Tuesday, July 11, 2017

CONvergence 2017 Report

Last weekend I attended CONvergence in Bloomington, MN, which is, according to the website, "an annual convention for fans of Science Fiction and Fantasy in all media: a 4-day event with more than 6,000 members, and the premiere event of our kind in the upper mid-west."

CONvergence is also special for me personally as it was one of the first cons I ever attended back in 2001.  I attended every year up through 2005, and I've been meaning to go back ever since.  So this year's CONvergence was 12 years in the making for me!  (What happened?  Short answer: I moved away from the Twin Cities in August 2005 and never quite managed to get back to visit during CONvergence ... until this year!).

CONvergence gave me a taste of the con life in one of the best possible ways, because it's big and diverse enough to be a buffet of what cons have to offer.  Every part of fandom is represented, including anime kids, old school SF/F literature fans, comic enthusiasts, movie/TV buffs, gamers, cosplayers, artists, and people just looking for a good party.  It's big enough to encompass it all.  One volunteer told me they sold over 7,000 memberships this year.  This is big, but it's not on the epic (and obnoxious) scale of something like Dragoncon in Atlanta or Comicon in San Diego.  Nonetheless, I can report that CONvergence felt a lot more crowded in 2017 than it did back in 2005.  It's still nowhere near as bad as the crowds at Dragoncon, but some of the party rooms are a bit cramped and most of the panels I attended were near or exceeding capacity (I sat on the floor a lot).

The deeper thing that CONvergence taught me back in the early-mid 2000's was the value of cons as a space for community, something I've discussed before with regard to other cons.  While being a geek/nerd is not as uncool as it used to be, it's still great to have a place where you can let your geek flag fly proudly.  No matter how intense your nerdery is, someone at con is nerdier.  You may be wearing Vulcan ears, but someone else may have a full Starfleet uniform and android-colored contacts to dress up as Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation (an actual costume I saw at CONvergence).

The openness of a place where people can love what they love without derision or judgment is a beautiful thing.  This aspect of fandom seems to be unappreciated by small but annoying parts of fandom like the Rabid Puppies and Gamergaters, but it's safe to say that for the vast majority of fans, this is precisely what fandom is all about.

I feel at home at cons.  These are my people.  This is especially the case at CONvergence, where many of my oldest and dearest friends have been attending for years (and family - my sister, nephew, and cousin were there this time, too).  This year my sister brought my one-year-old nephew so he could begin learning the ways of his people!

It was great to catch up with my old friend Connie (the CONvergence mascot) to see what she's been up to for the last 12 years.

Postscript: Some Highlights

  • CONvergence is where I first realized my love of attending panels at cons.  I even organized a few panels years ago.  This year I attended panels on the future of religion, defining space opera, philosophies of Dune, the films of Paul Verhoeven, Jodorowsky's Dune, David Lynch's Dune, one of Game of Thrones (where there was a Jon Snow White in the audience), and two panels on AI: "AI in Science Fiction: From Evil Overlords to Companions" (one panelist was Naomi Kritzer, who won the Hugo for best short story last year) and "Androids, AI, and Gender Theory."
  • I had a book signed by Lois McMaster Bujold.  I told her the first book of hers I read was Ethan of Athos, because that's my name.  It was a bit awkward.  I've never figured out how to talk to authors at signings.
  • I caught a few parts of movies in Cinema Rex, CONvergence's excellent comfy-chair supplied movie room.
  • My sister and brother-in-law insisted on attending "Drinking with Geeks" in which several local nerd celebrities try mysterious alcoholic beverages and give them amusing descriptions.  It lived up to the hype!  (It may not be an entirely unrelated fact that I was enjoying a few adult beverages myself).
  • I got an official CONvergence t-shirt and a flask that says Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster on it.  And a couple books, of course.
  • The party rooms are one of the best parts of CONvergence.  Unlike most cons, where you have to wander around the hotel and/or know the right people to find the best parties, CONvergence has most parties right around the pool area.  Party hopping is super easy: you circumambulate the central pool and atrium area (pictured below), grabbing drinks, snacks, and enjoying the decorations and fun times along the way.
  • Above all, I had a great time hanging out with friends and fellow nerds, the highest highlight of any con!

CONvergence goers in their native habitat

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