For me, moving to Las Vegas makes my life feel like a perpetual convention. Everyone comes to Las Vegas eventually, so I’m seeing a lot of friends I haven’t seen in years. Many people here wear costumes for their jobs, so I often see Spider-Man or that stupid IT clown walking down the street. The museums here, as well as the university and many bars and restaurants and bookstores sponsor talks that often replicate those talks you’d hear from guests at conventions.
And then there are the conventions. I’m heading to one tomorrow, although it’s not SF-related. The Consumer Electronics Show had more Star Trek writers as guests than the annual Star Trek convention held at the Rio this year.
But it was that convention, which I stopped at only briefly to have dinner with friends, that got me thinking. Normally, when you show up at a convention, you see convention attendees everywhere around the hotel. Granted, a large casino in Las Vegas is a lot harder to fill with attendees than a small hotel in a small city.
However, on Friday afternoon, I was a bit stunned to see only a few Klingons and about five obvious fannish types. I was a bit buoyed later that night when we brought our friends back to the hotel to see some Nevada cars with Star Trek license plates. We followed one most of the way home.
Dean and I had talked about attending the convention. We had even had that random thought—should we let them know we’ve written a lot of Star Trek novels?—but hadn’t really acted on it.
Then we talked to our friends, who are also sf writers. They were at the convention as fans, and were disappointed because, not only were there no Star Trek novelists in attendance (that they could find), but the behind-the-scenes writers—the screenwriters, the show-runners—didn’t seem to be in attendance either.
Some friends are saying that is becoming commonplace at media conventions, although the experiences of other friends seem to negate that. Those friends are going to be guests at the big comic conventions because of their writing.
So maybe it has to do with whoever is running the convention, and not the convention itself.
I used to be in the thick of convention politics. I have (had?) a lot of friends who ran conventions of all types. (Yes, I know the people who started San Diego Comic-Con.) They made a point of inviting a lot of writers. Writers were the basis of cons in the early days, not the media guests.
Although I understand the media guests. Because if I really felt like pushing my way through a crowd to see a favorite actor, I would have gone to the convention. If I were able to travel, I’d go to San Diego every year, not to be Kristine Kathryn Rusch Writer, but Kris Rusch Fan Girl. I love all the coverage, and really wouldn’t mind attending—if I were physically able.
A lot of my writer friends are complaining that sf conventions are changing. That those who attend are older or that the conventions run by younger fen are just not as interesting.
And I keep thinking about Damon Knight and Kate Wilhelm, who were about the age I am now when I met them at Clarion Writers Workshop, which was then in Michigan. The April after my Clarion, I had a reunion with the class at Minicon in Minneapolis. Damon & Kate were the Guests of Honor, and they seemed vaguely uncomfortable. Everyone talking with them was part of my generation—I was 25 at the time—and not of their generation.
I asked about it, in my silly reporterish way (I don’t mind asking the dumb question if I really want an answer), and Kate said, waving a hand dismissively, that they’d done enough conventions in their life.
Damon said that conventions just aren’t what they used to be.
Both things sounded true. But both hide the feeling that I have now.
Conventions serve a community. That community constantly changes. Sometimes it ages out, as in the case of some older conventions. And sometimes it morphs into something else, much like San Diego Comic-Con.
The new generation running it thinks they’re the most important thing ever, just like we did when we were running conventions, just like Damon Knight’s generation did when they were (inventing) sf conventions.
The world changes, and conventions change with them.
Most of my friends no longer attend conventions, either as fans or as guests. Many of my casual con friends have died or are too sick to attend. I guess some of my other con friends would consider me too sick to attend, since I can’t travel anywhere, although I feel really healthy here.
Back in the day, writers used to get their next book contract at conventions. That practice disappeared with the century. So there’s no real business reason to go, except to have fun and to meet fans, something I do enjoy.
I’m just not ready to do it here in my hometown, which is, once you get off the Strip, rather small.
I must admit, when I heard that there were no writers at the Star Trek convention, I felt relieved. I didn’t have to let the concom know I existed and that I might want to attend. I could put that little nagging thought aside.
Will I go to what is billed as the biggest Star Trek convention in the U.S. in future years? Maybe. If there’s a guest I want to see. Or if I love some of the new CBS All Access Trek series as much as I think I might.
Or maybe I’ll make do with some of these other conventions I’ve been attending, like CES, which has an entertainment section that covers things I’m interested in, like the business of entertainment, not the fannish side.
Who knows? I have the opportunity. And until then, I’ll have meals with friends traveling through, get my panel fix at the museums (including the Atomic Testing Museum which has a heck of a Star Wars Day program), and watch the locals practice cosplay for employment purposes.
I won’t get to meet a lot of readers, which is a bummer, but they can contact me via the internet, something that couldn’t be done back when I saw Damon & Kate at Minicon so long ago.
The world has changed a lot since I first came into fandom. It shouldn’t be a surprise that conventions have changed as well. After all, conventions reflect the needs of their community. And the community needs different things in 2019 than it did in the 1980s.
The conventions that know that are the ones that will thrive. The ones that keep doing the same thing the same old way are the ones that are dying off.
I miss the old ways. I do. But I love this new world we find ourselves in, with instant access and sf flooding the media in ways that it never did thirty years ago.
So I’ll take the change. It’s better. Even if some people don’t like it.