Lane and Carey’s Worldcon Adventure

The downtown Kansas City skyline

Speculative Chic is fairly new, but contributors Lane Robins and Carey M. Ballard already had plans to attend Worldcon (aka MidAmericon II), held from August 17-21 in Kansas City, Missouri. They share their thoughts, experiences, and advice below.

What did we expect of the con?

Lane: I attended primarily as a vacation, so I expected to meet up with a lot of writerly friends and meet new ones. That I succeeded in admirably!  Hi, Carey, so nice to meet you!  I hoped to enjoy some panels, maybe be inspired by some of them, and that happened as well, so I consider the whole event a win.  Though, as usual, I missed catching up with people I wanted to see badly.  I missed the Odyssey Writer’s Workshop meet up, which I’m sad about, and I missed catching up with an Internet friend, though we kept trying.

Carey: Great to meet you too, Lane! Last time I went to a con, I tried to Do All The Things, See All The People, and Buy All The Books, and instead I exhausted myself. This time, I decided to relax, exist, and skip the autograph sessions and most of the dealer’s room. I looked forward to some thought-provoking panels as well as seeing old friends and making new ones. And, you know, meeting a couple of my favorite authors, even if I didn’t get their autographs. I just wanted to meet people on a personal level.

Lane: I think that’s smart.  That kind of goal burnout is one of the reasons I chose to treat this Worldcon as a vacation.  To help me manage my expectations.  It’s easy to end up aggravated at all the things you failed to do, and miss out on all the fun and satisfying things you did accomplish.

What’s it feel like to be at the con?

Carey: If you’re introverted like me, cons can be overwhelming at any point, so Conduct Vio Signwatch out. I’m not great at recognizing faces, so I read name tags. But I enjoyed this sense of “being among my people.” Con-goers aren’t afraid to start discussions based on tee shirt slogans or the book I flip through in the dealer’s room. Most people are not afraid to say what they feel. This can be slightly awkward, or you can make a new best friend who shares your love for Farscape. Generally attendees are respectful toward others, so it’s safe to move around and be yourself. Which is nice when you can’t do that in the real world.

Lane: It’s so crowded!  I am also an introvert; I’m comfortable with one-on-one meetings, but stepping into the rush of a crowd is kind of a nightmare.  And the first day of a con feels an awful lot like the first day of school. A lot of peering at names and faces, hoping to find your friends, making sure to identify the “Popular Kids,” and so forth.  After that though, I sort of settle in and enjoy the ride.  After all, where else are you going to be able to burst out with a question on a random book and have someone else join in? Lots and lots of elevator conversations.  If you meet someone you want to catch up with later, get their phone number and text them!  You’ll never find them again otherwise.

Tell us about the types of people who attend the con!

Carey: Authors! Scientists! Astronauts! Also lots and lots of fans. Science fiction, fantasy and horror attract a wide range of fans. Some dress up, from adorning everyday outfits with mad scientist lab coats, fedoras, and bowler hats with steampunk goggles to full Victorian, 1950s/retro, steampunk or cosplay outfits. Some show up in tee shirts and jeans and/or an array of hair colors.

There are also a lot of differently abled people, which is a consideration when Worldcon goes venue-shopping. Mobility and access was an issue at the last con I attended, in a high-rise hotel. It turned out seven elevators were not enough for thousands of attendees. Most attendees used escalators to leave the elevators open, but it was still rough. By contrast, the KC convention center is nice and flat, and its three levels were accessible by several elevators and escalators. I didn’t get a chance to ask anyone about ease of accessibility, but most rooms were set up to accommodate scooters and wheelchairs.

Ann Leckie

Ann Leckie signing her book for a fan

Lane: It’s hard to really put a finger on it, but by god, I know my people when I see them — green hair, goggles, or t-shirts aside.  As I was arriving downtown, I could just point them out: CON PEOPLE!  I was surprised that the Worldcon crew skewed as proportionately grey as it did — but maybe KC just isn’t that exciting to the younger SF crowd. And of course, Worldcon skewed way white which disappointed me.  Keep fighting for diversity, people.  More inclusion means better and more interesting stories to keep our fan juices going!

Carey: Agreed. I too was disappointed that Worldcon skewed so white. Although there was a noticeable and appreciated LGBT+ presence, it felt like something was missing from the overall conversation — ameliorated slightly by Hugo wins, but still.

People say you should “network” at a con. What does networking mean?

Carey Something I’m not good at! I didn’t have any writing projects ready for an editor or agent, and I’m squeamish about tracking people down yelling, “Hey look at my three chapters and a cover letter!” I’m not sure that’s the proper thing to do.  I just went to the con to enjoy myself, and if I happened to bump into a couple of random agents or editors, I could shoot the breeze with them.  Lane is a more established writer, so she might have more to say.

Lane: Oh, the very word fills me with terror.  For me, it’s like an oral exam in a foreign language I haven’t prepared for.  If I deliberately try to “network,” I tend to freeze up.  So my end goal is to put myself out there, to chat pleasantly with everyone I run into, and if  — and only if — the flow feels natural, to bring up my current projects.  Mostly, I figure networking is about showing that you’re sane, pleasant, and full of ideas.  I’m more of a stealth writer than a networked one, so I don’t have cards to give out with my website on them, but if you had them, handing things like that out are good.  Following up afterward with the people you met is probably the larger part of networking.

How effective are panels? Worth your time or not?

Carey: Tough question. Panels are chances to discuss stuff you can’t really talk about in normal life. They range from light and fun to serious and thought-provoking. Either they are really well-moderated, or they go to shit faster than the newest Tesla.  Never judge the quality of a panel by how packed the room is; sometimes a smaller number of attendees means a warmer, more informed or relaxed conversation. Sometimes it doesn’t. Panelists and moderators can veer off track. I attended about ten panels, and only one of them made me want to leave ASAP.

Lane: Agreed.  All sorts of things factor into the success of a panel.  They can go bad for a variety of reasons.  The room is too warm, too crowded, too noisy outside, too quiet inside, too… something.  Poorly prepared moderator (I’ve been there, done that, and I apologize!), poorly prepared panelists, microphones acting up, or the panel just doesn’t do what it says on the tin.  You go in expecting one thing and get something else entirely.  Sometimes that switch is great, and sometimes it’s aggravating.  Carey and I attended one of those switch panels: advertised one thing, did something else.

What was a panel of particular interest/disappointment?

Lane: I didn’t attend as many panels as I meant to — always the way it goes — but one of the ones that I did make it to was both interesting and really useful to me as a writer. Nifty Narrative Tricks, moderated by Elizabeth Bear, and paneled by Steven Gould (Jumper), James Patrick Kelly, (Strange But Not A Stranger), Mary Robinette Kowal (The Glamourist Histories), and Jo Walton (Among Others).  A daunting array of talent up there, and they had a lot of useful ways to look at including world-building and at controlling pacing.  I really enjoyed it.  Took several pages of notes.

I attended a couple of varying interest levels: Future of Forensics, which turned out just to be too much panel for an hour-long format, and one on SF Oceanography, which promised to list books that dealt with SF Oceanography and … did.  Turns out that wasn’t that interesting, especially once the moderator began rhapsodizing over Twenty Thousands Leagues Under the Sea, which isn’t really about SF Oceanography at all.  It’s an adventure novel.

We Deserve Better

Members of the “We Deserve Better” panel

Carey: I’m interested in sociocultural problems, so I attended that track of panels. Probably my favorite was “It’s Not Torture If It’s The Good Guys,” moderated by Scott Lynch and featuring Seth Dickinson, Marc Zicree and John Wiswell talking about the role of torture in post-9/11 stories. “We Deserve Better: Lesbians & Bi Women for Change,” moderated by Alyx Dellamonica, and featuring Jaylee James, Jay Wolf and Nina Niskanen, talked about the ramifications of lesbian and bi relationships as portrayed onscreen.

I walked out of a panel called “Describe a World,” which should have been fun — Ann Leckie, Sebastien de Castell, Tim Akers and Melissa F. Olson took audience suggestions to build a world, and Rob Carlos illustrated it — but one guy in the audience took up all the airtime.

Any surprises?

Carey: Astronauts! Jeanette K. Epps and Stan Love came for the entire con and gave separate presentations. Both were available in the kids’ room, playing games. They attended the Hugo Award Ceremony too. Stan Love accepted awards on behalf of Andy Weir, and Jeanette Epps accepted an award on behalf of Nnedi Okorafor. They were both warm, funny, and gracious people who took the time to meet with attendees. Honestly, NASA couldn’t have sent two better representatives (although, to be fair I haven’t met any other astronauts [yet]).


Every con needs this app

Lane: This sounds goofy, especially when you compare it to Real, Live, Awesome Astronauts, but I adored the Grenadine Event App.  This was an electronic schedule for people with smart phones or tablets, which was amazingly well-conceived and very easy to use.  I relied on it.  So much nicer than flipping through pages and pages of programming, and searchable from several different ways. Like a particular speaker? You could filter by speaker.

Carey: It’s not goofy. That app is genius and I’m glad you told me about it. I ended up relying on it more than the con’s printed flipbook schedule, and that was a nice, tidy thing in and of itself.

Any disappointments?

Lane: Oh, the dealer room always does me in.  It’s a special form of torment, a place designed like a market to make you stop and browse, located in a super-crowded environment that’s meant to make you keep moving.  Plus, in the end, it’s mostly the same stuff you see year after year: cool t-shirts, books, jewelry, fancy clothing, and art work.  None of which fits neatly into a suitcase.  I did buy a few t-shirts for friends, and took a bunch of artists’ cards to look up later.

That and not being able to fit meet-ups in with everyone I wanted to see.

Carey: I didn’t get to meet up with people I wanted to see, either.  But I did meet new people, and for Introverted Me, that’s a plus.

Any advice for con-goers?

Lane: Pack more clothes than you think you’ll need. Sounds weird, but cons are sort of… grubby.  Lots of public space lounging and walking back and forth in the heat if it’s summer.  Drink more water — and no, alcohol at BarCon doesn’t count. 🙂 — than you think you need. Con spaces are climate-controlled within an inch of their lives, you dehydrate easily.  Pack vitamins.  Con crud is a thing.

Expect a con “withdrawal”.  It always happens and I’m always surprised by it.  I go from a place where SF/F is the giant connection between everyone to a place where SF/F is a weird but pleasant hobby that people would prefer you keep to yourself.

Also, pace yourself.  There are hundreds and hundreds of people.  You could go nuts trying to catch up with even a handful of them, and frustration will ruin a con easily.

Carey: Hell yes to all of that. Take good shoes, because you’ll be walking a lot. And pace yourself. You will want to go to every panel, every reading, to pack as much geekiness and nerdiness into four days as possible, and you just can’t do it.  You’ll be in the same space with a bunch of other people you want to connect with, too; resign yourself to the fact you might only see them for five seconds in the hotel bar.

All in all, I think both Lane and I had a great time, and it was nice to finally meet each other in person, too. That kind of thing is exactly what cons are for.

There is so much we didn’t cover here! Have you been to Worldcon, or other cons? Were you at MidAmericon II? Please share your experiences, observations, and advice with us!

We leave you with this photo of attendee Zachary Miles of Montana, dressed as a steampunk ghostbuster, who utilizes only the best equipment for confrontations with unruly apparitions:

Steampunk Ghostbuster




  • Nancy O'Toole Meservier August 31, 2016 at 7:28 am

    “Nifty Narrative Tricks, moderated by Elizabeth Bear, and paneled by Steven Gould (Jumper), James Patrick Kelly, (Strange But Not A Stranger), Mary Robinette Kowal (The Glamourist Histories), and Jo Walton (Among Others). ”

    SO JEALOUS! Would have loved to sit in on that panel.

    • Lane Robins August 31, 2016 at 9:58 pm

      Elizabeth Bear did a great job moderating. I really feel like the panel didn’t necessarily tell me anything brand spanking new, but it gave me some great ways of thinking about story and character. If you want the notes, I’ll send ’em to you. Hit me up on gmail!

  • steelvictory August 31, 2016 at 8:10 am

    Oy! I hope you’re implying that Tesla cars go fast and not that they’re going to shit fast!

    Sounds like you both had a great time. Loved this con report!

    • careymballard August 31, 2016 at 9:55 am

      Bad analogy… I like Teslas! I just needed a comparison. 🙂 And right now the Teslas are pretty freaking fast.

      I did enjoy the con, thank you! Although I wish I had thought of “just going as myself” for the last two cons I attended. Everyone goes to relax and have fun, and I’m glad I finally figured that out.


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