Tuesday 5 October 2021

Location Matters

In December, members of the World Science Fiction Society will have to choose between three potential host locations for the 2023 Worldcon. Given the competing considerations of this vote, it may end up being the most controversial site selection in several years.
Crossing the Jin River, the Anshun Bridge is an
iconic sight in downtown Chengdu, China.
(Image via Wikipedia)

Where the World Science Fiction Convention takes place has an impact on accessibility, safety, and consequently participation for most members of the science fiction community. It is therefore incumbent on all of us to seriously consider the ramifications of each of these possible options before casting a ballot.

None of the bids are perfect, and there are human rights concerns with each of the proposed host countries.

EDIT: On October 18, the bid to bring the 2023 Worldcon to Memphis was formally withdrawn by the bid chairs. While it will still appear on the ballot in December, it is no longer a viable option for the Worldcon. 

Chengdu, China

A bid to bring Worldcon to China’s fifth-most-populous city has been brewing for most of the past five years. In fact, this bid is so high-profile that much of the discussion seems to have broken down into pro-China and anti-China positions. This is a shame since this sort of discussion misses the complexities of the underlying questions.

Chengdu in 2023 is a well-organized bid whose supporters have done an excellent job of promoting through social media, through attendance at previous conventions, and through outreach to conrunners.

By all accounts, Chengdu is a beautiful city, and the fans working on this bid have been terrific. That being said, they may be fighting an uphill battle.

Despite the fact that Twitter is banned in China, this group’s account has the most followers of all the 2023 bids, with 294 followers as of this writing. While that follower count is dwarfed by the Glasgow 2024 bid, it still indicates that the Chengdu champions have been doing the legwork to promote their organization.
China is noted for its government's
deep and abiding respect for privacy
(Image via HRW.org)

This is the second bid for a Worldcon in China, after Beijing’s failed bid for the 2016 Worldcon. With the country’s vibrant community of science fiction talent, and an engaged and enthusiastic fan base, the prospect of bringing a Worldcon to the country has generated significant excitement.

In recent years, Worldcon has done more to embrace the “world” part of its name, and ensuring equitable access to the convention is something that WSFS members should prioritize. Let’s be honest, if the convention is held in a place that most Americans either can’t or won’t access in 2023, they’ll have had the opportunity to attend one in their home country in 2021 and 2022.

However, China doesn’t fare as well on travel safety indices as the competing bids, and there are significant questions to be raised about the conduct of China’s government in recent years that should trouble site selection voters.


  • Organization
  • Resources
  • Enthusiasm
  • Facilities
  • Global perspective
  • Interesting and vibrant city
  • High vaccination rate, estimated to be in excess of 80 per cent of the central Sichuan population vaccinated


Memphis, USA

Possibly prompted by the concerns some Americans have about the prospect of a Worldcon in China, there has been a slightly chaotic scramble to present a credible US-based alternative to the Chengdu bid.
Much like its namesake, Memphis
has an iconic pyramid. This one's
a bit newer though. 
(Image via MemphisTravel.com)

Whether the impetus behind this campaign is just parochial miserliness or is genuine concern about human rights and safety is probably a matter of perspective. That being said, after the collapses of the Spokane 2023 bid and the New Orleans 2023 bid, Memphis has emerged as the US standard bearer for this year’s Worldcon.

The bid documents paint a picture of a fairly standard US Worldcon; solid facilities, well-planned out commitment to diversity and accessibility. Memphis is a storied American city with a significant importance to the history of music. It is also a city that is known for its cultural and ethnic diversity.

That being said, there is only a bare-bones web presence for the bid, and a modest Twitter presence. (Full disclosure, one of this Blog’s contributors has volunteered a small amount with the Memphis bid.) Concerns have been raised about the lack of local Memphis involvement in the bid.


  • Convention organizers have expressed commitment to diversity and inclusion
  • Existing US-based fandom community has track record of successful conventions under difficult circumstances
  • City known for a rich musical history


Winnipeg, Canada

Having only announced their intention to host at the end of April, the Winnipeg in 2023 bid is the late entrant into the Worldcon race this year. It’s also the only city currently bidding to have previously hosted a Worldcon, having done so with 1994’s “ConAdian.”

Despite the late entry, Winnipeg’s bid is extremely active and credible. The website has a robust amount of content that is updated regularly, they have been blogging about the strengths of their bid, and have extremely active social media accounts on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube. Since their announcement, they have made promotional appearances at almost every relevant online convention.
The Canadian Museum of Human Rights is a
beautiful and interesting museum in Winnipeg,
but unfortunately gives short shrift to labour
organizing as a means to promote workers' rights.
(Image via humanrights.ca)

Given its relatively mild summer weather, August is just about the perfect time to visit Winnipeg.

The bid committee has a solid group of experienced conrunners involved, and there is a lot of reason to believe that if Winnipeg is selected, they will be able to pull together a successful convention despite the shorter-than-usual timelines.

Winnipeg itself is a much more interesting and vibrant city than you might expect, with significant cultural influences from Indigenous, French Canadian, and Anglo-Canadian traditions, as well as many new Canadians. It is the city in Canada with the largest number of Indigenous residents, a fact that can be seen in the city’s art and its cultural centres.

Among the locations that are bidding for the Worldcon in 2023, Manitoba is probably the safest place for LGBTQIA2S+ travelers. It was the first jurisdiction in Canada to ban conversion therapy, and was among the first to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.


  • Well-organized bid committee
  • Enthusiasm
  • Indigenous culture and art
  • Excellent facilities
  • Safest for LGBTQIA2S+ community


(Image via NewScientist)

While we hope that by 2023, the current pandemic will be mostly in the rearview, we would be remiss if we did not flag that each of these locations has COVID-related risks.

At the time of this writing, Memphis (and much of the American Southeast) has been pummeled by a deadly fourth wave of the pandemic. The province of Manitoba (where Winnipeg is located) repeatedly bungled its pandemic response, though not quite as badly as some other jurisdictions in Canada. Chengdu appears to have the highest vaccination rate among the three potential hosts, but there are reasons to doubt the Government of China’s reporting methods.


There is no perfect host for this Worldcon — or for any other. In this instance, there are compelling reasons to vote for any of these options, but just as compelling reasons to vote against them. It is our suggestion that the least problematic host city is Winnipeg, though ultimately this is a matter of which accessibility and/or convention-running issues voters prioritize.


  1. Ok,I didn’t know that Canada was hard assed on granting visas from individuals from other countries as a general rules. And given that you simply stated that using boilerplate language, I think you need to justify your claim that is true. Same applies to the United States as well. General states of such a nature are never a great idea.

  2. Good feedback. Editing the post now with links.

    Canada's easy to visit if you're from a European Union country, from the U.S., or from one of a select number of economically powerful countries.

    Visitors from Ecuador, Kazakhstan, Morocco, South Africa (among other countries) can be asked to apply for a visa at least 30 days in advance. The application must be made in person (not by mail) at the Canadian consulate, and involves some relatively invasive questions (such as employment, salary, etc.)

    It's very similar to the U.S.

  3. I don't know how I came to be listed as Unknown in the comment I left -- I didn't intend for it to be anonymous!