Saturday, 9 November 2013

World Fantasy 2013: If You Have Nothing Nice to Say...

Brighton: Stormy.
There's no point beating around the bush: I was seriously underwhelmed with World Fantasy 2013.  And I think the thing that underwhelmed the most was the sheer sense of familiarity - in terms of what was on offer, but also in the sense of seeing things done wrong that I've already seen done wrong too many times before.  Honestly, it's tempting to just post a link to my comments on last year's Fantasycon and be done with it.

But that would be churlish, wouldn't it?  After all, there were a few things that World Fantasy got right that Fantasycon 2012 didn't.  The hotel, for one, was an infinitely more suitable venue.  The welcome pack was well put together and there were some freebie books on offer that I actually wanted.  (One of them, admittedly, was Giant Thief!)  There were plenty of nice people on hand to offer help and directions, both the official Red Coats - who seemed to be doing an excellent job - and also lot's of friendly hotel staff offering help and directions.

A pile of Armadillos.
Those are all good things.  But they are, let's face it, also the absolute basics that you'd expect any professionally organised convention to get right, so I can't bring myself to dwell on them too much.  And it's not even like all of the basics were got right; things like panel equity and having a clear harassment policy in place well in advance are basics too, ones that any organiser ignores at both their peril and discredit.

What I mostly judge Cons on, though, is the content they offer, and on that front it's a struggle to find nice things to say.  Nine Worlds, my new benchmark, had so much damn stuff to see and do that I could have spent a week trapped in some kind of Ground Hog Day time loop thing and not seen everything I wanted to see.  World Fantasy had so little to offer that I spent half my time wondering what to do with myself, and what there was was predictable and weirdly, needlessly cynical.   When you have many of the greatest genre authors on the planet gathered in one place, what exactly is the thinking behind a panel asking "Does SF Have a Future"?  Except, I guess, to get things wrapped up quickly so that everyone can return to the bar.

Actually a Con picture.
"But wait", I hear an imaginary someone somewhere say, "World Fantasy isn't that kind of 'Con!  It's about professionals ... you know, meeting and hanging out in the bar and doing professional stuff." Well, that's fine in theory, I guess, but someone really should have told that to all the people who weren't industry professionals before they forked over their hard-earned cash.  And even putting that aside, as a professional writer, at no point did I feel particularly catered to.  Not when I was being told by the website guidelines that I probably wouldn't be welcome on any of the panels and should just expect my enquiry to go ignored; not when I was being informed in the official e-mails that if I wanted to be part of the mass signing I should expect to fight off everyone else who isn't one of "those writers we expect long lines for"; not when the decision was made to exclude industry advice from the programming; and not when ... actually, that pretty much covers it.  Although, while we're here, there's a point worth making: the general tone and communication around this thing was frequently pompous, self-aggrandizing and plain rude.  There's no call for that, it's not how you deal with people who are paying you money, and frankly, I feel a little embarrassed even having to point that out.

So there it is.  I had a good time at World Fantasy, for the most part.  But since that good time relied entirely on the fact that lots of my favourite people were there, along with freely flowing alcohol, and hardly at all on the fact that there was a convention going on around me, it would be dishonest to give too much credit.  And since everyone I met was saying much the same things, I can't even fall back on the argument that it was just me being a grouch.  (Although, since my B & B was notable mainly for the standard of street fights going on outside and I spent most of the weekend determinedly missing every last damn thing I'd planned to go to, there's undoubtedly an element of that.)

Anyway.  Thanks to all the amazing people who hung out with me over the course of the weekend; you surely know who you were, and if you don't, it's because you were drunk.  It was real and it was fun, but - at least as far as the convention side went - it just wasn't real fun.


  1. Good to meet you again, David - and I know what you mean; by nine o'clock on Saturday night I was back in my hotel room watching X Factor with my wife, and I hate X Factor!

  2. I've got to say, there was never a point when I was so bored that I felt I'd rather have been watching X-Factor.

  3. The £9.20 for a glass of wine played a part in my decision leave, along with an early morning meeting with my agent. I did enjoy most of the panels though, but my Con highlight was watching Mike Shevdon's re-enactment of the opening scene of his current WIP. The man deserves an Oscar...

  4. I don't think you missed much by not being at the mass signing. I saw a lot of bored authors with no books to sell, and quite a few people who were confused because you couldn't buy books at the event.

    My experience of the panels was really, really good, however. The world building in particular was full of tips anyone could take away and use, whether a new writer or one with a few books out already.

    1. Hi Ros ... I did hang out for a bit at the mass signing, although I wasn't prepared to try for a table. The whole thing just seemed like an exercise in humiliating as many people as possible. I'd be interested to know the thinking behind not selling books and forbidding writers and publishers to sell their own.

      Point taken about the panels, and the one I did go to was fine, but my criticism has more to do with lack of imagination than quality. A great panel on world building is still yet another panel on world building.

  5. Bunch of dinosaurs. Seriously, they just need to move aside and make room for younger con organisers who have respect for a paying public. Actually strike that - whether they move aside or not, their time is over.

    1. I'm not sure age is necessarily the deciding factor, more an overabundance of experience combined with a lack of new ideas, but other than that I'm inclined to agree. Nine Worlds alone shows that there are new people out there who are willing to organize these things, and frankly, they're doing a better job. These days, when it's so much easier to connect with a writer you like, the template World Fantasy was following feels hopelessly out of date.