TT: Envisioning Stories

JANE: As you were saying last time, Alan, fan costumes aren’t necessarily restricted to costumes based on visual media.  This is absolutely true…  In fact, clever readers of these Tangents may notice that the fans who were shown last week cosplaying Sailor Moon (media) are shown cosplaying characters from a novel.


Do you have any cool examples?

ALAN: Yes I do. In 1979 the Worldcon was held in Brighton, in England. I was there, and at the masquerade (that’s what we call the formal costume contest and presentation) I saw the most breathtaking costume I’ve ever seen. A very beautiful (and very courageous) woman appeared in front of the crowd as the heroine of Robert Silverberg’s award winning novella, Nightwings. She was completely naked apart from a G-string and a huge pair of wings.  The wings were hooked across her shoulders and attached to the G-string at waist level to help balance the load.  The wings themselves were so enormous that she needed two handmaidens to support and carry them behind her. The applause for her costume was deafening, and not just because she was naked and beautiful, but because the whole effect was simply stunning. She really was the Nightwings character.

The BBC had a camera crew at that convention and you can get a glimpse of her on Youtube here.

She appears roughly 20 minutes into the film.

If you watch the whole thing, see if you can spot me. I am briefly on camera, but if you blink you’ll miss me.

JANE: I looked but I couldn’t find you, but then I’m not sure I’d recognize me from 1979, much less someone else.

ALAN: As we’ve said, the idea of dressing up to attend a convention has never really gone away.  These days all kinds of brilliant costumes are in evidence. The people who do this are called cosplayers, and often they combine their interest in costuming with a passion for live role-playing.

JANE: Did you know that the word “cosplay” is actually Japanese?  It has its roots in Japanese anime/manga fandom, and is an abbreviation of “costume/costuming play.”  Such pseudo-English words are fairly common in modern Japanese.  A few years ago, “cosplay” started being applied to costuming in general, and so made its way into English.

ALAN: That’s interesting. I didn’t know the derivation. I’d assumed it was just a Humpty Dumpty portmanteau word.

JANE:  And it is…  Just with an origin a bit more eclectic than most.

Live action roleplaying (or LARPS) started showing up around the time I was first attending conventions.  I believe that the initial impetus was related to the popularity of vampire fiction and, in particular, to a series of roleplaying games then published by White Wolf.  Vampire: the Masquerade was the first of these.  As the title indicates, the idea is that vampires live among us, masquerading as normal humans.  Therefore, the initial LARPers actually didn’t wear costumes.

However, even without costumes, they stood out at cons because they used a variety of poses to indicate whether the character was using magical abilities.  One of the most common, as I recall, was hands crossed over the chest, which meant that the person was invisible.  So you’d have these people (usually dressed in black) pacing around the convention with their arms crossed over their chests, not interacting with anyone because they were invisible.  It was, to put it mildly, surreal.

ALAN: Of course it was – this was at an SF/F con and a con is not a con without a touch of the surreal somewhere around.

JANE:  But getting back to what we were saying earlier, even leaving out those costumes where the influence may be as much media-based as from the text – for example, Harry Potter or Game of Thrones or various comic books — there are many examples of fan costumes based on novels.  Roger had numerous photos of fans costumed as characters from his Amber novels.  When Tamora Pierce came to Bubonicon, a group of fans (featured in today’s photo) did a complex group costume as characters from her Tortall universe.    I’ve even heard of fans cosplaying Firekeeper.

ALAN: Costumes can also often be thematic rather than being derived from specific literary or other media characters. So, for example, we may have cyberpunk or steampunk costumes, beeping or ejecting clouds of steam. And in these days of the fear of a zombie apocalypse, hordes of the undead are not uncommonly seen lurching around conventions.

Did you know that in 2011, Wellington City Council actually implemented a Zombie Apocalypse Plan (known as ZAP)?

JANE: Are you kidding?

ALAN: ZAP had its serious side – Wellington has regular earthquakes and, being a coastal city, is very susceptible to tsunamis. Anything that makes the populace consider the consequences of a disaster has to be a good thing, if only to force them to prepare for it by laying in supplies of food and water. And vinyl records, of course.

JANE: Vinyl records?

ALAN: Yes. ZAP suggests that the very best way to dispose of a zombie is to hurl a vinyl record at its head so that the skull is pierced through and through.

One councillor commented that it was about time the city had an effective zombie policy. “We haven’t had one before,” he said, “and look what happened. I’m surrounded by zombies on the council.”

Just in case any of our readers think I’m joking, information about ZAP can be found here.

JANE: I believe you, even without the link.  You wouldn’t lie to us!

In addition to costumes based on published fiction or literary themes, there are costumes based on a character from a role-playing game or from the costumer’s work-in-progress.  I always enjoy these because they’re a reminder of how many different forms the creative impulse can take.

ALAN: But as wonderful an addition to a convention as costumes can be, sometimes they can indicate an unsettling trend.  Maybe we can talk about that next time.


6 Responses to “TT: Envisioning Stories”

  1. futurespastsite Says:

    My first (of only two) WorldCons was in D.C. in 1963, but even back then there was a costume contest. I don’t think this one won, but my favorite was The Extraterrestrial Clothesline: two people with something pulled over them to simulate poles and a line in between with an eight-fingered glove, a three-cup bra, and so on. Hilarious.

  2. James Mendur Says:

    America has Zombie Preparedness, too, and for the same reason. The CDC website has not only an online blog but also posters, a graphic novel, and materials for the classroom if teachers want to teach it: .

    • CBI Says:

      One can even buy Hornady Zombie-Max ammunition, made specially for zombies. It even has a sickly-green plastic insert.

      Hornady is actually one of the quality manufacturers, and I recall at Bubonicon a few years back seeing someone with a T-shirt or something (memory fails) with the Zombie-Max logo.

      And, yes, despite the name, it is seriously quality stuff. I never bought any, but the price was reasonable and the stuff was well-made. An article about its origin can be found at .

  3. Louis Robinson Says:

    Thanks for the link. I’d forgotten that Dreamsnake won the Hugo that year; it was nice to get a glimpse of Ms McIntyre.

    And who recognised that super-advanced technology showcased at around 10 minutes? Radical, eh?

    • Louis Robinson Says:

      Oh, and Nightwings was impressive, but I have no intention of admitting that that’s what I watched the video for 😉

      There’s a very amusing photo of an incident at Seacon, which the Beeb crew either didn’t see or wasn’t interested in: a squad of Imperial Stormtroopers stopping traffic so that attendees of the Georgette Heyer Tea [in full Regency dress] could cross the street in front of the Pavillion. Saw it many years ago, in the hands of an acquaintance who attended.

      • Alan Robson Says:

        “Oh, and Nightwings was impressive, but I have no intention of admitting that that’s what I watched the video for ”

        Of course not. Perish the thought.

        It must have been the year for nakedness. Another entrant in the masquerade that year was a British fan called Brian Burgess. He was a somewhat fat and floppy man. He came on stage dressed in nothing but grey, shattered underpants, He stomped around for a time, haranguing the audience in Martian and threatening them with a plastic ray gun. He left the stage to a huge round of applause.

        “…so that attendees of the Georgette Heyer Tea [in full Regency dress] could cross the street in front of the Pavillion”

        I remember the Georgette Heyer Tea but I didn’t know about the road crossing incident. Thanks for that information.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: