What Is Worldcon?
The World Science Fiction Convention is the longest running SF convention in the world. The first Worldcon, retrospectively known as Nycon I, was held in New York in 1939 with an attendance of 200 people. The Guest of Honour was Frank R. Paul. The convention has taken place every year since except during the Second World War, usually around American Labour Day weekend. By the mid-1970s attendance rose to about 4,000-5,000 fans, with more or less attendees depending on the host city.
There are only three essential requirements of a Worldcon:
- administering the Hugo Awards,
- administering any future Worldcon site selection (and if Worldcon is being held outside of North America, NASFIC, the North American Science Fiction Convention), and
- holding a World Science Fiction Society Business Meeting.
In reality, Worldcon has developed many traditions which fans expect to see. These include a Hugo Awards Ceremony, the Masquerade, Opening and Closing Ceremonies, signings, readings, the art show, exhibits, dealer’s room, guests of honour speeches, multiple tracks of programming (all running parallel to the permanent exhibits, hospitality suites, signings, readings and other activities), children’s activities, many parties every day and more.
What Sort of Science Fiction is Celebrated at Worldcon?
Traditionally, Worldcon has been a space for fans of literary science fiction, although this has never been a hard and fast rule. Worldcon is part of media fandom history. Some significant examples demonstrate this:
- There was a screening of The Lost World followed by a Masquerade Party (costuming, and early cosplay) at Denvention I, the 3rd Worldcon, in Denver, 1941.
- The Day The Earth Stood Still had an advanced screening for attendees of Nolacon I, the 9th Worldcon in New Orleans, 1951.
- Star Trek screenings were included on the Tricon program at the 24th Worldcon in Cleveland, 1966.
- Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, gave a talk entitled “To Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before” at Baycon, the 26th Worldcon in Oakland, 1968. In the program book there is a full-page ad “from Roddenberry” thanking Worldcon attendees for their support of Star Trek. Amusingly, there is also a quarter-page ad claiming “SPOCK is a bad lay.” With the words: “This ad was sponsored by the committee to nominate Patrick McGoohan and ‘The Prisoner’ for a HUGO.”
- Ray Harryhausen, the groundbreaking Visual Effects Designer, was a Guest of Honor at Conspiracy ’87, the 45th Worldcon at Brighton, England, 1987.
- Roger Corman, the famous horror movie director, was a Guest of Honor at L.A. Con III, Anaheim, 1996.
- J. Michael Straczynski, the creator of Babylon 5, was Special Guest at Bucconeer, the 56th Worldcon in Baltimore, 1998 and the following Worldcon, Aussiecon Three in 1999 in Melbourne, Australia.
- Frankie Thomas, the actor in the early science fiction series Space Cadet, was Special Guest at L.A. Con IV, Anaheim 2006.
Although the literary programme remains the single largest programme area, there are increasing numbers of programme areas, panels, talks, and workshops on Anime/Manga, costuming/cosplay, academic criticism, the history of fandom, gaming, science, Young Adult, music, art, and most other topics of interest to the wider “geek” communities.
Why Are Attendees of Worldcons Members?
When you buy a ticket for Worldcon, it is called a membership fee. This is because when you attend a Worldcon you are not just buying a ticket to observe an event (as with a football match, for example), but you are paying to join in. Worldcons are communal experiences with hundreds of staff and volunteers – absolutely everyone involved in Worldcon is a volunteer. Membership encourages this. All of the events and publications are included in the membership fee. Members of each Worldcon also get to vote for the Hugo Awards, the world’s most prestigious science fiction award, which has been held every year since 1955. People who cannot attend Worldcon can still vote by buying a supporting membership, which also entitles them to all of the related publications. For the last few years, this has included the Hugo Awards voting pack. This pack is an electronic collection of many of the nominated works. It is not guaranteed, but is a common benefit and its contents can be worth in excess of $100. Membership also entitles people to attend the World Science Fiction Society Business Meeting and get involved in policy decisions.