My first convention was the 1968 Eastercon in Buxton, Derbyshire, in England. I was in the Army, stationed in Germany, and I saw in the Fan Calender in Galaxy or Worlds of If magazine that there was a convention coming up in a couple of months in England, so I got leave and went across to it, the first time I was ever in England. I had contacted some local fans through Dean Koontz’s fanzine, and one of them was kind enough to put me–someone he’d never met or heard of–up in his house for the night and drive me down to Buxton the next day; I think his name was Harry Nadler, although time has made my memory foggy. All the British fans were very kind to me, and I’d become friendly with the Hertsfordshire fan group in particular over the next couple of years, especially after my next convention, Eastercon 1969 in Oxford, after which I’d stay with Ella Parker in London and then Keith Bridges in Stevenage for a few days.
I can see in retrospect that the 1968 Eastercon was very small, although it was all very new and exciting to me at the time. The claim was that there were 100 people in attendance, and the chairman of the previous Eastercon walked around all throughout the convention wearing a sandwich-board that read “It’s not true. There’s only 99!” Occasionally, you’d see passing gods like John Brunner (who stood up in the hotel restaurant while I was also in there and shouted “This hotel has the worst service of any hotel West of Moscow!”) or James White, ACTUAL SCIENCE FICTION WRITERS. Who actually wrote science fiction! Whose work I’d READ! The con-thing hooked me at once as a social experience, something unlike anything I’d experienced up until then. I met my very first American SF fans there, Alex and Phyllis Eisenstein and Steve Stiles, people I’m still friendly with and still run into at cons from time to time. I had made my first (obscure) sale by then, but nobody there had ever heard of me, and I was wise enough not to brag about being a Big Shot pro; I didn’t really care that nobody knew that I was a writer, I was happy just to be there.
Conventions are important for professional networking, of course, and I used to work the room shamelessly when I was a magazine editor, nagging people for stories. I’ve also gotten work through networking at conventions. What conventions are most important as, though, are as social mixing-bowls. As a working-class kid with little formal education, and no contact with the academic world, I don’t see where I’d ever have met actual writers if it wasn’t for conventions; most people I know in the everyday world, outside the SF world, have never even seen a writer, let alone met one or had a chance to become friendly with one. And yet, conventions let me meet everybody, or more or less even ground thanks to the socially leveling effect of us all being science fiction fans and readers. To this day, most of my closest friends are people that I met at conventions.
After forty plus years of fandom, I’ve heard panels on every panel topic there is, and participated in most of them, so I rarely go to panels anymore, unless I’m scheduled to be on them. I spend most of my time in the bar, or having breakfast/lunch/dinner with friends, occasionally going to a room party. Panels may be the place where you show your flag to the book-buying public, but every pro knows that the real action, and the real place to be, is in the bar.
The bar at the cons I’ve been to were like the area just around the stage at Woodstock: impossible to get into, and after a while, unbearably intense. Give me the outer edges anytime.
Thankfully, without the rain.
Or the incredibly loud sound systems.
Actually, I’ve found that the bar is often the best place to have intimate conversations, usually better if you can keep it to four or five people per table.
Paul Graham Raven
And, one assumes, without the brown acid. Unless I’ve been going to the wrong cons, that is… in which case someone should set me straight. Ahem.
Or set you crooked, perhaps!
Paul Graham Raven
I’m quite sure I don’t know what you mean, Mister Dozois!
(Meet me by the sound desk in ten minutes.)
Still, very wet.
The good wet.