I Went to a Sci Fi Convention, and Now My To-Read List Hates Me
Hi. My name is Hebah. I’m a giant nerd. I don’t just read genre fiction shamelessly; I also attend conventions dedicated to them. And yeah, going to a ComicCon isn’t really a big deal anymore, but I go to sci fi cons, which is probably a couple steps further along the grand scale of nerddom. This year, I attended WorldCon, or the World Science Fiction Convention, a science fiction and fantasy convention established in 1939. It is home to the Hugo Awards, the longest-running science fiction award around. Attendees vote on both the Hugos and future locations, so it moves around from year to year. Like many attendees, my first WorldCon was in my hometown (Kansas City, 2016), and as commonly happens, that experience whets an appetite for more. The convention was in San Jose this year, a delightful excuse to travel.
A con can be nearly whatever experience you want it to be. Vendor halls can easily absorb hours of time and many, many dollars, between the booths selling books, collectibles, art, stickers, costuming accessories, and even tea. Want to hear authors and industry pros talk? You’ll have so many panels to choose from and only so many hours to fit them all into. Want to hang out with fellow fans in meetups and parties? Yep, you can do that too. And frankly, why not try a little of each?
A convention like WorldCon is murder for a to-read list. A quick perusal of the autograph sessions is a reminder that in deference to airline luggage limitations, you probably didn’t bring all of your favorites to be signed. Luckily, there are plenty of book vendors on hand. Sometimes you even find authors in the wild; I encountered Theodora Goss, author of The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter and European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewomen, in a booth where I was buying other books. We chatted about 19th century literature and the terrible things that happen to female characters (be still, my literature major heart!), and well, one thing led to another and I had already been planning to read them, so I might as well read a signed and personalized book… And of course I had to have my fangirl moment with Becky Chambers, whose Wayfarer books are my answer to anyone looking for positive speculative fiction. (Am I above playing the Librarian card and leading with how much I love getting authors’ books in other people’s hands? Absolutely not. I lead with it.) Author Seanan Mcguire sent me away with an autograph in my copy of Down Among the Sticks and Bones and a recommendation for Ruthanna Emrys’s Winter Tide, inspired by the Lovecraftian t-shirt I was wearing that day.
The vendor hall is far from the worst culprit in to-read list damage, though. No, that honor goes to panels. Panels can range from experts on a topic having a discussion amongst themselves to a combination of authors, bloggers, editors, and fans discussing a topic with room for audience questions and interaction. Whether I’ve chosen to attend a panel based on topic or people on it, my notes always include jotted-down titles and authors to explore. I came home and put a hold on The Sea is Ours, a collection of steampunk stories set in Southeast Asia, after hearing about it in a steampunk panel. I will always make it a point to attend a Kate Elliott panel, knowing she’ll recommend multiple things to read, both fiction and non-fiction, since she brings such a rich, anthropological perspective to her discussion. This time, she was in conversation with Hugo-winner Rebecca Roanhorse, an author doing exciting things with the intersection of fantasy and her own Native American culture; for those curious, an audience member shared the audio recording via Youtube. The hardest part of panels is hearing authors read from or talk about projects they’re working on that are sometimes months or years away from being published! I want Rebecca Roanhorse’s forthcoming foray into epic fantasy right now after hearing her talk about it. Not every panel is equal—I’ve left panels where the room was too crowded or the panel didn’t match my expectation, maximizing my time and energy for things that actually excite me.
And finally, the extroverts among us might be interested in the party aspect of conventions. I confess, partying isn't quite my speed, but for those more outgoing, WorldCon has a thriving, adjacent party scene. For those less awestruck, it can be a chance to chat socially with authors; for writers, it’s a chance to commiserate or celebrate small triumphs with others in the same boat; and for fans in general, it’s a chance to socialize out of the traffic of the con itself. I attended exactly one party, the launch party for Mary Robinette Kowal’s newest book, The Fated Sky. It was a who’s-who sort of event, with editors I recognized and even Hugo winner Sarah Gailey, all company waaaay too cool for me, so I got a book signed and some swag and then ducked out of what was essentially a way-too-packed hotel suite. I mostly wanted to be able to say that I went, so I did and then left.
Overall, going to a convention can be overwhelming, especially for an introvert and especially if you go in trying to do All The Things, like every fan does the first time. The lack of normal schedule and jet lag can be exhausting. If it’s a bookish/author-oriented event like a sci fi and fantasy convention, your to-read list will probably be audibly groaning by the end of it (not unlike the back and shoulders that had to lug around all the books). But the payoff of being surrounded if only for a few days by other people excited by the same things that makes your nerdy little heart sing—whether they’re fans, writers, artists, creators, or even celebrities—is so worth it and comes with an energizing charge of its own. My love is that of all things fantasy-adjacent, but nearly any hobby or subculture has some equivalent, whether marketed as a convention, a conference, or just a meetup. I encourage everyone to find their meetup and connect with their tribe.