by Gail Z. Martin
If you’ve never been to a sci-fi convention, you’re missing the heart of fandom. Conventions (referred to as “cons”) are gatherings devoted to books, movies, gaming where likeminded people can get together and have a good time.
There is a con somewhere in the U.S. pretty much every weekend. On several weekends, especially Memorial Day and Labor Day, you’ll have to choose which con to attend.
Cons come in every size and flavor. Some cons are very small, with only a few hundred in attendance. These cons have a warmth and intimacy that is hard to find in larger gatherings, but depending on the culture of the sponsoring group, they may seem a little cliquish to outsiders. Small cons offer a great opportunity to get to meet other fans, have fairly in-depth conversations, and even get face time with the author and artist guests. Costuming may range from non-existent to intense, depending on the con’s focus. The vendor room at small cons may not have a wide range of goods for sale, but you’ll have the chance to talk to the vendors and learn more about the products. Small cons are usually priced inexpensively, and if you’re local and can avoid needing a hotel room, you can further reduce your costs.
Other cons are huge, like Dragon*Con in Atlanta with over 40,000 people and ComiCon in New York and San Diego with well over 100,000 fans. There’s so much going on at these cons that you won’t build a lot of new relationships. On the other hand, these cons draw major media stars, bestselling authors, and big-name artists. Costuming at the big cons is a high art, and you’ll be swiveling your head to see thousands of people who look like they just walked off the set of your favorite movie. The vendor areas are packed with a huge variety of items for sale ranging from collectible art to pricy costumes and weapons, but it can be difficult to see the merchandise for the crowds. Because the largest cons draw such a huge attendance, hotels in the area often charge premium rates. Ticket prices also reflect the scope and depth of the offerings at the event, meaning that the cost to attend the bigger events is understandably higher than for a local con.
While some conventions are multi-media events, catering to books, movies, TV, costuming and gaming, many cons focus on a single specialty. There are book-only literary cons, all-gaming cons, and cons just for media or costuming. Make sure you know the focus of the con you’re considering attending before you go so that you’re not disappointed.
If you’re a fan of the genre, you owe it to yourself to try going to a few cons just for the experience. It can be a wonderful way to discover that you’re not the only one who enjoys certain books, movies or games, and many people have forged new friendships at conventions that last for years. Give it a shot, and enjoy the experience of having your favorite stories come to life in a whole new way.