Previously on this blog, I wrote a post on how to vote on Worldcon location for the 2015 Worldcon race, and it was translated into several languages (Chinese, Swedish, Finnish, Deutsch, Irish, Japanese, Dutch …). I regret that it’s not also an intro to what Worldcon is, but I haven’t managed to write a real entry on that yet (tho I did write an entry on some fannish terminology). I suspect that most people reading this blog (particularly the posts tagged “fandom”) are folks who go to conventions, whether or not they’ve been to a Worldcon yet. Y’all might have an idea of what Worldcon is, therefore. There’s also an entry on Wikipedia, if you want a general sense of “Worldcon 101.”
What I’d like to talk about now is why voting on Worldcon location matters on a philosophical level.
I’ve heard a lot of people say, “oh, I didn’t know you could vote on Worldcon location!” For them, the answer is yes. There are instructions. In several languages now, even. You already know that, though, because you read the first paragraph of this post.
Some people have said they were aware that Worldcon could be voted on, but if it wasn’t going to be near their home, they weren’t going to vote because they “didn’t have a dog in the race.” Is that you? This post is for you.
A Bit of Context:
As noted in a previous post, the 2015 Worldcon site selection race was the first in 5 or 6 years that was contested, with three candidates in the running for 2015. Just under 22 percent of the members of the 2013 Worldcon voted on site selection for 2015. The vote on Worldcon site selection fared better in raw numbers on the 2017 race, but not really in terms of percentage of membership. Of the ten thousand members of Worldcon in 2015 (supporting or attending memberships, all of whom are eligible to vote on site selection), about 2300 actually voted in site selection. There were 4 candidates in that race for 2017. Still, percentage-wise, 22 percent of the members of Worldcon voted on site selection in 2015.
Going out of sequence, I also want to mention the race for 2016, which was voted on in 2014 at Loncon, the largest Worldcon to date in terms of numbers, iirc. There were over ten thousand members of Loncon, between supporting and attending, and only about 500 of them voted on site selection. Why? The race was between Kansas City and Beijing, but Beijing entered the race very late, officially announcing in February of 2014. I think a lot of the reason for abysmally low voter participation was that many folks didn’t realize there was a contested race again, and of those who did know, many publicly stated they didn’t feel strongly about either candidate.
What’s In It For Me If I Vote?
Low voter turnout baffles me, but particularly did so during the race for 2015. Voting is the absolute cheapest way to get a membership to Worldcon, no matter who wins, and memberships can always be sold/transferred to someone else if you don’t end up able to go. Why wouldn’t at least half the convention vote, since at least that many people go to Worldcon year after year? My theory is that people in 2015, if they were at all aware that they could vote, were accustomed to uncontested races. It wasn’t important back then if there was only one possible winner anyway, right?
Well, maybe. If there’s only one candidate, maybe. See above about the benefit of locking in the least expensive membership rate, though.
Why Else Would I Vote?
Honestly? The other reason to vote is the most important one! Worldcon location impacts the flavor of Worldcon for years to come.
Even as Worldcon bids, a group can have huge impact — the Finns, Swedes, and other Europeans on the Helsinki in 2015 bid came out in fair numbers to LoneStarCon3, and even more so to Loncon3 and Sasquan. This meant we threw night after night of amazing parties, and during the day we had various roles for the convention. I and many of the Finns ran the LSC3 photo booth, free for attendees, and then we put a photo booth in our Loncon3 party space, as well. Eemeli, the Helsinki bid chair, wrote KonOpas, a program that displayed the schedule for recent Worldcons (also used by several other cons). Members of our bid team also wrote con newsletter articles, contributed to program panels, ran events at con, and did various other things I don’t even know to list. What I do know is that our efforts impacted how much fun (and how much information) people had at Worldcon the past few years.
Worldcons that have already occurred have even more of an impact on current and future Worldcons than bids do, obviously. The Nippon 2007 Worldcon is a great example. Japanese fans started attending Worldcons in larger numbers in the past decade or two, in the lead up to 2007, and they continued attending after the Japanese Worldcon had concluded. They threw a tea ceremony party at Chicon7 a couple of years ago, which was an incredible experience. Japanese fans brought a whole new level of amazing costumes to the parties at Chicon; they had a wind-up clockwork/steampunk woman in a kimono who served the tea, and an entire staff outfitted in kimonos and hakamas. It was impressive.
I don’t know if Worldcon had ever attempted to be bilingual before the 2007 Worldcon in Japan, either. I didn’t attend the con in 2007, but my housemate did, and he said that he was impressed by how large a task the Japanese Worldcon attempted. They really wanted Japanese fandom to be more integrated into the larger international fandom community, and they showed it by having lots of cross-cultural events and program items to include Japanese and international participation. (SMOFS have often talked smack about this con in my hearing, but honestly, that sounded to me like their sour grapes talking.)
French-speaking fandom has also had a noticeable impact on Worldcon during the past decade, thanks at least in part to the 2009 Worldcon, Anticipation, which was in Montreal. There were a lot of experiments tried at that convention which were very informative for future Worldcons. Some events and panels at Anticipation were simultaneously bilingual (French and English). Most of the publications of the convention were bilingual, if not more. I had a friend who translated some of that convention’s communications into Norwegian, even! Before the 2007 and 2009 Worldcons, it’s my impression that the convention was largely if not solely English-speaking.
Enter Worldcon 75’s Internationalism
English-only Worldcon is certainly not accurate any longer, though! Many attendees of Worldcon 75 have been communicating with us in their native languages of Chinese, Japanese, Finnish, Swedish, French, and other tongues. I know several Worldcon 75 members and staffers who are not comfortable communicating in English, even. I’m hopeful that Worldcon 75 will have a wide range of languages and cultures represented at the con.
I want to see more international fans influence the Worldcons of the future. One way of effecting change is via Worldcon bids and having Worldcon in new locations, so I’m excited by the increasing number of international locations that are bidding for Worldcon in the coming decade or two. I’m really grateful for all of the people around the world who have been working on Worldcon alongside me over the past few years, but Worldcon was a predominantly American and British endeavor for a long time. It’s time for fandom to recognize and welcome people around the world participating.
(Note: I’m not saying that Worldcon shouldn’t ever have back-to-back years in the US, but I do note that this post on the topic resonates, and not just because it quotes a thread I wrote a few years ago on Twitter. The author has a good point: “By keeping Worldcon safely locked away in American venues, we are perpetuating the preposterous myth that science fiction belongs to Americans.”)