We should start this post off with a minor disclaimer: I am involved in the running of Balticon, our regional literary science fiction and fantasy convention, and have been for a number of years. There is no financial incentive for me to promote this or any other volunteer-run convention - as the descriptor implies, there's no money to be made. I simply would like to use this platform to share something I care about, and that I think Never Say Dice readers will get a lot out of.
With that out of the way, let's define what we're talking about here. There are a number of different types of conventions for the nerdly-inclined and they all have their own culture, history, and goals. A "literary" convention like Balticon is different from a comic con, a media con, or a fandom con. The first two have blended together over the past few decades, with less of a focus on comics (and the collecting thereof) and more on the proximity of media properties and celebrities, frequently with heavy corporate advertising. San Diego Comic Con, which has become a "showroom" of sorts for the next season of "geeky" media, is a perfect example. What I'm referring to as "fandom" conventions are ones based around specific properties - Star Trek cons being the most well-known, but most properties with sufficiently-large followings have had their own cons at one point or another. The appeal of this kind of convention is getting to see and have fun with fellow fans, and often to have some proximity to people involved in the creation of said property. ("The autograph line starts here...")
I'm not trying to put any of these kinds of convention down, I've attended and volunteered for some myself. But a literary convention is a different beast, coming out of things like book discussion groups and writer's circles. A literary con is about engagement with text, rather than merely celebrating it. What does "engagement" mean here? You're looking at it right now, it's one of the things this very blog was created to do. It's about discussion, asking questions, and thinking about things. That's not to say the camaraderie among like-minded folks at a literary con, there absolutely is. And it's not as bookish as the term makes it sound, either - literary cons often have concerts, film screenings, costume competitions, and (of particularly interest to many NSD readers) tabletop gaming. There's usually far more to do than any person can have time for.
So why am I talking about this here? This year's Balticon is coming up, held over Memorial Day weekend, as usual, starting Friday, May 28. Like last year, this will be a virtual convention held over Zoom. What this means is that it's open for anyone and everyone in the world to enjoy - all you'll need is the ability to run Zoom and an email address to sign up with. To get a taste of what it's like, most of last year's programming is available on YouTube. It should surprise no one that I'm particularly looking forward to the "What Makes Video Games Genre?" panel, which came out of my own household conversations. On the tabletop front, "Love the Setting, Hate the System," "Good First-Time RPGs (that aren't D&D)," and "Handling In-Game Conflict" should all be great discussions. You can filter the program to show only specific tracks with the "Tag" function at the top of the program schedule.
COVID forced many conventions to re-think how they would be able to continue when people can't gather together physically, and while this may be the last virtual Balticon, the format is here to stay. Putting on an in-person convention requires a large amount of operating capital and access to a physical space, but online meetings have less stringent requirements, and now that a lot of the kinks have been worked out, we'll be see a lot more conventions that are covering more niche interests, or are based out of places where physical meetings might be difficult or even impossible. I'm looking forward to seeing how things grow and develop from here.
So keep an eye on the activities in your community, both in-person and online. Conventions may only happen once a year, but they can certainly give you ideas to keep you busy until the next one. And don't be surprised if, after a while, you end up helping to put them on, too! In any case, I hope I get to see some of you at Balticon next week, or some future convention down the line!