Jul 15 2008 6:26pm

We Have Readers! They Ask Questions!

Kate Mitchell, who is a very long way from here, says "I'd love to hear more about what actually goes on at cons. Because I've never actually been to one, and it's always a little mystifying hearing about them (especially with all the bizarre, shortened names)".

Actually, I had a few sweet sherries at Orbital, this year's British National SF convention (Eastercon), and accosted people with obviously fake names demanding to know why they didn't have their real name on their badge. Both Saxon Bullock and Bella Pagan explained to me patiently that these were their full real names, and Helenex explained how her badge name was straightforwardly derived from her full real name. At which point I retired embarrassed; if any of the three of you are reading this, yes, I was the clearly barmy woman and I'm sorry.

Meanwhile, a lot of people at cons use bizarre shortened names. I never have, and I don't quite understand the impulse. People might want to discuss it in comments, though as I remember this came up from time to time in the Usenet group rec.arts.sf.fandom and always generated a massive flame war. Oh well, I'm sure Tor.com has a sound moderation policy and it probably needs testing.

The nice thing about questions like 'what goes on at cons?' is that they can be answered by reference to my favourite fannish artifact, the fanzine. The convention report, or conrep, is a long-standing staple of fanzines, and it's been faithfully translated onto the internet. So you can find thousands of con reports from hundreds of cons by merely searching the web.

Let us take a specific example. Orbital, the aforementioned Eastercon, was excellent in many respects, and strikes me as being a model of what a largish British convention should be like. As a particular note in its favour, it's gathered a couple of dozen con reports together, including reports by some of the guests, and a report by one of the girls who made the giant pig puppet. If you read a few of these, you will quickly discover that a convention of a thousand people or so provides many, many different answers to the question "What actually goes on at cons?" They also have a page designed to provide a little context for people who've never attended a con before. You can also look at pictures, but I find that pictures of cons put rather more emphasis on guests and costuming than most people's experience of the con will involve.

I've written the odd con report from time to time; these days, my own experience of cons tends to revolve around finding somewhere comfortable with a supply of real ale, and settling into conversations with friends old and new.

For a glimpse into What Used to Go on at Conventions, I cannot do better than to recommend Peter Weston's fanzine Prolapse. Yes, it's very British. Americans might like to try Mimosa.

As for What Will Go On at Conventions in the Future, I have no idea.

Rich McAllister
1. k6rfm
The "short badge name" thing seemed way more prevalent at Orbital than I've seen recently at the US conventions I attend.  It was kind of a fad in US conventions in the early '70s, and a few people It does seem to be a little different than the "screen name" practice that annoyed some people (myself included) on rec.arts.sf.fandom, in that the people with the short names use those names for all fannish activity; if they pub or contribute to a fanzine, it's under that name, for example.
Another easily-accessible bunch of con reports, for Wiscon, can be found by paging thru http://wiscon.livejournal.com/ and following interesting links.   Wiscon's not exactly a "typical" convention, but looking thru this will give another set of perspectives.
Josh Storey
2. Soless
Jeff VanderMeer's "Why Should I Cut Your Throat?" also has some interesting conreps sprinkled throughout his other essays.  He manages to capture the tone and atmosphere of cons rather well.
A Davour
3. wokka
I'm trying to convince some people in my fantasy (and SF) reading group to go to a con, but while they seem to understand the point they don't seem to be attracted. They have already shown some interest in meeting with other readers and talking about fantastic literature, but going to the first con seems to be a big step. I'm not sure why, for me it was irresistible, as soon as I knew that such a thing existed close to where I lived.

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