Science Fiction Conventions

The two girls were wearing fur bikinis, live ferrets, and very little else.  The

A Few Convention Badges

moment I saw them, I nearly turned around and walked out of the hotel, away from my very first ever science fiction convention.

The year was 1989.  The convention was Lunacon, held that year in Tarrytown, New York.  I was a newly-minted PhD.   I’d come to see and, maybe – if I could get my courage up – to meet, a writer who had been kind enough to exchange a few letters with me.

The writer was Roger Zelazny.  The meeting did happen and had huge consequences for my life, but it nearly didn’t happen because of those cute girls and their ferrets.

Despite having been a long-time science fiction and fantasy reader, at that point I had not discovered SF Fandom.  I’d heard a few vague rumors of “Trekkies,” but, as these were always presented as extremely weird people who wore Spock ears, I wasn’t exactly eager to seek them out.  Although Washington, D.C., my hometown, apparently has and had a very active fan community, they didn’t touch my own life.  Equally, although I went to college in New York (Fordham University, Rose Hill campus in the Bronx) and had a few friends who did SCA events, I didn’t hear about SF Fandom then, either.

So it took until I was in my mid-twenties for me to find out about SF conventions.  I wouldn’t have heard about this one except that a friend called and said something along the lines of, “Hey.  I just got a flyer across my desk.  That author who’s answered a couple of your letters is going to be at a science fiction conference.  Maybe we should all go.”

And we did, thus beginning my involvement with science fiction conventions, an involvement that has now become a regular part of my life.

Why do I like science fiction conventions?  Is it all only about self-promotion?  Is it just about outreach to readers and potential readers?

No.  It’s not.  Soon after that first, rather startling, Lunacon, I moved to Lynchburg, Virginia, in order to take a job teaching English at Lynchburg College.  There I discovered that Virginia hosted several science fiction conventions.  I think the first one I went to there was the now-defunct RoVaCon, but I also went to a convention near the coast.  I can’t remember the name of that one, but I met Phyllis White there.  She owns Flying Coyote books and sold me a copy of Dayton O. Hyde’s  Don Coyote, a non-fiction book that contributed a great deal first to my  novel Marks of Our Brothers and, some years later, to Changer and Legends Walking.

By then, I was learning that science fiction fans are interested in a lot more than just science fiction.  In fact, I learned it was usually the other way around: The reason people become interested in science fiction and fantasy is because they are interested in a whole lot more.

RoVaCon got me involved in fandom after I was asked by the director if I would be on the board.  That was an interesting experience, since the convention would start self-destructing that very year.  However, since I acquired my  dear friend and pen pal, Paul Dellinger, through the experience, I can’t complain.

RoVaCon’s self-destruction led to me learning even more about fandom after several of my friends teamed up with one of the factions to found a new convention.  The new convention started as Kaleidoscope and was associated with the Lynchburg city festival of that name.  When the convention moved, it was re-named SheVaCon, for Shenandoah Valley Convention.  For several years, I worked on the convention behind the scenes.  In fact, until just a few years ago, I could still find paragraphs I’d written in the program book!

From working on Kaleidoscope and SheVaCon, I learned even more about fandom.  Not only are fans largely very intelligent and well-read, they are also amazingly generous with their time.  Many of the fans I met – including the Klingon club which provided convention security – worked with literacy groups, hospitals, and as fund-raisers for other organizations.  Many conventions include a charity auction in their events, often raising substantial funds.

I also learned how very tolerant fans can be of difference – even when it’s hostile.  Lynchburg was home to some right-wing Christians who decided it would be a great thing if they could cause problems for “that Satanist D&D group.”  They came to the convention on a Sunday morning and made pointed, rude comments.  When  this failed to cause a rumpus, they started loudly singing hymns in the hotel foyer.  I think they were shocked when the fans – led by the Klingons in full costume – applauded loudly.

And this tolerance wasn’t an isolated case.  Over the years I’ve been to many conventions at hotels that also had some other – often religious – event going on.  Convention staff not only politely answered questions, but often offered a free day-pass so the curious could see what’s really going on outside of the public areas.

When I moved to New Mexico, fandom made me welcome.  I still remember how Craig Chrissenger (the Bubonicon con-chair) was horrified when he realized that Roger Zelazny’s date was also a writer.  “I didn’t put you on any programming!” he said, obviously ready to hurry off and do so immediately.  I told him that was okay.  I only had a few short stories out then and was feeling pretty shy anyhow.

But the next year, when my first novels were out, the fans came to the signings.  And I’ve always had plenty of programming at Bubonicon since.  I’ve been part of fund-raising that has benefitted organizations as varied as local food banks, the Jack Williamson collection at Eastern New Mexico University, and our local wolf sanctuary.  I was Guest of Honor for Bubonicon 30 and Toastmaster a few years ago, when I had the pleasure of interviewing Vernor Vinge.

Bubonicon is this coming weekend.  I’m making “Slightly Spicy Cream Cheese Roll-ups” for the Author’s Tea.  I’m on a couple of panels, including one on Jules Verne with the translator for the new authoritative edition of many of Verne’s novels.   And I think I’m going to read “Hunting the Unicorn.”

It’ll be fun…  This time,  if I see a couple of girls in fur bikinis, wearing ferrets, well, I’ll probably wander over and ask if I can hold one of the ferrets.

(I’d love to hear about your convention experiences!)

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13 Responses to “Science Fiction Conventions”

  1. Debbie Says:

    I met you at World Fantasy Convention. This is because I met Robert Vardeman at a previous convention and asked him to introduce me to you. And that’s how I fell into the whole NM writing crowd, ended up attending First Fridays and became a member of the Plotbusters critique group. I guess you can say that was networking. I prefer to say I make lifelong friends at conventions.

  2. Tori Says:

    After being to both kinds, I think I prefer small cons to big cons, even though the big ones pull in “big” names. Small ones are way more friendly and have a lot more thought put into them, in terms of stuff for the fans. I think the big ones are overwhelmed with their guests and have to put most of their resources and organization into that. And the really ridiculously huge ones, like Anime Expo and ComicCon in California, are so overcrowded that attendees can end up standing in line for the majority of the time. So I think Bubonicon is my favorite of all cons I’ve ever been to.

  3. Maria Says:

    My first science fiction convention was DragonCon in Atlanta back in 2000. I was a young, eager high school junior at the time. I didn’t have anyone to go with so had to go stag which had both its ups and downs. What attracted me to the convention was some actors/actresses from my then favorite TV show Xena: Warrior Princess.

    The size of the convention was incredible. Every other convention I’ve been to since them hasn’t been comparable. Surpisingly, it seemed like there was SO much to see and do I actually got some pretty good one-on-one time with some of the actors from the show due to poor audience attendance. It was an amazing experience for me.

    That was were I first got my spark to meet people behind the names for actors, artists, and authors. I now go to all the book signings I can attend at my 5 local Barnes and Nobles (and have met some pretty incredible people, again, usually due to poor turn outs). I also attend as many conventions as possible.

    I think my favorite convention story was from DragonCon 2000 in which one of the actresses from Xena took an elevator I was on on her way up to her hotel room. I recognized her, of course, but didn’t want to impose or make her uncomfortable so I didn’t introduce myself or tell her what a fan I was being incredibly shy. When she saw me in the elevator she asked if I’d met her before. This surprised me a bit since in fact we had not (I get mistaken for people ALL the time). She swore that we had met and asked my name. I told her and she thought about it for a while saying it sounded familiar but she couldn’t place me. I then confessed I knew her as a fan of her work and she laughed and gave me hug. She said she must’ve known me in spirit (a little odd to me) and asked me to have some coffee with her. We did and it was an amazing experience for me.

    My goal is to one day get over to New Mexico and attend a convention you’re at Ms. Lindskold, since I haven’t seen you set to appear at any in the San Antonio, Texas area much to my disappointment :-). If I can peel myself away from the textbooks in my college classes for a couple of days I hope to make a convention you appear at soon.

  4. Paul Says:

    I agree with Debbie, I’ve generally had more fun at small cons than big ones. I did attend a WorldCon in D.C. in the early ’70s, at which some attendees arrived from the airport in a taxi. The cab driver pulled up in front of the hotel where a Vulcan, a green girl and an octopus-like character were standing outside. He turned to his passengers and demanded, “What kind of convention did you say this was??”

  5. Dominique Says:

    I still remember when Bubonicon was a really small convention. We all went just hoping for a chance to talk to you.

  6. janelindskold Says:

    I really like the stories…

    I’ll admit — I’m on the “small convention” side of the question, but then I like visiting with people I don’t know.

    I’ve never really understood the “pro” mindset that ends up sitting in the bar, frantically networking. When I’ve been asked to do work for someone I’ve met at a convention, they’ve found me, even if I wasn’t out projecting “Look At ME!”

    Maria’s story is a great example, though, that if you’re polite and friendly — whether guest or attendee — any convention can have those special “small con” moments.

    Tonight starts Bubonicon… I just found out I’m on an extra panel. Time to go prepare.

  7. Katy Says:

    Who is publishing the new Jules Verne? I’ve never read any of his novels, partly because I’ve always heard the American translations are full of mistakes and rewrites. I’d love to read an updated translation.

  8. CBI Says:

    Well, my post from yesterday seems to have disappeared into the ether.

    I’ve only been to Bubonicon — almost all of them for the past decade or so. I think it the perfect size.

    The best parts:
    (1) Meeting and chatting with *some* of the authors and other attendees. Wonderful people, interesting conversations, lots of opportunities to learn stuff. I try not to monopolize the authors’ time, but it is always tempting.

    (2) *Some* of the panels. Need to have a good topic, a good moderator, and interesting panelists. A good audience helps as well. (Aside: Dr. Lindskold had to Moderate a panel at the last second. She did very well, as always.)

    (3) The Authors Tea. See (1), above, and add tasty tea and nibbles. Patti & Jane & all do a fantastic job.

    The worst parts:
    (1) *Some* of the authors, either in person or on the panel. Last year there was one panel with a boorish author who dominated everyone else, would not listen to and deal with other opnions (I don’t care that he disagreed, but his explanations could be paraphrased as “Shut up!”). Occasionally there is an obnoxious or insulting or discriminatory comment which makes one want to leave. This year, the first comment I heard when I entered a room with a panel going on was one author making some of the most arrogant — and unintentionally ironic — statements I’d ever heard.

    (2) Too few panels. ‘Nuff said.

    Another aside: I’ve found that my favoring or not favoring an author’s books and stories does not correlate highly with my finding
    them to be nice and interesting people. /De gustibus./ I can think of a couple whom I look forward to seeing each year whose books
    I’ve not cared for — and some whom I’ve never read at all. (Often due to a subgenre that isn’t high on my list, coupled with a lack
    of time.) On the other hand, sometimes an author has convinced me to check out his or her books, and I am hooked.

  9. Maria Says:

    CBI – I know what you mean about favoring an author does not neccessarily make them nice or interesting. I have found, in both big and small conventions, that I have become a fan of some authors/actors/artists based on meeting them the first time (having not known of them before). And similarly, when I’ve come across arrogant, self-absorbed authors/actors/artists I tend not to watch/read/purchase their works ever again.

  10. Alan Robson Says:

    Well since Jane and I first met at a con lo! these many years ago it’s obvious which side of the coin I come down on. I’ve been attending cons for more than 40 years, both large and small. I’ve been to 5 worldcons. And as far as I am concerned the smaller the con, the better it is. I’m lucky to live in New Zealand — all our cons are small cons.

    And I’ve had largely positive experiences with the guests of honour. Most people are just people — and even some of the authors with terrible reputations have, in my experience, generally proved to be perfectly nice. If you are polite and friendly, they will be polite and friendly as well. They just don’t suffer fools gladly, and why should they?


    -Alan

  11. janelindskold Says:

    Ah, yes… Meeting authors…

    That’s such a complex one, I think I’ll respond on Wednesday!

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