As I consider which conventions I’ll be going to this year, as both a writer and a fan, I’ve been reminiscing about the first SF/fantasy convention I ever went to–ConClave. It was in 1995, when the convention was still being held in the Holiday Inn South in Lansing, and I had no idea what I was getting into.

I was 26, and you may wonder how it is a 26-year-old SF fan could go for so long without going to a con. I wonder now, myself; the only thing I can think of was that I had no idea that cons were going on so close, or that I might have easily gone to one before then. (This was back when the ‘net was young, there was no Google, and downloading something simple like a picture could take the better part of an hour at 2800 baud. And we liked it that way!) A friend invited me to go to the one in Lansing, so we went–me thinking it was just for the day.

The hotel was packed. My first memory of it was the long, curving corridor you had to walk through just to get to the front desk, and the immense open lounge with the piano at the center. It was packed. Of course, I knew no one except my friend, but that didn’t stop me from being amazed at the costumes some of the fen wore. (Amazed for assorted reasons, depending on the costume and the person filling it.)

A few unfortunate things prevented me from enjoying this first experience more than I did. For one, my friend and I got separated somehow, and I did not see her until the following morning. I lived in the Lansing area at that time, and had not planned on staying overnight. I had no place to sleep, but felt I couldn’t just go home without finding where my friend had gotten to. So, I was up all night, sometimes chatting in the con suites, but mostly just trying to stay awake, and stay in public areas where I could hope to spot her. I wasn’t very happy when I finally did find her.

Yet, I clearly liked something about the experience, as I readily accepted when she invited me to Detroit for another con (one which was a much better experience, as I knew what to expect). There was something invigorating about it, being amidst all these people who were dancing, chatting, screening films, buying books, and just generally being welcoming and understanding. I’m convinced that all of us, no matter what our interests are, need such a community.

I went to a lot more conventions in the latter half of the nineties and the early part of the ‘aughts before my attendance fell off. I made a number of lifelong friends, had a hell of a lot of fun, and figured I would always be back. (Of course, that was not to be….) Now, all my best memories of these times sort of blend together… all the late-night parties, the Elven Toasts, the panels, the dances, the writers I met, and even the interminable Sunday afternoons where there was nothing left to do but none of us wanted to leave… things like that. Even though I’m going back to conventions now, with the aim of getting my book in front of people’s faces, it’s no longer quite the same. The old crew, with a few exceptions, has either dispersed, doesn’t want to go anymore, is too busy to go, or can’t afford to go. C’est la vie…

On coming back to ConClave last year, this time as a writer promoting his book on panels, I was surprised and saddened to see it a ghost of its former self. I suspect that the economy is to blame–fen who would ordinarily go to all of Michigan’s fan-run cons likely had to cut back. I really hope that ConFusion (coming in a week-and-a-half to Troy, Michigan) has healthier attendance–I have a lot of fond memories of that con as well, especially from its years at the Van Dyke Park Hotel, and would hate to see it going the way of ConClave and ConTraption.

(Note: I will be at ConFusion, but I unfortunately won’t be on any panels. But say hi anyway if you’re there and see me around!)

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Gary W. Olson is the author of the dark fantasy novel Brutal Light and several previously published and forthcoming short stories. He can be found via his website, his blog A Taste of Strange, as @gwox on Twitter, and in many other far-flung places on the Internet.