Forty years ago exactly, Carol and I were there in the throngs
of MidAmericon I. The con was a celebration of Robert A.
Heinlein and (by implication) all of hard SF. It was a tremendously
popular con. The newly adult Baby Boomers were pouring into SF
and conventions by the thousands. Many people began to fret
that these enthusiastic new fans would swamp the longstanding
traditions of fandom and turn fandom into something that fandom
itself wouldn't recognize.
Never one to let a supposed crisis go to waste, con chair Ken
Keller had the concom raise prices to levels never seen before,
finally $50 at the door without an advance registration. (This
would be $211 in 2016 dollars.) Keller did something else: He tried
to pitch the con as strictly for fans of capital-S capital-F
Science Fiction, and stated pretty clearly that "fringefans" (that
is, Trekkies and gamers and media fans generally) would find the
con boring and should stay away. I don't know Keller and I'm not
sure how serious he was; it sounded like a publicity stunt even
then. Lots of people made fun of him in the runup to the
convention, myself included. I wrote several filk songs mocking
MidAmericon, and one specifically mocking Keller.
At the time I thought it was just some guy throwing his weight
around, and I doubt anybody gave much thought to the question:
What if they really do go away? Heh. Guess what? In 1987,
the first DragonCon was held. During the years since
then, Worldcon attendance wobbled around a few thousand truefen,
while DragonCon (and other media cons like ComiCon) absolutely
exploded. At this writing, media cons routinely out-pull Worldcons
by a factor of ten or more. (Sometimes a lot more.) By
2015, ComiCon San Diego had 167,000 people in attendance.
Sasquan, the 2015 Worldcon, had...3,418. 2% of ComiCon.
Alas, across these past forty years, Worldcon has become a
I've never been to a media con and I don't have first-hand
knowledge, but seeing reports from other authors, it's become
clear that media cons are not entirely superhero cosplay anymore,
if they ever were to begin with. There are programming tracks on
purely textual SF and fantasy, with author guests and signings, and
all the stuff we used to enjoy doing at Worldcons.
Ok. It took forty years, but media cons have now matured enough
and broadened their focus enough to give birth to a new award that
touches on most aspects of the creative fantastic, including
textual SF and fantasy. The Dragon Awards were presented yesterday.
list of awards has been posted on the DragonCon site. The award
is a popular-vote award rather than a juried award like the
Nebulas. It's a fan award, nominated by fans and voted on by fans.
How many fans exactly has not yet been released, though I hope
numbers will come out eventually.
What struck me as significant about the Dragon Awards is that
there are seven different categories for textual novels:
Best SF, Best Fantasy, Best YA, Best Military SFF, Best Alternate
History, Best Apocalyptic, and Best Horror. (There are, as you
might expect, Best Graphic Novel and Best Comic Book categories as
well.) There are no awards for short fiction, no art awards, and no
fan awards. I think one or two art awards would make sense, and
with some luck we'll have those someday. I'll give them some time
to get it right. This was the award's first year, after all.
Even though I'm way behind in my reading because of the Big
Move, several authors on the winners list are people I have read in
the past and much like, including the late, great Terry Pratchett,
Larry Correia, John C. Wright, and my friend Brian Niemeier. What
these four authors have in common (perhaps with others like Nick
Cole whom I've not yet read) is a knack for telling a damned fine
yarn without getting mired in identity politics or self-conscious
message pie. Furthermore, Brian Niemeier won the award as an
indie, with his self-published second novel, Souldancer.
If the Dragons are any reflection of the shape of media fandom,
one of my longstanding suspicions has been confirmed: Media fandom
is absorbing traditional SFF fandom. Traditional fandom has become
fussy, elitist, and ideologically uniform to the extent that there
is active hostility toward anyone who doesn't either salute the
progressive left or stay fastidiously quiet. This was not always
the case, and I used to count among my friends many on the left,
some of them very frank Marxists. (Some are still my friends.
Others have called me a fascist or some other damfool thing for my
Puppy sympathies and are long off my roster.) We used to have
lively discussions of various political issues at cons, and nobody
went home mad. But that was the 70s. I had hair, and fandom was
young, tolerant and diverse. It was a short time comin', and it's
been a long time gone.
At MidAmericon II last week, the concom ejected Dave Truesdale of Tangent Online
for making several panelists...uncomfortable. (Really. I am not
making this up. It's in the Code of Conduct.) I heard the audio of
his schtick and read many descriptions of the panel itself. The
schtick was funny. Yes, Dave was mocking political correctness,
just as I was mocking Ken Keller back in 1976. Keller didn't throw
me out of the con; I'm pretty sure he was too mature for that sort
of nonsense. MidAmericon II has a code of conduct so broad that it
basically allowed the concom to throw out anybody they didn't like.
Suppose I had gone to a panel moderated by John Scalzi and he made
me uncomfortable. Would they throw him out on my complaint?
Hang on. I'll stop giggling in a minute or two...
Ok. There. Whew. [Blows nose. Is glad he wasn't drinking Diet
Mountain Dew.] The point I'll close with is something we should
have learned forty years ago: If you abuse and insult people,
they will leave, and avoid you from then on. Back in 1976,
MidAmericon I insulted media fans, and little by little, they left.
More recently, SF's Insider Alphas have been insulting people who
dare question progressive orthodoxy in fantastic literature, and
those people are leaving. I didn't expect that the two groups of
exiles would converge, but that's what appears to be happening. A
young, diverse (see Sarah Hoyt's description linked to above) and
ginormous fandom is coalescing outside the fandom I grew
up with. It isn't conservative in any identifiable way. People
aren't leaving fandom because it's almost exclusively left-leaning.
(I recall it leaning strongly left forty years ago.) They're
leaving because fandom is now intolerant of dissent, and because
far too many in fandom demonize all opposition. That's not the left
wing I encountered during the Vietnam era in the '70s and once
identified with. That's just tribalism in a fandom costume.
If media cons remain at 100,000 plus attendance levels, I'll
have some issues, because crowds that big make me twitchy. However,
some interesting things are happening. The people who created
Phoenix ComiCon have created a new, smaller, and more
focused event called Phoenix Fan Fest. Its emphasis is on comic
books, and on interaction between comics creators and their fans,
with a mere 15,000 or so attendees. If the ComiCon creators can
break out comic books into their own event, why not textual SFF?
They could do it if they wanted to. Given the emergence of the
Dragon Awards, my guess is that sooner or later, they will.
At that point, the schism becomes complete: 5% of fandom will
remain grumpy and exclusionary. The other 95% will just get
together--in events both large and, well, less large--and
have fun in one another's company.
That's not a wish. That's a prophecy.