Chengdu Worldcon 3: Panels and events

Apart from the Doctor Who panel, previously mentioned, I moderated one other panel discussion, was a participant in another and attended another two at Chengdu Worldcon. (I also spent a lot of time with Vince Docherty staffing the Glasgow 2024 desk.) Brief notes here from those panels, with photographs from the official convention photographer, and also from the opening ceremony and the Hugo ceremony (I missed the closing ceremony as I had booked an early evening flight, assuming that it would be in the afternoon).

The panel that I moderated was on the topic, “What Should I Have Read in 2023?” We had a really multinational group – left to right, Yasser Bahjatt from Saudi Arabia, Vince Docherty who is a citizen of the world, Lisa Trombi from the USA, Pierre Gevart from France and Dip Ghosh from India. You will note that none of us is Chinese; after the five panellists had given their recommended reads, I turned it over to the audience to recommend what we had missed in terms of local talent. Unfortunately I was too busy moderating to keep notes, so I hope someone else did. Pictures here, from roughly #650 to #800.

Vince Docherty and I both spent a lot of our time at the convention staffing the Glasgow 2024 desk. There were moments that we had to take a break, however, and one of those was for the presentation on future Worldcons. Photos are here, from roughly #340 to #500, but they seem to have got jumbled out of order as the first pictures on the page from this panel are of the last person to speak, which was me. Vince spoke on behalf of Glasgow 2024 next year, and I spoke for the Dublin 2029 bid.

The first panel that I actually attended was a reflection on Brian Aldiss’s early visits to China, with Wendy Aldiss playing a clip from his audio diary arriving in Beijing and showing some of the photographs he had taken with the other British guests on his trip. Who were they? Oh, nobody you’d have heard of, just Iris Murdoch and David Attenborough. Aldiss writes about his time in Chengdu in The Twinkling of an Eye with clear affection but also a clear gaze.

Wu Xiankui, now the president of the writers’ organisation of Sichuan province and an inaugural winner of China’s Galaxy Award back in 1986, remembered that he had been Brian Aldiss’s gofer on one of the early visits. Hua Long showed us the fanzines and newspapers in which Aldiss’s visits to China had been reported, and publisher Yao Xue talked about his available work in China. The moderator was Yan Ru, China’s Doctor Who superfan.

Shots from the panel are visible on this page starting at image 277 and ending at image 400. There’s a good shot of me in the audience here, but this is a nice one of the panel, followed by one of Wendy and the Helliconia trilogy.

The other panel that I attended was on “The Joy of being a First Time Hugo nominee”, chaired by Chris Barkley (who was a first-time finalist last year, and went on to win this year), with four other first-timers including Richard Man (who also went on to win), Wole Talabi, Marie Vibbert and Kuri Huang. I got to know all of them in the course of the convention (I knew Chris already). Photos from the panel here, roughly from #200 to #360.

This is the first year since 2018 that I have not myself been involved with administering the Hugo Awards, and I must say that I found it very helpful to step back and get the (overwhelmingly positive) feedback from the people who are most affected about what it means to them. Sometimes when you are wrangling statistics and eligibility criteria you can get decoupled from the human dimension, and I stood up in the audience to say so.

At all of the above panels, interpreters at the back of the room were providing simultaneous translation via earpieces. I believe that this was not the case for the majority of panels; as reported previously, the Doctor Who in China panel had a sole translator whispering into my ear (and my neighbour’s).

Simultaneous translation was also provided for the opening ceremony and the Hugos. We foreign guests were assembled at the foyer of the Sheraton and then bussed over to the formal entrance of the convention hall for both. (A lot of people also went to the Galaxy Awards in the Sheraton on the Thursday night, but I gave it a miss.) The opening ceremony was really dazzling, with a set of fantastic dance performances, an illusionist and a choir singing the convention official anthem, all introduced by noted Chinese anchorwoman Tian Wei, whose CCTV “World Insight” show I have guested on a few times.

Not on any of the recordings that I have seen, but still memorable, was a moment when Liu Cixin was talking to two twenty-somethings whose class had written to him as kids ten years ago, telling him and us how his work had inspired him. Liu was visibly tearing up with emotion.

Here is the best of the dances, an amazing performance with masks and aerial ballet:

And here is the convention anthem which closed the ceremony, with apologies to those who it has been earworming for the last ten days. At the end, and I am not making this up, the curtains at the back of the stage parted to reveal a flock of glowing drones, flying over the lake outside, in formation, in the shape of a spinning planet with rings, followed by various panda shapes. Actually that brief description doesn’t do justice to it; watch for yourself.

Someone was heard to mutter, “Winnipeg would not have been like this.” It may have been me.

On the Hugos. Alison Scott, a finalist for Best Fan Artist, and her colleagues at Octothorpe, which was up for Best Fancast, had appointed me as their acceptor in case they won, so I attended the Hugo pre-reception, the ceremony and the after-party in that capacity. (This is not secret and they discuss it on the latest episode at 15:12.) All my previous times attending the pre-reception and after-party had been at conventions when I was on the Committee and/or the Hugo team, so it was a learning experience.

In summary, the pre-reception was the least satisfactory that I have been to, the Hugo ceremony had its good and less good points, and the after-party was the best that I have attended.

To deal briefly with the pre-reception at the Sheraton: there was no booze and, more important, no substantial food, for a bunch of anxious people who had been told to turn up at 5pm (after a rehearsal earlier in the afternoon), knowing that the ceremony would not end until after 9. (9.20, as it turned out.) I nipped out immediately to grab some fried chicken for myself in the hotel foyer, but as a consequence I missed the group photos for the two categories where I was involved. Snacks were eventually provided as we went into the ceremony, but it’s rather difficult to eat discreetly in the theatre, and of course we did not know that they would be available until we got there. The pre-Hugo reception does need at least some decent savoury finger food to keep people going. I had some great conversations, though, and will cover those in my next post.

Going into the ceremony, I was surprised to find that I had been seated far away from the main bloc of finalists, among a bunch of people who were not directly connected to the awards at all. I (correctly) did not expect either Alison or Octothorpe to win, but it is a bit off for that message to be delivered by way of seating plan. Another acceptor had been seated even further away than me, and that did surprise me, as I thought they had a much better chance of winning (and indeed they did; they have already written up their experience of the ceremony elsewhere and did not mention this incident, so I won’t identify them here). Both of us sneaked over to vacant seats in the main bloc as soon as we could, to sit with our buddies and enjoy the show. (And in my friend’s case, to accept a Hugo.) I am sure it was thoughtlessness rather than malice, but it was not the best start to the ceremony for me; and the leading Chinese magazine SF World had a similar but worse experience.

Apart from that, it was all very nice and collegial, starting with some shamanistic drumming to get us all in the mood, category announcements interspersed with video clips and more dance performances, and the Big Heart Award going to the much deserving Bobbi Armbruster. The whole thing came in at about 2h20m; I’m not a pare-it-to-the-bone purist and this was fine for me. I have my doubts about the Best Professional Editor (Long Form) category, but having been talking to Lindsey Hall earlier in the day, I was thrilled for her when she won it. The convention produced a short video featuring the names of finalists (which minimises the risk of the mispronunciation problems that have come up before). There was a good bit of business with a runner bringing the envelope with the results to the announcer on stage – an excellent idea from the points of view of both stagecraft and security. However we did also have an awkward moment where the hosts talked over an acceptance video, and there was the Riverflow incident which most of us did not find out about until afterwards.

I’ll write up the actual results when we get the full figures. The whole ceremony is online here: You’ll see me in shot for some of the winner announcements.

The after-party, however, was sheer joy. Booze: check. Food: check. Fun: definite check. Traditional crafts, decent food, a great atmosphere, lots of people posing with their Hugos (or other people’s), I had previously attended the Hugo Losers Parties in 2014, 2017, 2019 and 2022, and three of those four were very disappointing – in two cases because of lack of decent catering, and in one case because many people were shut out. 2017 was great fun, but in a venue that was crammed to the gills, probably dangerously so. This year, we had adequate space, more than adequate food and drink, and enjoyable entertainment (with the decibels at a level that my middle-aged ears were able to cope with). I stretched my legs walking back to the hotel with Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf afterwards, and stayed up in the Sheraton bar until far too late. With more financial resources available than most European or American conventions, Chengdu were able to achieve magic on occasion.

Again, I’ll report in my next post on some of the conversations I had over the course of the evening, but I’ll finish here with a video clip of Chinese dancers performing ancient Scottish choreography.