Con is awesome, and con is weird, and con is cool.
… I’ve stared at that sentence for a while wondering what to add, but there’s too much. To me, WorldCon was a more intense, vaster version of the experience I have at ReaderCon and World Fantasy: constantly surrounded by people who care about the writing and reading of genre. I met people I’ve wanted to meet for years—whose work I’ve followed for decades, in some cases, and for those of you keeping track at home, I don’t go back that many decades. I broke through some old-school inveterate shyness and actually introduced myself to people whose work I admired; I shared drinks with Hugo nominees and winners, cartoonists and novelists and magazine founders and screenwriters and editors and Redditors and fans. I met new writers from China, and if all goes well I’m actually going to start translating some stories from Chinese—something I should have done a long, long time ago but always held back on for lack of knowing the right people.
Cons are in a lot of ways like the beginning of sophomore year of college—you see people you love after long absences, and you meet a whole bunch of new people too just because of the sheer post-hiatus chaos. The social energy is palpable, and new communities are formed in the heat of compression. And these communities endure—people come back, year after year, con after con. They strain their budgets because they feel a bond with the others they’ve come to know. Some members of the group of fans who came to the first WorldCon, back in 1939, still come to this day! There are fans who predate Pearl Harbor. Think about that for a second. People who remember the year The Left Hand of Darkness was published. For whom Zelazny is a living memory—hell, for whom Fritz Leiber is a living memory. I met authors’ parents, and editors’, who’ve been coming to the con for longer than I’ve been alive. That community is powerful, and durable, and wonderful, and beyond any price. It is itself the living memory of the genre I love, and in which I’ve chosen to tell my stories. I was on a panel with Ben Bova, who told stories about John W. Campbell and a young Jerry Pournelle! There was a bridge of the original Enterprise on display—a copy made for promotional purposes when the show was first on the air! I stand in awe.
Now, community isn’t some magic word that means ‘perfect’—small farm towns can be loci of love and fellow-feeling, but they can also harbor horrors, and often, maybe most often, they do both at once. In a way the WorldCon attendee group seemed less diverse than a major media con like SDCC—there seemed to be fewer people whose skins weren’t white, for one thing. Men also outnumber women, though I don’t think SDCC does better on that score (can’t find statistics for WorldCon; San Diego Comic Con skews 60% male, vs. an average 49% in the US population). Looks like the community could do a better job of reaching out to those it claims to represent—that is, all fans everywhere, regardless of nationality, gender, or ethnic background—and exciting them enough to come to WorldCon and join in.
Age is an interesting topic here. I saw some talk today on the internet about the aging of science fiction fandom, but I don’t remember a lot of gray hair at NYCC or SDCC—in fact, with the world population aging overall I’d be surprised if the big comic/media and gaming conventions didn’t have an attendee age much lower than the national average. (This site indicates that SDCC average attendee age falls in the 16-34 bracket, so let’s be bad statisticians and take a midpoint of 25, while median US age is 36.8; I wonder what the median WorldCon attendee’s age is? It’d have to be 49 or higher to be as divergent as our super-statistically-reliable median age of SDCC attendees…) I wonder—don’t know, mind, just wonder—the extent to which perceived age difference between WorldCon and SDCC isn’t so much that the young people aren’t around as that the older folks are. Which, of course, is part of that wild and awe-inspiring living memory I mentioned before. An interesting topic for further study. Demographers, start your engines!
Anyway, all this is a sidebar to the true point. Attending SDCC and sundry I can struggle to find human beings to connect with in the mess of media; I do, and it’s a great deal of fun, but damn if I don’t feel the marketing crosshairs of a billion brands settle on me soon as I walk through the doors. That’s part of the plan, after all. We go to big media conventions to see crazy stuff and meet people, and also to walk in the presence of small gods—Lord Nintendo and Lady Legendary Pictures and Sir Lucasfilm and Lord Has of Bro. Attending WorldCon I felt more like I sat down at a large fire surrounded by very cool people, ready to chat, make friends, tell stories, share drinks. I made great friends—not least the other Campbell nominees, Mur and Chuck and Stina and their families, and David and Steve and Justin the other folks from r/fantasy, John and Patrick and the rest of the SF Signal crowd, Steve of Elitist Book Reviews, Shaun of Skiffy and Fanty, and a ton of people from Tor, and of course Valya and Nancy, and Editors Without Parallel Marco and David, and I shook hands with Howard Tayler and with Phil Foglio and John Scalzi and Saladin Ahmed and I met Elizabeth Bear and Scott Lynch in line for drinks and Elizabeth Bear said she really liked my book, like in person and spontaneously, and I hung out with Nick Mamatas and Paolo Bacigalupi and Jason Heller at an airport and I was in the nominees audience for a Campbell Award with my wife and I went to the after party and and oh god I’m going to stop now or else I’ll overload my keyboard with excitement.
Con’s awesome, and con’s weird, and con’s cool. I probably should have left it at that. If I had, I wouldn’t have missed fencing tonight, that’s for sure.