Convention report: Nine Worlds Geekfest
Nine Worlds Geekfest is a brand-new convention that was launched earlier this year via Kickstarter. I was one of those sponsors, because a) it looked like a cool event and b) I knew I wasn’t going to be able to attend WorldCon in Texas, which left my summer looking rather empty. I’m very glad I did so, as it turned out to be a fantastic weekend.
The convention was based at the Renaissance Hotel in Heathrow, London, just across the road from the Radisson Edwardian, where Eastercon 2012 was held. In fact the Radisson served as an overflow hotel and gaming venue, and I’ve heard that next year’s Nine Worlds will be held there, as the staff are more accustomed to hosting genre conventions. The con hotel this year was fine as regards accommodation, but the bar was expensive and there was no cheap convention bar. The main hotel bar ran out of cider early on Saturday evening, the marginally less expensive cash bar had no cider at all, and the choice of whiskies was not great either, which made for an expensive drinking experience.
Apart from minor hotel niggles, however, the convention itself was very well organised, with plenty of iced water laid out on tables to ensure everyone stayed hydrated in the hot weather, and lots of helpful volunteers manning the desks and directing con-goers to the correct rooms. In fact I heard several people comment that it felt more like an established convention than a start-up (perhaps because the organisers had wisely picked the brains of past Eastercon committees).
Nine Worlds’ intention was to create a multimedia, multi-genre convention that was welcoming to all, and in that they succeeded amazingly well. There were loads of cosplayers, from very professional looking “Aliens” soldiers and their pet xenomorph (see my sadly rather blurry photo, taken with my phone) to a lovely homemade Princess Mononoke, to various Game of Thrones characters including Danaerys, Melissandre and Robb Stark (sporting a wolf’s head a lot of the time). There were also plenty of con-goers rocking a variety of trans/gender-bending outfits, including cross-dressing cosplayers such as the female Londo Mollari whose outfit I complemented. All in all the atmosphere was very relaxed and friendly – the other comment I heard a lot was that Nine Worlds was what the Sci-Fi Weekender ought to be, i.e. a big geeky get-together without the tacky trappings imposed by a commercial events company (or the horrible accommodation in freezing cold North Wales!).
The programme was massive, covering media franchises from Doctor Who to Game of Thrones; video and tabletop games; various fandoms such as steampunk and bronies; and of course a books track that included signings, readings and literary panels. My own signing was rather quiet, as one might expect on the first night of a convention, but the panel – “Beyond Westeros” – was well attended and went very smoothly. The programme sensibly included 15-minute breaks between events to give everyone time to get around the large site (and go to the loo!), so it never felt rushed and manic as can happen at some conventions.
On Saturday afternoon I had a minor emergency – one of the screws that hold together my reading glasses had come loose. Fortunately the ladies of Asgard (the tech room) soon sorted that out, though without the aid of either gaffer tape or Thor’s hammer
This was fortunate, since I’m very long-sighted in my contact lenses alone, so without my reading glasses I would have struggled at Saturday evening’s “Once More With Feeling” sing-along (since I don’t know all the lyrics by heart, unlike some of the attendees!). This session turned out to be not at all what I expected – instead of showing the episode, they had a pianist with the full sheet music, and after the main sing-along he took requests (and I believe came back on Sunday with his sheet music for Doctor Horrible, which he had left at home). Again, it made the con really feel like grass-roots fandom instead of a commercial, manufactured event.
No convention is complete without a trip to the dealers’ room, and since I’m currently replete with books, t-shirts and jewellery I decided to go for something a bit different. I spotted this bad boy on a leather-crafter’s stall and realised that not only did it match my outfit (and I was at a con that positively encouraged dressing up!) but it was almost an exact match for the main gauche that Mal wields on the cover of The Alchemist of Souls. How could I resist?
The highlight of the convention for me was the workshop with Miltos Yerolemou, better known as Syrio Forel in Game of Thrones. I saw Miltos’ demonstration at Eastercon 2012, so when tickets went on sale for a hands-on workshop with him, I was one of the first to sign up!
Since the session was marketed as “Water Dancing with Syrio Forel”, I was expecting a workshop in the fighting style used on Game of Thrones, or perhaps the style he demonstrated at Eastercon, where the aim is to make the fight look good without ever being in danger of hitting your opponent. Yeah, no. It turned out to be a session on how to fight realistically with bastard swords!
After a brief warmup with our souvenir daggers (see below), we paired up and “fought” with pointed fingers in the place of swords. The idea was to come up with our own short choreographed sequence by exploring our respective strengths and weaknesses relative to our partner. For example I’m rather short, so it makes sense for me to go for the legs of a tall opponent and watch out for attacks to the head! The session also confirmed something I had begun to suspect in my beginners’ fencing class – I can parry and block pretty well on pure instinct, but I’m not so strong in attack.
When we had our routine worked out, each pair came out in front of the group in turn, and Miltos gave us a pair of wooden bastard swords and helped us turn our “draft” moves into a realistic yet safe fight sequence. This was great fun – well, except for when my partner (an experienced fencer, and thus accustomed to moving fast and light in heavy padding, not slow and careful and unarmoured!) hit my hand and gave me a bruised knuckle!
The workshop ended with Miltos signing our souvenir daggers. Mine says “Anne – Fear cuts deeper than swords”, which is of course one of Syrio’s lines
By now it was late Sunday morning, so I went to one more talk (on Doctor Who villains) and then decided to call it a weekend before my energy ran out altogether. A hard decision – there were still some interesting panels to go to – but I knew there were engineering works on the Tube lines back into London, and I didn’t want to wear myself out completely.
Nine Worlds will be back next year over the same weekend, 8-10 August 2014, which puts it the weekend before WorldCon. I’m sorely tempted to sign up, but we’ll have to see if my energy levels are up to two big conventions on successive weekends. I guess this October’s BristolCon/World Fantasy double whammy will be a useful dry run!