(from Scavenger's Newsletter #40, June 1987)
What are cons for? I was interested by Stuart Napier's rather
bemused article on cons in SNL #32. Seems to me that someone gave
him (or he came up with) some mistaken expectations of SF
conventions, and naturally he was hacked off when he found an event
that offered nothing much to someone with a professional
orientation to writing.
The notion that Napier started out with seems to be revealed in his
13th paragraph: "... a gathering together of fans and artists to
share thoughts on a subject of mutual interest ..."
Sorry, that isn't an SF convention. Nobody pretends that's what an
SF con is about. (Or so I thought ...) I sometimes liken SF cons to
indoor county fairs; Darrell Schweitzer has compared them to
Shriners' conventions and boat shows, combined. But a professional,
craft-oriented event seems to be what Napier expected.
As a result, he seems to be saying, "What's the point of
these events? You might just as well get ahold of books and films
by other means."
In my estimation, a large plurality -- maybe up to 40% -- of SF
fans are people who have trouble socializing. I have been in that
group and am slowly recovering from whatever was wrong.
Consequently, some social events have to be set up for these
people to manage to enjoy themselves.
The socially crippled aside, however, cons were conceived as a way
for fans to meet each other, and to meet some of the pros. SF
fandom being what it is, conventions (like other fannish
institutions) acquired an independent centre of gravity, and the
emphasis has moved away from SF ... to what? To socializing.
And I think that's okay. For pros (and fans) who are serious about
writing, and symposia about writing, there are conferences
set up for that purpose: but the word "convention usually denotes
something else. An aggrandized social event.
As it stands now, SF fandom, and its events, are only marginally
about SF. Fans are not only, not even mainly, fans of writing. What
we've got here is a leisure interest group which has evolved into
a subculture ... mainly by being so self-involved.
Since cons were first conceived, in the 1930s, it's become
relatively easier for fans to meet by other means -- there are more
pros and fans around, for starters -- and cons have grown, and
grown, and grown. World SF conventions regularly threaten to reach
attendances of 10,000. I say "threaten" because, with the rise of
mediafandom especially, there seems to be a trend toward enormous
conventions, where you can neither socialize nor discuss craft with
I'd say that for Napier's purposes, a seminar, forum, or symposium
should be fairly small -- maybe attendance should be in two digits
or less. For my purposes, I think an SF con should limit itself to
three-digit attendances. And for writing workshops, even 10 people
may be too many.
Should you think it profitable to discuss further the sociology of
writing, of readerships, and of fan groups, I think I can