The Dream Café

Steven Brust: “A masterful storyteller of contagious glee and self-deprecating badassery” —Skyler White

Minicon and Convergence

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Most of the time on this blog I’m discussing politics or the craft of writing; I rarely have anything to say about Science Fiction fandom. But that doesn’t mean I’m not involved; I was a fan (in the “active in fandom” sense) before I was a writer, and still think of myself as very much a part of the tribe. Note that phrase, because we’ll be coming back to it.

I just got back from a wonderful time at Convergence. But an odd thing happened. As an indirect result of a complex series of events, I’ve begun to suspect I’m in a very small minority; a position I’m used to in political discussions, but not about fannish things. Here’s the short version: apparently, there is a perception of mutual hostility between elements of the convention committees of the two main regional SF conventions here, Minicon and Convergence. And it seems I’m one of very few who are both involved in the conflict and oblivious to it.

It is difficult not to assume an attitude of superiority here; the temptation is to be supercilious both on the level of, “I have more important things to be concerned about,” and, “you are all being juvenile about this.” It is tempting to be that way, but not fair. This is stuff that matters very much to a lot of people I care about. And the reason it matters to them–to us–is at the heart of the conflict. That is, it is about tribe.

Everyone involved will, no doubt, see and remember it all differently, but, as brief as I can make it, here is how it seems to me: Years ago, Minicon was a gathering of the tribes, as it were: what we think of as hard-core SF fans, plus all sorts of related (or sometimes unrelated except in the “outsider” sense) other groups coming together. It grew and grew, and pulled in people some of us, including me, didn’t like, and couldn’t feel comfortable around. The final straw for me was when a long-time fan with a major disability was rudely told to get out of the way at the consuite bar, and the word “crip” was used. And I said, “Why am I putting on a convention for these people? I put on this convention precisely so, for one weekend of the year, I can get away from people like that.”

I was part of the group that favored making Minicon drastically smaller, and that then implemented it. Whether we did it well or badly, what mistakes we did or didn’t make, isn’t the point here. What we were doing, quite consciously, was saying, “We no longer want to put together a gathering of the tribes; now we want to gather with our own tribe.” But–this is important–we knew then that there were others who wanted the big gathering, and we thought that was a good thing. I remember conversations about how we could and would encourage and help (financially, with accumulated knowledge, with loans of equipment) any other convention that wanted to pick up where Minicon left off. And to me, that is just what happened, and I’ve always been pleased about that. Like, it worked. Now there is Minicon, where I can feel safe and relaxed; and also Convergence, where I can have the old sense of exhilaration and excitement. When I walk into a Minicon, I can feel tension leave my shoulders. When I walk into a Convergence, I can feel myself smiling. At Minicon I’m safe and secure with my family; at Convergence I’m in a happy whirlwind of activity.

That someone might feel bored at one or uncomfortable at the other seems entirely reasonable, and no more worth hard feelings than whether one prefers Lord of Light or Nine Princes in Amber. I was surprised and disappointed to learn that I am supposed to pick sides, or, worse, that there are people who thought I had.

In the grand scheme of things, sure, none of this is terribly important. But then, I don’t usually live in the grand scheme of things, I live in the small scheme of things. And twice a year, I have the pleasure of attending conventions that, each in its own way, make my world better. Why shouldn’t this be enough?

skzb

Author: skzb

I play the drum.

22 Comments

  1. Thank you so much. I described seeing you get excited about meeting Amy Berg over the weekend as a very real victory condition – I was a long time fan of your books that wasn’t happy about the way the Minicon changes went about, but the results sixteen years later made me happy – we have a great local community for SF fans here in Minnesota. and I enjoy my time at every convention I have attended here this year, including Minicon, CONvergence, and Fourth Street Fantasy. You can’t change the past, but the present and future really isn’t that bad.

  2. The feel of the four “major” fan SF cons here in Minnesota are all distinctly different, and that’s a good thing. I get different things out of them..

    That said, I’ve never gone to all four in a year, yet.

  3. Which of the dozen or so do you consider the “major” ones? (And how do you define that?)

  4. skzb

    Seth: I define “major” as: More than 200 people, and I’ve been there. It’s not dozens, it’s hundreds if you include all of the conventions of all sorts. But most of them don’t cross my radar, so I don’t care about them.

  5. I (along with Jonathan) attend only Minicon, plus Minn-Stf’s fallcon by whatever name, but not out of any bad feelings. (Our younger daughter attends those and Anime Detour.) Neither one of us is a hugely “social” person, neither of us likes crowds, and fandom has never been anything remotely approaching a way of life for either of us, at least since our first kid arrived 30+ years ago. We weren’t even going to Minicon at the time the great “split” happened, because of family considerations, so we stayed on good terms with everyone.

    I’m GLAD that all the cons exist. I’m glad that they’re different, so that people can pick the atmosphere and activities they like–and if they like all of them, how fortunate for them! I understand why there were bad feelings at one time, but I am–as you appear to be–hard-pressed to understand why those would continue. And in fact there are many people who were around at the time of the “split” who go to both.

  6. The Four add I think of them would be, Minicon, Convergence, Anime Detour and Marscon. There are now others. Those might be “major” because
    They are oldest now. There are so many now, I can’t think of them all. Fourth Street, Crypticon, Britcon now there’s going to be a Manticon. Personally I don’t count Comic con because it’s not fan volunteer run. It’s there too make as much money as it can. There are still others including the Mnstf fall con that is a relaxi-con. There’s Supercon held Superbowl weekend.

    Thanks Steve for speaking on this. I appreciate it.

  7. I like the way the split resulted in multiple desirable options. I attend as many of the local cons as I can afford in terms of time, energy and cash. This year I was out of all three when Convergence came around, but I have a particular liking for it as a receptive venue for my work, with lots of fun features to enjoy. And Minicon is like home-base, full of the people with whom I have the longest-standing connections – for better or worse.

  8. Wait. You’re saying it’s okay to like two different conventions? Are you going to say it’s okay to like science fiction AND fantasy next?

    Emma and I had a great time at Convergence. It felt remarkably like big Minicons that I remember fondly. Also, Taiko drummers!

  9. There are those of us who attend ‘And’ are on concoms of MANY of the local cons.
    Marscon, MiniCon, CONvergence, Anime Detour, Diversion, BritCon, Spring/FallCon, Console, Crypticon,… sometimes in the same roll, sometimes different rolls.

    There is no us or them, for us, just different facets of fandom.

    Cons are too much fun to do it just ONE weekend a year.

  10. Yeah, like that. Good things still going on, not all of which I have to be involved with. Or even want much to be involved with; that’s okay, lots of other people do.

  11. Con of the North had 829 attendees this year, too. Diversicon usually doesn’t top 200. Hmm, can’t think of any others that are fan-run.

  12. Well said, except that it is not possible to prefer _Lord of Light_ to any of the books in the first Amber series or vice versa..

  13. Im with you Steven i made it to one Minicon back in the 80’s and the feel of it as compared to a Comiccon at the Penta in New York was a whole different dynamic. to me minicon embodied the homey feel of a group effort to bring my favorite author and other personalities such as yourself and Larry Niven who first introduced me to hard science fiction back in the early 70’s. So yes loving and enjoying 2 different cons is not only doable but my preferred method.

  14. Yeah, like this. It can be weird being in this particular small minority, especially when at conventions when you overhear (or are flat out told) things that don’t match your memories of what really went down. Nor your feelings then (or now).

    Sometimes I can sail on through a con or other fannish event without thinking of that stuff you’re talking about and be oblivious, but other times . . . not so much.

    I still get hostility from folks who don’t know the full story, maybe are simply unaware of the amount of effort Minn-StF put in to help Marscon and CONvergence get off the ground. (I try to forget the sabotage people involved with various other groups tried to pull on Minicon, mostly I think of it as isolated upset individuals doing that and try not to tar the rest of any group with that.)

    Generally I try to cut everyone a great deal of slack because it was deeply personal and difficult. The whole process hurt. Even those of us on the same “side” were at each other’s throats at times; for instance you mention wanting to make Minicon “drastically smaller” whereas I recall arguing with you and others about that because I felt it was possible the con could be sustainable and the sort of con we wanted without shrinking quite so much. We all argued a lot; it was very tiring. And, of course, mistakes were made all over the place as we’re all human and muddling through a very tough situation.

    I’ve been to CONvergence and Marscon and Diversicon and Supercon and all sorts of local cons. I always go to Minicon, too. Cons change from year to year depending on who’s running them and working on them. I’m glad so many cons exist in the Twin Cities, though now there are so many it’d be difficult to take them all in. Each have strengths and weaknesses and these things shift and change from year to year. I hope people have open minds and try the ones that sound interesting without worrying about fannish politics because, as I said, cons change and evolve. I’m always stunned when people talk of still avoiding Minicon due to the changes circa Minicon 34 because it’s mostly a whole different crowd running the con now and involved with Minn-StF and so on, some of us are still around of course but in different roles or just attending (not running things). Of course it’s also a bit refreshing (while making me feel old) that some of this stuff isn’t on people’s radar at all because their first convention came well after the aforementioned change. It’s nice when people can judge cons for what they are now without all that baggage; and of course much of your experience of a con is what you make of it.

    Rambling, sorry. How’d you keep your post as short as it is, Steve? I’m impressed.

  15. Thinking at a certain level of abstraction….

    There are times when you don’t want an organization to get too big. It gets unwieldy, hard for central personalities to stay central, etc.

    So it really makes sense to split into multiple organizations that are partly redundant and partly sprawl out to occupy different ecological niches.

    But there’s always the temptation to try to merge them again, even though experience has shown that didn’t work before.

    Personality clashes provide a way to get the needed result. That might have something to do with why we accept them as inevitable. If it was obviously necessary to suppress such things we would find ways to jolly people into going along, or dropping out entirely. But when it looks like we’ll do fine with the split, people emote a lot and then they accept it.

    Gregory Bateson discussed this at some length, he called it “schizmogenesis”. It happens a lot in fringe protestant sects, and in marxist organizations. When they aren’t attempting short-term goals that require lots of people to cooperate, why not split? But if at some time they do get a project that requires lots of people to join in, they might quickly develop an organization that meets the need.

    It’s good that people get to enjoy multiple small cons, in a case where one large con might have been only marginally successful and a whole lot of stress to run. The people who enjoy them can ignore the conflicts among them. But it might be necessary to have those conflicts exist, for lack of a better way to keep the separate organizations separate.

  16. I don’t see a point in merging organizations, unless it makes things easier (avoids duplication of effort). There’s no reason a large organization (or one that runs large conventions) can’t also run small conventions; quite a few organizations that have run Worldcons have also run conventions of under 200 people.

    There’s even less reason to merge a bunch of small conventions into one larger one. That just provides more time conflicts for people who like several of them, and can destroy the nature of some.

  17. I, too, was involved. The thing I remember vividly was All The Feels. Man, we had all the feels. Yes, there was anger, hurt, betrayal, fear, loathing, and despair. There was also hope, joy, wonder, and delight. And there was a great, great deal of worry. And I remember working very hard to manage the feels. To be positive and outgoing even when we were angry or frightened. I remember having conflicted feelings about Marscon and Convergence, both hoping that they would succeed, and being upset that they did so. And acknowledging that the upset was, in fact, mean, churlish, and to be discarded as a manifestation of our lesser selves, and trying very hard to make sure that our public face didn’t show any resentment.

    Over the years, the feels became more positive. As Convergence and Marscon became their own thing, creating their own spaces and becoming very much themselves, there has been a great deal of pleasure that I and many others involved in the split have felt. Pleasure that, yes, wasn’t really there the first couple of years. Because, honestly, we got hurt real damn bad. Which is not to ignore how badly we hurt other people, because we did that too. So much damn hurt. So many, many feels. But I remember, when it all first started happening, when we made our first proposal, one of our potential victory conditions was that someone _else_ would run the really big convention. That was _always_ part of our strategy. Choosing up sides would be, um, confusing.

  18. “Because, honestly, we got hurt real damn bad. Which is not to ignore how badly we hurt other people, because we did that too. So much damn hurt.”

    Noted for truth. Not the specific truth—I wasn’t close enough to things to speak to that—but the general.

  19. I’ve never been to a convention before, but am thinking of registering for Confluence in Pittsburgh later this month! Steven, are you planning to attend this year?

  20. skzb

    Argentum: I don’t get to many out-of-town conventions these days for financial reasons.

  21. Actually, one of the main reasons behind the geek partnership society (http://www.geekpartnership.org) was to provide some of the common support across the multiple geeky (deliberately a broad term) communities in the twin cities – not to merge everything together, but to provide a mutually beneficial network to people that want to do their own thing. (And it’s a separate organization from CONvergence – though CVG gives it a lot of money in support – to give it the independence it needs to really accomplish that mission.)

  22. @MichaelLee Cool! I’ve been looking into organizing ride-share / car-pooling options that would serve all the local conventions and think I found something, (http://skylarker.livejournal.com/936011.html) but maybe you can point me to someone who can help get the word out to more people?

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