I Have the Answer, but You’re Not Going to Like It

The old guard convention-going SF/F fandom is graying. There are younger readers, but they’re a distinct minority. The meme floating around now is that the established sf/f conventions are set in their ways, insular, almost reactionary in their clinging to the glory of conventions past. There’s much discussion across the interweb tube thingies about how to attract more young readers, how the convention circuit can be more teen friendly, many a cetera. Some of it even makes sense. Most, however…

[Sarcasm mode on.]

The graying of fandom is a problem easily solved—we just turn conventions like ReaderCon into media/anime/comic conventions. Look at DragonCon. It draws 30,000+ without breaking a sweat. ComiCon, 20,000+. What’s a WorldCon go these days, 5 to 6 thousand, if we’re lucky?  I mean, it’s a nice, hopeful idea that young sf/f fans are staying away from conventions because they’re not welcome, because their elders are doing something wrong. All the conventions have to offer are the best sf/f writers in the field meeting with fans, autographing, talking to each other and their audiences about their work and the field they love. Who wants to see that?

[Sarcasm mode off]. Now we get serious.

Younger sf/f fans aren’t going to places like ReaderCon not because they’re not welcome. They’re not going because prose isn’t their medium. That’s it, and there ain’t no more. Yes, of course there are still readers. Some people are born readers, and they will be readers despite the predominant medium of the time. Thing is, for a long time prose was the dominant medium for sf/f, and that time lasted a good long while. It’s over. Fantasy and science fiction are more popular than they’ve ever been. It’s broken out into the larger culture in a big way, but the media tail has long since been wagging the print dog, and there are lots of alternatives to reading. Young fans are getting their fix from movies, from tv, from anime, and maybe even especially video games. And in cases where younger people are reading, odds are it will be something like the Harry Potter series or (more likely now) the Twilight series, and those readers aren’t necessarily SF/F  fans to start with. They’re Harry Potter or Twilight fans. Maybe some of them will broaden their horizons when their fix of their current passion isn’t forthcoming, but only some. For the vast majority, now and in the forseeable future, we may as well not exist.

So how do we turn this around?  We don’t. Back there in the sarcasm mode? I was being serious. We could do worse than convert to the DragonCon model, which in a nutshell is the entire field as it currently exists. SF/F in prose becomes a relatively small part of the whole SF/F continuum, with an almost separate convention within a convention where the writers and readers hang out, rather like the way gamers are often segregated in conventions today. We’ll continue to dwindle down to whatever the sustainable core population is and we’ll survive, and the people who read and write will still be able to find each other.

The world has changed, and we don’t “turn that around.” We deal with it. We adapt, as in “adapt or die,” because the SF/F world is no longer about us. It was once. Now it isn’t. That’s all.

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5 thoughts on “I Have the Answer, but You’re Not Going to Like It

  1. I don’t know, young people now read as much prose as ever. I think they go to anime cons because of the cosplay and stuff like that. Maybe they are more into reading prose than talking about it.

    Interesting entry. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I attended my first comics/media con a few weeks ago. It was interesting in how different its feel is from that of the cons I usually attend. I’m not sure it was my cup of tea, even though I enjoy comics and movies. Too big, maybe? I did get to meet and actually *talk* with Len Wein, creator of “Swamp Thing”. Meeting an actor is cool, but what do I talk with him/her about? I prefer talking with the *creators* myself. If my kind of con disappears, I’ll be sad, but I’m not going to start acting like Clint Eastwood in “Gran Torino” and tell the kids to get off my lawn.

  3. This is pretty much the model of CONvergence here in Minneapolis. It’s a 5K plus and growing convention that has something for everyone: anime, SF/F movies, comics, games, costuming,and yes, even Sf literature. I know the local “Old Guard” fandom doesn’t like it, but this is the future of larger conventions. On the other end in Minneapolis is 4th Street Fantasy, a small, intimate convention for readers, writers, and lovers of fantasy to have deep conversation about the genre.

  4. Readers and writers will ALWAYS be able to find each other, even if we are reduced to writing in the sand and scraping away at stones again!

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