Worldcon, also called the World Science Fiction Convention, has been held annually since 1939, except for a few years during the Second World War. The international convention lasts five or six days, and has celebrated science fiction and fantasy on four different continents, with attendees from all over of the globe.
The World Science Fiction Society sponsors Worldcon, considered the most prestigious of the industry conventions. Some supporters claim Worldcon is the first sci-fi convention. Members of each annual convention get to choose the winner of the Hugo Awards. Even outsiders note that the Hugos are the highest honors in the science fiction and fantasy literary community. Along with the Hugos, Worldcon also awards and presents the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer and the Chesley Awards for science fiction and fantasy artists.
Attendees and guests at current Worldcons range from fans to artists to writers to publishers. Like other modern conventions, Worldcon also features panels and vendor rooms, along with parties and cosplay contests.
As a non-profit organization, fans run and manage Worldcon, unlike commercial cons. A changing convention committee for each location organizes the event every year. Additionally, volunteers man the floors and doors. The location changes every year, as well, with recent cons held in such diverse places as Kansas City, Missouri, in the United States in 2016 and Helsinki, Finland, in 2017.
Although Worldcon began as a convention based on sci-fi and fantasy books and magazines it has evolved to include other media, like film and television. Gaming has also made its presence known at Worldcon.
One of the most powerful draws of Worldcon is its ability to pull A-list science fiction celebrities. Guests of Honor include authors, editors, and artists working in the sci-fi and fantasy field.
History of Worldcon
Worldcon developed out of the science fiction clubs nurtured by Amazing Stories editor Hugo Gernsback in the 1930s. Gernsback published letters from fans in his magazine, forming the Science Fiction League. The letters included their addresses so that fans could connect. This led to the formation of fandom clubs, with readers across the world contacting each other, planning meetups, and creating fanzines.
Fans held the first Worldcon in New York in 1939 and planned and named to coincide with the 1939 World’s Fair being held in the same city. Members of that Amazing Stories fan group planned and orchestrated it. Some of the more notable guests at the first Worldcon include authors Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov.
The first Worldcon can also boast the first cosplayer, with Myrtle Douglas (known as “Morojo”), who designed costumes to wear and released an issue of her fanzine, Stephen the STfan.
During the following years, the convention was held in Chicago and Denver, with Denver being notable for the smallest ever attendance. (Fewer than 100 fans were able to attend.) The con committee for Chicago (dubbed “Chicon”) loved Ms. Douglas’ costuming idea and introduced the first official con “Masquerade Party.”
Los Angeles was to hold the third Worldcon, but the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the entrance of the U.S. into the war led to a hiatus of four years. The committee for Los Angeles finally got to hold the fourth Worldcon in 1946. Since then, committees have staged Worldcon in major cities across the globe.
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How Worldcon is Planned
As in the early days, groups can “bid” to hold a Worldcon at their location. The location is decided two years in advance by the current membership. Supporting and attending members of the current Worldcon year can vote to chose the location after bids are made, as long as they’re willing also to purchase a membership for the year they’re voting on. Because Worldcon is not a for-profit organization, cons are supported by membership fees.
Committees offering bids need to secure a space under the Worldcon committee rules and offer a proposal to current members.
Science Fiction fans have a wicked sense of humor. So, occasionally, members submit “fake bids” for hosting a convention. Some of the more creative bids include a bid to host Worldcon in Minneapolis in 1873, with guest author Jules Verne and toastmaster Mark Twain. Another clever entry proposed Ganymede, one of the moons of Jupiter, for 2110.
Worldcon’s Most Excellent Fan Service
In the early days, sometimes there were two associated cons held in different locations for those who were not able to travel to the “official” location. This tradition continued with the 1975 organization and launch of The North American Science Fiction Convention (NASFic), which is held in North America during years that Worldcon is on another continent.
Alternatively, the trans-Atlantic Fan Fund (TAFF) was created in 1953 to help fund fan attendance between North America and Europe. And it still exists today. Active fans, well-known to fandom on both sides of the pond, have received sponsorships to attend on different continents. The DUFF fund joined in 1972 to help superfans travel between Australasia to North American, with the GUFF fund in 1978 to help fans traveling between Europe and Australasia.
GOOD NEWS: As Artist GoH of @worldcon2018, I'm pleased to share that this Monday, January 29th I'll be awarding a Worldcon attending membership to four #Mexicanx. Hugo Award-winning author / International Badass @scalzi and I are each sponsoring two. 1/6 pic.twitter.com/w8mIlEaTCI
— John Picacio (@JohnPicacio) January 25, 2018
All About the Hugo Awards
First dubbed the Science Fiction Achievement Awards up until, 1992, the Hugo Awards were first presented at the 11th Worldcon in Philadelphia in 1953. Early categories included writers, editors, artists, and fans.
Current Hugo Award categories include:
- Books of 40,000 words and up – Best Novel
- Short books between 17,500 words to 40,000 words – Best Novella
- Stories between 7,500 and 17,500 words – Best Novelette
- Short stories of less than 7,500 words – Best Short Story
- Non-fiction or other than fiction works – Best Related Work
- Graphic novels and comics – Best Graphic Story
- TV shows, movies, and video games – Best Dramatic Presentation (long and short form)
- Best Professional Magazine
- Semi-professional sci-fi and fantasy magazines – Best Semiprozine
- Fan-run magazines – Best Fanzine
- Book and short story editors – Best Professional Editor (split by single-title book editors or magazine/anthology editors)
- Book cover art – Best Professional Artists
- Fanfiction and essay writers – Best Fan writer
- Podcasts, YouTube, and similar media – Best Fancast
Attending and supporting members nominate and vote on each year’s awards. Fans can choose from the previous years’ work published in English. There is no limit to the number of works that can be nominated, but the committee pares it down to the top five or six choices by the number of nominations received. Nominations run from January through March, and voting lasts from April to July. Worldcon generally takes place in August or September.
Notable Best Novel winners and nominees from prior Worldcons
Titles and authors of winning and nominated works may be familiar to fans of onscreen fantasy and science fiction, as well.
- Members awarded David Brin’s The Postman for Best Novel in 1986; the film, released in 1997, starred Kevin Costner.
- Orson Scott Card’s Enders Game won the Hugo Best Novel in 1986, and it appeared as a comic book series under Marvel in 2008.
- In 2001, J.K. Rowling and George R.R. Martin battled it out for Best Novel, with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and A Storm of Swords, respectively. Rowling took the award.
- Fans of American Gods on television should know that Neil Gaiman took home Best Novel for the work at the 2002 Hugos.
- Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell took best novel in 2005. The BBC released a television mini-series in 2015, and its currently a Netflix favorite for fantasy fans.
Notable Best Dramatic Presentation winners and nominees you may know
Prior to 2003, the Hugo Awards lumped all the Best Dramatic Presentation nominees together. The category judged winners from nominees that included 45-minute episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (“Once More with Feeling”) and entire installments of the Lord of the Rings trilogy (The Fellowship of the Ring).
Afterward, the con split the award into two categories by running time. The awards committee considers work under 90 minutes (commercials excluded) to fit the short form category. Long form candidates run over 90 minutes. Most fans nominate television shows by episode for short-form awards. However, they can choose to nominate an entire season with an overarching plot to the long form category. Fans can’t vote for them in both categories in the same year, though.
- Recent short form winners include single episodes of Marvel’s Jessica Jones, Orphan Black, and Doctor Who.
- Long form winners in recent years include movies like Guardians of the Galaxy, The Martian, and The Avengers, along with the whole first season of Game of Thrones.
The 1996 Worldcon brought the Retro Hugos, created to award Hugos for years when the awards didn’t exist. In this way, the Society could acknowledge excellent works released during W.W.II and before the awards’ inception. The committee presents the award 50, 75, and 100 years after the works’ releases. Fans can nominate and vote for works produced in 1947 at the 2022 Worldcon.
The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer
Although sponsored by Dell, the publishers of Analog Science Fiction and Fact magazine, Worldcon determines the winner of the John W. Campbell Award. The members present the award to the best new science fiction or fantasy writer within two years of publishing their first pro work.
Con runners present the award to the winner during the convention. Like the Hugos, Worldcon members can nominate and vote in the winner. All nominees and winners receive a pin.
The winner receives a plaque, and since 2004, a tiara. This was at the request of 2004 winner Jay Lake. The tiara, like the Miss America crown, is passed on to subsequent winners.
Analog magazine instituted the award in 1973 and named for their quirky and influential long-time editor, John W. Campbell. Campbell headed the magazine for 34 years until the time of his death in 1971
Notable winners and nominees include Jerry Pournelle (winner) and George R.R. Martin in the first year. Spider Robinson won in 1974, as well as C.J. Cherryh in 1977, Orson Scott Card in 1978, Cory Doctorow in 2000, John Scalzi in 2006, Lev Grossman in 2011, and Andy Weir in 2016.
The Chesley Awards
Although the Hugos recognize a Best Professional Artist, the Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists (ASFA) implemented the Chesley Awards in 1985. The Association named the award after Chesley Bonestell, the “Father of Modern Space Art,” whose influence on science fiction art began with his paintings of Saturn published in Life magazine in 1944.
This award allows recognition of artists in several areas, including book covers, magazine covers, product illustration, three-dimensional art, and game-related illustration. It also permits recognition for art direction, lifetime achievement, and contributions to ASFA.
I've just been made aware that I am a nominee for the three dimensional art category in this year's Chesley Awards, given by the Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists. I am truly humbled and honored to even be considered for such a prestigious award and to be in the company of so many of my artistic heroes on the list of nominees. Thank you to any and all ASFA members who may have voted for my work to be included. For anyone who'd like to check out the nominees or any members who have yet to vote, I'll include the link below. Www.asfa-art.org #asfa #chesley #chesleyawards #darkart #darkartists #artgalleries #artgallery #sculpture #zarmy #leeshamel #art #scepterofthecrystalflame #associationofsciencefictionandfantasyartists #birdmanphotos
Online Resources for Worldcon
It can be challenging to find resources online for Worldcon because of its fan-run, all-volunteer structure. Although there is a basic website for Worldcon, each location committee is responsible for setting up its own site for further information and registration.
So, although there are links to the upcoming two Worldcons (and even some legacy sites for past cons), you won’t find dates, guests, vendor info, or registration details.
To make things even more confusing, since its inception, Worldcon has often had two names. The committee chooses a location-associated name, along with calling it “Worldcon” and the number of the con. Therefore, the 2016 con committee for Kansas City, Missouri, called it both “MidAmericaCon II” and Worldcon 74. The 2014 con committee for in London, United Kingdom, dubbed it “Loncon 3” as well as Worldcon 72. So, it can be difficult to find a list of scheduled guests and events, as well as checking ticket prices.
Online resources for upcoming Worldcons
Connect with the website for each once live, and follow them on social media. Their feeds will keep you updated on scheduled guests and ticket prices.
Finding the Worldcon community
If you spend a lot of time online on social media and in discussion forums, the Worldcon community can seem almost hidden from view. Even Reddit users set up threads separated by the con location; Tumblr site owners keep them separate, too. However, there are two good, well-round sources online for both history and updates:
Fanac Fan History Project
Although the website looks like it was designed in the mid-1990s, this site is kept up to date and offers a great deal of information for fan activities (known as “fanac). One of the reasons it looks so outdated may be that the designers formed the committee for the 1992 Worldcon in Orlando, Florida (MagiCon or Worldcon 50). The site also boasts an extensive archive of images and documents from previous Worldcons. And you can check out their YouTube Channel for recorded guest speeches from icons like Robert Heinlein, Ursula Le Guin, and Theodore Sturgeon
File 770 is a fandom news site that covers fanzines, science fiction and fantasy clubs, conventions, and other fanac. The site is named after an infamous party that occurred at the 1951 Worldcon that didn’t break up until 11 a.m. the next morning when they ran out of food. The site has won a number of Best Fanzine Hugos, but unfortunately doesn’t post updates on social media. It’s a good site for Worldcon news, however. Site owner Mike Gwyer keeps abreast of all the Worldcon and Hugo news.
— ✨ PERSISTENT Scribble📝 (@illegibscrib) January 17, 2018
Worldcon is an important part of the history and future of science fiction and fantasy fandom. As a fan-run convention, it offers con-goers a wide range of options for entertainment. It helps support and recognize the sci-fi and fantasy writers and artists that create immersible worlds that blow us away. Although it seems elusive, you can find update and details online.
Featured Image CC by 0, by Sheila McClure via Flickr