Science Fiction Conventions 101

By | March 14, 2011

If you’re interested in writing science fiction, fantasy, or horror stories, then you’re probably already a fan of those genres. You’ve heard of conventions, those strange gatherings of geeks and nerds, but if you’ve never been to one, you most likely have a few misconceptions, or no knowledge whatsoever. My job is to correct that.

I’ve been going to conventions since I was born. That’s not an exaggeration. For many years, I only attended the convention local to my city, but in recent years I’ve been branching out. I’ve now attended conventions on both coasts of the United States and everywhere in between. This year, I’m looking at attending at least 11 conventions. So, despite regional variations in conventions, I feel confident that I can give you a good rundown of the basic elements. This will only be a brief outline: you can’t capture everything that a science fiction convention is in just one blog post.

What is a Science Fiction Convention?

There are many types of conventions – science fiction, fantasy, horror, gaming, media, anime, etc – but, in general, a science fiction convention will have bits and pieces of all of these genres under its roof. Conventions can range in size from a couple hundred people at a small regional convention to a couple thousand at a large regional convention (Minneapolis, Chicago, Los Angles, Boston, etc) to several thousand at large conventions such as the World Science Fiction Convention or DragonCon (held every year in Atlanta). Conventions are, quite simply, a gathering of geeks. We get together and talk about our favorite geeky subjects, dress up, act silly, and have parties. It’s a great time.

What Does it Cost?

In order to go to a convention, you’ll have to buy a membership, which lets you participate in all the aspects of the convention. These normally run about $50, but it depends on the size of the convention. You’ll also need to pay for a hotel room at the convention hotel, unless you live nearby and are willing to miss out on the fun opportunities staying near the action give you. Hotel rates vary, but $100 a night is a good rule of thumb (you can always split this cost with friends). Food is necessary, or course, and while it is possible to live off of the free food the convention provides, it’s not advised. And, of course, you’ll need to pay to get wherever the convention is.

What Will You Find?

Every convention has a few basics. There’s Opening and Closing Ceremonies, which officially open and close the convention, respectively. You’ll hear funny stories from the Guests of Honor and learn about the special things the convention offers. You can wander into the Dealer’s Room and peruse the items up for sale: corsets, costumes, jewelry, geeky t-shirts, books, comics, collectibles, weapons, and art. If you want more art than you can find in the Dealer’s Room, head over to the Art Show and bid on art by genre artists. There’s art to suit any geek’s appetite – starscapes, dragons, unicorns, pottery, and horror sculptures. On Saturday night, many conventions will have a Masquerade, the official costume contest of the convention. See the masters at work as they recreate costumes from TV shows and movies in impeccable detail, or catch a glimpse of an adorable five year old dressed up as Doctor Who. During the day, hit up a few Panels that interest you. A group of “experts” will talk about a predetermined topic – anything from “How to Create a Steampunk Costume” to “Which Doctor Who Companion is the Greatest?” to “Vampires or Werewolves: Who Would You Date?” to “Dr. Pepper: Elixir of Life or Just the Best Thing Ever?” to “Looking at Religion in SF Literature.” When you get hungry, swing by the Con Suite or Hospitality Suite and partake of the free food, drink, and conversation. At night, hit up the party floor for Room Parties, where fellow convention members open up the doors and serve free food and drinks. Some parties are low-key, focusing mainly on conversations; others go for an all-out experience. Either way, you’re certain to meet some fascinating people.

Who Will You Find?

The biggest draw for most conventions the Guests Of Honor. These are the “headliners” of the convention. There are four guests that nearly every convention will have. The Author Guest of Honor is an established author, such as Neil Gaiman, John Scalzi, George R.R. Martin, Tamora Pierce, or Cory Doctorow. The Artist Guest of Honor is an artist who has done a lot of high quality genre work, like Sarah Clemens, Theresa Mather, Bill Hodgson, and Nene Thomas (check their work out online – it’s amazing). The Fan Guest of Honor is a person who’s been a member of fandom for many a year (I’m talking decades), who has helped run conventions and proven themselves an all around awesome person. The Toastmaster can be another author, artist, fan, or involved in fandom in another way. My local convention has had editors of science fiction literary magazines as the Toastmaster; Iowa and Nebraska conventions often use a man named Rusty who first entered fandom when he hitchhiked to the 1941 Denver WorldCon at age 17. Other Guests of Honor are chosen at the discretion of the convention. I’ve seen conventions with a Science Guest, an Astronaut Guest, a Media Guest, and a Web Comic Guest.

What Will You Not Find?

Conventions aren’t like they’re portrayed in the movies. Yes, people will dress up, but you’re not likely to see twenty Stormtroopers at a convention or five Princess Leias, outside of media conventions. Most of the time, people are in normal street clothes (or something approximating normal). And while, yes, the entire point of a convention is the gathering of geeks, most people are socially competent. There’s the occasional crazed fanboy, but he’s the exception, not the rule.

So, get online, Google “[your city] science fiction convention,” buy a membership, and get ready to have a fabulous time.

3 thoughts on “Science Fiction Conventions 101

  1. Tia

    I just need to say, this made me smile. This is my fifth year of Con-going…And despite that I’m speaking of myself, I would say I’m pretty normal. There was one year the Con was held at the same place as a cheer leading convention…the mother held her hand over her daughter’s eyes and told her not to look at us. Funny…we felt the same way about them.

  2. Jesi Lipp Post author

    Tia – I’ve had the same experiences myself. One year, there was a wedding and a reception going on right next to our main function space. The mother of the bride looked horrified that all us “freaks” were going to be wandering around the hotel.

  3. Tia

    Probably the worse part is the prejudice~ We had a wedding party sharing the hotel, one year, and a chaperon was sitting in the lobby, getting more and more horrified as the hotel staff talked about crazy going-ons late at night…turns out it was a bunch of the wedding guests. The chaperon’s daughter, however, hasn’t been allowed back, since…

Comments are closed.