written by David Wyatt
At most science fiction conventions, there will be a dealer's room where books, games, swords, jewelry, t-shirts and almost everything else can be purchased.
The Art Show exhibits all submitted works by artists from the best pros to rank amateurs. Most pieces are available for purchase and professionals usually offer lithographs or photo prints. The work can be very good, and not all the art is visual. Purchases are made by writing your name and a 'bid' on a sheet attached near the coveted piece. If multiple bids are received the art is auctioned off on Saturday night. The Art Show at Marcon takes up almost 5,000 square feet and the dealer's room is just as large.
Conventions often feature a costuming contest with celebrity judges. There are usually three or four categories, with professional (and Hollywood types do compete), amateur, rookie and child being common. The finalists will approach the stage announced, with theme music of their choice. Some really outstanding work is done here.
Often a dinner is held for the Guest of Honor, which congoers may attend by purchasing at space at the table (meal included). The Guest of Honor will say a few words, and the Toastmaster will lead a few appropriate toasts.
The Guest of Honor is expected to make a speech on Saturday night that will be well attended. He or she gets to say pretty much what they want to. These have been quite colorful, but the GoH usually does not try to anger his fans.
Conventions also offer:
- A dance where fans of the appropriate age, gender and species may congregate and socialize.
- A gaming room for gamers.
- Autograph sessions and book signings.
- Authors readings where writers read from their latest works.
- A series of organized discussion panels on all available topics.
- A con suite where drinks and munchies are provided for all con attendees. Quality varies a great deal between conventions. Context is noted for an excellent con suite with some gourmet foods provided, for other cons chips and pop may be it with all points in between.
Larger cons have a green room where Guests of Honor and panelists can meet and enjoy munchies without interacting with the attendees. The room is supposed to be used to give them a break and a place to prepare for upcoming panels, but often the food is just better.
Room parties may be put on by fans (fen in fannish vocabulary), fan groups like Barfleet, publishers, other conventions seeking attendees or people who just want to have a good time. Here's where the serious drinking takes place, and the debauchery. Panelists and Guests of Honor do drop in. But not all parties are alcoholic. Some feature chocolate and soda, both important fannish food groups.
Filksinging performers give concerts. Often the audience is invited to sing along. Although this may sound cheesy some of the people involved are well trained and very entertaining. A Tom Smith performance is well worth seeing and full of laughs. Filkers like to go until late in the night.
Science fiction conventions come in several different varieties. The largest are Megacons with Wiscon, Torcon and Marcon being among the better known. These cons cater to everyone. Attendees are in the thousands, panelists number over a hundred and they have a dozen specialized Guests of Honor who are given a free ride.
If you attend a megacon you will find a room that shows SF and fantasy films 24/7. The gaming rooms never close and even computers with net access may be provided . Panel presentations can include demonstrations of body painting or costuming techniques, scientific presentations, book discussions , how to's or pun contests. Basically, they try to be everything to everyone and often do an outstanding job of it. They are often more successful than smaller cons at getting Big Name Pros and media celebs because their size gives them money and clout. For example one year Marcon hosted Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczinsky as well as three prominent cast members.
The largest of all is the World Science Fiction convention, which as the name suggests, moves around the world. Almost everyone in the industry who can attends a worldcon, and a lot of business and business connections are made there, particularly in publishing. While a regular con lasts a weekend a worldcon lasts all week.
Relaxicons have none of that. They're all about the party. Deconpression is a good example. They don't have a guest of honor, they have a 'Ghost of Honor' who somehow never materializes. The only panel items were an erotica reading and a BDSM demonstration. The rest of the weekend was just party down.
Sericons tend to focus heavily on programming. Readercon and the Context Science Fiction convention are good examples. Both offer extensive programming and the opportunity to really meet the writers and scientists. You can spend a very busy weekend at both even if you know no one. Not that there"s no partying or other stuff, but it's less formal.
Specialty cons tend to cater to niches. Gamers, fans of comics, anime, filksinging and more tend to host them. They usually have a large dealer presence but the level of programming varies.