Last week I went to the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention (Loncon 3) in London. This was the first time I went to give a paper at a public event where I knew nobody and nobody knew me.
At first, it was overwhelming. Thousands of people in ‘My Dad is a Jedi’, ‘Beam me up, Scotty’ and ‘I speak N’arn’ t-shirts. Hundreds of sci-fi books in dozen stalls. Lots and lots of academic and non-academic tracks to visit. Very tight timekeeping. Good (but expensive) food. I ended up buying a ‘Don’t Panic!’ button so that I wouldn’t look out of place. At first, I was going to wear my MST3000 shirt but then decided to be all civilised and academic. I shouldn’t have – I look decidedly alien in amongst the sci-fi fans.
The track I was giving my paper in was about Latin American science fiction and politics. Not that I mind combining the two, but truth be told, I’ve never done so. Nor did I do it this time. Instead, I gave a rather playful paper titled ‘Checking out of a Hexagon’ about Borges’s story ‘La biblioteca de Babel’. With the aid of a sand dragon and a couple of weird pictures from New Scientist, I managed to make the audience laugh, pay attention and enjoy Borges’s rather Escheresque text. I even got dragged into a mathematical argument by a somewhat overwhelmed retired journalist. I don’t go looking for fun – it finds me. Every time.
All in all, in between presentations on dwarf mammoths and lost Dr Who episodes, Sherlock Holmes and scientific method, I found myself feeling like I belonged. And next time Loncon 4 comes to town, I’ll be there, donning a Dr Clayton Forrester t-shirt and talking about string theory in Mexican poetry.
And may La Fuerza be with me!