Have your experiences with SF Fandom been mostly positive? Negative? Some mix of the two?
The question was prompted by my recent re-reading of Harlan Ellison’s essay “Xenogenesis,” wherein he describes some of the indignities he and other SF writers have suffered at the hands of fans. (The worst anecdote: a fan throwing a cup of vomit in Alan Dean Foster’s face). Just today I was reading some of Robert Heinlein’s letters and came across this passage in a letter to his agent in re being invited to be a guest of honor at a 1959 convention:
“…while it is an honor of sorts and good publicity, science fiction fans in crowd lots can be pretty poisonous. I was guest of honor once before and, on that occasion, there were present a small group who specialized in whittling people down to size. There were so rude that I did not enjoy it.”
I’ve never been to an SF convention, and, given the horror stories I’ve heard writers tell about cons, I’m pretty ambivalent about ever going to one. Just wondering what your experience has been.
My personal experiences with fandom has been pretty positive, I have to say. I’ve been going to conventions since 2003 (when I attended Torcon 3) and in recent years I’ve averaged about six a year, with half of those being when I’m in a guest of honor slot or equivalent. In those eight years I have yet to have any fan (or any pro, for that matter) do anything untoward to me. No one’s thrown a cup of vomit on me, stiffed me on a dinner, or verbally abused me in any significant fashion.
Indeed, quite the opposite: People have brought me fan art, and gifts (many but thankfully not all relating to bacon) and it does seem wherever I go there are spontaneously appearing bottles of Coke Zero, the memory of which I, in my current state of Lenten* deprivation, particularly cherish at the moment. And I have had many excellent conversations with fans, with or without vast amounts of snark involved. Fans at conventions seem glad to see me in a general sense, for which I am appreciative. There have been some who have been unintentionally clueless, but I’ve met unintentionally clueless people outside of fandom as well, so that’s pretty much a wash.
Also, I don’t know. I know a lot of people in fandom whose primary relationship to me is not that they are a “fan” but that they’re friends, because they’re smart and interesting people who share a significant subset of the things I enjoy, and so why wouldn’t I like them as people? The fan/pro construct in science fiction is one I don’t actually have much time for, to be blunt about it. I’ve met too many people I really like to subscribe to anything approaching an “us and them” mentality when it comes to fandom.
This is not to say “oh, everybody loves me,” or that I haven’t occasionally shown my ass in a fan uproar. Some people don’t like me; I have indeed shown my ass. But the people who don’t like me don’t seem to lurk about at the conventions I attend, waiting for me to show a moment of weakness before they spring into action, cup of vile liquid in hand. I leave to others to speculate why that may be so; I’m just glad they don’t.
Nor do I worry that such an action is coming. Eight years and a few dozen convention attendances is enough to know that the vast majority of fans are not the sort to be unmitigated assholes. They’re at a convention to have fun; if you’re a writer at a convention, most of them want you to have fun, too. I’ve not read the Ellison essay referenced and therefore don’t want to gainsay his experience or likewise minimize the fact the people have done dickish things to authors. Some people really are pricks. But in my experience, at least, this is not anything close to standard practice. Maybe times have changed.
In any event, if the reason you’re not attending a convention is that you’re worried about roving bands of People Being Appalling, I’d say not to worry about it too much. Go and have a good time. It’s what I do.