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A Beginner’s Guide To Science Fiction Conventions, And Beyond!

Jurassic park Cosplayers from 2016 Salt Lake Comic Con Fan Xperience, one of many larger science fiction conventions, or sci-fi conventions

Obviously, you know what science fiction conventions are…or do you?

I was hearing and reading about big conventions like Comic-Con International since I was old enough to remember which of the booths at the local flea market was the one with all the comic books. I was a fairly sheltered kid, though, and being able to attend something like Comic-Con was more or less out of the question, so I didn’t think about it too much.

It wasn’t until this year, when I found out that Worldcon 75 will be held in the city where I live, that I realized…I actually don’t have a clue about what happens at these things. What would Worldcon be like? Would I even want to go? I decided it was time to put on my learning cap, take to Google, and level up my knowledge of science fiction conventions.

Size isn’t everything…and other things I learned.

The first thing my research taught me is that Comic-Con is not necessarily a good measuring stick for what science fiction conventions typically consist of. Comic-Con revolves as much around pop culture in general as it does around science fiction. It’s also become a really, really big event, drawing close to 100,000 fans annually. Many (if not most) sci-fi conventions are much, much, smaller, not unlike the first historically recognized gatherings of science fiction readers back in the 1930s.  While big can be fun, small is also good; small conventions are easier to plan, schedule, host,  and finance. Best of all, they can cater to more specific interests, which brings me to my next point:

There are science fiction conventions out there for everyone.

The first sci-fi conventions celebrated mostly literature, because, well, that’s mostly what there was. That’s changed a quite a bit since we don’t just have science fiction books anymore, but also a huge number of science fiction comics, movies, television shows, board games, video games, live-action role-playing games, and more. Realistically, there’s probably a sci-fi convention happening somewhere in the world on any given weekend.

If you’re as passionate about gender and race equality as you are about science fiction, you’ll be warmly welcomed at the Wisconsin Science Fiction Convention, or Wiscon, where there’s a focus on feminism and other social issues. Or, if celebrating the incredible spectrum of human diversity is part of your life philosophy, there’s probably no place better to do it than at…you guessed it – Diversicon!

People who like writing and performing music that relates to the world of science fiction and fantasy (an eclectic pastime called “filking,” apparently) have their own conventions, too, like the Ohio Valley Filk Fest and FilkOntario.

Can’t get enough cyberpunk in your life? You’ll never be more at home than at Penguicon, which combines a love for sci-fi and technology.

Into cosplay? Check out the annual international Costume-Con.

Trekkie? There’s a whole list of conventions for you.

Love Transformers? BotCon is for you.

Sci-fi conventions also have their own sub-categories.

You’ve got your “sercons” (gatherings where SERious and CONstructive discussion of science fiction takes place), your “relaxacons” (if you couldn’t guess, these are less about tight programs and schedules and more about laid-back socializing), your “media cons” (which celebrate “media sci-fi,” where media is defined as film and television), and your “general conventions” (little bit of everything) and more. Of course, all the above can be further classified as local, regional, national, or international conventions.

There’s another way to categorize science fiction conventions. A lot of them, especially the “mediacons” are essentially business ventures; for-profit commercial shows. Others are put on by volunteers; these, typically smaller, conventions tend to sacrifice a little bit of grandiosity for some extra intimacy. Whether a convention is organized around making money affects the type of programming (and guests) you’re likely to find there. The biggest shows, like Comic-Con and DragonCon, often have celebrities present, feature a ton of visual media, and attract a largely young crowd. Volunteer-run conventions are often more community based and feature a lot more opportunities for fans to actually participate in events.

There’s even a sci-fi convention lexicon.

Some jargon you might want to know in advance of your next science fiction convention road trip:

  • Dealers’/Hucksters’ Room – where you go to get your swag.
  • Con Suite – a room set aside for getting some refreshments and taking a load off.
  • Peace Bond – a conspicuous symbol (like a ribbon or tie) placed on anything that resembles a deadly weapon, letting you know that guy across the room isn’t a terrorist, he’s just into Gears of War cosplay.
  • Dead Dog Party – this is like a winding down party, meant to ward off the state of depression that can set in when an event you’ve looked forward to for a long time comes to an end.

Spending time with your kids, or satisfying your sci-fi itch – how do you choose? Just kidding, of course. Any of you who are parents out there know it’s not a competition – your children get first dibs on your time. Depending on how much of a science fiction nut you are, though, you might be looking for some ways to do both. In addition to scratching your own itch, you could just end up inspiring an even greater love for the genre in your offspring [Click here to read more…]

After learning what I have, I have to say that going to a science fiction convention is now on my bucket list.

Yeah, a lot of cons are sure to have their cons, if you know what I’m saying. I’m a huge fan of science fiction, but not so much of long lines, overcrowded rooms, and extremely high decibel levels that I have no control over. At the same time, there are a ton of pros, too. On top of just having a good time and embracing my weirdness, there’s a definite potential for some serious networking. You never know where you might run into the sci-fi nerd who would love to work with you on a creative project, cast you in their next short film, or just turn out to be a plain awesome person.

Now, are you really missing out if you never attend any sci-fi conventions? I’m not in a position to say just yet. Ask me again next August, after I get back from the 75th Worldcon!

Featured Image: from Sci-Fi Addicts visit to SLC Comic-Con Fan Xperience

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