Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Changing Face of Science Fiction Conventions

We're at ArmadilloCon 29 this weekend. I remember the first ones. How can it possibly be almost 30 years since the first one? And while things have changed, some of the best things remain the same.

I was introduced to science fiction when I started dating Henry . . . in the late 60's . . . (that also seems like a long time ago) Heinlein was still writing new books, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Andre Norton, Anne McCaffrey, and Larry Niven were among the writers I was reading at the time. We went to our first science fiction convention: AggieCon held every year at Texas A&M. I remember sleeping in the parking lot in our station wagon (we were poor back then.) I don't remember whether it was 1972 or 1973, but in checking Wikipedia, we were certainly there early in its history. Hard to think back so far, but at that time, we did not have VCR's or DVD players. Cable TV was in its infancy. So one of the drawing points to AggieCon was that each evening, a science fiction film was shown in the big auditorium. The films drew the aggie's to buy their membership and the science fiction fans came to meet their favorite authors. NASA always had a big presence - it was so interesting to hear what was the latest news about the space program. Some of the scientists were also fans and they always gave such interesting (and inspiring) talks. We dreamed about L-5 colonies where people would live and colonize space. Amazing that over 30 years later, we are still struggling with our presence in space. And the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) would do demonstrations outside of medeval fighting - with authentic weapons and costumes, a precursor to the Renaissance Festivals so popular today.

Back to the films, almost every science fiction had a film room going all day, with the new big SF movies shown in the evenings. There were some great and some not so great classic films - and you really could not see them anywhere else. Some of them were ones I remembered seeing as a child. The Rocky Horror Picture Show, made in 1975, became a cult classic and was shown at midnight every year at AggieCon for years.

My early memories of ArmadilloCon was the classic films that were shown . . . they weren't necessarily my favorite, or even ones that I particularly liked, but it was a major part of the programming.

At a Houston convention, I remember literally a mob scene for one of the films. We were asked to leave the film room (I don't remember the reason, but perhaps to make it fair to all the people who wanted to see this particular film.) No one went far from the door and when they let people back in, it was crushing as people were trying literally to push their way into the small room. I can understand easily how people can get crushed and hurt in such situations. We were so lucky no one got hurt that night. While we got in to see whatever film it was . . . someone called the fire marshall - and from that point on, entry was much more orderly and the quotas on how many people were allowed in the room strictly followed.

As vcr's came out, more of the old films were easier for everyone to access. But old episodes of TV shows like Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Babylon 5, Twilight Zone were still hard to get hold of. So the film rooms changed. As time went on, the horror films from Japan quietly changed to the newer anime - which is still popular in the film rooms of cons today.

But now, one can go into any video store or book store and buy many of these old classics. Or they can be ordered online. So while film is still present at cons, it is not as big a draw.

Archon still has a media guest of honor each year - someone who has starred in a science fiction film or TV series. Star Trek characters still attend various Star Trek conventions each year.

ArmadilloCon has gone from being a "bad film" festival to being an amazing literary convention. They host a highly acclaimed writer's workshop before the convention. Many of the guests of honor are now up and coming writers getting their first chance to be GOH. And this year's programing looks to be very interesting.

The dealer's rooms and the art shows are still thriving.

The friends you meet in Fandom are still there.

And it is still so much fun to hear authors talk about their work and other science fiction themes.

Yes . . . thirty years later, I still love a science fiction convention.

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