If you have ever thought “The one thing that would improve Montreal is more people in Starfleet uniforms,” you would have been mightily pleased by this year’s Worldcon. Possibly the funniest thing about the con was that it was held in a really staid part of town, at a convention centre that normally hosts business and professional conferences; I think I must have had a sign on my back that said “Normal-looking guy,” because I can’t count how many locals stopped me to ask just what the heck was going on.
Now, my experience with cons is limited, but I can tell you this: compared to the big comic conventions, Worldcon is very low-key. There’s certainly no Hollywood presence, no movie premieres of sneak previews, nobody who’s famous outside the field and no booth babes (there was a woman dressed up as Psylocke at one booth, but since I later saw her still in costume in the subway I’m pretty sure she was there of her own volition.) In fact, costumes on the whole were fairly scarce, and most of them turned out to belong to people who were participants in the Masquerade (though many of those wore their costumes for the rest of the con as well.) The Masquerade was interesting because almost all of the costumes were drawn from comics, TV, video games and anime, none of which had any presence at the con at all — the focus was almost entirely on written SF, which made the Klingon guys seem a little out of place.
Costumes aside, there are a number of identifiable con “looks”:
Dressed for comfort: shorts, T-shirts and either sneakers or sandals were definitely the most common look. “Dress like you’re at home” was this crowd’s motto (or in a few cases, “Dress like you’re at the beach”) and in a few cases people seemed to actively reject the idea that other people will see what you wear. To be fair, it’s a long con — four days if you go to the whole thing — and the temperature at the convention centre never dropped much below “uncomfortably warm.”
Dressed up: a fair number of the attendees, mostly ambitious semi-pros like me, were treating the con as a business opportunity and dressed accordingly. Of course given the overall level of formality, “dressing up” meant pretty much what “business casual” would anywhere else — a buttoned shirt, chinos and shoes, the first two preferably recently ironed. This had the drawback of being extremely hot at times but had the advantage of letting you feel superior to people around you.
Hawaiian shirt: if there is a single definitive Worldcon uniform, it is the Hawaiian shirt. This was most common among pros who had nothing to prove, and its advantages are obvious: you can wear something comfortable and colourful without looking shleppy. It beats dressing up as a way of getting into the fan aesthetic (a good Hawaiian shirt is halfway to a costume) but allows you to get away with wearing sandals if you absolutely have to.
In terms of content, Worldcon is about equal parts programming and parties. The programming, while often interesting, suffers a bit from the unusually high number of pros and semi-pros relative to pure fans, so during panels the aspiring writers get annoyed at the amount of time that’s spent fielding fan questions and the fans get annoyed at the time spent on writing questions. There’s entertainment programming as well, but aside from the Masquerade it’s pretty much roll-your-own stuff: small screenings of movies, staged readings of plays and radio dramas as well as filking, which sounds like a disgusting sexual perversion but in fact is.
From my perspective as a Worldcon newbie, the most surprising thing was definitely the degree to which people are there to party. It’s sort of like an SF fan’s dream of high school: parties every night where everybody wants to talk about science fiction. (You certainly get the sense that there are some people for whom conventions are their main arena for socializing.) I can’t deny the appeal of that: for two nights and three days, this nerd was at home.