There’s a lot of funny stuff here at Worldcon. But science fiction and fantasy fans don’t have quite the same sense of humor as the average person on the street.
It’s a truism that over-analyzing humor presses all the life out of it. But a bit of investigation shows the kind of things the people here find amusing is sometimes very self-referential, and often, more than a bit twisted. And wordplay does big business here.
Let’s look at some examples:
One of the mainstays of convention evenings are the parties, which at this con are mostly on the 15th and 16th floors of the Atlantis hotel. You’ll find parties run by publishers or by particular sub-groups of fandom. But by far, the most crowded parties are the bid parties, run by convention committees that are trying to influence fans to vote for their bid for future conventions. Worldcon members vote for the Worldcon location for two years hence. For example, two big parties tonight were thrown by bids for future Worldcons: San Antonio in 2013 and London in 2014. As it happens, both those bids are going to win because they have no credible competition.
OK, back to humor.
All the party suites in the Atlantis have two or three rooms. And each suite has a huge Jacuzzi tub set right smack in the middle of one of the rooms. All the parties, save one, had tubs that were empty, or at best, were filled with ice and cold drinks. But tonight’s party for Westercon, a regional convention, put the tub to good use, with a tableau of historic maritime disasters—as represented by toy boats. A plaque on the side of the tub explained the history of each of the doomed ships, with the Titanic, the Edmund Fitzgerald, and many others represented. It was so weird and unexpected that I had to shoot a picture.
As a literary convention (with a very healthy dose of media thrown in), wordplay is amply represented, often in the form of buttons worn by attendees. The buttons shown here were worn by tech writer and SF fan John Hedtke, who I’ve known on tech writer’s mailing lists for years but never had the pleasure of meeting until tonight.
You’ll also find a lot a funny music at Worldcon. Dr. Demento, one of the special guests, performed Wednesday night. He featured many songs by acts he’s made famous over the years, including videos of Weird Al Yankovic, and the classic strangeness of Fish Heads, by Barnes and Barnes (featuring a very early screen appearance by Bill Paxton). He also showed a rare 1998 clip of satirist Tom Lehrer coming out of retirement to perform “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” in London, for an audience that included Queen Elizabeth II.
We’re having a lot of fun here in Reno, and the sometimes odd sensibilities of the people here is a big part of it.
One of the Guests of Honor at Renovation is the musical trio, Tricky Pixie. I attended their concert performance Wednesday evening. Now, I have to admit that I didn’t know anything about them, other than that they do a kind of Celtic folk rock. And to be honest, I was expecting some kind of frou-frou Renaissance Faire music, of the sort that would lead to me slipping out quietly after 15 minutes or so. I’m happy to report that my expectations were dashed. The band was really fun, with an exceptionally energetic and engaging stage presence. You can tell when performers are having a great time on stage, and these were—and the crowd responded in kind.
They describe themselves as:
An adventurous gypsy celtic folk rock trio, unleashed from the land of Fae. These wild and masterful performers are raw entertainment. Expect more than just music, they’ll take you on a ride down the twilight roads.
You can check out this sample of their music:
Today, we drove from the Bay Area to Reno, Nevada. Upon arrival, we immediately headed for the Reno-Sparks Convention Center to pick up our Renovation (aka Worldcon, aka the 69th World Science Fiction Convention) badges and scope out the lay of the land.
As usual, we got a bit turned around at first, but then we saw the sign to the right—our clue that we were nearing our destination. We then picked up our badges and work out the logistics of Stack Exchange’s sponsorship of the Green Room, which—while not a Renovation issue—required us to stand in line to talk to people at six different help desks, split up over three floors.
After finishing that sprint and taking a breather, we ran into our friend Karen Anderson , who is working on the con’s Daily Newsletter (she’s an editor and excellent writer by trade). She introduced us to her sweetie, Tom Whitmore .
Your fannish acronym of the day is SMOF, which stands for “Secret Master of Fandom.” Tom Whitmore definitely is one—he was a co-founder of The Other Change of Hobbit bookstore, a former Worldcon chair (for ConJosé, the 2002 Worldcon), and the Fan Guest of Honor at Denvention, the 2006 Worldcon.
Tom and Karen then introduced us to Patty Wells, Renovation’s Convention Chair. That means she’s in charge of, well, basically, everything. It was immediately clear to us that she’s a lady who gets stuff done, and we found her to be amazingly un-frazzled and calm—particularly considering that this next week is the culmination for her of years of effort. If I was in her shoes, I’d be thinking about the three million things I had to do in the next hour. Instead, she was gracious and charming to the two of us—people she’d never met before.
Tomorrow (Wednesday) is the first day of the convention, and if you have any questions about the program, the schedule, the speakers, the vendors, the costumes, the Hugo Awards, or the convention itself, just ask in the comments.
And now, it’s way past our bedtimes. More to come!
Hi, I’m Tom Negrino, and I’m a member of several Stack Exchange communities, including Science Fiction and Fantasy, Writers, and Apple. In real life, I’m an author of computer books, with more than 40 books published. And of course, I’m a lifelong reader of Science Fiction. My wife, Dori Smith, is a Stack Exchange Technology Evangelist and Community Manager.
Together, from August 17 through August 21, we’ll be representing Stack Exchange at Renovation, the 69th World Science Fiction Convention, in Reno, NV. Stack Exchange is helping to sponsor the Green Room for program participants. I’m speaking on three panels. Dori will be promoting the Science Fiction and Fantasy and Writers sites, and roaming the halls with Stack Exchange swag, including shirts, stickers, and pens.
Dori and I will be posting to this blog throughout Worldcon, so expect to see some of the flavor of the con, including pictures of hall costumes, coverage of some of the sessions, and more. If there’s anything you especially want us to write about from the con—sessions you want covered, questions you want asked, attendees you want photos of— please say so in the comments. We can’t promise to fulfill every request, but we’ll do what we can.