Top 10 Sci-Fi Conventions
by June K Williams
© Buzzy Multimedia
Sci-Fi Conventions come in many sizes and flavors. It is unfair to pit the small against the massive commercial ones so this will be broken down into the five best mega cons and the five best small cons.
To my mind this is the mother of all Sci-Fi & Fantasy conventions. Not just any Comic-Con. It is San Diego Comic-Con. A point of pilgrimage as sacred to Sci-Fi and Gamer fans as the Vatican is to Roman Catholics, Mecca is to Muslims and Murujuga is to Aborigines. So while New York, Chicago, Baltimore, Boston, Dallas and even Montreal all have conventions called ComicCon and some of them may be wonderful, none can hold a candle to the one held at the San Diego Convention Center each July. All the big guns of the entertainment industry roll out previews of the coming year’s genre films and television series. They also promote the heck out of currently airing shows and test the waters for new projects.
Actors that would not be caught dead at Science Fiction Conventions find themselves forced into panels where they usually discover it isn’t all that bad to be adored in person by thousands of people.
For those of us who are not celebrities or even all that fascinated by what most celebrities have to say there are so many things to see do and buy that it makes sense to get yourself in shape and be highly organized in order to maximize your fun. Of course those qualities can help you out with any convention and for the most part in life in general.
Many conventions offer dining guides designed to make your stay more varied than just stuffing your face at a hotel buffet. Honestly, why would you not spice things up by sampling what the local area has to offer? Along these lines Comic-Con goes much further than other conventions. There are listings of offsite events and parties that are scheduled all over town. If you are interested in any of these don’t wait till you get the convention to try to get your invitations, if you can get in. In fact 4 day passes to the 2010 convention including Preview Night are already sold out. Keep in mind it is not just those passes that include Preview Night that are sold out but also the 4 day passes alone. If you aren’t early you had better be very lucky and very well connected. Money alone is not likely to cause people to relinquish those precious reservations. Not when they have been looking forward to this all year long. Don’t be too concerned about what you will miss. As a noobie you will be hard pressed to do half of what you see on the program even without all the extra curricula activities.
The World Science Fiction Society whose purpose is to promote interest in Science Fiction began holding these conventions in 1939. This is held in a different city every year. It also travels from country to country and continent to continent but the majority of Worldcons are held in North America. As the local changes every year many regular attendees combine the convention with vacation. I for one would never travel to Japan just to attend Worldcon but add a week or so to visit Japan and maybe even a layover in Hong Kong or Hawaii on the way back and you really have my attention.
Worldcon is primarily a literary Science Fiction & Fantasy convention with a strong art showing. There will be some serious gaming in the program, a fair amount of filking*, costuming, Morris dancing, Kaffeeklatches and a few Beerklatches with people from around the world, parties of all sorts and even some small concession to the existence of media. One gets the distinct impression that Worldcon attendees look at Sci-Fi media fans as being well…less. Less than what you may ask, and to that I have never found a satisfactory answer. There are probably as many poorly written books as there are poorly crafted movies and television series. So why would people who enjoy speculative fiction balk at the idea of having tales told in a medium other than print? It’s a mystery. Bottom line with World Con is that you will have the opportunity to hear and meet a huge number of authors and artists. There are also a great many publishers, editors and literary agents in attendance. If you fancy yourself as a writer or are at least interested in the process, there will likely be panels that cover world building and character development and an opportunity to have your work critiqued by a professional. Be warned, if you have an easily bruised ego then going for a critique may not suit you. On the other hand if you are that sensitive to criticism you will never improve and have less than zero chance of getting picked up and published.
The World Science Fiction Society administers and presents the Hugo Awards at World Con. The Hugo Awards are Science Fiction’s version of the Nobel Prize or the Academy Awards. As a member of the convention you have the privilege of voting for who gets a Hugo. If you want to vote but don’t want to attend you can purchase a supporting membership that will allow you to cast your ballot. When was the last time you had a chance to have your opinion count with the exceptions of political elections and the People’s Choice awards?
Held on Labor Day weekend, this is my personal favorite in the mega con division. It has everything. What you need most to enjoy DragonCon is stamina. It started out as a comic book convention, but by now has diversified into a nearly divine weekend of music, madness and enchantment. Like the other mega cons the powers that be in genre entertainment make a strong showing to promote their works. You will find a remarkable array of guests but even if you don’t bother to go to their panels you will find more than enough to keep you occupied for four days. If you live anywhere east of the Mississippi this should be within a day’s drive and that is a big plus.
Fedcon is short for Federation Convention. It is the largest con in Europe. It is held in Bonn, Germany every spring. Initially it was a Star Trek convention but it grew over the last 18 years and now pays homage to many Science Fiction movies and series as well as a good bit of Fantasy. It is expensive. You have to pay just to enter the dealer’s room. Yikes! Money aside, there are things available for sale there that you simply don’t find elsewhere. Of course you don’t have to spend your last Euro on “stuff” when you can spend it on autographs and photo shoots with your favorite celebrity.
Fedcon offers large scale stage entertainment, musical acts and performances by its actor guests. In addition they have in my opinion the coolest stunt team show on the planet, DefCon Unlimited.
This is a bi-annual Science fiction, Horror, Toy, Model and Film expo. Its roots began with Chiller Theatre, a cult classic television series that first aired in 1964. Both Elvira Mistress of the Dark and Zacherly aka The Cool Ghoul have been closely associated with the television series and the convention. Zacherly’s association with Horror began in October 1957 when he hosted Shock Theater for WCAU in Philadelphia.
Chiller is much more than a Horror con although there is certainly a good showing of guests who have worked in that genre as authors, actors, make-up artists, costumers, illustrators and FX experts. You will also find actors that you would NEVER expect to see. Nostalgia fills the air. I’m talking about the presence of Soupy Sales, Larry Storch (F Troop) , Tippi Hedron, Betsy Palmer, Linda Blair, Linda Lovelace, June Lockhart, Penny Marshall& Cindy Williams, Robert Culp to name a few that have been guests. The folks who run this convention do a magnificent job of combining horror with nostalgia and let’s face it, that isn’t an easy thing to do.
Lunacon is a relatively small and well run convention. While it is primarily a literary con there is less of the snobbishness regarding media fans than is generally found at other literary cons. For many years it was held in the Rye Town Hilton AKA the Escher Hilton, having received that name for its unique layout. At the Escher Hilton you can be on the first floor, round the corner, and find yourself on the fourth floor. In recent years the convention was moved to a location near Newark Airport in New Jersey. I understand that it has returned to New York where it belongs. What is remarkable about this small convention is the art show. I have been at conventions 10 times as large with less than half the quality and diversity to be found at Lunacon. If you love fantasy art this is your chance not only to see it up close and personal but also have the opportunity to buy a piece or two to take home for your very own.
What the Hell Con
WTHC is run by the Guilford College Yacht Club in Greensboro N.C. The club has absolutely nothing to do with yachting and everything to do with anime, fantasy, science fiction, gaming and other fanciful pursuits. To get the real skinny on why the club goes by the name ask one of the members, the answer should amuse you. It is the epitome of what a student run convention should be like but rarely is. The students have purposely kept it from growing so much that it needs to be managed by professionals. They want it to be fun both for those who attend and those that volunteer to make it all happen. So far it has been working.
Some may question putting Shoreleave in the small convention grouping. Once a really big Star Trek convention it has now shrunk down but by no means has it lost its appeal for the fans that first started attending 30 years ago. It is a graying con although there are certainly young people who show up and even a fair amount of people with young children although I’m beginning to think there are as many grandparents as there are parents with kids. There is a remarkable balance between entertainment and education available. So whether you prefer to go to a lecture on the latest news from the Hubble Space Telescope, enroll in a workshop such as the writing one that is run by the prominent author Ann Crispin, go to the meet the pros party, be part of the audience at a Boogie Knights performance or go stargazing on the tennis courts with telescopes brought by fellow fans, you will have plenty to see and do in addition to the usual talks given by actors and autograph/photo ops found at larger cons. If you think you might enjoy the sight of Klingons shooting pool while you contemplate the wisdom of ordering a Fuzzy Navel versus a Diet Coke then go on and head to Hunt Valley MD in July.
Run by Cephid Variables, a student organization of Texas A&M University in College Station Texas. It has been around for 41 years and is the longest running student convention in the United States. Aggiecon prides itself on diversity. There is a real effort not only to celebrate science fiction and fantasy in its myriad forms but also to delve into the culture of the genre itself. Unlike some other cons they do not shy away from the more scholarly and critical aspects of SF. I don’t want to give the impression that you will find nothing but a bunch of self absorbed lectures at Aggiecon. No, this is a fun and liberating weekend of cosplay, gaming, parties, 72 hours of anime running in 2 video rooms and much more.
What would ever make you go to Lansing Michigan for Memorial Day weekend? The answer is to meet and mingle with others of your species. Into every hardcore fan’s life a bit of fan fiction will find its way. Media West is all about fan fiction in the form of zines. This is a place to party with your favorite fan fiction authors and purchase zines to fill out your collection. Throughout the hotel fans decorate their room doors with their fantasies. Sure there will still be a masquerade, an art show as well fannish music videos that would probably make certain producers turn purple in the face before they fainted. Where else would you find all of these fandoms represented? (Amelia Peabody, Babylon 5, Batman Begins/Dark Knight, Battlestar Galactica/Caprica, Big Bang Theory, Bones, Buffy, Boston Legal, Burn Notice, CSI, Castle, Dark Hunter/Sherrilyn Kenyon, Discworld, Doctor Who/Torchwood/Sara Jane Adventures, Dollhouse, Due South, Firefly, Ghost Whisperer, Ghostbusters, Harry Potter, Heroes, The Hobbitt, In Death/JD Robb, Life on Mars, LOTR, Lost, Magnificent 7, Medium, NCIS, Numb3rs, Pern/Andre Norton, Queen’s Darkness/Laurell K Hamilton, Sentinel, Smallville, Star Trek, Star Wars, Starsky & Hutch, Stargate SG1/Atlantis, Supernatural, Temeraire/Naomi Novik, True Blood, Twilight, Man from UNCLE, Watchmen and X Files)
If one of your favorite conventions was not included I’m sorry, but this is intended simply to give people a select group within each category. It is no way meant to be definitive and is entirely subjective on my part. Feel free to add to this list in remarks and let people know why you feel yours is worthy. Best of all, try to promote the con which you enjoy the most by getting out the word to those who might enjoy and enrich the con.
*Filk-Sometimes called the folk music of the future it often uses contemporary music teamed to lyrics written by and performed by fannish musicians. I say “often” uses contemporary music but many also compose their own melodys as well a lyrics and some people set they own lyric to 14th century madrigals.
by June K Williams
© Buzzy Multimedia