Wednesday, May 31, 2006
In my last post, I fawned over Neil Gaiman at his Balticon appearance, but there are a lot of other things to do at a science fiction convention, some geekier than others. Hopefully this will be helpful to fans and non-fans alike.
Author Presentations and Signings
The whole point of an author to go to a convention is to get a little recognition and publicity. Because of the strict timetable and scheduling of venues at a SF convention, these are usually separate events. An author will do a reading and then if his or her stature merits, a little later a signing will be scheduled into a smaller room. Neil did two signings and they were both limited in capacity. At the end of his joint talk with Peter Beagle, I raced over to get in line for the signing. The next day I overheard some people complaining about not getting in.
Peter Beagle, whom I am unfamiliar with, was doing a joint signing and had about a third as many people trying to get his autograph. Gene Wolfe was very popular as well. Additionally, lesser known authors will get a table and pigeonhole passerbys to drum up interest in their books.
Panels and Discussions
The measure of a good convention is partly the quality of the guests, but also the number and depth of the panel discussions. These take place in smaller rooms and involve two or more experts in some aspect of the field. The sessions are usually arranged in tracks around common themes such as writing, costuming or science. The sheer number available makes some triage necessary when planning a day as they often interfere with other panels and events.
The Balticon science oriented panels were particularly good. I went to one on the atmosphere of Titan presented by Dr. Tim Livengood from NASA and needless to say, Kurt Vonnegut grossly misled me about the habitability of the place. My son went to one on Quantum Mechanics and claims to have understood at least the first half of it. I also heard good things about Dr. Dinosaur.
The Dealer Room
No trip to a convention is complete without a couple of passes through the dealer room. There is usually at least one new book seller set-up and several people selling used and collectible books. It's nice to hear someone praise an author and then be able to check their books out right away. This is where I picked up two of my signing items before they went out of stock.
The other dealers sell a lot of lifestyle accessories which tends to include leather or weapons. The guy selling these beautiful reasonably priced leather Carnival-style masks warned me about taking pictures without permission. I promised him Mythical Masks a link if I blogged about him. Jewelry and theme apparel are also popular.
My wife collects penguin figurines and found a table with a large assortment of styles she didn’t have. She also bought a rather fancy dice bag. She likes using them as camera holders because they don’t raise the suspicion of security checkers at concerts and the like.
With all the line standing and waiting, there are a lot of opportunities for talking with people that will not immediately dismiss you as a dork for being interested in science fiction or gaming or other high geek activities. I was lucky enough in the Neil Gaiman line to be in the middle of a gaggle of women that defied the shampoo-deprived stereotype of female convention attendees.
I mistook one woman's regualr clothes for a costume so that was a slight faux pas. She also had a button that said “Poly, but I would probably rather read a book.” That started a brief conversation with other linestanders that I studiously avoided. Just didn’t want to go there. Another person was a three-time NaNoWriMo participant, so I held my tongue on my opinion about that as well. I also ran into one person I know professionally. At least I wasn't using yellojkt as my ID card nickname.
None of this is particularly unusual and little different from any other event catering to a particular hobby or interest that might be booked into a convention hotel or the subject of a CSI episode. So why do science fiction conventions get such a bad rap? I’ll cover some of that in my next post. Or leave me a comment about what you think the distinction is.