Trip Report II: Dublin 2019, An Irish WorldCon

I tend to really resist writing convention reports because if I try to name-check everyone I met, I will inevitably forget someone and then they might swear enmity against me for life and that would make me sad. So I’m just going to say up front that I’m not going to try to name everyone I met.

One of the things about Ireland that I found very weird was that they don’t seem to do hotel rooms for four. Two doubles or two queen beds is a very standard arrangement in the US. In Ireland, if you’re traveling with four people, your options are as follows:

  1. Book (and pay for) two entirely separate hotel rooms.
  2. Find a bed and breakfast with a “family room,” but there seem to be about ten of these in the whole country. (They’re great, if you can find them, because two of the beds are separate twin beds, which means your children, by which I mean my children, will not complain about having to share a bed.)
  3. Rent an apartment.

Anyway, in Dublin, we went with option 3, which meant we were about a mile and a half from the CCD (Convention Center Dublin, where the main convention took place). The first night, we went out and met Terri Ash (one of the two people from Geek Calligraphy) and her family for dinner, and Terri’s husband gave me and Molly a quick overview of how to use the Dublin trolley system (officially called the LUAS) and where to buy the magic reloadable card that lets you use it. Molly and I went to the CCD in the hopes of getting our badges. Ed and Kiera were not going to go to the con (other than on Sunday, for the Hugo Awards) so they went back to the apartment.

We were happy to see that the titanic line I’d seen people complaining about earlier on Twitter was gone…and less happy to find out this was because registration was closed. For after-hours registration, the sign said to go to Ops, and Ops gave us each a temporary badge called a Night Pass, which everyone referred to as a Zombie Badge. They noted that when we came back in the morning we might be able to use the Zombie Badge to jump the queue.

We ran into friends, some people I’d met before in person (Jo Walton), some I’d only met online (Elsa Sjunneson-Henry) and I think I wound up back in Martin’s Bar for the first time on Thursday evening.

The Dublin WorldCon didn’t have what American fans would consider to be a consuite — a lounge with free food and drink. There was a floor of the convention center with a selection of food for purchase, and there was Martin’s Bar, which was an area set up as a pub, with tables, sofas, and an actual bar with a selection of beer on tap. (A week or two before the con started, because there was alcohol at the venue, a lot of people with teens were dismayed to be told that the teens would have to stay under parental supervision at the con. Fortunately for me, I was there with Molly, who’s 18. Which is the legal drinking age in Ireland. Not only did I not have to supervise her, she could have bought herself beer. Which she did not do because, and I quote, “alcohol is gross, Mom.”)

Friday morning, Molly and I headed to the CCD early(ish) because we wanted to go to some 10 a.m. panels. There was already a long line for badges — but it turned out our zombie badges did let us jump the line, and we were both able to get into the 10 a.m. panels we’d come for. One of the ongoing challenges at this WorldCon was that programming frequently filled; you had to get into the queue 30-45 minutes before the panel if you wanted to be sure you’d get in. (This was not true of every panel, but later on Friday, I tried to go to a panel, took one look at the queue and went in search of a different panel, and might have gotten into that one but it turned out I was in the wrong queue. I didn’t end up making it to a whole lot of panels.)

The panel I made it to was called “Nothing About Us Without Us” and was about disability in YA. There was a lot of interesting stuff on the panel but the bit I found most fascinating was hearing Fran Wilde talk about how if you were diagnosed with scoliosis in the 1980s, everyone gave you a copy of Deenie by Judy Bloom, which was very much not the right book for her and she wound up annotating copies furiously with a pen and then hiding them in her doctor’s office for other patients to find.

The only programming I had on Friday was a reading in the evening, which went well except for the part where I forgot I was supposed to read from 8:00 – 8:20, not 8:00 – 8:30, and I think the author in the next slot probably hates me forever. (I’M SORRY.) Dinner that night, Ed and Kiera came to the con area and we went out for Indian food with Fei Tang, one of my friends from China. The food was good, the service was disorganized, and fortunately I could just leave Ed with the bill and run back to the convention in time for my reading. (A lot of the restaurants near the convention center were clearly unprepared for the hordes of hungry fans. Memo to WorldCon committees: warn the nearby restaurants and bars to staff up for WorldCon weekend!)

Saturday, the only programming I was scheduled for was a Kaffeeklatsch. Getting to do a Kaffeeklatsch at WorldCon was kind of delightful, because the very first WorldCon I went to, in 1998, I went to a bunch of Kaffeeklatsches. Being the host was pretty great. I don’t remember what all we talked about but I handed out magnets with the cover art of my forthcoming novel and had just enough for everyone. (And then on Monday I got an e-mail from my editor saying they’re changing the cover. So all you lovely people with magnets: don’t be shocked when the cover on the book you get looks different.)

Sunday was the day I had two panels and was also the day of the Hugo Awards (the panels were great, it meant I had less time to stress out). The first of my panels was over at the other location (there was an overflow location a kilometer away from the CCD) where we sat in front of a movie theater screen to talk about the Hero’s Journey. The second, I moderated a panel on Religion in SF/F, which I thought went really pretty well. My panelists were a really interesting group of people with all sorts of specific expertise. Programming at WorldCons can be a really mixed bag, and Dublin’s programming team did a really good job at finding a wide array of people with both genuine qualifications and interesting things to say about a bunch of topics.

Me, tilting my head so you can see the braids.One of the things I love about the Hugo Awards is the incredible range of beautiful and interesting clothing people wear to the ceremony. The instruction is “wear something that makes you feel special.” I think my very favorite outfit was Jeanette Ng’s (with the hat that did a thing, which I got to see demonstrated at the pre-Hugo reception) although Mary Robinette Kowal’s amazing slinky sparkly dress was also out of this world. (Do I have any pictures? ha ha ha no. I was too busy being sociably nervous to take pictures of everyone else’s awesome clothing.)

I’d gotten permission to bring my family to the reception and have them with me at the ceremony, and not just a plus-one. Kiera tagged along as I circulated but mostly had no idea who anyone was, with the exception of Ursula Vernon, who I introduced as the author of Castle Hangnail.

I didn’t win. Which was fine: I loved Zen Cho’s story, and for that matter all the stories in my category. I loved Jeanette Ng’s speech, Elsa Sjunneson-Henry’s speech, and Mary Robinette Kowal’s speech. When Naomi Novik accepted the Hugo on behalf of AO3 and asked everyone who was part of the AO3 community to stand, I stood. Then, since I didn’t have to stick around for photos, I booked it downstairs to reclaim my stuff from the coat check and find the van that was taking people over to the Hugo Loser’s party.

The invite to the Hugo Loser's party, which lists time and location, mentions the van taxi service, and says "ADMITS TWO."The history of the Hugo Losers Party runs something like this: years ago, George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois threw a party for themselves and the other losers that was so much fun the winners started trying to horn in. In the mid-1980s, having hosted the party for years, Martin moved on. At some point in the 1990s, the party got taken over by WorldCon; it was run by the next year’s convention; and even though everyone still called it the Loser’s Party it was officially the Hugo Nominees party, and everyone nominated was allowed (n.b.: winners were always allowed at the Loser’s Party, but mockery was part of the experience.)

In 1998, I went to WorldCon in Baltimore, along with Lyda Morehouse and Harry LeBlanc, from my writers’ group. It was a weekend of feeling like an outsider — we were all close to breaking in professionally but had no professional sales yet. We were close enough that we heard endlessly about parties we weren’t cool enough to get invited to, but didn’t actually get to go to any of them. On the night of the Hugo Awards, we finally had an invite to a private party, on the seventh floor of the hotel where all the parties were. We went, knocked, knew someone was there because we could smell their weed, but no one opened the door. And there were no other parties on the seventh floor, and every elevator going up was 100% full, and every elevator going down was also 100% full, and the stairs said EMERGENCY EXIT ONLY. We were trapped.

After 20 minutes of sorry-not-sorry, we’re full! from the elevators we resorted to the stairs, hoping there’d be a door to the street at the bottom. But that door was alarmed, and if we used it we’d be setting off the fire alarm for the whole hotel. So we went back up one floor, because we could hear people on the other side of the door, and knocked as loudly as we could.

Someone opened the door, said “this is a private party,” and closed it in our faces.

We banged on it some more and when they opened back up Harry explained that we were not trying to crash their party, we just needed to pass through their party, and after some back-and-forth that included a threat to just set off the damn fire alarm, they (grudgingly) allowed us to go through the party to get out into the hotel lobby. On the way out, we found out that this was the Hugo Loser’s party.

I’ve told my “trapped in a stairwell, then thrown out of the Hugo Losers Party” story for laughs for years, but at the time, it was really pretty traumatic. I was too upset to even try to go to any more parties if it involved the elevator and the possibility of getting trapped again. We sat around in the lobby the rest of the evening.

In 2015, George R. R. Martin started hosting the Loser’s Party again. The official con-run Hugo Nominees party continued to exist, and in 2016, as a winner, I went to both. First to the perfectly nice (run by Helsinki) official Hugo Nominees party, which was (conveniently!) in the hotel where I was staying, so I could drop off my Hugo Award in my room. Then to the Loser’s Party, because you were totally allowed to go as a winner provided that you wore a stupid hat, which I did. (I wore a rubber chicken on my head. TOTALLY WORTH IT.) That Loser’s Party was held at a former theater near the convention center; it was an absolutely gorgeous interior and the sort of party where a lot of us looked around and said “I am really not cool enough to be at this party.”

This year, the invitation was in my packet, like the Hugo Nominees Party invitation had been in 2016. (The 2016 Loser’s Party invitations were distributed by hand.) It said “admits two” but I did not worry about bringing my entire entourage, which is to say Ed, Molly, and Kiera; Molly and Kiera wouldn’t be drinking and Ed and Kiera definitely weren’t staying long. We caught a van pretty quickly and went over. It was nice, with good food and beer, but it was also extremely loud, even outside the main room with the music, and after finishing my beer I decided I didn’t need to stay any longer and went home with the rest of my family. On the way out I heard something about people waiting to get in, but I assumed they were just taking a while checking invitations. Nope: the building had reached capacity, and a bunch of actual losers were being turned away.

I heard various theories about what went wrong, including a fuck-up on Guinness’s part in terms of the occupancy limit they were enforcing. I heard some angry speculation about publishing insiders taking up all the space, which might be true, although some of the insiders were undoubtedly designated acceptors even if they weren’t on the nominee list themselves. (And I saw some anger at the winners for going. I’ll note that the winners are explicitly allowed, and got invites in their packets. You’re allowed, you just have to wear a stupid hat, and a box of stupid hats is made available at the entrance for this purpose.) I don’t know. I felt guilty for having brought three people instead of one, but they were literally my family and I was a bona fide loser and we left really early.

I don’t know what the solution would have been in the moment, but making the people who were supposed to be the honored guests wait out in the cold (it was really chilly outside, especially if you were in a short sleeved dress) was a really bad option.

Science Fiction fandom definitely has issues with some people being cool kids and some people being nobodies, and very much wants to deny it, and I wish we could at least talk about how that impacts stuff like who gets stranded outside in the cold even though they have a literal engraved invitation.

Anyway.

On Monday, my family went to see the Book of Kells and the Trinity Library Long Room, and then we had fancy ice cream that Scott Edelman had tipped me off about. It was a nice end to our time in Ireland. On Tuesday, we stood in line at the Dublin Airport with a bunch of other people who were also heading home from WorldCon (Polly, who’s local to me; Amy, who’s not; two people I didn’t know but who turned around and said “oh, were you also at WorldCon?”) and then flew to Iceland for a couple of days. Iceland gets its own post, although in some ways that island is MORE SCIENCE FICTIONAL THAN WORLDCON, holy crap.

 

 

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