Sci-Fi Pros and Cons

Recently I attended the 39th Annual Leprecon in Mesa, Arizona. No, it wasn’t an Irish festival, but a science fiction convention, so named because it was originally held around March 17th. I have attended several of these events in the past, and this one was a good time as always. Unfortunately, Leprecon’s attendance seems to have fallen off in recent years, and 2013 was no exception.

As far as I can tell, these conventions haven’t changed much over the years. There are still lots of interesting people and activities. There are sci-fi and fantasy related panel discussions, signings by authors (including, this year, yours truly), a game room, dealer room and art show, and a theme dinner on Saturday night. The average age is increasing, though. Most attendees appear to be to be baby boomers or Gen X’ers. I’ve noticed a similar trend at Coppercon, which is the Phoenix area’s other annual sci-fi convention. Coppercon has been traditionally held in September, but for 2013 it will be August 8th through 11th.

It seems that these small, local gatherings are being upstaged by the mighty Phoenix Comicon (Phoenix Convention Center, Memorial Day Weekend), which has always been jam-packed with people of all ages whenever I’ve been there. Of course, it’s a fraction of size of the mother of all Comicon’s in San Diego. Contrary to its name, Comicon isn’t just about comic books; there are strong elements of science fiction, fantasy and horror in all media. In the past they’ve hosted talks by Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner, the cast of Star Trek Next Generation, and Max Brooks, author of World War Z.

Perhaps this is just part of the overall trend of consolidation, in which small stores, organizations, and events are being supplanted by larger ones with a national or international scope. Happily, there’s another side to that story. Anime (Japanese animation) conventions are now quite popular. In the Phoenix area there are at least two – Saboten-con, which is held in September and Taiyou-con in January. Here, the attendees are overwhelmingly in their teens and twenties. Of course, anime is not the sole focus; they also focus on manga (comic books) and video games. It’s not completely Japanese, either. Recently they’ve been swarmed by legions of Homestuck fans. For the benefit of you older folks, this is a wildly popular web-comic created by an American, Andrew Hussie. At anime cons you will see hordes of teenagers dressed as the Homestuck “trolls,” which involves lots of gray skin paint, rainbow-striped “horns” glued to the forehead, and t-shirts bearing zodiac signs.

This brings me to another point – at anime conventions, cosplay (costume play) is huge, as much or more so than any stereotypical Trekkie convention. Homestuck is not the only series that fans flatter by imitation. Another extremely popular theme is the anime series Hetalia, in which characters represent the different countries of the world. Older folks (myself and girlfriend included) also enjoy dressing up, especially in the “steampunk” genre. The Dark Ones, a local sci-fi-related social group, made this the theme of their biennial Dark-Con in 2012. I have not yet made it to the steampunk-oriented Wild Wild West Con in Tucson, but I’ve been hearing great things about it. Yet another costuming craze is the “furry” scene, in which people don full-body animal costumes. (Yes, you may have heard tales – or should I say “tails” – of rampant kinkiness in this group but a friend assures me that those “creepy furries” are a small minority.) Phoenix will host a “Fur Con” this October. It sounds interesting but personally, I’m too claustrophobic to want to wear a cartoon animal head for any length of time.

Despite my initial worries, I don’t think the sci-fi/fantasy convention scene is going away any time soon. It’s just changing and adapting with the times. Since my convention experience is, at the moment, confined to Arizona and Southern California, I welcome comments from my readers about their own perspectives. Are the traditional sci-fi cons dying out? Are fan gatherings with a costume-related theme on the rise? I’m quite tired of seeing only spammer-generated comments for genuine cheap imitation designer handbags, so if you’re out there, please respond!