Tuesday, August 17, 2010


I spent the weekend before last (i.e., August 5-8) in Raleigh, NC at ReConStruction / NASFiC (aka the Tenth Occasional North American Science Fiction Convention). NASFiCs are held in the years, like this year, that Worldcon is outside North America.

The con had a lot to offer, and I thank the organizers for their hard work and for including me in the program. I took part in four panels, did an autograph session (and thanks to all of you who came), and held a kaffee klatch. I synched up with friends usually scattered around the country, especially from among the MAFIA. (Acronym.com does not yet know it, but that's writers  Making Appearances Frequently In Analog.) I saw a bit of downtown Raleigh, which seems quite nice. All good fun. 

And yet ...

I began this blog almost exactly two years ago, upon returning from Denvention 3 / Worldcon 2008. I lamented in that inaugural post that every Worldcon seemed smaller than the last. Last year I was unable to attend Worldcon (in Montreal), and so was not in a position to comment whether the trend had continued. Nor will I be going to Worldcon this year -- it's in too far off (for me) Melbourne, Australia.

I can compare the recent NASFiC with the immediately preceding version -- in 2007, outside St. Louis. And intending no criticism to the friendly and tireless volunteers who organized and ran ReConStruction, I'm sad to say that attendance was way down from the last NASFiC. And the graying of fandom continues unabated.

I don't have official attendance numbers, but the word-of-mouth at the con was circa 800, and that seemed about right to me. My guess for the previous/2007 NASFiC is 2000. (FWIW, I came across this estimated attendance for many NASFiCs, by blogger James Nicoll.) 

Of course, the economy wasn't conducive to a big turnout, but I still find the 2010 numbers discouraging. So did many fellow members of the con, both pros and fans.

Meanwhile, this year's Comic-Con drew 140,000 (yes, I counted the zeroes properly).

Can cons continue as we know and love them? How about the genre so intimately tied to cons and fandom? My heart says yes. My mind really wonders. 

And without having concrete suggestions to offer, I believe that for the health of fandom and the genre we need to broaden the nature and appeal of cons.


Robert said...

I have stopped going to most kinds of cons. In the past cons that I have gone to have either been too crazy, with no time to actually look at anything just running by booths to get to a panel or signing, or over commercialized; I understand that businesses need to advertise and believe that they should, however when I get to a booth that is just someone handing out cards for their $2500 software suite, I look around and wonder who they think their target demographic is.

The best convention that I have been to was an invitation only event, spaced over the course of one week. The vendors were relaxed and waited for you to show interest, and the panels and classes were spaced so that there was enough time to wander the convention center before the next event you wanted to attend.

What was the best convention that you have ever been to?

Edward M. Lerner said...

Those experiences don't sound anything like an SF con.

Robert said...

Exactly my point!!

James Davis Nicoll said...

I lamented in that inaugural post that every Worldcon seemed smaller than the last. Last year I was unable to attend Worldcon (in Montreal), and so was not in a position to comment whether the trend had continued.

Have another list!


Montreal got about 3,9121 people. I'm surprised it wasn't lower: not only was it outside the US (deterring US fans without passports), and not only are Canadians notoriously stingy but Quebec has the whole language issue, which generally isn't presented sympathetically abroad.

On the other hand, there's a significant spike in strikingly attractive Canadians in Montreal. I felt like an orc visiting Loth Lorien the whole time I was there.

Denver aside as a special case, attendance within the US looks fairly stable.

This essay argues that worldcon attendance is currently stable:


Edward M. Lerner said...

Hi James,

Thanks for the comments and links. I prefer the attendance numbers in your references and hope they're correct. Still, as the SFWA article points out, there are subjective judgments implicit in the totals.

Even stable turnout amid a growing population is worrisome. See US population growth here:


Likewise worrisome is the (not shown in raw attendance data) graying of the audience.

I think my larger point -- about the need, for the genre's sake, to make cons more broadly appealing -- remains correct.

- Ed