Friday, August 29, 2008

Another Spin on the How I Came to Fandom Story

I somehow failed to find out that MileHiCon, the regional science fiction convention in the city I've lived near all my life, existed until I was nearly 21 years old. I knew about the local Star Trek/media convention, I knew about gaming conventions, but somehow I had completely failed to find out about the local SF book convention even though I was a dedicated reader with 1,500 books in my collection at that time. I remember once in high school hearing about the Critter Crunch, a sort of small scale robot wars, second hand from a friend and I had ideas about checking that out but I didn't actually do it. Why? I didn't know I needed it.

What got me going to conventions initially was the stars of things like Star Trek: TNG. Going to see a star is an easy sell, or at least an easier sell, to a young fan. If I had somehow heard that Arthur C. Clarke was going to be at a local convention when I was a teen you bet I would have been there. But I cannot think of many other authors that would have had that star power to draw me in. And I would have had to have heard about it. I honestly did not know a thing about it until I got drawn in by a group of fans at the art show of a gaming convention. And I went to the gaming convention specifically looking to volunteer to make friends because I was horrendously lonely living on my own. I don't think it would have occurred to me had that not been the case. A volunteer ethos for conventions was not instilled in me by things like Starfest.

And given the way that many fans are so damn off putting when talking about fandom I'm not sure I would have stayed going to MileHiCon except that I had fallen into the orbit of the Denver Area SF Association and made one of my great friendships. Rose Beetem is the reason I am in fandom. Period. Without her I likely would have wandered away long ago.

To draw in new people star power is needed. Plus advertising. And I can think of only a few name in SF and fantasy with enough star power to draw in fans at any price. Much less the typical $200 at the door price of a Worldcon. Why would a fan shell out even $40 for some big important author that they're not a fan of? When I was a teen I would have gone to a convention (if I heard about it) if the author had been Piers Anthony, Michael Crichton, or maybe Stephen King. But MileHiCon actually had Sheri S. Tepper, Steven Brust, Emma Bull, Will Shetterly, George R.R. Martin Connie Willis, SP Somtow, and Ellen Datlow in my HS years. Not that they aren't great authors (or editors), but I'm only someone who knows who they are now after I've been in fandom for many years. The only one I might have heard of was George R.R. Martin in connection with Wild Cards. And I did not come across that metaphorical handbill when I was in high school.

I probably prefer the mix of authors that our convention actually has rather than going after the sort of thing that appealed to me as a teen and still appeals to teens today. But if you want young people you need someone they've heard of and to actually tell them. Having a webpage isn't enough because no one is searching for your convention if they don't already know that such a thing exists. And I'm not the right person to answer where young people go online when they're readers... Maybe conventions need to advertise on author's blogs? I don't know.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Hugos No One Attends*

*For values of the people actually receiving the award.

Since I've never attended before and did not closely look at which authors were or were not attending the convention I thought I would see a number of authors picking up Hugo awards at the ceremony on Saturday night here in Denver. Not so and I've been given to understand this is not unusual.

In the case of both the fan awards and the dramatic presentation ones it is quite understandable. After all if you were in the movie or television biz it would mostly be a bit of a distraction from work. Meanwhile the fans are often too poor to jet off to wherever Worldcon is in a particular year so unless they're regular attendees of Worldcon or near by they're probably not going to show either. But the lack of authors at it is rather disheartening. This, much more than people talking about the graying of fandom or griping "What I liked didn't win, so the Hugos suck", shows there really is something wrong with the Hugo Awards. Authors can't even be bothered to show up when they're nominated and the odds on favorite to win the award. (I'm referring here to Michael Chabon not being there to pick up the Hugo given to for his novel The Yiddish Policemen's Union.)

By something wrong with the Hugos I mean that they're not really that important outside of the community of people who already go to Worldcon. They probably have as much value on the cover of a book as any other award (or even a made up one) rather than being something important to sales like the Oscars are to movie rentals and sales. And I don't know how this could be changed.

The usual suspect is the lack of new fresh faces at Worldcon, and I'm sure it could not hurt. Another problem is the size and profile of the World Science Fiction Society and the Hugo Awards themselves. Search for the Booker Prize or Hugo Award and you'll generally find about half as much mention of the Hugos on the net as the Booker. Assuming that the average SF reader is probably more internet savvy and likely to have a blog or webpage than the average reader of the type of literature that get the Booker that is not a good sign. So how could the Hugo be increased in profile?

I do not know.

I think that there would be more attention paid if there was more perceived value in voting or if the voters were higher profile about doing so. For example I think a few well respected and widely read bloggers writing about how and why they voted would do much to 'shine up' the award. Or if was more transparent about how and when to vote so that people who do not have the initial interest or ability to go to a World Science Fiction Convention would be blogging about it the same way they write about politics.

But this is obviously all speculation on my part. I have no hard numbers to point to that say that having more members of an online WSFS would make the Hugos more respected or not. But I would love to hear competing ideas or support.

I'll be cleaning and writing periodically for the rest of the day.