Science fiction conventions are multipurpose gatherings. They began because people who were drawn to certain kinds of books and stories wanted to get together with like-minded people to talk about them. This drew in the people who wrote the stories, but the way cons evolved means that the lines between writers and fans are not rigid. Given that writers are readers and writers need readers, I’ve always found that this makes for a great mix of human beings.
Many writers came up through fandom, attending cons and gradually beginning to produce their own work (or share the things they’d been doing all their lives). I began going to conventions after I got serious about writing, following the advice of those who said it was important to go to conventions to network, meet editors and agents, and promote your work.
I was never sure how to go about networking and promoting and meeting important people, though it occurs to me that, in fact, I have done it successfully. It was through going to cons and related networking that I met my primary publisher, Aqueduct Press, and also made the contacts that led to Book View Cafe. I’m still not sure what networking is, but it appears that if you go to places where people share some of your interests and talk about the things you have in common, you will find professional opportunities as well.
Over the years, I have found that at some conventions, I mostly go to readings to support my friends and find other writers whose works interest me. At others, I hang out in the bar to talk to my friends.
But my favorite cons are the ones where the organizers work to set up panels and presentations that open intellectual doors in much the same way that reading good science fiction and fantasy does. Because the con organizers take the panels seriously, so do the participants. In the modern world of quick communication, panelists often have serious conversations via email in advance, so that they have a good grip on what they want to talk about before they get there. And if the panels are well-moderated, or composed of people who pay attention to working well with others, they can be vibrant and exciting presentations that expand one’s thinking.
FOGcon, held every March in the San Francisco Bay Area, is a great example of such a convention. I went to five panels over the course of last weekend and every one of them was a wonderful experience that opened my mind and gave me ideas. I think that might be some kind of record.
I moderated two of those panels, and while I’m a good moderator, I think the panels went well because all the participants contributed good ideas while being respectful of each other. I felt no need to rein anyone in, or even much need to keep the panel moving. And the audience participation was equally good.
So I got exposed to ideas about balancing the sacred and the scientific – so good to hear from people who are not religious but have respect for the spiritual as well as for the knowledge that science can bring us. I heard about wilderness and humans, about information overload (now and in earlier times), and participated in a discussion of money and economics in science fiction and fantasy (and our future) and another on how we appreciate stories, which included a lot on fanfic and RPG games.
The FOGcon comcon deserves lots of credit for all this, but so do the guests of honor, Ada Palmer and Andrea Hairston. Both of them provided provocative ideas when they spoke and read from work that was exciting and challenging.
A lot of different kinds of ideas, brought together by the depth of discussion.
Besides me, BVC was well-represented by Kit Kerr, Marie Brennan, Dave Smeds, Chaz Brenchley, Deborah Ross, Madeleine Robins, and – all the way from the East Coast – Brenda Clough. We got together over a meal and managed some informal conversations among ourselves over the weekend.
If you are the kind of writer or reader who loves to chew on meaty ideas, I cannot recommend FOGcon highly enough. Come join us next year!