I spent this past weekend (+ Friday) at Readercon.
Although Readercon is an ancient and stable institution — this was the 20th one — I’d never been before. It was held in Burlington, MA, which involved a whole peripheral psychodrama since I grew up in Lexington, which is the next town over, and spent most of years 10-16 in the Burlington Mall. But such extraneous psychological concerns tended to drop away once you were actually w/in the icily air-conditioned womb of the Burlington Marriott, which would become a strangely self-contained universe for the 72 hours of the convention.
Readercon is an F/SF convention that’s entirely focused on books, to the near-total exclusion of all other media. As a result it has an especially intense and focused and scholarly quality. This is not to imply that the vibe is anything other than typically nerdy and fannish and fun. You just had to be ready for the ever-present possibility that the person you were talking to might quote a large tract from Hope Mirrlees’ Lud-in-the-Mist from memory at any moment.
Some important things/people that I saw/met/learned/heard about at Readercon:
– Probably the most exciting panel I went to was on the Antiquarian Revival, which was the surge of interest in myth and ritual that occurred in England around the turn of the 20th Century. This event forcibly learned me that in fact Tolkien and Lewis did not simply spring fully-formed from nothing whatsoever, but emerged out of a long and broad cultural movement. It sounds arcane, but picture six really learned and funny people riffing on early English folk ballads for an hour, in sync, with almost Wu-Tang-like zeal and perfection, and you’ll have some idea. Incredibly exciting.
– Pursuant to which, I have to read Lud-in-the-Mist, like, yesterday
– Also I have to read either some of, or more of, or all of, the work of Elizabeth Hand, Greer Gilman, Catherynne Valente, Jedediah Berry, Michael Cisco and Michael Burstein ASAP (this is not an exhaustive list)
– Also I don’t understand why I didn’t know about Shadow Unit before this
– Some people who are so major and influential that I thought they might be cult demideities or Internet hiveminds or some such — viz John Crowley, Gene Wolfe, Michael Dirda, Michael Swanwick, Samuel Delany — turned out to be real and have physical form, which they manifested in a warm and friendly way at Readercon
– The level of conversation was very, sometimes frighteningly, elevated. I think of myself as someone who’s read a lot of F/SF. This turned out to be false. I have read enough F/SF. Maybe. I have definitely not read a lot.
– Likewise as somebody who went to grad school and read a lot of literary theory, I’m usually able to follow or at least hum along when people are busting out major theoretical ideas about books. This turned out to be basically true at Readercon. But I’m not used to being in an environment where everybody can do this, and I have to run to keep up, or even keep them in sight, all the time.
– I am very far from being a con insider. I am somewhat marginal both as a fan and even as a ‘pro,’ i.e. a professional writer. And I was rendered even more marginal by the fact that I was staying with family and not at the con hotel. But almost everybody made me feel very welcome and comfortable despite my n00bness and ambient social anxiety.
– Even from that marginal vantage point (or maybe especially) it was fascinating to watch the interactions between the various demographics at Readercon: the old guard, the young guns, the academic factions, etc.
– I didn’t talk to Caitlín Kiernan, but I watched her swanning around in a tentacled mask and grey lipstick, and I felt awe. It is so important that cons have freakish people at them.
– It sucks to be stuck at a hotel with lousy food. I trucked mine in from outside. Just sayin’.
– It’s deeply comforting to be around so many people who share one’s enthusiasms and concerns and cultural reference points. It turns out that there are other people who are obsessed with Larry Niven’s small but precious fantasy oeuvre, and who want to talk about reframing Bloom’s Anxiety of Influence to include works of late self-correction like Le Guin’s Tehanu, and how time travel and the possibility of an actual apocalypse make SF/F a special case for narrative theory.
– I’m going to be at Azkatraz, Comic-con and Worldcon too. And who knows what cons after that. Come say hi.
– There was talk of Readercon contracting next year, or even skipping a year. The organizing force behind it, an actual sabermetrician named Eric Van, works miracles of data management — it was in most respects the best-organized convention I’ve ever been to or heard about — but he has been wildly overworked. This is understandable but a shame. I feel like I know a lot of people who should have been there, and would want to go next year. I certainly do.