Making the Call on the 2023 Worldcon

John Scalzi

For various reasons, I was already leaning against physically attending the 2023 Worldcon in Chengdu, China, but now, a little over a year out and with other organizations querying me about appearances in the same timeframe, I should more firmly note that I won’t be on the ground at the 2023 Worldcon.

I will say that aside from any other reasons, at this point the two primary reasons for this decision are purely practical. One, air travel is currently a mess, and no matter what the airlines say about it, I’m not optimistic it’s going to be all that much better a year from now. That’s currently bad enough domestically, when flights are being cancelled en masse, and realistically one has to budget an entire extra day for travel (both Athena and I had overnight delays due to cancellations on our last flights). Dealing with international delays or cancellations from halfway around the world seems like a good way to lose a week.

Two, COVID is still actually a thing and the most recent variants of it have the transmissibility of measles. There’s little reason to believe either that we’ll have the virus contained by next year, or that strains a year from now will be more mild (I will still get boosters when available, to significantly reduce the chance that I’ll be hospitalized – or dead – if I am reinfected). Given all this, the idea of testing positive for the virus in China, with few personal resources or the ability to easily navigate the local medical options, and then trying to return home on rescheduled flights, does not thrill me.

It’s possible things will be better on both fronts a year from now, and these concerns are overstated. I hope I am wrong, in fact! Be that as it may, I have to make choices now about what I’m doing in a year. I’d rather be wrong, and at home, than right, and stuck (and possibly very ill) on the other side of the globe.

When the stars align in these and other areas, I would love to be able to visit China, and spend more than a few days to explore that vast and hugely interesting country. That visit, I’m sorry to say, won’t be in 2023. I hope the people who do choose to attend have a fantastic time, and that I’m seethingly jealous of the fun they are having in Chengdu.

— JS

24 Comments on “Making the Call on the 2023 Worldcon”

  1. I have indicated to the Dorothy Dunnett Society that I hope to attend their April, 2023, annual meeting, which is being held in honor of Dunnett’s centennial. It’ll be in Edinburgh and I am considering the same things you are: will COVID-19 be under reasonable control? What will air travel be like?

    I can’t even fly directly to Edinburgh from the Bay Area. It’s either BA -> NYC -> Edinburgh or BA->London + train to Scotland. So – decisions, decisions.

    I think I have to sign up and commit fairly soon, and may just decide, well, I’ll visit Scotland and miss the DD events OR I’ll sign up for DD and eat any costs I incur for that meeting.

  2. Good call.

    We don’t need to be prescient to extrapolate the current mess into the near future mess.

    Oh I miss traveling…

  3. My spouse has traveled to Japan and China, several times.
    A day to recover is very optimistic. Four days is her period.
    Luckily she flew for Business and got 1st class direct from Boston to Tokyo. $ 15,000 ish.
    She once flew in two legs coach from Boston to Seattle, and Seattle to Toyoko. She was miserable, and said the company will pay for 1st class forever.

  4. Your chances of getting COVID in China are significantly less than the chance of getting it in the US; China has less than 500 new cases daily (compared to 175,000+ in the US).

    The problem is in how China is maintaining those numbers. There’s still a mandatory 7-to-10-day quarantine on arrival for international travelers. And if even one person in your hotel or at the convention center tests positive, everybody’s going into lockdown for 10-14 days (where lockdown means you don’t leave your room.)

    If you personally were to test positive in China, you wouldn’t need to worry about navigating the medical system; you’d be politely escorted by big whites to the nearest medical facility and not allowed to leave until they were good and sure you’re negative again.

    My husband is Chinese, so we really want to go, but unless they shorten or eliminate the arrival quarantine, it probably isn’t going to work for us.

  5. I have been to China a few times, so this may color my current views.

    You could not currently convince me to fly to China. One of my trips to China was during the SARS outbreak. I remember sitting on a very hot airplane before they let us into a warm room for temperature checks (somehow I passed).

    It’s been a while since I’ve been to a Worldcon. Chengdu won’t be my return.

  6. I don’t even want to travel far enough in America these days to be stuck paying for 2+ weeks more in a hotel room while having covid. That’s expensive AF and not worth it to me.

    Glad you are not going. I shudder at going to that now for all the reasons you said.

    Really, I just do NOT want to commit to long term plans for anything any more because of covid. Going on a trip X number of months/years from now is a giant “who knows?” and highly likely to be bad at this point anyway.

  7. Dealing with illness is tough enough away from home in this country, I’d be worried with dealing with it on the other side of the world in a culture I’m not familiar with. I think (who am I?) you made the right call also. Another year…

  8. It sounds like not going is the right choice for all the reasons you and other commenters have said.

    Here’s one more: The political situation in China could get strange because of the war in Ukraine expanding to other countries. China’s relationship with Russia might effect its relationship with the West.

  9. @Lisa, I’ve flown SFO to London and then a connecting flight to Edinburgh.

    I also had to decide not to go to 2023 Worldcon, partly because of the reasons John mentioned above, and also because of the political situation there. And, I’m planning on going to 2024 in Glasgow, and that’s where a lot of my resources are aimed at right now.

  10. FWIW, my wife and I are not going if things remain approximately as they are, though there is yet time, and perhaps the horse will learn to sing.

    It’s sad to contemplate, because, growing up in Hong Kong, I really wished I could visit over the border — except when the Cultural Revolution flared up, at which point my family thought “better not.”

    The political situation under Xi is of course pretty dreadful and may get much worse. OTOH, I’ve been a tourist in Ceaușescu’s Romania and Brezhnev’s USSR, not to mention Greece under the colonels, and any number of other murderous dictatorships.

    Anyway, thank you, Winnipeg, for the NASFiC bid.

  11. Hope you get to see China some day! A guy I went to school with actually worked there for years! Fascinating place! Well, since you’re not going, read one of Van Gulik’s “Judge Dee” mysteries instead.

  12. I don’t blame you one bit. I’m getting quite nervous about going to Chicago this year. We haven’t made airline reservations yet, but I’m really worried after the 4th fiasco. I’d love to see Chicago, but not sure it will happen right now.

  13. As a long time and current resident of Shanghai, I wouldn’t be surprised if the 2023 Worldcon gets cancelled. Even after three years, no tourist visas are being issued. I have friends who have dependents who still can’t enter.

    An economy flight to Chicago from Shanghai costs minimum around US$5,000. Flights get cancelled frequently, with few options to rebook.

    You need to go through a rigorous vetting/testing process prior to being able to board a flight to China. On arrival, depending on the city, you can expect a minimum of two week hotel quarantine.

    So, I’m not optimistic about 2023, especially if there are expectations of non-Chinese face to face involvement.

  14. Does this mean air travel out of the US is generally out of the question for you as well – so seeing you in a convention in Europe or the Middle East is not an option in the near future?

  15. @Lisa, and anyone else going to Scotland from the Bay Area; the nonstop SFO – Dublin Aer Lingus flights started up again earlier this year, and there are frequent flights from Dublin to various UK airports. Also, Dublin pre-clears for entry to the UK and the US, so that when you arrive at either country it’s domestic.

  16. Probably a good call to make right now. I recently had to travel to Mississippi for work. I didn’t worry about it because I’m fully vaxxed and boosted. It was the week right after airlines cancelled their mandatory mask policy. I still wore a mask. I also still brought back Covid. I was down for the count a couple of days with fever and chills. Then my son got it. Then my wife got it. Other than high fevers and feeling lousy for a few days, nothing too serious, and we’re all back to normal now. Still pisses me off that less than 60% of the people here in Ohio are fully-vaccinated. Mississippi is only barely above 50%.

  17. Q: how’s this for a paranoid’s delight?

    given a sudden need for leverage, China in 2023 decides to ‘isolate & observe’ for an indefinite period (until Washington kowtows) a couple thousand foreign sci-fi fans amongst who are a hundred or so high profile somewhat famous authors… including that gut who wrote the “Old Man’s War” saga…

    only sounds silly till you look at what Putin did to a number of Americans including an otherwise blameless basketball player as leverage of retrieving one of his hencemen…

    so there’s a whole new category of dystopian near-future history, stories about people turned into political pawns kept in long term storage till governmental officials haggle over not-quite-ransom

  18. I swear I typed “guy” not “gut”… no… really!

  19. Sensible. I’m too old myself to seriously consider going, given the circumstances. Hopefully young fans from around the world will find their way there.

  20. Um, yeah. M’spouse made the call yesterday about traveling from the US to Serbia in about 6 weeks. Their official COVID case rate has changed by 5X (!) between mid-June and mid-July.

    Like you, he’ll be missing an event where he’s a minor celebrity. It’s a small software* conference (~200 people), hosted at a different European university each year, and he’s been on the program every year for forever. Different city, different talk, expenses paid by his employer….

    Sadness prevails. I’m sorry to hear your similar news. But both Serbia and China have authoritarian leaders, a reason on top of travel snafus and the pandemic. So yes, an element of relief, too.

    For software geeks, the conference is on the Smalltalk language.

  21. @ Howard_NYC:

    “so there’s a whole new category of dystopian near-future history, stories about people turned into political pawns kept in long term storage till governmental officials haggle over not-quite-ransom”

    That’s a long and storied tradition, going back all the way to Ancient Greece, and probably earlier. Maybe adding a suspended animation / mind-upload element to it would make it futuristic?

    @ Nancy McC:

    “Their official COVID case rate has changed by 5X (!) between mid-June and mid-July.”

    Given how honest their government has been about COVID-19 in the past, multiply those figures by another 5 or so, and you still won’t be close.

    I’m contemplating a (work) trip later in the year. Can’t make my mind up. On one hand, it’s a cool location and I have the itch. On the other, the pandemic is back in full swing, almost worse than it was during the Summer of Delta. Covidiocy is now everywhere, transcending national and political boundaries. On top of everything, airlines and supply chains are collapsing (because see above).

    Might be a good year to sit out.

  22. @ Fatman

    welcome to the ‘new normal’… the old ways have resumed… a return to brutal abuse of small nations by big nations…

    @ all of us

    meanwhile anyone flying into a dictatorship for business reasons should reconsider… sadly this includes the 2035 version of the USA if we cannot derail efforts by GQP fascists…

    all across the world there’s deliberate stripping of civil rights including denying control of one’s body which verges upon ‘cyber feudalism’… read up on Cory Doctorow’s involvement in struggle for “right to repair”… use of automated surveillance to chain office workers to their laptops whilst working from home… and oh yeah women are no longer full citizens but by increments are being re-categorized as involuntary breeders

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