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21 August 1998

Notes from Baltimore: Worldcon 1998

The 1998 World Science Fiction Convention was held earlier than usual this year, August 5th – 9th, rather than over Labor Day weekend. And it ended a day earlier than usual, on Sunday rather than Monday. The convention was held at the Baltimore Convention Center and surrounding hotels, mostly all within a few blocks of each other. Convention registration peaked at 5306 by Saturday afternoon, of which 3951 were pre-registered and 1355 were walk-ins.

In Baltimore you eat crab. Crab cakes, Crab Imperial, soft-shelled crab, Crab Hollandaise (Eggs Benedict with crab cakes instead of ham), and of course steamed crab. Food was good most places but service, with rare exception, was indifferent.

Baltimore Rules
Shoes and shirts must be worn at all times in the convention center. Don't even think about slipping your sandals off as you sit at your dealer's table.

Stairwells in hotels are for emergency use only. It doesn't matter if there are 300 people jamming the lobby and your room is only on the 4th floor, you have to wait for the elevators along with everyone else.

Liquor is permitted in hotel rooms only for exorbitant corkage fees. Result: dry parties, and the invitation-only publisher-hosted parties took their business to restaurants.

J. Michael Straczynski was a scheduled Guest of Honor but canceled due to pneumonia. He issued anguished apologies. Robert Jordan was scheduled to appear but it was a hoax: someone unknown emailed the programming committee as Jordan, and the programming committee promptly scheduled him before learning it wasn't him at all. Barry N. Malzberg was scheduled on several panels, but never appeared.

Hundreds of panels, autograph sessions, literary teas; movies, filksinging, gaming, Regency dancing; and a treasure hunt. In effect there are a dozen simultaneous conventions at a Worldcon, each with its own subculture of fandom. It isn't necessary to try to experience them all; anyway, it's impossible.

Is there a future for print magazines and books? Yes; print and web publishing will complement each other. Is "literary hard SF" an oxymoron? No. And so on. The two best panels I attended were the Liar's Panel, on which Robert Silverberg, Connie Willis, Pat Cadigan, and Joe Haldeman took outrageous questions from the audience and lied outrageously in response. ("If you were stuck on an island with Monica Lewinsky, what book would you take along?") Susan R. Matthews moderated in such a crafty fashion she managed to avoid answering most of the questions herself. Not a panel with a lot content, but it had a very high entertainment value. At the opposite extreme, David Hartwell's "Modernism in SF" panel brought together John Kessel, Gregory Feeley, James Morrow, and Michael Swanwick for a spirited discussion about SF's relationship to the 20th century literary movement. Was/is SF a conscious reaction against modernism? Well, maybe, sometimes. High content and entertainment value both.

Both the dealers' room and the art show were very good, perhaps, someone suggested, because the east coast location of the con (the first in many years) was convenient for the many east coast dealers. There were more dealers in old books and magazines than I can remember at a convention. Robert Madle was there with a $2000 copy of Lovecraft's The Outsiders, among hundreds of books on his table. Most of what I bought were new or recent books from small presses (NESFA, DreamHaven, etc.) or imports from Britain (the new Baxter, the new McDonald). Of the older books I stumbled across, the first one I read was a childhood favorite I hadn't seen in 30 years -- Danny Dunn and the Anti-Gravity Paint. The art show ran the gamut from NFS [not for sale] Whelan covers, including the matched pair Snow Queen and Summer Queen, to the usual marginal fan art. For the first time in 11 consecutive worldcons, I bought art, spending some serious money on a Powers, a Lehr, and a Berkey. On the advice of the dealers who'd brought them to the con, rather than ship the paintings home I encased them in layers of bubble wrap and shipping tape and carried them home on the plane with me.

Hanging Out
When not buying too many books, lusting over art, or attending panels, I mostly hung out at the Locus table in the Dealers' Room, which is not a bad place to be: sooner or later, it seems, everyone comes by. I had my laptop set up to display the website, and Bill Contento was there showing off the latest versions of his CD ROM indexes. Conventions like this are the only occasions many of the Locus staff and contributors have to see each other. From the editorial staff in Oakland this year came Kirsten Gong-Wong. From around the country came fellow reviewers Ed Bryant (Denver), Gary Wolfe (Chicago), and Russell Letson (Minnesota), plus photographer Beth Gwinn from Nashville. Staffing the Locus table were deputy Locusfolk Marina Fitch and Mark Budz from Santa Cruz. The whole gang of us -- including Locus publisher & editor Charles Brown -- got together for dinner the first night of the con at a restaurant (Burke's) that has evidently declined in the past five years. By Sunday night the four of us remaining -- Charles, Mark & Marina, and me -- had a leisurely dinner at a much better restaurant, ending with drinks on a balcony overlooking the harbor.

Hugo ceremony
The pace seemed quicker than usual, though the ceremony still lasted an hour and a half. There were fewer pre-Hugo awards, since the Seiuns had not been presented this year and were not part of this program. Also, the movie clips for dramatic presentation were shown together in a group, just before the award was announced, rather than spread throughout the evening. (As usual I wondered, why are movie clips shown at all? Do the authors of the nominated novels and stories read excerpts from their works before those awards are given?)

David Langford's Hugo was accepted, as usual, by Martin Hoare, whose speech was reprinted in the daily newsletter Fannish Armada:

Some people have complained that after all these years I know Dave's Hugo acceptance speech back to front. So I'd just like to say briefly: Award Hugo this for much very all you thanks Langford Dave. Surprise complete a as came it. A.M. four at me telephone to going is Hoare bastard that suppose I now. Maybe, year next anagrams!

Between the recent Locus poll results and the online SF Weekly poll of the Hugo nominations it was fairly easy to handicap the nominations this year—my traditional pastime once seated in the audience waiting for the show to begin. (Except this year's program listed only the order of presentation, not the list of nominations!) Steele had the best lock, apparently, and voting for Contact, Mary Doria Russell and the Encyclopedia of Fantasy looked very solid too. Others were touchier: would Tangent upset Mimosa, as it almost had last year, or would the award bounce back to David Langford's Ansible? Answer: Mimosa prevailed once again. Bob Eggleton upset Michael Whelan, but he's done that before. The biggest surprise among the winners was Bill Johnson's novelette award, where the indicators were for Baxter. Not quite as surprising was Haldeman's win over Simmons. Perusing the voting statistics afterwards revealed that, in fact, Baxter and Simmons placed only third in their categories in the complicated elimination ranking that is the Australian balloting system. Walter Jon Williams, a perennial also-ran, placed second among novels. It was gratifying that Locus won in its category, but also good to see The New York Review of Science Fiction placing a respectable second.

Poe's Grave
Courtesy of Warner Aspect I joined a tour of Edgar Allan Poe's gravesite. The tour guide provided the backstory of Poe's life and mysterious death – he got off the train in Baltimore for unknown reasons, was found unconscious in a warehouse doorway, lingered for three days in a local hospital, then died at age 40. The gravesite is in a churchyard a mile or two from downtown that was once just a cemetery. The church was built on top of the cemetery, creating catacombs under its foundations. There's a big Poe monument near the front of the church and the original gravesite around in back. The night was warm, the graveyard shadowy and appropriately spooky, but the bus ride back to the hotel went through a part of town that was scarier by far.

Next Years
The 1999 Worldcon will be held in Melbourne, Australia. In 2000, Chicago. Yes I plan to be at both...

2001: A Philadelpia Worldcon
Philadelphia won over Orlando for the right to hold the Worldcon in 2001. Bidders for 2002 are San Francisco and Seattle; for 2003, Toronto.

--Mark R. Kelly

  • 21 Jul 1998: Skiffy Flix
  • 16 Jun 1998: Restructing update
  • 21 May 1998: Website changes; K. C. Cole nonfiction
  • 19 April 1998: Website anniversary; Bertelsmann; the evolving Web

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