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Entry updated 19 July 2021. Tagged: Community, Fan.


One of the principal features of sf Fandom, conventions are typically weekend gatherings of fans and authors, almost invariably with a programme of sf discussion and events. In Fan Language conventions are usually referred to as cons; "relaxacons" are social gatherings with light-hearted programming or none at all. Traditional conventions rooted in old-style fandom are informal, not professionally organized, and without delegated attendees or, usually, paid speakers (although there is now a separate tradition of highly commercial, media-oriented conventions which charge high fees for access to celebrity sf actors) other than guests of honour whose accommodation and, perhaps, travel expenses are paid for by the convention. Typical activities include talks, auctions, films, panel discussions, author readings, masquerades and banquets.

Many US sf fans date the first sf convention to 22 October 1936, when a group of fans from New York (including David A Kyle, Frederik Pohl and Donald A Wollheim) spent a day with a group from Philadelphia (including Milton A Rothman and Oswald Train) and declared the private house gathering to be a convention. However, the first sf convention to be planned and announced in advance as such, and held at a public venue, took place at the Theosophical Hall in Leeds, West Yorkshire, on 3 January 1937: attendees included John Carnell, Arthur C Clarke, Walter Gillings, J Michael Rosenblum and Eric Frank Russell. Disputes over priority – once bitter though now generally amicable – have persisted in Fandom ever since, and cannot be resolved without agreement on the definition of "convention". Subsequently, regular conventions were established all around the world.

The first pre-organized US convention was held in New York in 1938 and the first World SF Convention, now the premier sf convention, took place there in 1939 (though it was originally so-named because of the World's Fair in New York that year). See under Worldcon for a brief history of this major annual event, at which the Hugo Awards are presented. Annual regional conventions have also been long established in North America: major events and others of specific literary interest include Westercon (inaugurated 1948), Midwestcon (inaugurated 1950), DeepSouthCon (inaugurated 1963), Disclave (Washington; inaugurated 1950), Lunacon (New York; inaugurated 1957), Boskone (Boston; inaugurated 1964), Windycon (Chicago; inaugurated 1974), WisCon (Madison, Wisconsin; inaugurated 1977 as the world's first Feminist convention), Readercon (Massachusetts; inaugurated 1987) and the now very large Dragon Con (Atlanta; inaugurated 1987), whose membership can exceed 45,000.

In the UK the major annual convention was inaugurated in 1948 and is now known as Eastercon, though it was usually held at Whitsun rather than Easter until 1955 – excluding 1950, when there was no convention – and has had up to 1300 attending. A second convention, Novacon, was added to the UK calendar in 1971; this takes place every November in Birmingham or the surrounding Midlands and attracts some 300 people. Since the late 1970s there has been an explosion in the number of small conventions held in the UK.

There are also national conventions in Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and several European countries, including the Benelux region, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Spain and Sweden. In 1976 one of the pan-European Eurocons (inaugurated 1971) was held in Poland, the first sf convention in what was then the communist bloc.

Sf conventions are now very numerous indeed, especially in the USA: taking the whole world into account, there are many hundreds each year. There are similarities and a degree of overlap between traditional sf cons and those held by fans of Comics, Fantasy and horror, and also the increasingly numerous specialist conventions held by fans of, for example, Star Trek, Doctor Who and other popular sf media series. There are also many conventions which focus on particular high-profile genre fiction series, such as Terry Pratchett's Discworld and J K Rowling's Harry Potter. Still others are devoted to particular subgenres such as Anime, sf/fantasy/horror Cinema and Television, Games, Military SF or Steampunk.

Convention reports have long been a staple of Fanzine writing, sometimes couched as detailed factual records and perhaps more often as impressionistic Humour or Satire.

Past editions of this encyclopedia confined themselves to general comments on conventions in versions of the present entry. The third edition is slowly expanding this coverage, with initial emphasis on traditional events based chiefly on literary sf: see Eastercon, Novacon, Readercon and Worldcon. [DRL/PR/RH]

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