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Science Fiction Conventions
by Robert J. Sawyer
Copyright © 1999 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved
First published in The Ottawa Citizen, Sunday, November 14, 1999.
So I'm in a hotel in Los Angeles, being
Guest of Honor at a
It's the middle of January, and Toronto, where I live, is buried
under snow, and so who wouldn't want to be in sunny LaLa land?
And this kid comes up to me he's just sixteen or seventeen and
he looks at my name badge, and he says, with all the attitude he
can muster, "So, you're an author. Are you any good?"
And I think to myself, What am I doing here? I don't need this.
But I just shrug and say, "Well, some people think so I did
win the Science Fiction Writers of America's
Nebula Award for Best Novel of the
The kid shuts up, but I figure what the heck I'll ask him
what he does. And he says, "I'm a clerk at Blockbuster Video."
And I copy the surly tone he used on me, demanding, "Are you any
And he thinks about it, it's clear, for the first time in his
life, and he looks at his shoes, and says, absolutely
crestfallen, "No, not really."
Flashforward two years: another SF convention, another hotel,
another city. I've given up my weekend to be here. Sure, the
con (as SF conventions are universally known) is paying for my
hotel and meals, but there's nobody here I mean, man, it's
postapocalyptic, just a few survivors left, twenty people all
told, rattling around in a big old hotel, and three of those
twenty, they've got things that look liked cow patties glued to
their foreheads they're grown men, pretending to be Klingons
from Star Trek.
Somehow the organizers have forgotten to promote the convention:
the local SF specialty bookstore only heard about it three days
before the event, and when I run into the city's biggest-name SF
author at another convention in another city the following
weekend, he's stunned to hear that there'd just been a con in his
But you know . . .
You know, by the end of that weekend in California, the kid from
Blockbuster had bought some of my novels in the dealers' room
(the place at a con where books and merchandise are sold). And
by the end of the weekend at the other con, I'd actually gotten
to know the Klingons, and they turned out to be a lot of fun,
with a lot of interesting things to say.
Some SF conventions are magnificent a chance for a writer to
meet with his or her existing audience, and to entice new
readers. Others are less so too often these days, a
convention committee relies on what I call the Field of
Dreams philosophy: they believe that if they hold it, people
will come, without the necessity of doing vigorous publicity.
But this year alone, SF conferences have taken me to Melbourne,
Australia; Fredericton, New Brunswick; Columbus, Ohio;
Providence, Rhode Island; Barcelona, Spain; and, yes, to Ottawa,
Ontario. Indeed, traveling to SF conventions either with all
expenses paid as Guest of Honor or even just on your own
tax-deductible nickel is one of the few real perks of the
science-fiction writing game.
Winning over surly teenagers is just an added bonus.
More Good Reading
Why authors attend science-fiction conventions
Rob's upcoming convention appearances
Rob's stints at guest of honor
Comments from convention attendees about Rob
Rob's suggestions for panel topics at conventions
How to make a good impression at an SF convention
(Also see Rob's comments about why authors attend SF conventions in
Canada's The National Post newspaper, Monday, February 21, 2000, page
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Canadian SF index