Science fiction conventions are gatherings of the community of fans (called science fiction fandom) of various forms of speculative fiction including science fiction and fantasy. Historically the focus has been on the written form rather than audiovisual media representations, but this has broadened to include all forms of storytelling. People in attendance at a science fiction convention are traditionally known as members of the convention; invited celebrities including authors are commonly known as guests of the convention, though many professionals including authors will simply attend as members.
History of science fiction conventions
The precise time and place of the first science fiction convention is a matter of some dispute. Sometime in 1936, a group of British fans made plans to have an organized get-together, with a planned program of events, in a public function space, in early 1937. On October 22, 1936, however, a group of six or seven fans from New York City, including David Kyle and Frederik Pohl, travelled by train down to Philadelphia, where they visited for several hours with a similar number of local fans at the house of Milton A Rothman, declaring the event the first science fiction convention.
On January 3, 1937, the British fans held their long-planned event at the Theosophical Hall in Leeds. Around twenty fans, including Eric Frank Russell and Arthur C. Clarke, were in attendance. To this day, many fan historians — especially those in the United Kingdom — complain that the Philadelphia meeting was a convention in name only; while other fan historians point out that many similar gatherings since then have been called “conventions” without eliciting any disagreement.
Nevertheless, by 1939, American fans had organized sufficiently to hold, in conjunction with the 1939 World’s Fair, the first “World Science Fiction Convention,” in New York City. Subsequent conventions were held in Chicago in 1940 and Denver in 1941. Like many cultural events, it was suspended during World War II. Conventions resumed in 1946 with the hosting of the World Science Fiction Convention in Los Angeles, California. The first Worldcon held outside the United States was Torcon I in Toronto in 1948; since then, Worldcons have been held in Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, and in 2007, Japan, although the majority of Worldcons are still held within the United States.
Types of conventions
Since the first conventions in the late 1930s, such as the first Worldcon, hundreds of local and regional science fiction conventions have sprung up around the world either as one-time or annual events. At these conventions, fans of science fiction come together with the professional writers, artists, and filmmakers in the genre to discuss its many aspects. Some cities have a number of science fiction conventions, as well as a number of special interest conventions for anime, media, or other related groups. Some conventions move from city to city, serving a particular country, region, or special interest across. Nearly every weekend of the year now has at least one convention somewhere and some conventions are held on holiday weekends where four or more days can be devoted to events.
World Science Fiction Convention,
Worldcon, or more formally The World Science Fiction Convention, is a science fiction convention held each year since 1939 (except for the years 1942 through 1945, during World War II). It is the annual convention of the World Science Fiction Society (or WSFS). The members of each Worldcon are the members of WSFS and vote both to select the site of the Worldcon two years later and to select the winners of the Hugo Awards, which are presented at the convention.
Eurocon is an annual science fiction convention held in Europe. The organising committee of each Eurocon is selected by vote of the participants of the two years previous event. The procedure is coordinated by the European Science Fiction Society. The first Eurocon was held in Trieste, Italy, in 1972.
List of Eurocons
1972: Trieste, Italy
1974: Grenoble, France
1976: Pozna?, Poland
1978: Brussels, Belgium
1980: Stresa, Italy
1982: Mönchengladbach, West Germany
1983: Ljubljana, Yugoslavia
1984: Brighton, United Kingdom (SeaCon’84) Guests of honour: Christopher Priest, Roger Zelazny, Pierre Barbet, Josef Nesvadba and Waldemar Kumming
1986: Zagreb, Yugoslavia (Ballcon)
1987: Montpellier, France
1988: Budapest, Hungary
1989: San Marino
1990: Fayence, France
1991: Kraków, Poland (CraCon/PolCon)
1992: Freudenstadt, Germany (FreuCon XII) Guests of honour: John Brunner, Iain Banks, Norman Spinrad and Daniel Walther
1993: Saint Helier, Jersey (Helicon) Guests of honour: John Brunner, George R. R. Martin, Karel Thole and Larry van der Putte
1994: Timi?oara, Romania Guests of honour: John Brunner, Herbert W. Franke, Joe Haldeman, Moebius, Norman Spinrad and Peter Cucska
1995: Glasgow, Scotland (Intersection, the event was also the Worldcon) Guests of honour: Samuel R. Delany, Gerry Anderson, Les Edwards and Vin¢ Clarke
1996: Vilnius, Lithuania (LithuaniCon)
1997: Dublin, Ireland (Octocon) Guest of honour: Harry Harrison
1999: Dortmund, Germany (Trinity) Guest of honour: Eric A. Stillwell
2000: Gdansk, Poland (Tricity 2000)
2001: Capidava, Romania (Atlantykron) Guests of honour: Norman Spinrad, Joe Haldeman and Ion Hobana
2002: Chotebor, Czech Republic (ParCon) Guests of honour: George R. R. Martin, Robert Holdstock, Jim Burns, Myra Cakan, Kir Bulychev, Andrzej Sapkowski, Rafa? Ziemkiewicz, Ernst Uleck, Isobel Carmody, William King, Jaroslav Velinsky, Phillipe Coriat, Ond?ej Neff, Kalus N. Frick and Martina Pilcerova
2003: Turku, Finland (Finncon) Guests of honour:: Michael Swanwick, Steve Sansweet, Karolina Bjällerstedt Mickos, Boris Hurtta, Jonathan Clements and Björn Tore Sund
2004: Plovdiv, Bulgaria (BulgaCon) Guests of honour: Robert Sheckley, Ian Watson, Sergey Lukyanenko, Andrzej Sapkowski and Patrick Gyger
2005: Glasgow, Scotland (Interaction, the event was also the Worldcon), Guests of honour: Greg Pickersgill, Christopher Priest, Robert Sheckley, Lars-Olov Strandberg and Jane Yolen
2006: Kiev, Ukraine (Portal) Guests of honour: Harry Harrison and Andrzej Sapkowski
2007: Copenhagen, Denmark Guests of honour: Anne McCaffrey, Steven Baxter, Zoran Zivkovic, David A. Hardy, Niels Dalgaard
2008: Moscow, Russia (Roscon / Interpresscon) Guests of honour: Harry Harrison, Sergey Lukyanenko
2009: Fiuggi, Italy (Deepcon 10) Guest of honour: Marina Sirtis, Ian Watson
2010: Cieszyn, Poland and Cesky Tesin, Czech Republic (PolCon/ParCon)
2011: Stockholm, Sweden
2012: Zagreb, Croatia
A national convention is held in a number of countries, usually annually. The British Eastercon is the oldest of these. National conventions are often run by or in association with a national Science fiction organization or club .
Before the age of inexpensive travel, regional conventions arose to attract fans from broad geographical areas. The oldest of these is Westercon, which rotates among regions in the western United States and Canada. Eurocon is held each year somewhere in Europe, often in eastern European countries where fandom is a new phenomenon. DeepSouthCon is held in the Southern United States, with a focus on Southern culture in science fiction.
Some conventions are focused on “media”, that is, science fiction on film and television. There are general media conventions covering a broad range of science fiction in media, such as Toronto Trek, and then there are conventions focused on a single body of work, such as “Celebration,” the official Star Wars convention, “Galaxyfest,” the yearly event in Vulcan, Alberta dedicated to Star Trek, and BotCon, the official Transformers convention. Most media conventions are commercial shows run for profit, though some are organized by fan groups similar to general science fiction conventions.
Comic and “Popular culture” conventions
From comics and media fandom, a category of “popular culture” conventions has emerged, such as Comic-Con International and Dragon*Con, featuring a wide range of “pop culture” events ranging from animation, drive-in movie theaters, old-time radio, horror movies, and cowboy celebrities. These events have become much larger than traditional SF conventions; nearly a hundred thousand people attend Comic-Con in San Diego each year. Although not all of them are commercial ventures, they tend to suffer the same drawbacks as commercial shows (long lines, overcrowding, etc.) due to the sheer size of the events.
Special interest conventions
There are many conventions focused on particular special interests within science fiction. For example, Wiscon (in addition to being the Wisconsin Science Fiction Convention) is focused on feminist SF/fantasy and gender & class issues/studies; and Diversicon is focused on human diversity of all kinds. Filking conventions such as Ohio Valley Filk Fest, FilkOntario, and GAFilk gather those interested in science fiction-related music. Costume-Con gathers people from around the world interested in mainly science fiction costuming. Penguicon combines science fiction with technology, particularly Linux and open source software. The term “relaxacon” is used for conventions which tend to be less about programming, and more about socializing within the fan community, as opposed to “sercon” [SERious CONstructive discussion of science fiction topics] conventions.
Commercial shows vs. volunteer conventions
An important distinction can be made between commercial events (often called “shows”) – those run by dedicated companies who specialize in con organization, or by local for-profit firms – and volunteer-run cons. Eurocon is of the latter type.
Usually run for profit, commercial events tend to charge for “tickets” or “admission” rather than having “memberships”. A primary focus of commercial events is meeting celebrities, such as stars of science fiction tv show and movies, anime voice actors, etc. There are frequently very long lines of people waiting for autographs at commercial events. Commercial events also tend to have less small-scale programming; panels will more often be composed of famous actors, directors, etc. on press junkets, where the panels are held in very large rooms with very high attendance. The largest cons (in terms of attendance) tend to be commercial ones. Commercial events tend to be more likely to be about comics, manga, anime, and popular visual media than volunteer cons, and they also tend to have a younger demographic, but this is not absolute by any means. Some commercial conventions have official licences from the company which producers a particular movie or TV show to run a convention about said movie or show. They have been known to aggressively go after fan-run conventions via their legal teams. One of the better-known commercial events in the US is Comic-Con International.
Volunteer cons, on the other hand, tend to be smaller in scope and more intimate in character. Panels may be more lightly attended, but fans themselves tend to take part in the panels more often. Although there are often autograph sessions, they tend to be less a focus of volunteer cons. Admission to volunteer cons is usually called “membership”, emphasizing that the fans themselves are the ones who make up the con, rather than the staff who run commercial cons. A community of fans who run such conventions has developed, and many of them share best practices and keep convention-running traditions alive, including at specialist con-running conventions such as SMOFcon.
Anatomy of a typical science fiction convention
Although wide variations exist between different conventions, there is a general pattern that most adhere to. Conventions provide a forum for fans to see first-hand and meet their favorite authors and artists. They also serve the interests of authors, editors, and other publishing professionals, providing opportunities for networking, promotion, and a convenient location for contract negotiations and other business meetings. It should be noted that at traditional science fiction conventions, there is little or no distinction made between the “pros” and the “fans.” Many professionals in the field began as fans, and may still consider themselves fans; and more than a few fans have also worked professionally or semi-professionally in the field.
Panel-led discussions, or Panels, usually fill up the daytime hours of most conventions with typically one-hour discussions of topics related to science fiction, fantasy, and fandom in general. Some conventions have well-attended, scheduled panels starting as late as midnight. Panel members (even professionals) are not customarily paid for their appearance, although many North-American conventions waive membership fees for program participants or rebate them after the convention.
Some program items are set presentations by experts. Science speakers are among the most popular program items at many conventions. Readings and “kaffeeklatsches” are program items where a single author either reads from their work or has an informal discussion with their fans.
The first night of the convention “Opening ceremonies” are often held, where organizers and marquee guests are introduced and speeches might be made. Sometimes, conventions will have a skits, musical performances, video clips, or other samples of the convention as part of the Opening Ceremonies.
A costume contest called a masquerade is often held where persons go on stage and compete for nominal prizes based on their skill in assembling and presenting genre-inspired outfits. This is truly more a “talent show” rather than the “fancy dress ball” that the term suggests (although British fandom sometimes uses the term “fancy dress”). Anime fans might refer to the masquerade as cosplay, but there are notable and subtle distinctions between the terms.
Some conventions feature award ceremonies, in which the best works and most notable individuals are recognized for their contributions to the field. Worldcon has several award ceremonies, most importantly the Hugo Awards, but also the Sidewise Award for Alternate History and other awards.
Just as art shows display the visual aspect of science fiction, many conventions include concerts or other music-oriented events as part of the convention. Often these are performances by filkers, though other musicians may also appear at a con.
A convention may have one or more auctions. The art auction is an event where the most popular items from the art show are sold to the most interested buyers at the convention. Many conventions also have auctions for charities, either formal or fannish; the latter would include auctions on behalf of TAFF (TransAtlantic Fan Fund) or DUFF (Down Under Fan Fund).
Evening entertainment often includes a combination of official and unofficial events, including concerts, dances, formal invitational dinners, and fandom-themed room parties. Additionally, other convention committees hold room parties in order to promote their own convention and to sell memberships. A bid party is a room party held to influence the choice of the location of a future convention (such as Worldcon) by advertising its advantages.
Some conventions have a closing ceremony to formally mark the end of the convention. Depending on the convention, this can be a major gathering of most of the membership, or it may be lightly attended or dispensed with entirely as members are occupied with packing up and checking out of the hotel.
Exhibits and fixed functions
A Dealers’ or Hucksters’ room is available, where merchants sell wares of interest to fans. These include books, action figures, prop replicas and t-shirts. Similarly, there is often an Art Show where genre-inspired art is displayed and usually made available for auction or purchase. Smaller conventions may simply have an informal Dealers’ Row, a section of hotel rooms from which dealers sell goods, while larger conventions may have both an official dealers’ room and an unofficial dealers’ row.
The art show is generally an open art exhibition; that is, it is open to all comers and all art submitted is exhibited for sale. This naturally leads to a wide variety of types of artwork, from professional illustrations to outsider art, with many amateur works. The subject matter is tailored to the interests of fandom, i. e. many spaceships, dragons, unicorns, vampires, cat girls etc. Art shows often permit sales by artists, which is a significant source of income for some artists.
Many conventions have video rooms in which genre-related audiovisual presentations take place, typically commercial Hollywood movies, genre television show episodes, and anime. If there are multiple media rooms, each one may have themed content. Larger conventions may also have a genuine film room, for presentation of actual movies on film instead of video.
Game Rooms are also available at some conventions for attendees to play a variety of genre games, including collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering, role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, miniatures games like Warhammer 40,000, and board games like Settlers of Catan. Easy, fast-playing card games, e.g. Apples to Apples, are popular as they don’t require a large time commitment or deep knowledge of rules, allowing casual gamers to join.
Dead dog party
Many conventions have a dead dog party in the evening of the last day of the convention, after closing ceremonies. This is the traditional winding-down party where few of the attendees are likely to have huge amounts of energy. This party is an attempt to ease people back into the real world outside of the convention and can be an effective method of warding off the depression which is often associated with the end of a major event. A dead dog party can last until the following morning.
[Edited excerpts from Wikipediahttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science_fiction_convention]