Roundtable: Conventions Part II, Going Fan

Russell Letson

I feel so old. Again.

I’ve been a hanger-on forever. Our first con was the 1969 Worldcon in St. Louis, where a Charlie Brown (a Peanuts-themed-costumed fan) fell into a movie screen. I don’t think we met the actual Charles N. Brown of Locus that year, but Ginjer Buchanan (who knew my wife-to-be from college) asked us up to a PghLANGE party and tried to introduce us to Robert Silverberg. On the way across the room, we were intercepted by Harlan Ellison, who did several minutes of standup at our expense, about how freaked out the newbies must be at their First Big Con, ooh freaky! (This was 1969 and we were grad students at a huge campus full of hippies and demobbed Vietnam vets. A bunch of kids dressing and behaving strangely and smoking dope was not exactly a novelty.) We got to meet Bob properly the next year, when he was toastmaster to Harlan’s GOH at the 1970 PghLANGE in Pittsburgh, where we spent our wedding weekend. (He was as much roastmaster as toastmaster, to our satisfaction: “So–we’re not going to have Harlan Ellison to kick around any more?”)

I didn’t get back to a Worldcon until Kansas City in 1976 (Heinlein! and the famous guest of honor speech and Dorsai Irregular security), and thereafter I (and eventually my wife and I) went to every North American Worldcon and most Nasfics for nearly three decades. After the first half-dozen or so cons, you’ve seen most of the variations on the standard panels, so the main reason for attending is to schmooze and hang out. And in the 70s and 80s, the field was flush enough with publisher (and even agent) money to support some really epic parties, where we got to meet David Hartwell and the non-cartoon Charlie Brown (as he would still tolerate being called then) and all the folk to whom they introduced us. By the mid-80s, my wife was in SFWA and I’d been writing essays and reviews (partly thanks to connections made at conventions), so we didn’t feel like ordinary punters–we knew Pros! When I became a Locus reviewer, we even got to sit in the special nominee seats at some Hugo ceremonies. The apex of our fannish lives.

We finally gave up on Worldcons when the combination of scale (it’s hard to just run into old friends) and an unfriendly calendar made it all too much like work. I think the 2003 Toronto con was our last. But
we still enjoy smaller-scale events that don’t involve all the travel overhead–Minicon in particular, since it’s just down the road—and WFC those years when it’s only a drive away.

The other side of my recollections looks a lot like Gary’s (minus the hobnobbing with Star Trek celebs)–academic meetings felt rather like cons without the costumes and gamers and with a lot less logistical
overhead. I was at that Iowa SFRA–I told Brian I felt like I should kiss his ring, and he promptly proffered his hand. Ben Bova was charming. Ursula Le Guin smoked a pipe. Darko wore carpet slippers. ICFA is now the best place to get to know writers and editors just as people, though you see more flipflops than carpet slippers.

Marie Brennan

I’ve already told the tale of the first time I was on the con program, but not my Very First Con.

I was the guest coordinator for a brand-new convention.

Having never been to one in my life.

It turned out remarkably well, all things considered.  Some of the people on this list may have been to VeriCon — yeah, I helped start that one.  It was a fellow student’s brain-child, but I take credit for the name, and I was guest coordinator for the first two years.  Then I went for two years just to see friends, and then after that I was on the program myself… which got funny a few years later, when one of my successors, very considerately sending out a “basic information” e-mail to all the guests, explained to me how to pronounce “Sever Hall” and how to get there.  You bet I waved my cranky-alumna cane at him and said I could find my way across my own lawn, thankyouverymuch. 🙂

I’ll always be grateful to our guests in those first few years, though.  Tiny startup college con, operating on a budget that makes shoestrings look plump, but Margaret Weis and others came out of the goodness of their hearts, and we had a great time.  The con’s been running eleven years now, which is sort of a miracle given the inexorable turnover of an undergraduate organization.  And if you want to find cons where fandom isn’t greying, look to the colleges; they may not have read all the classics or recognize your favorite movie quotes, but they love the genre just as much as we do.

Jonathan Strahan

Conventions have been incredibly important to me over the years. My first was a local convention, Swancon, that was held back in 1986. About eighteen months earlier I’d been looking for a copy of Larry Niven’s The Integral Trees. I called every bookstore in the city and found one, a specialist bookstore called The Space Merchants. They’d just opened a few months earlier and had the book, and fans. I made friends, discovered SF and Locus, and got dragged along to the convention by some of them.

It was probably easier for me because I knew some fans before going, but attending a convention was also the same sort of welcoming/alienating experience many have reported. I don’t think I met many writers for some time. C.J. Cherryh was the guest that year and I was a huge fan of her work, but it never occurred to me to approach her. I went to the con, had fun, and pretty much ignored anything professional about it until the early 1990s.

Conventions led directly to, and continue to be integral to my editing career. It was after a Swancon that I became involved in starting a fanzine called Eidolon that become a semi-prozine.  That in turn led to me making friends with all sorts of writers and artists in the Australian community, many of whom continue to be amongst my best friends to this day. Editing Eidolon led directly to my attending my first WorldCon, ConFrancisco in 1993, where I met Marianne Jablon, now my wife, the Locus crew and many other wonderful people. I voted in and attended my first Hugo Awards (it remains true that my biggest thrills, other than meeting Marianne, were the Dealer’s Room and that I sat behind Stan Robinson at the Hugos).  Attending that WorldCon led directly to going back to San Francisco, meeting Charles Brown, working for Locus, and so on.

I do have favorite stories about conventions: times spent in bars, prying open fifth storey hotel windows so flamboyant New York editors could smoke in hotel rooms; once having two friends, one a certain New York times bestselling writer, grab me by the ankles out of a hotel elevator while I very well intentioned female fan tried to drag me into it; the time on the way home from WFC one year that we played hide-and-seek in the Calgary airport, and countless wondrous discussions.

Some time in the mid-2000s a change happened for me. For a long time Swancon, the West Australian-based convention, was my home convention. After World Fantasy in Madison in 2005, I think, I began to think of WFC as my home convention. Wherever it is, it’s the best and most fun convention I know.

3 thoughts on “Roundtable: Conventions Part II, Going Fan

  • Pingback:SF Signal: SF Tidbits for 8/12/11

  • Pingback:Why I didn’t attend the 1973 World Science Fiction Convention ‹ Scott Edelman

  • August 13, 2011 at 11:16 am

    “but every pro knows that the real action, and the real place to be, is in the bar”

    For an SF pro may be. But for more casual folk such as readers panels give a sense of where things are at and in the science programme you can (sometimes) get to see fascinating areas of exotica (especially from the solo talks) from areas outside of your own.

    Of course bar activity is a profitable use of time too, but it is a _different_ use of time.

    One of the hidden areas of pro activity at worldcons is between popular science writers and academics who network. (At normal science symposium you cannot discern who of your fellow academics read SF (though a surprising number do)… But pro- popular science writing and publishing as a topic never seems to get an airing at Worldcons (at least not the 7 I have been to over the past 30 years) so the bar is where we do that.


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