This post is the second in a series I’m writing about Science Fiction Conventions. The first one, on costuming, can be found in yesterday’s entry, or under ‘Things I Love’ on the sidebar.
The next thing that conventions have that I love, is discussion panels. I’m a University girl, and so a small group discussion about a niche topic is right up my alley. At their best, panels are an amazing opportunity to talk in a small group about something you’re passionate about, with professionals and experts (often that you would never get to talk to in real life) who share their experience and expertise, and lead the discussion. They’re amazing if you have a favourite author whom you really, really, reeeeally want to ask that one special question to about their work, or if there is a specific industry, hobby or small business that you want to get into, but need more facts from the front lines in order to get started. Panels are also, in a lot of cases, just downright informative. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve come out of a panel with a list of books that I just had to check out, or a pile of new internet resources to go and read. Plus, you get an excellent reading of the opinions floating around the fandom at any given time, if that sort of thing interest you as it interests me.
Not everything is great about panels… you do get the odd one with rude people who just want to monopolize the conversation by talking about themselves, or shout critical things at the panelists because the discussion isn’t going the exact place they think it should go, and sometimes panels do get off topic… which isn’t always the most comfortable situation for either the panelists or the audience, but on the whole, panels are a wonderful way to connect with experts on subjects that you care about, and to have some illuminating discussions that you truly wouldn’t have anywhere else.
For example, one year, at Polaris, I organized a panel based on The Eye of Argon. If you haven’t read even a portion of it, please, follow that link and educate yourself as to the horrors of writing gone wrong. Since the discovery of The Eye of Argon, and its canonization as (arguably) the worst fantasy novel ever published, fans have played a little game with it at conventions. The rules of the game are simple: A group of people gather together to hear the novel read aloud. The first person in the group begins reading, and reads until they start laughing, gagging or are otherwise interrupted in the flow of their reading by some manifestation of the terribleness of the book. Once the first person falters, they pass the book to the next person in the group, and so on, hopefully until the novel is finished.
I should go on the record now, admitting that I have never, ever managed to read this book start to finish. I only know one guy who has done it, on a bet waged by me, and believe me, I was so confident that he couldn’t do it that when he won, it cost me a lot of chocolate cake. My goal, by organizing the panel, was to leverage the strength of numbers to get through this monstrosity once and for all. We started out with six people on the panel, all veteran readers, and an audience of twenty or more, and we all agreed: we would finish the book if it took all night. We started in, and we were making good headway. The panelists were managing to keep a straight face for a few pages each, and my fiance even managed to go the longest, probably about twenty pages worth, without cracking. While we read, people were piping up with MST3K-style commentary of their own, which only made the thing that much funnier.
Unfortunately, we didn’t quite make it. When the clock struck 3 am (the panel had started at 10 pm) and we still had like seventy-five more pages to finish the thing, we decided to leave off and try again another year. *Edit* (Some of the other panelists, as it has come to my attention, did manage to finish it after a bunch of people went to bed, and very good on them) We, personally, may not have made it to the end of the book, but we all had a wonderful and hilarious evening socializing with a roomful of fun new fandom people, and got to go to bed a little more wary of the dangers of too many eye-related adjectives, and quite a bit nauseous. If you love stuff that falls into the ‘so bad it’s good’ category, and want to make a few new friends, I highly suggest this activity the next time you’re with your fellow fans. The text is free online, and accessible from the Wikipedia article linked above.
Next up… The Dealer’s Room, Socializing and Keeping It In the Fandom