They wouldn’t be manly if bad things didn’t happen to test them.”
Sister: “Yah, but I don’t need to hear about the bad things in detail! Why can’t they start the story after all that stuff has happened and Aragorn is already manly?”
Me: “OK, so you want a story that’s like: ‘So Aragorn, you’ve had a tough life! You had to fight all these orcs and hang out in the forest and never wash your hair for years and Elrond wouldn’t let you marry his daughter and then there was that quest to destroy the Ring and war and stuff, and everything sucked. But that’s all behind you now! You’ve had therapy and you’re in a good mental space. Now you’re king and everything is awesome, and the story can begin!'”
Sister: “Why not? Fanfic is like that!”
So I spent the entire panel talking about fanfic, because fanfic is ALL THE CAKE. Plus defending Mary Sues, because Mary Sues are also cake, and I want everybody to have cake!
I just want to say here that everybody on the panel was really nice, even though they were all intimidatingly Real People™ who either have jobs that involve making up stories for a living, or Twitter usernames that are their real names and don’t even involve any puns. (My internal reaction to one fellow panellist: “Wah, this guy sure must be famous, he has a voice like a plush rocking chair. /checks Twitter/ … And 22,000 Twitter followers.”) And that’s why I felt comfortable enough to talk about fanfic and all the occasionally dodgy things that make our ids happy.
I also feel this panel is evidence that the hours and hours you spend reading dodgy fanfic in your teens need not be in vain, because as a direct consequence I was told to turn up for Paul’s Just A Minute panel. (Just A Minute is a British TV thing where funny British people talk about topics for 1 minute each and aren’t allowed to stop or repeat themselves. Er, this wasn’t on TV, though; this was just like a con panel version of the TV show.) And I sort of wasn’t sure whether to go or not? This is how my thought process went:
- You should say Yes to everything! This will result in an interesting life.
- Opportunity to burble on more about dodgy ’90s fanfic
- May somehow eventually result in one or two more sales of The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo
- You will not feel guilty for saying No when someone asks you to do something, which as a girl you tend to do even though you know it is bullshit
- If I don’t go for panel, I can go home now and have actual dinner
Back to pros:
- But if I stay at the con this evening … I will have an excuse not to work on my book!
While I was carefully weighing up the pros and cons, I took a bus to Heathrow Terminal 3 and ate dinner at the Leon restaurant there, where I was intrigued to observe that they were serving criss-cross chips.
I then returned to the con, still undecided. I found Katy and her friends [UNNAMED TO PROTECT THEIR IDENTITIES], and we talked about Fanfics We Have Known over bad tuna melts, and then we went to such_heights’s fanvid panels, Fanvidding 101 and Late Night Vidding.
So that’s what I ended up doing instead of Just A Minute! I am super glad I went to the fanvid panels, because they were awesome. Highlights: watching the historic Kandy Fong Kirk/Spock vid, and an amazing meta vid where fangirls in Olden Times made a vid of themselves making vids, using VCRs and stop-watches (there was a cat! Me and Katy: “Cats existed before GIFs???”). Also the multi-fandom Starships vid which I saw for the first time at Wiscon earlier this year, and which I was delighted to see again.
I’m not really actively involved anymore in the strand of fandom which produces fanfic of the sort I read as a teen, and fanvids of the sort such_heights was showing (I appreciated that such_heights flagged that it is only one of many fanvidding traditions). But I found the panels and atmosphere very inspiring, and it reminded me of what I loved and continue to love about fanfic and other transformative works fandoms.
After the starships (they’re meant to flyyyy~) we went home. It was a long, long quest along the jagged ridge and unexpected ravines of the Piccadilly Line. Let us draw a veil over the rest of the night.