What — and who — are genre conventions for?

Just got back from Capclave, a somewhat modest but very active science fiction/fantasy convention in the Washington DC area. Looking at it as sort of a microcosm of fan-run conventions (I’m not going to count events such as ComicCon, which are run by commercial entities — those are larger and different, and somebody else can write about those), I started to wonder: What is more important to the attendees? The panels? The parties? Or just the ability to hang out and socialize with new and old friends, and with writers whom you’ve always wanted to meet?

In my case, it’s a combination of all three. I love being on panels, and exchanging views with the smart, talented people I meet on them (and yes, people on those three Capclave panels I sat on, I mean you). I also love sitting in the audience, relaxing and listening and making notes. And I like just hanging out in the bar or the lobby and chatting with folks I only see once or twice a year (and whom I otherwise might not have the chutzpah to approach because I’ve been reading their stuff for gawd knows how long).

Other people I’ve talked to come just for the parties, or just for the panels, or just for the book signings, or just for the evening events. In fact, I’ve read the blogs of people who went to the same convention I went to — say, Readercon — and have come away with the impression that we attended two completely different conventions.

Which, I’m beginning to think, is the hallmark of a good genre con — a place where a variety of people get together, find each other, enjoy themselves the way they like to, and then leave feeling they’ve accomplished something — either by learning something new, or meeting somebody new, or hanging out with friends, or a combination of all three. (Of course, some business is sometimes done as well…)

A con can’t necessarily be all things to all people, but it can be different things to different people. And that’s a good thing.

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