Friday 21 August 2015

Nine Worlds 2015, Part 2: The Not So Good

[You can find part 1, "The Very Good Indeed," here.]

So as I suggested in part one, I don't want to rail too much against this year's Nine Worlds because I had a great time there and overall I felt, as always, that it got the vast majority of things right.  And wouldn't it be nice to just focus on the good stuff for a change?  But I can't help thinking it would be worse to skip mentioning a few complaints, many of which other people were vocally making, than to keep quiet - if for no other reason than that I'd love to see Nine Worlds thriving ten years from now and small cracks have a way of growing into gaping chasms, or some such metaphor.

But let's start at the beginning.  For the first point at which I got concerned was a couple of months before the doors even opened, when I discovered that two of the panels I'd been confirmed for on the Comics track, one of which I was down to moderate, had been cancelled.  The reasons apparently came down to conflicts over scheduling and scuffling over space, and the result was some potentially great panels left on the cutting room floor.  I won't go into the other scheduling problems that followed, if only because the parties concerned were ultimately brilliant and lovely in getting them resolved, but suffice to say that there were problems and that they could surely have been avoided.

What seemed to be lacking was a level of coordination that crossed the boundaries of the different tracks, and that was also more or less what I took away from the event itself.  Nine Worlds, as its name implies, is an entity formed of many moving parts, and that's a huge portion of its charm - though one that always threatens to end up being plain chaotic.  However this was the first year when it felt like those parts were not only not moving in unison but were actually draining energy from each other.  There was, ultimately, too much content for the space, to the point where it seemed padded.  And some of that content was so sparse or ill-considered that, for me, it just didn't warrant its existence.  (Long-term readers will know what a hopeless film and Anime nerd I am, so when I say that there wasn't a thing on the Anime or film tracks that teased my interest even slightly, that surely should mean something.)

More aggravating than any of that, though, was the rate at which the better panel items filled to capacity, and that the organisers' solution was to suggest arriving well in advance.  From what I heard, for that to work might mean turning up fifteen to twenty minutes early, and really, who wants to spend their convention time like that?  Of all the available solutions - larger spaces, more versatile seating arrangements, duplicating content - pushing the problem onto the punter was surely not the best.  I remember making this exact same point last year and I really hoped they'd get it sorted out, so that the organizers chose to go in the opposite direction and just tell everyone to accept it is flat-out disappointing.

That and the oversight issue aside, however, I think it's fair to say that most of the remaining problems this year loop back to one inescapable point: Nine Worlds is too big for the Radisson Blu.  Even if that weren't the case, the Radisson is increasingly revealing itself to be an undeserving and rather crummy venue.  The weird floor layout left entire tracks stranded, there weren't enough of the large spaces that would have alleviated the seating issues I talked about above, and in general the closest the hotel staff came to acknowledging that there was a major international convention occurring within its walls was to be a bit surly about the whole thing.

Or in one particular case, very surly indeed!  I mentioned the bar in part one, but what I didn't clarify there was how the staff were deliberately omitting the con discount of 20% and then adding on a further 12.5% service charge for some of the most dismal service imaginable, or how they were selling drinks in smaller measures than advertised for the same already-preposterous prices, or how pointedly rude they got when any of their shenanigans were challenged in even the smallest way.  Or, for that matter, how they shut up shop altogether at one in the morning, which I struggle to believe is what was agreed with Nine Worlds.  As much as it feels like a petty thing to moan about in a universe of infinite possibility and suffering, a good bar is the heart of a good convention, and in this case it proved to be a worm-ridden, vitality-sapping heart.

Now all of those venue-related issues have been manageable for smaller conventions; I've enjoyed time spent at the Radisson in the past, and even managed to laugh at the conniving antics of those bar staff.  But for this year's Nine Worlds they were outright damaging, and I can't imagine a scenario where such problems won't get worse in years to come.  Let's not forget that even in its first year, Nine Worlds ambitiously straddled two different conference hotels.  Trying to cram more and more content into a smaller space is not a game you can hope to win, and if that was evident last year, it was really achingly obvious this time around.

With all of that said, let me reiterate that I still consider Nine Worlds the best UK convention going; there are many things it gets right that no one else is even trying to do, and for that it should be applauded at every available opportunity.  It's barely possible to believe that it's only three years old, when cons like Eastercon have been around for decades and can still deliver the kind of shoddy performance we saw earlier in the year.  In the grand scheme of things, these are pretty minor concerns I've picked up on; they didn't ruin my enjoyment and they probably wouldn't keep me from going again next year.

But they do need fixing, Nine Worlds, they really do.


  1. Also, when you were wanting to be at the con that *I* was attending for its anime track...

    (And admittedly, Convergence has a huge amount of features, so their anime track -- which serves CHAI ^_^ -- was probably just as impressive as their movie room.)

    Yeah. Nine Worlds, I am not an anime fan. But really, that is a sad state when just one thing like that makes your attendee want to be elsewhere.

    Convergence is not an anime con. It is an "how much fandom can we cram into a party con mixed with Worldcon-level panels mixed liberally with awesome cosplay plus oodles of other stuff..." con.

    Maybe Nine Worlds and Convergence should do an exchange program: ideas, advice, etc. Wouldn't that be cool? 8)



  2. Well, you know, it didn't make me want to be elsewhere, because there were other things to be doing. (Okay ... there were board games.) But it was kind of frustrating, like someone offering you ice cream and then it turning out to be courgette and chalk flavoured ice cream, or something. And yes, it sounds like Nine Worlds might pick up a thing or two from Convergence!