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July 17, 2005

The Coming Race
Posted by Patrick at 03:03 PM *

Patrick Farley, a seasoned shadow-shifter amidst the subcultures, attends the San Diego Comic-Con:

At first, when you immerse yourself in the geekdom of Comic-Con—usually around the time you first encounter your first Furry-ocelot Legolas discussing the all-day Dual Masters Stompatron Booster Draft with a Jedi warrior wearing Woody Allen glasses—you suffer a momentary shock, as if your lungs are filling with fluid. You panic; you struggle; you convulse and claw for the surface. (“These… these can’t be my people!…”) But soon, the convulsions subside, your dormant Nerd-Gills open up and begin rippling smoothly, and once again you are in your element, this great celebration of the imagination. That’s right, Bud. Your body remembers!

(Farley is no doubt tired of people telling him to finish Spiders and Apocamon, so I won’t bother.)

Comments on The Coming Race:
#1 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2005, 03:14 PM:

Oh, god. I want to deny that I know exactly what he's talking about. I can't.

#2 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2005, 03:25 PM:

In Harry Potter terms, it is the Dark Mark.

There is a eldritch symbol more insidious than the numerals 666 (which is the sum of all the numbers on a roulette wheel, y'know). More coveted than the solid gold SFWA pin. Sharper than a Hugo's nosecone.

And it its, it is -- why is my mouth so dry, and fingers trmbling so that I can hardly type? -- it is AAAAAaaaaaaarrrrrgggghhhhhh.....

#3 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2005, 03:47 PM:

Another interesting conversation prevented!

#4 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2005, 03:51 PM:

Well, in re this year's Comic-Con, I'm still thinking about this.

#5 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2005, 04:31 PM:

Wow. That link Lenny posted is about a panel (for the upcoming animated movie of A Scanner Darkly) featuring an andriod of PK Dick.

Or maybe just a sign saying "android of Philip K Dick".

#6 ::: Hot Dog Stand ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2005, 04:37 PM:

"Here the possibility of recursion looms large." --Valis

#7 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2005, 04:50 PM:

Ah hah...Teresa... Your Dark Past has been revealed.

#8 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2005, 05:20 PM:

Avram, use a graphic-based browser, and you'll see a number of photos of the PKD robot.

The panel took place on the first day of the convention. Once they got the simulacrum online, it apparently participated on the panel without any showstopping glitches (if not with Turing-test lucidity).

"One of the animators asked Philip K. Dick "What is A SCANNER DARKLY about?"

Dick cocked his head and paused for about 15 seconds then said, "Who told you that?" The technician then grabbed the special "talk to Philip" microphone and reasked the question. The response was, "I've never been asked that before." Then Dick[ed] paused and tilted his head and said, "Can you speak different languages?" The audience erupted in laughter."

In 1969, I witnessed an early performance of the Abraham Lincoln robot at Disneyland. Lincoln recited the Gettysburg Address and then went into a convincing emulation of an epilectic fit (as the speakers played "Battle Hymn of the Republic"). Three technicians in blue coveralls came out from behind a curtain, threw a sheet over Abe and carried him away.

(Not intending to derail comments on whether nerd ontology recapitulates phylogony. Maybe the PKD robot will discover its geek gills after a couple more outings.)

#9 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2005, 06:16 PM:

(Another voice helping to get the conversation back on track...)

Comic-Con is still 'way too hardcore for me. Me, I've had an ambiguous relationship with fandom (and with geeks) my entire life. I've gone to a few of my local Cons, but always felt somewhat disquieted by hanging with some of the more outre specimens of fandom. (We can each of us fill in our own examples of "Ok, THAT is Too Far.")

It wasn't until a couple Readercons ago - where I drove for hours across a beautiful New England July morning, just for the opportunity to spend a weekend sitting in windowless rooms talking about books - that I realized (with a smile): Yes, these are my people.

It was liberating.

#10 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2005, 06:28 PM:

Conversely, I've spent decades over on the literary, book-oriented end of the "non-mundane universe," and it's where I work, too. And at this point I'm actually a bit tired of our usual self-congratulation about how we're not like those silly media fans with their comic books and their action figures, bring me my smelling salts oh do.

Which isn't to say I didn't enjoy Readercon last weekend. But there's an extent to which I do have habits of mind in common with the geekiest of our lot. And it really does start to feel like the Vienna Jews looking down on the Polish Jews who look down on the Ukrainian Jews, etc.

This conversation can't go on much longer without a link to the Geek Hierarchy, so there it is.

#11 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2005, 06:38 PM:

Well, just to be clear, that IS what I was saying - - a couple years ago I realized that, despite my internal protestations and reservations, that I WAS on the same side as the "geekiest of our lot." And it felt good.

#12 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2005, 06:39 PM:

Haven't read Time out of Joint, Lenny?

#13 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2005, 06:40 PM:

Oh, the Philip K. Dick broke down
It made a grumbling sound
The audience gasped as the servomechs rasped
And the widgets inside went
File Not Found, File Not Found

Oh, the Philip K. Dick broke down
It gave the wickedest frown
Seeming real beyond doubt till the
Ching crapped out
And the yarrowstalks all went
File Not Found, File Not Found . . .

#14 ::: betsy ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2005, 07:37 PM:

i walked int convergence (fourth of julyish, located in dear old minnesota) a few weeks ago, and saw someone in a costume that looked to me like an upside down green claw hammer (it was apparently something from katamari damacy) and i thought to myself "yes, these are my frightening frightening people." (i was, for the record, very vey pleased.)

#15 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2005, 08:05 PM:


I missed the point of your "sign" comment by taking it too literally. The photos show an object that strongly resembles the ding-an-sich sitting in the PKD place, rather than a labeled placard sitting there. So I assumed you might be looking at it with Lynx (reading ALT tags) instead of immediately taking your comparison of "robot PKD" to "strip of paper with 'hot dog stand' printed on it."

I also wish I could brazen out an intention to coin a new word such as "epelectric" or "epileptric," instead of simply misspelling the word "epileptic" in my last post. But I'm just getting old and slow, hoping that Hot Dog Stand, himself, will excuse this further recursion.

- -

I've never been to the San Diego Comic-Con, but I really enjoyed attending the last two San Francisco Wondercons. I have the feeling that the universe of comic book/graphic novel fiction is wonderfully alive, right now -- with exploration of the matrix of pure Story. (I tend to lump the WB/Cartoon Network family of DC animation and "Adult Swim" into this mix.)

The stimulation of reading comic book art may be a separate experience from embracing one's inner geek by collecting plastic action figures or wearing costumes to conventions. I wouldn't want to rate one thing as nerdier "water breathing" than the other.

I do enjoy the costume ambiance at comic book cons more than the costume ambiance at current s-f conventions. This may be a case of childlike regression. But I tell myself that it's because the costuming urge at comic conventions is still mostly about characters in stories. The costuming urge I see at s-f conventions has evolved into a whole other thing.

#16 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2005, 08:06 PM:

Gooba-gabba, gooba-gabba
We accept you, we accept you
Gooba-gabba, gooba-gabba
One of us, ONE OF US . . .

#17 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2005, 10:06 PM:

What's even cooler is spotting geeks/fen/otaku in mufti and still connecting with them.

It's astounding how easy, if you just listen the right way, that can be to do.

#18 ::: Paula Kate ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2005, 10:15 PM:

Why do I keep hearing the phrase "these are my people" in intonation of a Thermian from Galaxy Quest?

Oh I know it's apropos....

#19 ::: Jeffrey D. Smith ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2005, 01:25 AM:

It always bothered me way back in my bookstore days that someone could walk in the door and I could immediately say to myself, "science fiction," and back to the sf section he'd go. I knew that meant that others could say the same about me.

I've learned to deal with it.

And, to one of those guys from back then who shows up here on occasion: Hi, Steve!

#20 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2005, 07:23 AM:

I've seen a few stories in the magazines based on the idea of nobody at a con noticing an alien, because they think it's a really good costume.

Well, maybe so.

But the alien would still have to be one of us to get away with it. (And that's maybe where the story is.)

Thinking about it, there's a lot more "one of us" stories around.

#21 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2005, 10:04 AM:

My inner geek surfaced this weekend when I found myself explaining, in concert with a friend's 5.5-yo, to said boy's mother, that yes, there had been a two-sided lightsaberish toy available, but no, that wasn't the kind her son wanted, he just wanted her to know that such a thing existed because she didn't seem to believe him when he was describing it.


The entire rest of the room fell silent while this was going on. Of course.


Anyway, now I get to go buy a Star Wars toy, since I was the only person in the room who knew what was what.

#22 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2005, 10:23 AM:

Mr. Bell: Craphound, by Cory Doctorow.

#23 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2005, 10:36 AM:

The Arizona broadcast of the weekend's baseball games of the Diamondbacks vs. the Padres in San Diego showed a few shots of the con because the announcers were staying at the same hotel. Ooh weird, folks in silly costumes! Of course they paid no attention to the team mascots at the game, and (are Padres fans unusually restrained?) showed no close-ups of people in the stands slathered with team colors and assorted paraphenalia. I suppose most things have rabid fans who like to dress up. Well, maybe not U.S. Senate meetings....

On another topic -- since that spam poetry parody thread has gone silent lately -- has anyone else seen the one from "Aminatu Bolkiah the only child of sheikh Jefri Bolkiah, Former finance minister of Brunie, the tiny oil-rich Gulf Island of Borneo"? Much odder than the Nigerian one!

#24 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2005, 11:05 AM:

My son experiences a different Comic-Con than I, even though both of us (and his Mom/my wife) had the Professional Membership, proving free entry and understocked Green Room.

All I do is panels and conversation. My son returns triumphant to Altadena as the World Champion of Attacktics.

Gaming, you know, not like those silly writers and filmmakers and stuff. To be fair, he has been onstage in costume there. And he has agreed with me on the continuity between stories in the Science Fiction story collection we're working on: "Oh, and Another Thing About the Universe, and Other Stories."

#25 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2005, 12:29 PM:

Attacktix. Maybe with no k, I dunno, he's 16 and can be world champion of someting that I can't spell. It's genetic: I used to be World Chapion at Pong and Computer Space (which became Asteroids). But, geek-gills spread:

by Margaret Talbot

Why children love Roald Dahlís storiesóand many adults donít.
The New Yorker
Issue of 2005-07-11 and 18
Posted 2005-07-04

"... The science-fiction author Ursula K. LeGuin wrote in to second [Eleanor] Cameronís criticism, though she had to admit that 'children between eight and eleven seem to be truly fascinated' by Dahlís books. Indeed, one of her own children, she regretted to say, 'used to finish "Charlie" and then start right over from the beginning (she was subject to these fits for about two months at age eleven). She was like one possessed while reading it, and for a while after reading she was, for a usually amiable child, quite nasty.' The books, LeGuin concluded, 'provide a genuine escape experience, a tiny psychological fugue, very like that provided by comic books....'"

And may I say that I was quite satisfied, and in shock (post-fugue shock?) from, Harry Potter 6? The interview that J. K. Rowling had with Katie Couric covered the frightening possibility that J.K.R. might be hit by a bus and never finish Harry Potter 7, which she's already started writing, and NOBODY else knows where it's going. Although the central clue comes roughly around pages 500. Part 2 of the interview is tonight.

#26 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2005, 09:56 PM:

I had this feeling recently, when I went to a convention masquerade. I don't usually go to masquerades, but in this case I was urged to go by a friend, and I have to say I was pretty bored. Then, after the program, a DJ started playing music, and everyone started dancing, including the people in costumes. Cartman from South Park danced with Johnny Depp's character from Pirates of the Caribbean, someone from a Lois McMaster Bujold book danced with a large shaggy dog. It was one of the most enchanting things I'd ever seen. It reminded me of a bit from The Man Who Was Thursday (another trait of geeks, I guess, is that they're always being reminded of parts of books) -- "Syme seemed to see every shape in Nature imitated in some crazy costume. There was a man dressed as an elephant, a man dressed as a balloon ... There was a dancing lamp-post, a dancing apple tree, a dancing ship ... And long afterwards, when Syme was middle-aged and at rest, he could never see one of those particular objects -- a lamp-post, or an apple tree, or a windmill -- without thinking that it was a strayed reveller from that revel of masquerade."

Any group of people that can make me feel as if I'm in a Chesterton book is all right with me.

#27 ::: Kathy Li ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2005, 11:07 PM:

It's ok, Teresa. There are compensations.

I'm still glowing a bit from having gotten to talk one-on-one with Joss Whedon at Comic-Con (thanks again for telling me he was in the DC booth, tyg!). After I asked Greg Rucka (who was sitting next to him) if Whedon had asked him for hints on writing Wonder Woman (Rucka got very funny and sarcastic to me about how Joss y'know didn't really need any hints, being a talented writer all on his own; while Whedon was assuring Rucka he was reading the book), I then asked Whedon how cool was it meeting Stephen Sondheim? And he geeked out into high fanboy mode. Lit up like a Christmas tree. And I told him it was as mindblowing for me to see that as when I saw Sondheim geeking out over the Amon Miyamoto Pacific Overtures.

And Joss Whedon said that when you can't geek out any more, it's the end. I agree. Being all cool and dignified is highly overrated. I think I'd rather err on the side of enthusiasm.

#28 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2005, 11:26 PM:

Kathy, I do the, what is the word, the SQUEEEEE.

#29 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2005, 12:12 AM:

Cross-thread serendipity: did Ms Olen \ever/ do the SQUEEE? Was she ever capable of it? She obviously knows her segment of society as we know [some of] ours; is the fact that she seems incapable of delighting in it one of the more discreditable things about her, or just a clear marker of her problems?

I know that sensation of being among one's own; there was this holiday dinner many years ago where I described Mahler's opus 1 to a point where the entire table said, in unison, "... and sinks into the swamp!"

#30 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2005, 12:15 AM:

Eeeeee....*long, slowly expiring sigh* I missed this post (and frankly, any you've done last week) for the simple reason that I was swimming around in my element for the third time and showing off my artwork personally for the first time, as my friends gave me a corner of their table to shill my work from. So much lovely fun. (Orson Scott Card AND Joss Whedon stopped and bought stuff at our table within half an hour of each other. What universe is that?)

I have some great pictures too: The Samurai Storm Trooper--I missed getting the Elvis Storm Trooper though--and the giant inflatable Pikachu and the Ice Bat Ugly Doll super huge mascot which I want to hug. (I had a Santa Claus moment when the mascot disrobed and told me to piss off. I wanted to cry. Fortunately, friends showed up to assuage my battered soul and take me out to dinner.) Mostly we hung out in the small press section, and running amok in the village that is Comic-con. I'm always sad when we break down the table on the last day and pack up all the unsold books and wave to all the people still packing up. A whole year before I get to hang out with most of my new friends, unless they come to APE or WonderCon.

(Side note: Art Friend Uno is working on A Scanner Darkly, and Art Friend Dos is working on Beowulf.)

#31 ::: Janice in GA ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2005, 12:41 AM:

I live in a sadly geek-deprived environment, alas. I did have a happy nostalgic moment last Friday night at the bookstore my husband manages. I was tagged by an SF Enthusiast(tm). After the introductory "Do you read science fiction?" question from him, I got the tally of all the recent books he's really liked, and that I should read Right Now.

Our tastes weren't really similar, but I enjoyed a contact that's all too rare for me in these latter days.

#32 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2005, 05:01 AM:

I had a briefer Comicon than usual due to my sister scheduling her wedding for Saturday, but ah well.

Watching the robotic Phil Dick spazz out was quite entertaining, especially since the rambling disjointed monologue he gave at the end sounded an awful lot like that of some other SF authors have given Sunday morning after some heavy partying the night before, if slightly more coherent.

The most interesting surprise at the con was seeing the preview for Pirates 2, with the director promising it will include 1). "Another ship, called The Flying Dutchman," 2). a Kraken, and 3). Davy Jones, who Captain Jack Sparrow has made a pact with.

Exchanged my ticket for poster with the artist's conception of Davey Jones. Picture Cthulhu/Dagon dressed as a pirate.

Yes, Disney has made it's move into Lovecraft country, and it looks to be very cool.

Talked with Len Wein after the Eisners and he mentioned that Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio were doing the screenplay and had decided to put in every pirate legend they could find.

#33 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2005, 08:22 AM:

Avram writes: Wow. That link Lenny posted is about a panel (for the upcoming animated movie of A Scanner Darkly) featuring an andriod of PK Dick.

The android comes with a specially-crafted simulation of a worn circa-1970s living room.

Here's a photo of me sitting on the couch with Phil. Although the back of his head has been removed to show wires and actuators, you can't see that very well at the angle from which the pictutre was taken.

Last month, he was exhibited in Chicago. The living room was designed so two people at a time could converse with Phil. But at Wired Nextfest, there were long lines to do this, and they were cramming fifteen people at a time into the tiny space. Was odd to walk off a busy tradeshow floor and into a little piece of trailer park...

The photo was snapped by Andrew Olney, who worked on the AI software which allows Phil to give a sometimes-coherent answer to spoken questions. Not everything was working as intended; Mr. Olney mentioned that software to drive arm movements wasn't ready for the show, so Phil sat rather passively, though his face and head movements were lively enough.

He showed us a fancy microphone array which was intended to give Phil a clue about a questioner's location. He would turn his head in the direction of a sound, then his eye-cameras would try to identify a human face, and guide his gaze to the speaker.

Unfortunately, the Nextfest folks put Phil's cabin right next to the "Industrial Robots Play DJ" booth, and the noise overwhelmed the mike array. They used a hand-held cardioid mike instead, and simply passed it among the visitors. This worked fine.

Even minus a few of the intended features, it was an impressive demonstration. The robot's conversation frequently wandered off on random tangents. But from interviews I've read, I'm not sure that's very different from conversing with the genuine PKD.

#34 ::: Jimcat Kasprzak ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2005, 09:53 AM:

Melissa Singer's recollection of discussing Star Wars toys with a youngster and his mother reminded me of a brief exchange I witnessed a couple of years ago.

The scene: Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash, in Red Bank, New Jersey. In the rear of the store sits a lifesize replica of the "Bluntmobile" with mannequins of Jay and Silent Bob wielding lightsabers.

I'm browsing comics when another guy around my age strolls into the area. He's accompanied by a cute towheaded tyke of about five to six years, likely his son.

Dad says to son, "Look, Jay and Silent Bob are Jedi knights!"

The kid studies the display for a few seconds, and then looks up at his dad. He proclaims, with a child's sincerity, "They're not real Jedi."

#35 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2005, 10:35 AM:

JVP wrote:
"The interview that J. K. Rowling had with Katie Couric covered the frightening possibility that J.K.R. might be hit by a bus and never finish Harry Potter 7, which she's already started writing, and NOBODY else knows where it's going."

Well, if that happens, they'll just have to draft some other well-known writer to finish off the series.

In the Thomas Harris version, Hermione becomes Voldemort's lover, and together they eat Harry's brain.

#36 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2005, 11:45 AM:

The Eastern and Central European pecking order than I was told:

Litvaks (Polish/White Russian Jews) looked down on Russian/Ukrainian Jews and Galitzianer (Austria-Hungarian Jews). German Jews looked down on all other Jews. The Galitizianer got looked down at by everybody--German Jews, Litvaks, and Russian/Ukrainian Jews.

I wonder if there is another language in the world that's got more ways to be deprecatory that Yiddish--it's got one word insults (schmo is one of the milder ones...), phrases (one that translates "may you grow like a turnip with your head in the ground and your feet in the air!" was a favorite of a friend's mother, my mother's mother used "Geh zum Teufel" [Go to the devil!"] sometimes), and elaborated drawn out curses like, "May you marry a wonderful woman. May you have beautiful wonderful children. And may none of them be fathered by you!"

#37 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2005, 11:57 AM:

Paula Lieberman:

I strongly recommend "The Jews of East Central Europe Between the World Wars" by Ezra Mendelsohn, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983.

It explained such hierarchies, distinguishes between different pattersn in different countries, dissects the quid pro quo between the governments and the various Jewish factions, and so forth.

Reading it, I finally understood things that my grandparents and greatgrandparents could not explain to me, being too close to these issues.

Several strains of Judaism converged in me, including Budapest [as with Szilard, von Nemann, Teller], Bonn, and Galicia. What that means, including the questions of assimilation and the role of Judiasm in Academe, Music, Theatre, and the like, are only beginning to make sense to me.

#38 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2005, 12:12 PM:

Back to Geek hierarchies. I've mentioned before (in a popular thread here) on the connection between Science Fiction and its readers, some of whom created the actual Space Program.

That extends to non-book forms as well, in a way that Comic-Com embraces, cf.:

Book Review: Reflections from Earth Orbit

"Some children do grow up and become space travellers. Along the way a series of powerful experiences may act as propellants, advancing them into the future. Winston Scott in his book Reflections from Earth Orbit warmly expresses his memories, from watching Saturday morning cartoons with his brother to undertaking EVA's with NASA colleagues. This sharing of his experiences and personal highlights allows an inside look into one person's advancement into space travel...."

#39 ::: Jerol J ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2005, 01:58 PM:

I used to work at an insurance company. Out of a department of 70 people, only three others got sci-fi/comics. The rest hadn't a clue. Which started getting me down a little? I didn't think I was that much of an outcast but that place sure made me feel like it.

I started a job with a legal publishing company a couple years ago. Suddenly the geeks outnumbered the rest by a margin of 10 - 1. It was heartening. I knew I was truly at home when someone asked over the cube "I can't remember what the name of the giant statues in Fellowship of the Ring are called." And three people stood up to scold him that it was the Argonath. I had found my home.

#40 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2005, 02:00 PM:

Dang, Bruce, you sure know how to pander to my love of a happy ending!

#41 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2005, 02:15 PM:

Paula's comments remind me of a scene from "100 Centre Street", where Alan Arkin refers to some DA as a schmuck and to that DA's boss as a putz. When someone asks him what the difference is, he says a schmuck is an idiot. "A putz is also an idiot, but he's the one driving."

#42 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2005, 03:31 PM:

Jerol: I know the feeling you describe. My last job, which certainly had its good points, was very corporate with a lot of folks to whom all subculture was lumped under one big category of "geek". It was a little disheartening, because if people asked how I'd spent my weekend, and I told them I'd spent it reading comics and SF or playing video games or going to a friend's art gallery opening, I got blank looks. (This was the same job where some guy chastised me for knowing about Harry Potter--after all, he was the family guy, he had three kids, how come I the single girl knew more about Harry than he did? Implication: Harry Potter equals kids stuff. But then a lot of my interests were classified by my co-workers as kid's stuff. Playing Civilization or Quake or World of Warcraft or any video game--that's for kids. Grown people don't do that. Bah.)

I've since moved across the country and am now searching out a new job. I'm gonna hold out for one that looks favourably upon my tribe.

#43 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2005, 05:47 PM:

The WashPost reviews Comic Con.

"SAN DIEGO -- The lines outside the convention center went on and on, like a slow-motion perp walk of aliens gone AWOL: the robed, pimply Jedis standing next to the ankle-biter in the Batman cape, who followed the three middle-aged dad-dudes dressed as old-school Klingons, not too far from the wand-waving Harry Potters and the tattooed vixens in Vampirella goth gear, complete with bustier and fangs. Then there was the teen-girl with the black frame glasses, her dyed red hair up in barrettes, who wore a T-shirt that read: I {heart} NERDS.

Oh, yeah, big time. Comic-Con International is perhaps the largest gathering of nerds on the planet; nearly 100,000 of them attended the four-day fest that ended Sunday, and nobody loves them more than Hollywood, which has transformed the annual convention into a Cannes for Geeks, a Sundance for the fanboys (and girls) who can drive the success of the genre films of sci-fi, fantasy and horror, which are essentially the only movies making blockbuster money these days (think: "War of the Worlds," "Fantastic Four," "Batman Begins" and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory")."

#44 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2005, 06:08 PM:

Journalists can think they've carefully researched a story on Our Tribe, interview some people who Know Better, and still really, deeply, Not Get It:

Popular hero shifts literary landscape
Cox News Service
Monday, July 11, 2005

#45 ::: Kathy Li ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2005, 08:43 PM:

Responding to things from wayback:

I made Patrick squee! (own squeeing goes up into the dogs-and-Superman hearing range). Perhaps I care so little about my fannish dignity because I got into fandom and cons through the cellar window of comics. When you start out in the ghetto...

PicusFiche, no worries! I got the Elvis stormtrooper. I will swap you for the samurai stormtrooper. Or, if you have any, pictures of Hall H with (Alan Moore fans, take a firm hold of the furniture before attempting to visualize this) all those hundreds of kids wearing their V for Vendetta masks on the backs of their heads.

I'm in a similar work situation, but my mundane co-workers still want to play with the lightsaber I brought into work. :)

#46 ::: Eric Sadoyama ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2005, 09:39 PM:

Eep! Patrick, I'm trying hard to not picture you saying that in a Starfire costume.

#47 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2005, 02:44 AM:

Well, I had to Google it (by the way go look at Google's front page for July 20 -- tres cool) but now I have a picture of Patrick in a Starfire costume. Squeeeeing.

Um. Eeek?


#48 ::: Rob Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2005, 03:47 AM:

I well remember the small feeling of horror that gripped me when watching Season 6 Buffy and realizing that one of the conversations of the villainous nerds - the one concerning James Bond movies - was one I'd recently had myself and that I'd argued exactly the same positions as them. (Yes, 'Moonraker' was unforgivable.) In my defence I can only say that I've never plotted to take over the world or had the slightest interest in killing any cute, blonde vampire slayers.

#50 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2005, 04:12 AM:

Oh, and Kathy Li: My BF and I missed the V for Vendetta panel--we'd been holding down the fort at the table. But we started noticing all the aforementioned kids wearing V masks, and Lee became massively envious. Of course, you'd had to attend the panel and there were no more masks being passed out, so eventually I went out and hunted down people carrying masks and asked if there was anybody who wanted to sell theirs. I ran into several people who had no idea who the masks were, but thought they were kinda neat, and since I was offering money for them, they didn't want to part with them. Finally, as I was about to despair, a boy in his mid-teens sold his to me, commiserating on our bad luck in missing the panel, and refusing to take the initial 20 dollars I'd offered, instead saying, "No, five bucks would be more than fine." (The V masks are now going for 15 bucks on eBay.) I skibbled back to the table with my prize and surprised Lee who hadn't expected that we'd be able to get our hands on one.

My favourite con kid was the small child who asked us if my friend's paintings were referencing Art Spiegelman. (They weren't, but this didn't keep my jaw from scraping the table.) This kid also (according to his proud da) had created his own hat for the purposes of the Con.

#51 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2005, 06:49 PM:

PiscusFiche -- your Green Man looks like some of the pictures I've seen of Swamp Thing (arguably a type of Green Man); I never read the series but have seen versions in one-offs. PS: please fix the John Steed link (now pointing to Ghostbuster etc) -- I want to see what someone made of a 40-year-old show!

MKK: did you follow the link from Google's front page to GoogleMoon? If you do, be sure to zoom the picture.

#52 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2005, 07:11 PM:

ChiP: I think the guy was a Green Man as opposed to the Swamp Thing, because he had kept popping up with other faery types while wandering the Con.

Steed relinked. Sorry, he was lacking an Emma Peel.

#53 ::: aboulic ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2005, 07:56 PM:

Are you sure that's supposed to be Steed? Somehow he looks more like Mr Ben to me.

#54 ::: Kathy Li ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2005, 09:39 PM:

PicusFiche: Ah, I went a far more paparazzi-like route. Weird how many things just registered as "business as normal" on my radar... (do I need to repeat: 25 years?)

#55 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2005, 10:55 PM:

Kathy: Need I say that I especially like this picture? Yes, I think I must.

#56 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2005, 01:37 AM:

This all seems so alien to me.

I grew up reading sf/f/h and comics and watching every skiffy tv show every time it aired because I could never get enough of a fix. But I have never been part of a community, and I've never really understood the whole "These-are-my-people" impulse.

I hope that doesn't sound rude, because I don't mean it that way. I realize this is treacherous ground with some people, and I don't want to put my foot someplace I'll regret. But my sf/f enjoyment has never been part of my social world.

While I've never been to a convention, I have been around fandom at various events, and I've never had the feeling that I'd found my people. I'm not even sure what that would feel like.

All of my enjoyment of the genre has been private. Internal, even. I don't fashion costumes or collect models. I rarely talk about the books I love. I can barely bring myself to thank authors who've written stuff I like.

I guess what all of this leads me to ask is--how big is fandom really? Is it a significant portion of the readership, or are most of the readers freelance nerds, like me?

#57 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2005, 01:58 AM:

Harry Connolly:

On the one hand, I empathize, since my parents worked in the book business and brought home almost unlimited free literature. My Dad edited Science Fiction, and so I didn't realize that there was such a thing as fandom because, you know, these writers were right here at the the dinner table. On the other hand...

The 20th Century perfected the Literature of Paranoia. Kafka. Heller. Pynchon. DeLillo. Dick. Solzhenytsyn.

Imagine that more than 3 billion of the world's 6 billion people are in the greatest conspiracy ever known. You have just stumbled onto the theory that maybe there's something going on that you thought you were, internally, part of. But maybe you're not. You start to fret. What do I think I know that might be wrong?

William Burroughs: "A paranoid is someone who knows a little of what's going on."

Dick could start a novel with mysterious figures worrying that someone, about whom an entire fake world has been constructed, might be starting to go sane.

A.E. Van Vogt famously wrote two novels featuring the non-Aristotelian ubermensch Gilbert Gosseyn (whose name was often taken as a pun, "go sane").

So I ask you, Harry Connolly. Are you paranoid... or not paranoid enough? Bwaahaahaahaa...

#58 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2005, 02:20 AM:

Harry: I was a more freelance nerd until recently. I didn't even know that saying "sci-fi" would earn me cold stares and disapproving lectures. (And I still balk at using SF, even more since moving to San Francisco. I find it really hard to move between the two SFs, even though context should make it relatively simple. But here everybody says SF and means San Francisco, not science fiction. Ironically, I felt the same feeling when I visited SF for the first time as an adult--that here was a place that I belonged, and where I could delve into my interests without being mocked for them or put down because of strange externalities.)

My family are still relatively free-lance and private in their fan appreciation, although my brother does hit E3 with me every year.

#59 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2005, 03:41 AM:

"Fannishness" (and people will argue aboiut the precise meaning) isn't the same as an enthusiasm for science fiction. It isn't the same as being a fanatical enthusiast -- think of stamp collectors or baseball fans. It isn't the same as being a computer $LABEL.

But I think it's fair to say that participating in discussions here is a sign of fannishness. We don't talk much about science fiction.

#60 ::: Kathy Li ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2005, 05:01 PM:

PicusFiche, it was a tossup as to whether I'd online that one, or the "Please...Absolutely NO recording of ANYTHING for commercial or Internet purposes!" slide. ;-)

Harry, I know how you feel, but in my case, it's about vintage fountain pens. I've gone to many an L.A. Pen Show, and never have I ever felt a part of that community, although I've had great fun talking with some of the individuals who define it. But I still know I'm a pen geek.

#61 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2005, 07:57 PM:

Harry -- even the people who go to the conventions wouldn't necessarily consider themselves fans; it's a slippery slope ("facilis est descensus Avernus") but one that people stop at various levels of.

SWAG arithmetic: Boston's biggest conventions (worldcons, monster Boskones) may have had as many as 2000 members not staying at the hotels, in a metro area of 2+ million. That's .1%, which would be a huge fraction of the populace to sell a book to -- but Boston is a bookish area, there are huge numbers of books published (even the devout buy only a fraction of the titles), and (contra previous) some fraction of those people came for non-book reasons (gaming, costuming, socializing with friends who might or might not be more fannish). So there are probably a lot of people out there who just read the stuff; my guess is that some would fit into one or more of the sects of ]fandom[ and some either wouldn't like it or have no room for more social life.

#62 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2005, 08:20 PM:

Anyone care to comment on SMOFs as meta-fans? Or fans of fandom, hence fans squared?

For the sake of algebraic completeness, if once can be a fan squared, can one be a square root of fan? Does that mean that there is both Real and Imaginary fandom?

Is the propeller-topped beanie a Spinor? And what is the connection between Spinor and Spiner?

Is the Fan Hierarchy partly based on labelling those with erotic tastes orthogonal to one's own as some kind of Twistors?

Is this related to the British SF magazines Vector and Matrix, and the movies of the latter name?

Be that as it may, I believe that Poetry, Fantasy, and Science Fiction are the genres that best approach the Transcendental.

#63 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2005, 09:19 PM:

Harry Connelly:

I guess what all of this leads me to ask is--how big is fandom really? Is it a significant portion of the readership, or are most of the readers freelance nerds, like me?

I've given this question some thought, because for most of my life I've also been a "freelance nerd", that "my sf/f enjoyment has never been part of my social world. " (Recently, I've come to the realization that fandom does not, in fact, give one cooties.)

I'm sure people here can put better numbers to this, but for a first approximation, assume that the magazine subscribers (Analog, Asimov's, F&SF) are the core of literary SF.

Lots of people will buy any given SF book, lots more people will see any given SF movie, comics and gaming are universes distinct unto themselves, lots of people don't even know that the SF magazines exist, but the core audience is probably about the size of the magazine audience. I don't have a Locus to hand, but the magazines are each very roughly in the mid tens-of-thousands: there's a large amount of overlap, so the total set is certainly less than 100,000 individuals.
So the serious core SF audience is probably in the very low six figures.

A big Con will draw upwards of 5,000 people, many of whom will travel substantial distances. However, lots of attendees have a, shall we say, tangental relationship to SF. Sum across the various geographic barriers (most casual fans won't cross an ocean or even a state line to go to a distant Con), and we can probably postulate that Serious Fans are probably in the low-five figures?

I'm sure some of the Big-Name Fans here can refine my back-of-the-envelope estimate. Anyone feel like having a better stab at Harry Connelly's question? I'd be interested in a better answer myself.

#64 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2005, 09:31 PM:

Bob Oldendorf:

"A big Con will draw upwards of 5,000 people."

But San Diego Comic-Con claimed over 100,000 people this year.

Also, your back-of-envelope has only stamps from the United States Postal Service on its obverse.

What is asked needs, for proper answers, even if approximate: numbers by country (see Worldcon membership by country), magazines by country (and China has the most subscribers, by far), and the numbers for gaming, costumes, art shows, anime, and all the other subcommunities within organized fandom.

One can be very seriously interested in science fiction and sci-fi films, and discuss them fervently with others, and blog them, and subscribe to specialty magazines -- is one thus a fan?

Is Harry Potter fandom really part of Fandom? I think so, but that skews the numbers again. The 12-year-old webmaster of not only got flown to Edinburgh by J.K. Rowling, but J.K.R. praised it as helping her with her own writing! That's fandom, isn't it, when it affects the professional author of whom one is responding?

Somebody explain letterhacks, and First Fandom to Harry Connelly, if you like.

#65 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2005, 11:50 PM:

JVP: "But San Diego Comic-Con claimed over 100,000 people this year."

Yes, and HC was asking about SF readers - he explicitly mentioned books and authors, after all - and NOT about all of the tangental fandoms. Thus I was attempting to give an estimate for the question he posed.

JVP:" your back-of-envelope has only stamps from the United States Postal Service on its obverse".

Well, no - if you read what I wrote, I mentioned that geography complicates the calculation, as only highly committed fans are likely to cross oceans. The point I was making is that even a major Con, such as a WorldCon, only draws a fraction of fandom. And, if we're talking about books and authors, we are talking by default here about the English-speaking world.

JVP: " magazines by country (and China has the most subscribers, by far)"

I don't think this is true of the three magazines I cited. I'd be interested in being shown that I was wrong.

JVP: "and the numbers for gaming, costumes, art shows, anime, and all the other subcommunities within organized fandom."

Once again: the question I thought I was answering was about the relationship between SF readership and SF fandom, NOT "all the other subcommunities."

As I said: if you have a better estimate for the question Harry Connelly posed, I'd love to hear it.

#66 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2005, 12:02 AM:

Bob Oldendorf:

Sorry. Actually, I was a consultant to someone who wanted to launch a website that would combine POD, advice, subscriptions to Writers Guide, membership in writers organizations, and a combination of paid and free features. So I did very elaborate models of how many writers, readers, editors, agents, and so forth there were in each of a dozen genres. Fortunately, the client did not launch the company, which might have, despite best intentions, run afoul of various strictures well-defended by Making Light. The client went ahaed and bought a lot of ISBNs, and printed a test run of a public domain book -- WITHOUT running it past me first, not getting certain things about proper copyright page layout, or realizing that one should commission an Introduction or Preface by someone who knows something (I'd have done it free, this once).

I'd just as soon keep my numbers proprieetary, but is is VERY hard to reconcile data from, say Publishers Weekly, the U.S. Census, the U.S. Labor Bureau, and various equivalents in other countries.

#67 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2005, 03:08 PM:

Bob -- your low-five-figure estimate for Serious Fans \might/ hold, depending on where you tried to draw the line (but see comments in several threads about the futility of trying to draw lines in SF). My guess is that you wouldn't break five figures if (e.g.) you restricted it to people who have a local convention but [also] travel to one that's not in commuting distance, or who travel to >1 such site. It's hard to tell, as there are huge numbers of local conventions and most don't have their membership data connected to anyone else.

One possible datum (which I don't entirely trust): someone who does work with a joint db estimates that there are 3000 people who "regularly" go to Worldcon. (Probably not all of them every year, judging by the number of local members on Worldcon-attendance maps, but most of them more often than not.) I'm not in a great position to judge; at this point in my life, my out-of-town regulars are Wiscon (Madison) and World Fantasy (rotates), although I'm still getting to over half of the Worldcons.

#68 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2005, 03:37 PM:

CHip: for back-of-the envelope purposes, your estimates certainly feel about right to me, but I'm pretty new to this 'organized fandom' stuff. I was trying to get at some way to sum the "local" fans - clearly there are lots of people interested enough to go to a local con, but who rarely (or never) make the larger commitment to travel to distant ones.

I did my very first WorldCon last year, but only because they put it just about in my backyard. (Well, on the global scale, anyway.)

And in talking to people there, I learned that there were a LOT of people in attendence - even at the "World SF Convention" - who weren't there for much of anything that I'd call "SF". E.g., there were a LOT of one-day members who were there simply because they liked Neil Gaiman. (I do, too, of course, but he's not what I think of first when I think "SF".)

But to get back to Harry Connelly's orginal question - (H)ow big is fandom really? Is it a significant portion of the readership, or are most of the readers freelance nerds, like me?

I think we can say that "freelance nerddom" must be at least one (if not a couple) orders-of-magnitude larger than "serious fandom".

(As one myself, I love that phrase "freelance nerd".)

#69 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2005, 05:41 PM:

Thanks, everyone.

Re: cooties. The only thing that's kept me from attending conventions is the cost. I'm a cheap, cheap bastard.

#70 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2005, 03:19 PM:

I know I'm late in, part of why is also part of why i want to post at all.


I'm colliding with this same kind of feeling now with the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. On the first day, the man with the cheese-hat looks odd, the crowds feel wrong - then you immerse, and the fetish wear, the stiltwalkers, the Elizabethan (With the boots I want to steal), the psychedelia - all the costumes start to look like home. The pros and the amateur (Fanfic) performers inspired by their work, the superfans everyone knows, the newbies trying to swim, not sink, the weird little traditions that don't seem to have anything to do with theatre but are nonetheless part of the experience ... The Jenny (a fanzine - heck, several of the people making it are in SF fandom) and the debates whether it's a threat to, an addition to, or a totally unrelated thing to the pro publications. The professional newspapers are drawn to the most outrageous aspects, and seem to include reports (Reviews) that just don't get it. There's even the dealer's room aspect.

You'd think I'd get the smae feeling out of the SCA, but actually, the parallels aren't as close or as arresting as they are between SF fandom and theatre people.

This puts my finger on why I haven't been active in Winnipeg fandom lately. I've stopped feeling as if this particular fandom as a whole is "my people" (The con is a LARP con now).

I've felt more like I was among "my people" going to World Fantasy and Worldcon, even though there were fewer people I knew by name or face present. Also why I'm contemplating out of town cons, even smaller ones, more than I am our own.

#71 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2005, 04:51 PM:

The numbers of "real fans" out there depend entirely on your definition -- I'd bet that one could make a case for numbers ranging from the low hundreds to the high hundreds of thousands, depending on how you choose to define the term. So 50K might be a reasonable estimate, but the error bars are huge (as an example, how would you classify my parents? They only went to conventions because of me, but read lots of SF, had a few fanzines lying around the house among the thousands of books and magazines, and encouraged me to read SF/F. And they both had math PhDs, and worked in aerospace).

The number of magazine subscribers is not a good estimate of the number of regular readers of SF. At least not from where I sit as a bookseller. Again, the error bars are about as large as the number.

#72 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2005, 09:55 PM:

Tom Whitmore:

The number of magazine subscribers is not a good estimate of the number of regular readers of SF. At least not from where I sit as a bookseller. Again, the error bars are about as large as the number.

Ok. I'll believe that.
Then is it fair to call the number of magazine subscribers something like a lower bound to the number of regular readers of SF? In which case, Harry Connelly's 'freelance nerddom' is much, MUCH larger than fandom.

Harry Connelly: The only thing that's kept me from attending conventions is the cost.

Actually, on an entertainment-per-dollar basis, I've recently realized that cons are cost-effective - competitive with buying hardcovers, anyway. Twenty-thirty bucks for a few hours of reading is more expensive than forty-fifty bucks for a weekend con.

(And another advantage of cons over books: when it's over, you don't have to find space on the shelf for it....)

#73 ::: Mary Aileen Buss ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2005, 10:27 AM:

(And another advantage of cons over books: when it's over, you don't have to find space on the shelf for it....)

Yeah, but you can't re-read it, either. :)

--Mary Aileen, long-time con-goer

#74 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2005, 02:27 PM:

> Actually, on an entertainment-per-dollar basis,
> I've recently realized that cons are
> cost-effective - competitive with buying
> hardcovers, anyway. Twenty-thirty bucks for a few
> hours of reading is more expensive than
> forty-fifty bucks for a weekend con.

I'm aware that a con is a great value for the entertainment it provides. It's the real cost that keeps me away. I have a certain number of expenses that I won't give up, among them books (not hardcovers, typically). There's nothing that I already spend money on that I would give up for a convention attendance fee.

There are a lot of things that are a great value, but that I don't own because of their cost.

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