Archive for category Fan history

WORLDCON — Reflection (and also swag)

So at long last, I’m going to sit here and talk about my overall feelings about Renovation, my first impression of WorldCon, and some general thoughts on the state of SF conventions as a whole.

But before I do that I’m going to talk about the phat lewt I got at the con.

swag!

The Philip K Dick, Philip Jose Farmer, and Elizabeth Bear books were a lucky grab from somebody who just yelled FREE HARDCOVERS near the free stuff table, and also make it so I had to check my luggage. Completely worth it though.

Hounded, as it turns out, isn’t actually a very good book; the author spends the entire first chapter on an infodump, which instantly turned me off. I prefer implicit narration to explicit narration when it comes to fantasy, and I do not want you to just tell me how awesome your ten thousand year old druid is. Indeed, I’d have been more drawn in if the character’s age were never stated, just implied to be really, really old. I haven’t started reading the steampunk book yet.

The Song of Ice and Fire buttons in the upper right corner I found randomly on Sunday; they were originally handed out at the ASOIAF fan club meeting. I have… way too many of them, so I’m going to be giving them away as soon as I have the free time to actually arrange mailing them out.

Finally, the towel everything is resting on is the only souvenir I bought at the con, and well worth every penny. I mean. Look at that towel, guys. I will never leave home without it again.

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Alright, now onto the meat of this post: my feelings about WorldCon in general.

Overall? Yes, it was an interesting and excellent con. It has a very long history, and I had some excellent networking opportunities. The panels were, for the most part, interesting and engaging, and the parties provided wonderful ways to socialize. The Hugo Awards were fantastic to see and one of the highlights of the event.

But. And there are a lot of “buts.” Keep in mind when reading this that I approach this con not as an old-school SF fan but as someone who met fandom first through anime and second through media fandom and videogames. I am an outsider, I am a new-generation fan used to an entirely different convention scene. But I still think that my opinions and observations are entirely valid, and I’ll enumerate them here. Also: I still have two more SF cons to go to before I feel I’ll be able to safely say I have an idea of the spread of different types of SF cons, so my opinions may change from that as well.

First of all, the way I was hyped up for Worldcon did not live up to what I actually experienced. Everyone talked about it being the largest SF con, several oldfen warned me that I would be totally overwhelmed by all there was to do, reinforced by the program booklet and otherwise. Old stories of Worldcon talked about young starry-eyed fen’s lives being changed by this event, of them being lost and confused and ultimately welcomed into the fold as they rubbed shoulders with the greats.

The experience I had at the con itself was nothing like this.

First of all, Worldcon is not a large con at all. I was continually struck on the convention floor by how empty the place seemed, by how the convention occupied a space about five times larger than it needed to be in. Worldcon is 4000 people; I believe you could have fit 20,000 in the Reno-Sparks Convention Center (do NOT quote me on that, I don’t actually know the full capacity of the space, and I also don’t think you could do that comfortably… I just think you could do it), which in turn made me wonder why the hell the con committee had seen fit to rent such an egregiously oversized space. How much money was wasted on a convention center of that size? I saw many panel and meeting rooms go almost entirely unused at certain parts of the con, which again felt like a terrible waste of time, money, and resources.

Second, it was absolutely not worth the price in any way shape or form. Renovation’s tickets were around $200 at the door; for around a quarter of that price I could go to the Penny Arcade Expo and get a far, far better experience. “Yes,” you say, “But this is WORLDCON, not PAX! It’s DIFFERENT!!!” But what I’m saying is that the cost is prohibitive and I didn’t feel as though I was given my money’s worth at all. This event was not worth $200. Given that Worldcon moves around every year and is constantly in different locations, I could maybe see justifying $150 at-door, but as it stands the cost is absurd. You can argue the point all you like, but cost is absolutely a restrictive gateway for attendees, and doesn’t provide a particularly good return on the investment unless you are a pro. As a casual fan? This is not a con I would ever recommend.

Which in turn brings me to the social scene and a problem both myself and my friend Kevin encountered, in that we both felt terribly alienated here. It wasn’t quite as bad as my first Otakon (nothing will be that bad) but I still felt a genuine sense of displacement and, in some cases, like I wasn’t even wanted. In my case, if I mentioned my work on this blog, I would catch the interest of a few older fen, but this felt like they were only interested because they were flattered, and because they found they idea of a young fan researching fandom history almost exotic (the number of times I heard “but you’re so young!”…)

While I did make a few interesting connections at parties, these were largely with other younger fans who felt the same way — alienated and sometimes even ostracized by the larger fandom. In some ways, Worldcon felt like an old country club, full of people with their own rituals who had no interest in outsiders. I sometimes heard conversations where in the same breath as someone complaining about the “greying” of fandom they’d then complain about how the young people just didn’t get it, and were all too caught up in their animes and mangas to care about real fandom. Kevin elaborates on the feeling and his point on his own blog a bit better than I’m doing here.

SF fandom has fallen behind other fandoms. Where once Worldcon really was a giant of the con scene, the be all and end all, now it’s barely a footnote in comparison to other cons. You can go on and on about how the traveling nature makes it so much more expensive, about how the history makes it worth it, but that doesn’t change the fact that the young people aren’t coming to the con anymore, that we feel alienated and sometimes even ostracized, that the discussion isn’t as vibrant or interesting as it used to be. Frankly, I wasn’t impressed, and if it wasn’t for the fact that I need to keep going to Worldcon for my research, I wouldn’t go to Chicon next year.

This isn’t okay. For a culture to survive, it needs new blood, and Worldcon should find a way to make itself more inviting and palatable to people of my generation. Everywhere, people complain about the greying of fandom, but nothing is really done about this, nothing concrete anyway, and I get the feeling that nobody wants to do anything about it.

Now, on the flip side? It’s not like I didn’t have fun. I did. I got a lot of research done, I had some fascinating conversations, and yeah, I got to see the Hugos. I just don’t think that experience was worth the time, effort, and expense of the trip. Like I said, I’ll be doing Chicon next year, and in another two years I might do Worldcon if Orlando wins the bid (long story as to why), but that’s all the way in 2015, so who knows what I’ll be doing or feeling then.

And maybe it was just this particular con. After all, each Worldcon is very, very different from the rest, given the way they move around and are chaired by different people. Perhaps Chicon will be different, more welcoming, and more accessible. Who knows?

To conclude… to me, Worldcon feels like a fallen giant. I can see how back in the 60s, 70s, 80s, and even the early 90s it might have been a giant of fandom, the mainstay of the geek scene and the heart of all conventions, but now it feels like a fallen monarch, ousted from its glory by a combination of bigger, better, friendlier cons. I still think it’s worth going at least once, just to say you did, but it will not be a mainstay of my con stable.

(Also again, I’m sorry if this comes off as excessively bitter: I really did have a great time and really did get a lot of research done! The people who I did interact with were great. But I still had a lot of problems with the con I felt I needed to get off my chest.)

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WORLDCON

Ladies and gentlemen, I am returned from Worldcon.

Of all the cons I’ve been to thus far, this has absolutely been the most successful in terms of the information I got out of it. It wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had at a con (that’s PAXEast) nor was it the most well-organized con I’ve ever been to (… again, the award goes to PAXEast), but unlike every other convention I’ve ever seen I got a real sense of history. Worldcon has a weight to it, a sense of real history I’ve never seen at any con. Maybe it was because I got to meet the (in)famous David Kyle in person, maybe it was seeing the Hugo Awards and the most heartfelt acceptance speech I’ve ever seen anywhere ever, I’m not certain. I met a lot of people who all shoved business cards at me (and I at them!) and I hope I can remember to contact them all (seriously folks, I’m staring at this pile going WAIT… I THINK I REMEMBER YOU?)

Over the next few days, I’m going to be emailing everyone whose business cards I got and posting day-by-day con reports, starting with Thursday evening. I’ll also soon have my Kickstarter reward articles up (though those may take a while longer).

But speaking of Kickstarter: I owe pictures! Sadly I’m a pretty terrible photographer, and the con itself wasn’t all that glamorous. Worldcon stopped accepting outside sponsorships in the 50s (they used to take out large advertisements from SF publishers and magazines; now they pride themselves on being self-contained, at the expense of being one of the most expensive fan conventions in the US) so there were very few big displays, almost no hall costumers (though many steampunk outfits) and I didn’t get a chance to explore the Reno countryside.

Those of you who Pledged $10 or more on Kickstarter, please tell me what photographs you want (email me at conventioneering@gmail.com) and I’ll get them to you as soon as I can.

So, before I do anything else: THEM PICTURES!

If you’re in any of these pictures and you don’t want them up here, PLEASE email me (conventioneering@gmail.com) and let me know. Kickstarter people: Tell me which photos you want! Email, comments, whatever.

Next up: Day one of Worldcon.

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Gearing up for Renovation

It’s almost time for Renovation. Oh man. Oh god. Oh man. Oh god.

I’m pretty excited, not going to lie. I’m also pretty scared. WorldCon isn’t something I have much experience with, and this con is one I absolutely have to get good data on. Many of the panels are geared specifically towards conventions and convention history. I have to fit those in around panels on comic books, Tim Powers, and cosplay to get the stuff done for my Kickstarter. And then I still have to take some nice photographs for the donors in between.

It’s going to be a rough ride, no lies. Here’s hoping I can do it.

I’ll be keeping a daily record of my adventures as I go! So, stay tuned.

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Sam Moskowitz’s “The Immortal Storm” – a review

Hello, everyone; I’m not dead, just caught in the throes of a lazy summertime.

I recently finished the book The Immortal Storm by Sam Moskowitz. This book is a chronicle of the history of science fiction fandom in the 1930s. It happens to be the most thorough resource I’ve found thus far on the beginnings of fandom, far easier to track down than ancient fan magazines. Furthermore, while it is biased, it’s biased in a different direction than most resources of its type: most of the memoirs of early fandom (Pohl and Asimov, for instance) are firmly in the Futurian camp. Moskowitz, of course, was one of the leaders of New Fandom, the counter-resistance group to the Futurians, thus this book isn’t precisely kind to the latter. That said, my cross-referencing with other works, including primary source documents and a confession by one of the Futurians, suggests that while they weren’t the demons Moskowitz sometimes makes them out to be, they certainly were rather arrogant and entitled towards fandom as a whole.

Sadly, the book is about as dull as a sack of hammers. There’s very little about what the clubs were like in their day to day meetings, almost no physical description or even notes about the personalities of those involved. Nearly the entire first half of the work is little more than a list of fan magazines.

That said, it still remains the most comprehensive account of early fandom I’ve found thus far, and there are some real gems in it. Moskowitz’ account of the first World Science Fiction Convention is fantastic, as are his accounts of the various indignities he suffered at the hands of Donald Wollhiem – not because they’re shining unbiased accounts, but because they’re a glorious account of the infighting and backbiting that went on in fandom in those days. I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again: fandom has never changed, people have always spelled things badly, fought over irrelevant things, and gone on giant ego trips.

I think the most interesting thing I’ve discovered thus far was that Moskowitz was only 19 years old when he ran the first Worldcon. Given that, I hardly find the fact that he banned the Futurians from entering, I mean, I would have too if I was nineteen years old and had been repeatedly trolled!

I’ll be trying to take more detailed notes before I have to send this book back through Interlibrary Loan. I wish I owned a copy, but the only available ones are $50 (!) and I just don’t have that kind of cash, especially for a book I’m likely to cover with notes and highlighter. If only there was a way to make a digital annotated copy… ah well.

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Politics and Fandom

The more I research fandom in the 1930s, the more fascinated I am by how politically charged it was. This is hardly surprising considering the political climate of the time. To say that the years leading up to World War II were politically charged is like saying “Apple’s products are kind of popular” — that is, a massive understatement. On the fandom side, according to Sam Moskowitz’ book The Immortal Storm, there was a great deal of debate about the purpose of science fiction. Some believed that science fiction should exist only for the promotion of science itself, that the whole point was to encourage young people to go into careers in the sciences and thus to further the technological might of the United States. Others were less enthused with that idea and just wanted to read some good stories. Later there were the Michelists, part of the Futurians — leftist fans who put out a call for science fiction fans to take a direct stance against the forces of facism, saying that if fandom did not evolve into a true political engine it would surely die (see John B Michel’s speech Mutation or Death). This got to the point that the infamous Exclusion Act at the 1939 WorldCon was the direct result of political infighting about the Michelism; and there are even old fans to this day who still have a bit of an attitude about it.

Curiously, the fans themselves were, for the most part, socially conservative. While there were a few outliers, if you look at photographs from that time period, they all seem to be young men with a habit of dressing in white button down shirts and slacks. David Kyle’s 1998 report about his role in the Exclusion Act says as much about them – Ray Bradbury and Forrest Ackerman were the only fashion outliers, with Ray in a colorful striped shirt and Forrest arriving in costume. I’m still trying to get an angle on their inner thoughts and motivations by reading their memoirs, so I’ll report more on that later; but thus far what I’ve read fits what I’ve deduced from photographs and con reports.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that this hasn’t really changed at all. Every post in Fandom Secrets (my personal thermometer for How Fandom Is Feeling Right Now) inevitably has some sort of massive fight about some political issue or other. These days it’s often over gay rights and transgender issues, mostly from slash fans and anti-fans. Some slash fans are vocal proponents of gay rights; others, interestingly enough, violently oppose gay rights despite enjoying the genre. And again, as a friend pointed out to me, slash fans – particularly fans of ‘yaoi’, which is a particularly Japanese form of male/male slash – tend to be socially conservative, with the vast majority of their stories conforming to oddly heteronormative conceptions of relationships: one partner, the “top” or “seme” conforming to the idea of the breadwinner, the “bottom” or “uke” being the stay-at-home shrinking violet to be swept off his feet (not always true of course! There are MANY fans who outright dislike this sort of thing too).

Then there’s racewank and genderwank, aka the ongoing arguments in fandom over race in the media we consume and how that affects fandom and fan writings (such as fanfiction). There is a largely white bias in media and in fandom, and this becomes an issue of heated debate that touches upon many larger issues, such as the current immigration debates.

This in turn makes me wonder about how the political scene in, say, the 1960s and 70s played out in fandom. What kinds of fights did fandom have around Vietnam, and where was the dividing line? Were certain fans of certain media more inclined to be pro or against the whole thing? And then what about today? In the fan sites I frequent, the fans usually have a more liberal bent: they are largely pro gay rights, largely anti-fox news, largely democrats. But that’s not always the case, and the fracturing comes when the other side comes in. It’s something I’m sadly ignorant of – who are the conservative fans? Where are they? What kinds of things do they like, and what fandoms are more conservative? Which ones are more liberal?

There’ve probably been essays on this elsewhere, more intelligent than I’m capable of writing, particularly on the whole “slash and the LGBTQ community” issue (My god there’s a LOT of writing out there on slash, but not a lot on the rest of fandom – kind of a shame, because while slash is all well and good it’s hardly the be-all and end-all of what fans turn out).

So readers – your thoughts? What political fractioning have you seen in your fandoms? How do your fandoms lean? Is fandom inherently political, and are political fights inescapable? Other thoughts…?

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Old fandom – flotsam and jetsam

When you write creative nonfiction, citing your sources isn’t generally something you do. It does happen, certainly, but those citations tend to be in the backs of the books or in footnotes, sort of tangential. At least, so I’ve discovered thus far. I could be wrong, and some nice commenter could show up and slap me in the face to inform me of how wrong I am, but in the books I’ve read – yes, even the ostensible histories – most of the time you don’t have some long bibiliography done in perfect MLA or APA format.

Let me tell you, it’s liberating.

But at the same time I still feel like something’s lacking. I certainly don’t miss having to attribute every line to someone (as I had to in high school and undergrad) but then again I find fascinating stuff in my sources. There’s something about the character of these primary source documents that really changes how you look at them, quirky little asides and so on that alter perception.

This is especially true when some of my primary sources are so much fun. For example, the last section I submitted for class was on the 1939 WorldCon and the conventions leading up to it. Let me tell you, these were exciting times. These conventions were the birth of cons, and they really show both how the more things change, the more things remain the same.

The First Five were more like glorified club meetings than actual conventions. The only difference was that they involved people from out of state and a professional presence. Other than that, they seemed to involve a lot of rule-making and passing of motions (SF clubs back in the 30s were big on Passing of Motions and Seeming Important.)

And a lot of infighting.

A lot. of infighting.

I’m not going to go into too much detail here, but I will give some links to the primary sources I’m using to reconstruct these events, so you can peruse them on your own.

First, has a lot of great short articles, namely a list of conventions. These entries are pretty incomplete. I got a lot more of my information from these fanzines covering the first Worldcon, Nycon 1. The second link on that page has a more detailed summary of the first conventions in it.

For a little more information on Third Eastern, it’s best to look at it from the perspective of
Michelism, since that’s really what defined that particular con. The speech Wollhiem gave for Michel is available here. It is delightfully bombastic and wonderfully serious, with a real sense of dire emergency and an air of urgency surrounding it. Fandom was serious business, ladies and gentlemen.

Now, for the first Worldcon, the very best source is the aforementioned fanzine index, but also this official souvenir booklet. The earlier Fandom Wank link to the bit about the Exclusion act (This one!) is honestly the best source for information on that debacle.

Hopefully I’ll be able to make a more substantial entry on the early cons once I get more research done! It’s a long hard road.


In other news! I’m hoping to have more time to devote to this blog soon – right now I don’t due to classes. This summer though, I should be able to go 100%! You can expect more fun entries soon.

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