Now that I’ve had time to digest my experience at Lunacon 2013 — which was overwhelmingly positive — it’s time to take my rambling vlog post from YouTube and refine it into a more cogent thesis. (If you only want to concentrate on my rant about what’s wrong with downstate New York genre conventions, you have to dig in almost six minutes; honestly, although I’d made a few notes about what I wanted to say about the topic, it was never intended to be the main thrust of my comments. This was supposed to be an ad for Age of Certainty and Mighty Mighty, not an exercise in bomb-throwing.)
Let me be the first to stipulate to the limits of my qualifications. I’ve never run a convention; I’ve only been attending cons for about a dozen years and have only been on “the circuit” for three or four. I come from a family of mundanes who don’t even understand the appeal.
But I have worked on other non-profit events. I do have a graduate degree in business management and do, as a function of my day job, advise C-level executives on where they need to focus. Most of these executives are smarter than me, but they’re distracted by having their attention pulled too many directions. I assume the same is also true of con-com leaders, few of whom I’ve ever actually met.
So I’m not saying anything here as an expert on cons. I’m just providing an outsider’s view. Let’s get this discussion going. I’m probably wrong about a lot here. Please correct me. Let’s refine the strategy, make the plans and rescue what I think we all agree is a much beloved but ultimately untenable status quo.
My point is this: We should consolidate Lunacon and I-Con.
I come to that conclusion after arriving at what I believe is the critical limited resource which is … wait for it … no, you’re wrong. It’s not money. Take it from this MBA: Money isn’t the problem. (If you have a new venture, that would be the exception to the rule, but both I-Con and Lunacon are decades old.) Sure, almost any organization, or individual for that matter, can find a use for a cash infusion.Found money is always good. But the lack of it is rarely the problem in itself; more often than not, it’s a symptom of a deeper problem.
So what is the problem? It is a shortage, but not of Federal Reserve notes. This past weekend, I was on a panel called “What Will They Use for Money?” and we talked about what future cultures would think of as currency. We discussed everything from the “quatloos” used by the Star Trek universe’s Gamesters of Triskelion to the intellectual capital used not only in futuristic space opera but in Silicon Valley for the past 20 years, to biodiversity up to and including sperm samples. So let’s ask, what would a science fiction convention-based economy use as currency?
In other words, what is our most precious commodity? Time. Specifically, volunteer-hours.
In such an eCONomy (sorry), there might be tables to express the value of a planning-hour in terms of prep-hours or conweekend-hours. Strategy-hours, coordination-hours and execution-hours could all be traded on the open market. That’s all fantasy but, in the real world, that’s where the scarcity is around cons: simply not enough dedicated arms, legs, backs and brains (which will then become the units of currency once the zombie apocalypse arrives).
So things got missed at Lunacon. Nobody’s fault, but there simply weren’t enough people with enough interest and enough experience to pull it off without more than the usual snags and hiccups. At some point, we need to examine why this is true but, for now, suffice to say it’s true. And it’s nothing unique to Lunacon. Every con has that problem.
A secondary problem — not that it should be minimized, as it’s a close second — is a lack of attendance. Lunacon doesn’t fill the Escher Hilton like it used to. I didn’t book my room until Wednesday afternoon for a Friday-Sunday stay and, if you paid the Lunacon rate, I paid $15/night less than you did. (Don’t hate the play-ah …)
Up to now, I’ve focused on my experience at Lunacon this year. Let’s talk a little about the experience of I-Con 2013 …
… OK. Now, let’s compare and contrast.
I-Con was cancelled this year. I’ve heard a lot of blame bandied around, and I’m sure there’s no shortage. The one I hear the most is, “It’s because of construction at Stony Brook.” I can believe that one time, and did. A few years ago, I-Con organizers had to move programming to another college campus. It was a logistical nightmare, but at least everyone could tell themselves, “Well, it’s just for this one time.” But then I-Con moved back to Stony Brook. Are we to believe that, after 30 years, suddenly the university is doing all this massive construction all in a short span of time? I find it difficult to believe.
What makes it even harder to believe is that the decision had already been made to move to Hofstra University. As a Hofstra alumnus and a Town of Hempstead resident, I was psyched! I sent repeated emails to the concom asking how someone with strong ties to the college, the community and the con can help. I told them I was willing to help however I can. They never responded. Instead, I received the blast email announcing the event was to be “postponed” but they’d have a presence at Lunacon. So I sought them out this past weekend in Rye and asked a comcon member eye-to-eye, how can I help bring back I-Con. His response came down to “money”.
I won’t repeat my earlier point. Rather, I’ll restate my thesis: these two cons should merge. The vendors would turn cartwheels. There’s enough money, interest and volunteer-hours for one con, but not two.
The counter-argument is that Lunacon and I-Con are two entirely different animals: I-Con is a pop-culture/media event and Lunacon is a literary event.
That is a false dichotomy.
I-Con has a literary track. Lunacon has other programming. The only con I can think of that could pass a purity test is Readercon, and that’s a special case. Boston has a different con every month or two. They each need to distinguish themselves, so Readercon stands as the relaxed, bookish weekend we all know and love. For whatever reason, we don’t presently have that frothy fan base in New York — and that’s just the reality we have to live with. For now, it makes more sense to have one con that serves the greatest number of people by catering to the widest swath of interests while deploying the most efficient use of volunteer-hours.
One of those interests is horror. Sure, there’s Chiller Theatre, which hadn’t crossed my mind when I posted the vlog stating that there are no major horror conventions in the New York area, but I stand by my broader point that the local horror community is underserved. Organizationally, I think our combined con should have a matrix organization; yes, there should be a chair for each track — literary, film, fandom, media, gaming, children, cosplay, masquerade, dealers and so on — but there should also be a cross-track chair for each genre represented — SF, fantasy, horror, comics and any subgenres organizers would care to parse out (forex steampunk, hard SF, dark fantasy, epic fantasy). These genre chairs could then ensure that each track is informed by each constituency.
Ultimately, I think the literary and cultural fandoms need each other desperately. Just as I believe that Lunacon is unsustainable without more pop culture, I believe that marginalizing the authors’ track is a major contributor to I-Con’s long slide into hiatus. The written word might no longer be the typical fan’s gateway into the genres, but it remains the starting point of every best-selling movie or video game, and it remains the institutional memory of the entire industry that is F/SF. You can’t simply cut it out like a tumor; you have to nurture it as a vital organ.
So what would happen logistically if we consolidated these two events?
First, I think we need to acknowledge that this wouldn’t be a permanent arrangement. I would hope that, after a few years (fewer=better), one (or more) cons could be spun off. Hey, it worked in Boston.
Second, we’d have to settle on a site. If it’s to incorporate all of I-Con’s programming, it would have to be big. I kind of like the idea of a con spanning a hotel and a college campus.
But it shouldn’t be Stony Brook University. The relation with I-Con has been strained too many times over too many years. It’s also in the middle of nowhere. And the nearest hotel that could function as the official hotel (lots of guest rooms and a big ballroom) is the Holiday Inn Ronkonkoma, but it’s a half hour away from campus via indirect county roads. It’s also — let’s be honest — a seedy joint with creepy clientele.
Lunacon’s current base in Rye works OK. Sure, the Escher Hilton has its own issues, but they’re not insurmountable and some of the hotel’s quirkiness is actually endearing. Assuming a combined con would fill the place, it’s great to know that there are so many other hotels along Westchester Avenue that could serve as overflow accommodations. And organizers could talk with the administrators of at least three local schools — Fordham, Manhattanville and Purchase — before selecting the optimal campus.
But maybe I-Con had the best idea. Certainly this is where my rooting interest is, but over the years I’ve demonstrated my willingness to go with other options: Hofstra. You can get there directly by mass transit — Long Island Railroad (Hofstra runs a shuttle to the Mineola station) and buses from all directions stop at or within walking distance of Hofstra: express buses from the city, local routes going as far east as Babylon — even Greyhound. There’s a Marriott less than a mile away that was good enough for Stoker Weekend a couple years back and, if we filled that, there’s a La Quinta, a Red Roof, a Hyatt Place and a Hampton not much beyond that.
Still, I live near Hofstra — I’m not married to it. Let’s open the floor to other suggestions. We need to discuss this openly, hammer out a big-animal-pictures strategy, then go into as much detail as needed.
I now renew publicly the offer I made to I-Con’s organizers privately:
How can I help?