Notes from The Buffer Zone:

Fandom Changes


Kristine Kathryn Rusch


Because I live in downtown Las Vegas, I see the strangest things. Almost every window in my place overlooks different wedding chapels.

On the afternoon of May 4, I looked out one window and saw two stormtroopers loitering near the prettiest wedding chapel. I figured the stormtroopers were standing by the traffic light, waiting for it to change. It was, as the stormtrooper presence reminded me, May The Fourth (Star Wars Day: May The Fourth Be With You, for those of you late to the party.)

A bridal party came out of the chapel, men and women, all dressed in black. I didn’t see the bride or the groom, but that’s not unusual. Wedding parties often hang around outside while they’re waiting for the bride and groom to sign documents and do the indoor photo shoots.

The wedding party started talking to the stormtroopers, who moved with them toward the photo shoot part of the chapel grounds.

How cute, I thought. They’re going to invite the stormtroopers into some of the photos.

Um, no. Wrong. The stormtroopers were the couple getting married that day. They were front and center in all of the photos, including the chapel’s specialty photo which includes tossed rose petals.

The stormtroopers never took off their helmets. I have no idea what gender they were, how old they were, or anything. Just two stormtroopers, celebrating their love for each other.

While that kind of strange thing is still unusual, what’s not unusual in this neighborhood is people in costume. The transit station isn’t far from here, and neither is the Fremont Street Experience, where a lot of costumed people roam the streets and get photographed (and make money doing so).

At least once a week, I see superheroes walking to work (yes, in costume). Just before I wrote this piece, I saw Wonder Woman and Captain America get off the bus and head to their day jobs.

Gotta say I love this town.

But those random visits reminded me how different the world is these days.

Right now, a major Star Trek convention is going on in Vegas. All of the stars of Discovery are at the event, along with many survivors of the original series and stars from the other series. I toyed with going, but I’m not up for it this year. (Still moving.)

That feeling—I could go, but I’m not going to go—reminded me of my teenage years, when my folks and I went to Milwaukee to go clothes shopping before school. One year, there was a Star Trek convention not too far from our hotel.

My folks were appalled that I wanted to go. Appalled and embarrassed. I was forbidden to go near that place. My folks never forced me to read what they wanted me to read, but television was another matter. If I was watching a Trek episode in syndication or Space:1999 (which I didn’t like much, but hey, it was sf) or any other fantastical show, my parents reserved the right to change the channel with impunity.

I didn’t even have friends to complain to about this, because most of them were shocked that I liked “that junk.” When I went to my first sf convention with my friend Kevin J. Anderson when we were both in college, I was shocked to speechlessness. These were my people. They loved the same things I did. They even dressed in costume! They didn’t mind showing their love.

Back then, TV stations would come to the freak show for video of the nerds having a nerd party.

Now the stations line up to get interviews with anyone who shows up at major conventions. My streaming service has a channel dedicated to Comic Con. People on the street are in costume, for God’s sake, and no one thinks anything of it.

Pure fandom itself, the kind that remains from the old days, is having trouble with the changes. This year’s Worldcon had an utterly horrible incident that resulted in terrible treatment for the Hugo award nominees in various categories. Saner minds had to step in and fix the mess, but the damage is done.

There’s a part of fandom that has become toxic, horribly terribly toxic.

I have trouble with that. Because fandom for me was a safe place, a place to find other people like me. The crap that some idiots are pulling is breaking my fannish heart.

I know, though, that some of this is backlash to changes. Some of it is “defense” against the mainstreaming of what had been an isolated little genre. I understand that—and still hate it all.

What I do love is that the entire culture has become fandom. I don’t need to go to Worldcon to have a fannish experience. I can walk down the street and see costumed superheroes. Stormtroopers are getting married just a few blocks from me.

I can talk to a random person at the grocery store about the ending of Avengers: Infinity War. Now, when people see me with an sf book in hand, they don’t treat me like there’s something wrong with me. They ask me if I like the book, and who wrote it, and should they pick up a copy.

I love these random fannish experiences. The change is a good one. I’m glad the culture has become more accepting of the genres I love.

Shortly after I arrived here, I participated in a superhero 5K run. I went because it was a no-pressure run, and I needed to see more of the city.

I can’t tell you how humbling it is to get passed by a three-feet tall Black Panther or a Batman pushing a jogging stroller or by a 12-year-old dressed as Princess Leia. Humbling and exciting at the same time.

I no longer have to go to a convention to experience geek culture. I live in it.

We all do.