My first Worldcon
Sami Sundell
Sami Sundell
7 min read


It’s apparently time for my biannual blog post revolving around Hugos.

This time, though, it’s a bit different. I’ve mentioned before that my initiation to the Hugo Awards nomination process started with a Christmas gift that was a T-shirt campaigning for Worldcon in Helsinki in 2017.

Well, it’s 2017, and the Worldcon has just ended. In Helsinki.

I might write a post about the Hugo winners; suffice to say, I’m happy for all of them.

I was in Messukeskus from Thursday to Saturday, so I missed both the opening and closing ceremonies. I’m not too bothered, though – the three days I was there had content enough for several days.

So, what did I get from all of this?

7 119 is a crowd

Worldcon 75 had a lot of people attending – it was the second largest Worldcon ever (by membership, and third largest by attendance).

According to some comments I saw, the original estimate – based on previous out-of-USA Worldcons – was about 3 500 attendees. Even if doubling your visitor estimate is a positive problem, it’s still a problem.

There were queues, which were sometimes quite magnificent. From what I gather, it was worst on Wednesday, but it was quite a rude awakening to arrive on site on Thursday and see many rooms having notices about them being full – and people in front of the door waiting for the next item in the schedule, which would start in an hour.

The organizers managed to build a new room into one of the large exhibition halls, and it alleviated the problem, but there were still long queues on every day of the con, and undoubtedly people were left out.

I, personally, didn’t really have a problem with that. For every hour, I found multiple interesting topics on panels, so it was just a matter of preference and queue length to decide which one to attend.

Astronauts are a draw

I saw astrounaut Keith Lindgren total of three times on Friday and Saturday – that’s not counting the Hugo Awards ceremony. My reason for that was my four year old son, but apparently he’s a draw for a bit older folk as well: there was a long queue for all of his presentations.

And I can’t blame people. Lindgren was a skilled, passionate, entertaining speaker that was fun to listen to.

And my son? Well, you could argue it’s a clear sign of enthusiasm when a four-year-old attends a 45 minute presentation, listens to my realtime translation, and anxiously asks “What is he saying now?” whenever I was silent for too long.

Ada Palmer is magnificently talented

I read Too Like the Lightning during the summer and found it strangely engaging. It was a strong contender for the Best Novel Hugo Award, so it wasn’t really a great surprise when it was announced that Ada Palmer had won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in Friday’s Hugo gala.

What was surprising was how thoroughly entertained I was when her a cappella band Sassafrass entered the stage on Saturday’s Masquerade and started recounting Norse mythology. I found the multi-layered lyrics and beautiful voices captivating, and it was definitely at least one, if not the highlight of the con for me.

And it’s all written by her – music, lyrics, arrangement. I continue to be amazed.

Panels bring up interesting thoughts

In no particular order, I picked up at least these things in various panels:

  • If you’re making a podcast, it’s always good to have Brandon Sanderson in your cast (Howard Tayler in How to start a podcast)
  • “Star Trek might have misinformed as slightly regarding how habitable planets are.” (Geoffrey A. Landis in Morality of Generation Ships)
  • It’s not just morality of generation ships, but morality of even a Moon colony that is in question. (Landis in Morality of Generation Ships)
  • The size of the cranium limits our intelligence and leads us trying to augment it externally (Lettie Prell in The Singularity: Transhuman Intelligence in Fiction and Futurism)
  • … and cranium is limited by the structure of human hips, but that could be circumvented by modifying people to become marsupial (Charlie Stross in The Singularity: Transhuman Intelligence in Fiction and Futurism)
  • The only science fiction / fantasy award that has an economical effect are the Hugo Awards (Teresa Nielsen Hayden in Impact of Awards)
  • In China, the effect of Three-Body Problem winning a Hugo was huge and reverberated to past Hugo winners as well (Zhang Ran in Impact of Awards)
  • Even if the economic impact is modest, awards may have a huge boost for the career of the author – both internally and externally (Michael J. Martineck in Impact of Awards)
  • Since there’s no gravity in ISS, there’s no wear on the soles of your feet, so you shed your calluses. (Kjell Lindgren in Postflight Talk)
  • … which is why polite people remove their socks carefully and tie them in a knot. (Lindgren in Postflight Talk)
  • You could argue we’re already living in post-scarcity world, the issue is distribution. (Brad Lyau in Beyond the Cash Nexus)

No fandom membership required

Alright, so this may require a bit of explanation.

Worldcon is a huge con, esteemed one, and it’s completely built on voluntary work. It’s a behemoth created by fandom and it requires fandom to exist.

However, you don’t need to be part of fandom to enjoy it. Personally, apart from occasional comment here and there, I can’t really say I’m an active participant in either global or local fandom.

Also, even though many people (and news articles) tend to mention people queueing for autographs of George R. R. Martin or some other author, I’m not a hardcore fan of any individual either. I did enjoy listening to Scott Lynch and Lawrence M. Schoen reading, but that’s as far as it goes.

And, to be fair, my idea of being social meant not putting my earphones on when I went into Messukeskus.

So yes, if you actively participate in fandom, you probably will get more out of the con – you’ll meet online and offline friends, participate in discussions, attend parties.

But if that’s not your cup of tea, there are plenty of items in the programme to keep you busy for however many days you want to spend in Worldcon. I found the panel discussions thought-provoking, the readings entertaining, the Hugo award ceremony a wonderful experience. And I already mentioned Sassafrass…

My Worldcon ended on Saturday, but it will have some lasting effects. I listened to plenty of writers I haven’t read before. Because of their appearances, I’m sure to find myself some of the works by Zhang Ran, Michael J. Martineck and Daryl Gregory – I already bought books by Geoffrey E. Landis, and Lawrence M. Schoen is in my to-read pile. After attending Clipping concert on Thursday evening, I’m not quite sold by it but I’m curious to listen more of it. And I’ll be ordering those Sassafrass albums momentarily.

Oh yes, and I’m already checking my calendar for Dublin in 2019.

P.S. I did see a couple of authors that I almost interacted with. The closest call was Landis, who visited Rosebud bookstore booth with someone and lamented that his books seemed to be sold out. Well, they almost were – I was standing in line with the last one, waiting to get separated from my money. Phew.