The SFX Weekender convention in Pontins, Camber Sands was surprisingly good. OK I’ll admit I was a bit apprehensive because the only other convention I’ve been to was mainly populated by older male fans who were very serious about their SF. The SFX Weekender was surprisingly young. I would have guestimated mainly in their 20-30s with a good number, possibly up to a half female. There were families, good looking young women that hadn’t be hired to show up and generally a good cross-section of the population. They put on a good show as well with stars like George Takei, Terry Pratchett and Craig Charles; a platoon of Star Wars characters, stilt-walkers and others; a cabaret show with contortionist, hypnotist and fire-eaters; and generally a chilled out atmosphere where people could singalong with their favourite films or buy steampunk inspired jewellery (very nice stuff).
Which brings us to the questions: why is SF&F in film and TV socially acceptable whereas books are still on the periphery? Lots of people watched and like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Doctor Who and Lost. You aren’t seen as geeky for having a Superman T-shirt or wanting Batman’s car. Of course the genre lends itself very well to the visual entertainment scope. People don’t have to struggle to imagine a fantastical landscape when Hollywood and expense CGI does it for you. I’ll admit I find hard SF difficult. Recently I read Hannu Rajaniemi’s The Quantum Thief and thought wow but also huh, for at least the first third of the book. And I do understand that fantasy has its own rules which are strange and obscure to people who did not grow up reading Dragonlance or playing D&D.
Geekdom has also been legitimised by the likes of the OC, Glee and currently fashion trends for large thick rimmed plastic glasses that I use to get as a child and hated because they were NHS free pairs and really frigging ugly. Now svelte models are donning comicbook T-shirt, plaid shirts and glasses ironically of course. One of my friends got very annoyed because he has always worn trilby hats and waistcoats but suddenly he is in fashion.
One of the panels I saw over the weekend was about sci-fi, fantasy and horror classics. In a way top ten lists and award winners make life easy for us. It gives us an indication of what we should read or watch in an era where we are overwhelmed by possibilities. However at the same time, as the panel pointed out, there are so many good books/ films/shows that simply were poorly advertised, came at a bad time in the market or were overlooked. On TV and film it’s easy enough to rectify due to sleeper hits on the internet or DVD. Firefly for example, or Donnie Darko. For literature it’s a harder and sadder affair as out of print books don’t really have another option to find a readership.
But the message I loved the most from the panel, is that critics, classic status or recommendations aside, the books that affect you most are those you read as a teenager. The one that makes you sit up and read non-stop for hours. Which makes you think it’s speaking to you and you alone and that no-one else had written such a unique world, such amazing characters, such clever plotlines. Which makes you believe no-one else in the world can understand this book like you do. Which makes you want to live in a life other than your own.
For me it was Tamora Pierce’s Immortals quartet. I remember wanting to steal them from the library and years afterwards I bought the set in Oxfam but couldn’t find the original covers I had loved so much.
This is your classic. Even when you read books afterwards and realise the style is inferior or the plotline done to death, it still holds a place in your heart because it was part and parcel of your growing up. This is what makes us genre geeks to the core no matter how many people scoff or politely smile when you say you like dragons and spaceships.