Nine Worlds Geekfest

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Convention
Name: Nine Worlds Geekfest
Dates: 2013-2018
Frequency: annual
Location: London area, UK
Type: fan convention
Focus: general fandom
Organization:
Founder: Erich, Dan and Ludi
Founding Date: August 2013
URL: https://nineworlds.co.uk/ (archive)
Nine Worlds Geekfest on tumblr (archive)
Ymir the Cuddly Frost Giant, designed by Andrew O. Ellis
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Nine Worlds Geekfest is a multi media, multi-genre residential pop culture convention held annually in or near London, UK. The first three were held near London Heathrow Airport, in different hotels, while the 2016, 2017 and 2018 conventions in the Novotel in Hammersmith, London.

The focus is mainly on fans interacting with one another, although there are also celebrity guests, book signings and performances. Content is arranged in a number of themed tracks, including general topics such as fanfiction, fannish academia, cosplay and books, as well as tracks for specific fandoms.

Beginnings

The first Nine Worlds was partially funded by a Kickstarter[1] which was launched in February 2013. It was pitched as "a residential con celebrating all aspects of geek culture. Gaming, film, cosplay, anime, literature, and partying!" and achieved more than double its funding goal.

We're a group of fans putting together a weekend-long, multi-genre convention in London this summer, August 9th-11th. We're running this Kickstarter to raise funds, offer cheap advance tickets, and make sure people actually want to come. Judging from our success so far, it turns out people do want to come, but we still need your pledge to make this work.
We've rented two big conference hotels in London, and we've recruited some of the UK's top fans and fandom organisations. With their help, we're creating talks, games, discussions, workshops and parties spanning a swathe of geek obsessions. Whether you're into board gaming, film and film-making, Doctor Who / Torchwood, science, feminism, Tolkien, SF&F academia, video games, partying like a dancefloor demon, role play gaming, Discworld, My Little Pony, social gaming, SF&F literature, knitting, Harry Potter, creative writing, Star Wars, queer fandom, buying cool stuff, steampunk, the occult, open culture, Star Trek, Whedon, skepticism, costuming, comics, anime and J-culture, or fanfic, chances are you'll find something that rocks your world.

The first Nine Worlds was held in August 2013, the last in August 2018.

Expansion

The convention moved hotels while staying near Heathrow, before moving to the Novotel in Hammersmith.

After a couple of years of growing, the 2016 con included a separate expo for the first time, rather than the previous included dealers' hall. This had a big vision, but was rumoured to have lost money and have very few guests who weren't at the main con. One of the original founders, Dan, confirmed that it had lost them a lot of money, and required two years of "steady steering" to bring the con back on track.[2]

Commitment to Diversity and Safety

One of the hallmarks of Nine Worlds is its commitment to making the convention as welcoming as possible for all attendees. Measures include a detailed anti-harrassment policy[3] and accessibility information[4], a communication preferences system[5] and participation in Con or Bust[6]. There are also dedicated tracks discussing Race and Culture, LGBTQ themes, and other aspects of diversity. Panellists and moderators are encouraged not to assume someone's gender without asking, and pronoun badges are provided to all attendees.

A newcomer on the con scene, Nine Worlds held its inaugural event last summer, but the buzz about it is tremendous – perhaps partly because of its up-front policy of trying to disprove the hoary old cliche that science fiction is the preserve of the middle-class, middle-aged white male or – heaven forfend – the spotty teenage loner in his bedroom.

"Traditionally, con-goers are seen as the cliche – white, cisgender men," says Claire Powell of the committee. "This can lead to people who don't fall into that category feeling intimidated, or maybe even at risk. At Nine Worlds, diversity and inclusion are hugely important foundations for the event. Specifically, it aims to dump the sexism that infests many geek spaces and sci-fi cons. There is a strong anti-harassment policy and Nine Worlds endeavours to maintain a safe space for women, LGBT+ people, disabled people, and other groups that are often marginalised at geek/fandom events." [7]

Cabaret and Disco

The Cabaret on Saturday night is fast becoming a key event. It has included music, dance performance, stand-up comedy, poetry, and in 2014 an on-stage proposal. It has a mixture of serious content and lighter entertainment. It is followed by the disco, with much geek-themed music.

Criticisms and Reconstitution

While reviews for the convention were relatively good, the 2018 Nine World events were beset by problems. Panel hosts complained that the organization for that year was poor, with many not knowing who was on their panels or when their panels were until a few days before the con. Writer Jesse Panic documented many of the issues, including the unaffordable ticket cost, months and weeks with no contact, short notice on moderator and participant guidelines, and inclusion of police officers plus a journalist associated with neo-nazis as speakers.[8] Other panelists, such as Skye and Rammi, weren't given contact details of their fellow panelists until the schedule went live, and when they had issues with a police officer being on a panel regarding intoxicants, their complaint was mishandled and they stated they were told:

Regarding dropping participants from Intoxicants in Fiction. After talking this through in the organising team, we consider [The Police Officer] to be an appropriate panellist for this item, and do not intend to remove her. If this makes you uncomfortable about moderating, please let us know and we’ll ask one of the other panellists.[9]

Issues surrounding race were also raised. Complaints came after panels involving police officers speaking in their capacity as police were arranged in 2017 and 2018 despite protests from POC. Racism was not a new complaint - volunteer a-simple-tailor described on Tumblr a 2016 incident on her immigrant narratives panel, where when she was telling a story about her uncle pioneering surgery on babies, a last-minute panelist stated "well your uncle should have learned English then", and proceeded to upset both panel members and attendees.[10] Blogger blackfemgeekery raised the issue that the committee behind Nine Worlds 2018 was almost entirely white, which she stated contributed to the problems surrounding panelists. When blackfemgeekery asked the committee about this in the Future of Nine Worlds panel, neither she nor many others in the audience felt they gave an appropriate answer, especially after blackfemgeekery was accused of no-platforming the police.[11]

[blackfemgeekery]

They wanted police to feel welcome, and if POC and others felt unwelcome, it seemed like that was our problem. That was my answer as far as I was concerned.[12]

There were also issues relating to the mistreatment of attendees - Jesse was forced to relive racial trauma after a white volunteer attempted to argue with them and minimize their experiences as a POC, and was forced to tears after being surrounded by volunteers.[13]

There also came complaints of accessibility during Nine Worlds 2018. While accessibility was generally very good, the mismanagement of con attendees meant that rooms were overcrowded; as a result, attendees would sit on the floor next to accessible seating, restricting the ability of the people using those seats to leave the room if needed. There was also issues with able-ism from other volunteers, despite training and policies being created to avoid such behaviour, as documented by a-simple-tailor.[14]

During the Future of Nine Worlds panel, the committee announced that they were reconstituting the con due to burnout and mismanagement of volunteers and staff, as well as issues with money.[15] After criticism of the 2018 con came out, the Nine Worlds committee responded in a twitter thread, apologising for causing people pain and not acknowledging problems with inclusion, while also requesting feedback to improve in the future. [16] One of the con's founders, Dan, also posted a personal apology on Medium. [17]. Despite this declaration, several months later former committee member quizlacey stated that there was no detailed plan for reconstitution, and that the process had been severely mishandled.

[quizlacey]

The first is that the detailed plan for reconstitution has not taken place, and the reconstitution process currently is a slightly-more-complex version of "whoever wants it can have it."

The second is that because no process has taken place and no governance/management/steering/whatever committee has been identified, the provisional hold on the Novotel for 2019 has had to be released.

[...]

I left due to the state fo the reconstitution process. With the issues that have been ignored by former management for so long, which were very publicly and very badly mishandled at the end of 2018, I want to be part of a structure that is capable of addressing them.

I left Nine Worlds 2018 on the understanding that this would be one of the key criteria for the new incarnation of Nine Worlds. Treating the convention like a hot potato gives me no confidence that this will be inbuilt structurally from the start.[18]

On December 22nd 2018, Nine Worlds announced that a new governance team had been formed, none of whom had worked on Nine Worlds in a committee capacity before. Nine Worlds also announced a return to the con in 2020.[19]

Closure

In September 2019, the new management team announced that they would be unable to take Nine Worlds forward due to a lack of skills in managing the con, and the inability to locate a company director for Nine Worlds Ltd. [20] They ended the thread with a request that anyone who was interested in becoming director to contact them, otherwise if no director had been chosen by the end of September, the process of closing the business would begin. As of December 2019, no announcement had been made regarding the closure of the business, nor of the appointment of a new director.

References

  1. Nine Worlds Geekfest: an unconventional convention.
  2. Nine Worlds 2018 - a personal apology by Daniel Whitston, posted on Medium on August 19th 2018. (archive)
  3. Nine Worlds Anti-Harrassment Policy.
  4. Nine Worlds Accessibility Information.
  5. Nine Worlds Communication Preferences System.
  6. Nine Worlds News: Con or Bust.
  7. Science fiction takes over London as Worldcon and Nine Worlds land by David Barnett, The Guardian, July 23, 2014 (accessed January 13, 2020) archive link
  8. Worldless - Why Nine Worlds Stopped Being A Safe Space For Me by Jesse Panic, published on Medium August 17th 2018. (archive)
  9. A safe space only when it's convenient for you: a Nine Worlds cautionary tale by Rammi, published on Medium on 8th August 2018. (archive)
  10. Nine Worlds by a-simple-tailor, on Tumblr. (archive)
  11. Worldless - Why Nine Worlds Stopped Being A Safe Space For Me by Jesse Panic, published on Medium August 17th 2018. (archive)
  12. White Worlds by blackfemgeekery, posted on Wordpress 12th August 2018. (archive)
  13. Worldless - Why Nine Worlds Stopped Being A Safe Space For Me by Jesse Panic, published on Medium August 17th 2018. (archive)
  14. Nine Worlds by a-simple-tailor, on Tumblr. (archive)
  15. The Future of Nine Worlds page, archived 13th March 2019. (archive)
  16. Nine Worlds apology, posted as a Twitter thread, 14th August 2018 (archive)
  17. Nine Worlds 2018 - a personal apology by Daniel Whitston, posted on Medium on August 19th 2018. (archive)
  18. Steve's twitter thread on leaving the committee], posted as a twitter thread on December 16th 2018 (archive)
  19. Nine Worlds Status update, posted as a Twitter thread on 22nd December 2018 (archive)
  20. Apologies for the long radio silence, and we wish we were here to give you better news. by Nine Worlds 2018 (@London_Geekfest), posted on Twitter on the 4th of September 2019