Arisia and Boskone always get compared. There’s a huge amount of sibling rivalry. Ever since the fiasco that that led to the mitosis of one con into two (that’s a story in and of itself) they have each been working to define themselves.
Arisia has blossomed into a huge circus of fandom, embracing multi-media, expanding programming to include more and more each year, and growing increasingly militant in the field of Social Justice, especially gender and transgender. Boskone has remained small, conservative, and serious. Arisia is a party con. Boskone is not. Arisia is flamboyantly diverse. Boskone, let’s face it, is not.
Until this year. Boskone 54 was different.
Broad Universe always throws great parties. No booze, but fantastic food. This year the Friday night Broad Universe party at Boskone drew an especially good crowd. We had a corner room so there was more space, and knots of conversation raveled and unraveled richly. I got drawn into one which included a SMOF (“Secret Masters of Fandom”, the hardcore folks who organize and run these things) and a long-time panelist and insider.
I love con-gossip. Like most gossip, it can drift a bit from the truth, but depending on the source, can also provide fascinating insights. What they were saying agreed with my own impressions, and with what I’d heard from others. You may take it all with however much salt is to your taste.
Arisia has reached a point where they are beginning to lose many of the more serious fans and professionals. Ironically, in their drive to be all-inclusive, they are making many people feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. Also ironically, their passionate campaign to avoid offending anyone is starting to offend people. As a result, many in core fandom are turning away from Arisia and looking for alternatives. The obvious one is Boskone.
Boskone is seeing the opportunity and seizing it. There are few if any “Lifestyle” panels. Panels discuss science, writing, books, movies, comics, all the places science fiction has traditionally thrived and continues to thrive. More than one panel I was on talked about the role of SF in shaping society and the future. Oh, and lest you get the wrong idea, all of Speculative Fiction was represented. There were panels on fantasy, horror, and all the crossovers and realms in between. SF is my thing, and it’s NESFA‘s thing, but trying to isolate the genres is pretty pointless these days.
In spite of the huge traffic the Arisia dealer’s room gets, book authors and vendors find that their sales are lackluster. I know Broad Universe did almost as well at Boskone as we did at Arisia, even though Boskone is a third the size and one day shorter. Sales were brisk at Boskone right from the first day. The bookseller next to our table summed it up. He observed that the kind of person who attends Boskone is more serious about books. Arisia fans are into media, into lifestyle, into costumes, into gaming; they are not as likely to be readers. Thus, in spite of the difference in attendance, some authors and dealers are deciding that Boskone is more cost-effective to attend.
Boskone had a much “geekier” feel to it than Arisia. There were more booksellers than costumers and “gear” vendors. Fans did come in costume and were admired, but the great majority did not. Because it was smaller, there were far more opportunities to talk to friends and to professionals. (It was also easier to get around; the elevators weren’t constantly slow and jam-packed, and the crowds were thinner.) I had a chance to say hello to all the pros who had blurbed my books. I had a chance to talk to a publisher about a project. (A new book deal may come out of this, but I refuse to say more lest I jinx it.) There were few parties, but they were good ones, very social and conducive to conversation. Even the closed ones were about getting together and sharing interests, not getting hammered.
There was something else about this Boskone. In the past, it has had a reputation as a con dominated by white males. Not so anymore. Boskone 54 was visibly more diverse. Panelists, vendors, and attendees included many non-white non-males. There was a different feel, a different energy. Without fanfare, Boskone is welcoming new blood. For many, it was their first Boskone, and they were enjoying themselves. For those of us who had been coming for years, it felt fresh, re-energized. For me personally, this Boskone was one of my best conventions. It had the personal, friendly feel of Pi-Con (RIP). It had the emphasis on books without Readercon‘s snobbishness. It had the feel of a traditional SF convention, but brought up to date.
Kudos to the organizers of Boskone 54. You all did a superb job. You are onto something here, and we are delighted to see it happening. I look forward eagerly to Boskone 55, and I think a lot of others do, too. If there is only one convention I attend next year, Boskone will be it.
[photos courtesy Remy Flagg and Robert Finegold]