Jennie's post about not being a fan, but enjoying fannish things such as Eastercons, strikes a chord with me. I too come away from cons with mixed feelings. On the one hand, withdrawal symptoms from a kind of protracted ecstasy rarely experienced since I was a teenager and the world was constructed largely for my benefit, with new Howard the Duck comics and Philip K Dick novels drifting like dandelion seeds into an endless golden Saturday. On the other, a sense that I could have engaged more with people; that some diffidence on my part has kept me from having all the con-versations and encounters that I could have had.
So what has held me back? Partly, like Shaun CG, it's a sense of 'being surrounded by intelligent, often erudite, hard-working people who obviously care a lot about these subjects'. I can't improve on this description (cheers, stranger) - I have a fair bit of arcane knowledge, but compared to many Con-goers I'm just scrabbling blindly on the foothills, not much better equipped for the rarefied climate than a Dan Brown reader who thinks the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series sounds like porn, and that the adverts for X-Ray Specs are the most interesting things in comic books.
And partly it's lack of in-depth commitment to particular authors, and the general difficulty of approaching them (about which I've written before.) For instance, there's Tanith Lee a few yards away in the bar. She has written 90 books. I've read, maybe eight or nine of them; I imagine the corseted people surrounding her have not only read all 90, but own them every published edition, indeed in all imaginable editions, including volumes printed on wyvern skin with letters of pale fire. I could saunter over, say something like 'Wotcher Tanith, when Birthgrave came out in the seventies it was like a new oasis appearing in a desert: a genuinely new fantasy appearing in the barren shelves; it was so great that a young Brit was writing fresh stuff... I've read some of your books and enjoyed them... you write like a demonic angel and I'm looking forward to reading the some of your more recent stuff...' Her dustman could probably say as much, so why bother? Best leave well alone.
Having said that, I did come over all fannish whilst acquiring signatures from Joe Abercrombie. (The approach involved drinking a pint of Guinness Extra Cold in about five minutes, which acted like an icicle lobotomy, reducing me to a babbling loon for the duration of the encounter.) I wonder why? Every day at work I do much more challenging things than asking a writer to sign copies of his books - that I have just bought expressly for the purpose - at an event where such behaviour is expected and even encouraged.
So - cons - strange and addictive experiences. There is much I love about them - not least their superficial resemblance to other kinds of events, such as professional and academic conferences, but with subtly different content... It's great to be somewhere where the sentence "Now, it's time to talk about the elephant in the room - Marvel's 'Civil Wars' series" can be uttered and received in total seriousness. Where topics from the surveillance society to the enduring appeal of H P Lovecraft can be discussed with intelligence and verve - with real ale never more than a few twisting corridors away.
I wonder if anyone feels 100% a part of an SF convention (or indeed anything) - or whether we're all orbiting in degrees of outsiderhood?