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Monday, June 28, 2010

Ruminations of an Old Goat

What is it about fandom that makes it so appealing? I'm not just talking about science fiction fandom. I'm talking about any kind of fandom, from the fervent fan of the Green Bay Packers to the rabid fan of Call of Duty video games to genre fiction fandom. What is it that draws us in, makes us fans?

I found myself thinking about this last week as two sports teams I followed were striving for victory. One of those teams was the U.S. World Cup Soccer team. The other was the Clemson University baseball team and their unexpected run of success at the College World Series. Both teams were considered long shots to win the championship. Both teams roused emotions within me; excitement, hope, dread. Even though I was a fan of both teams, the "fannish" experience was very different for the two teams. It wasn't the stakes that caused the difference, it was the people.

At work and at home, lots of people followed the World Cup. The television in the break room played all the games. People would pause after getting their coffee and watch the World Cup for a while. When the U.S. was playing, people would come into the break room, even if they only had a minute or two to spare, just to check on the game. You could always find someone willing to talk about the World Cup, how the refs had screwed the U.S. out of two goals in group play, how the defense needed to pick things up if the U.S. was going to have any chance in the knock-out round, or whether the U.S. was even going to make it to the knock-out round. It didn't matter whether you knew the person you were talking to because you were both talking the same language.

Conversely, I'm the only ardent Clemson fan in my circle of friends and co-workers. No one I know was even aware that Clemson was playing in the College World Series, much less that they had reached the point where a single win would put them in championship series, a best of three series for the national championship. I was an isolated fan. Being unable to share my excitement and interest in Clemson's baseball team was truly frustrating.

And that's what fandom is all about; sharing your interest with others without worrying about nasty arguments or fear of condemnation. Two fans of the same thing can always find something interesting about which to talk.

Fans of the same sports teams can bask in the memory of past victories, moan about games lost, complain about selfish players, and weigh the prospects of the upcoming season. Science fiction fans can discuss their favorite authors, favorite books, introduce fellow fans to new authors, lament how fantasy is crowding out hard science fiction, and discuss the sociological and technical implications of the coming singularity. Fans of role playing games can compare the various game systems they prefer, tell of favorite adventures, talk about their first exposure to role playing games, and maybe even find a new role playing group with which to play.

Fandom allows us to connect with fellow fans in ways nothing else does. If you stop and think about it, you are likely to have a lot of interests in common with your fellow co-workers. Everyone is interested in their health, but no one wants to talk about that. Most everyone is interested in politics, but if you express the "wrong" opinion to someone you run the risk of alienating those same people for all time. (People who disagree with your political opinions but can debate those opinions reasonably and still treat you the same after the discussion are rare people indeed. I've only known a handful of them.) Many of us have mortgages and all of us have bills, but who would want to talk about those? Fandom gives us something fun to talk about.

I believe that is why so many of feel at home here at the Friday Challenge. We have the (mostly) shared fandom of science fiction and writing drawing us together. We have a place where people can reasonably disagree on many subjects, yet still value the connections with those with whom we disagree.

And that's the real reason I've been so excited about the North American Science Fiction Convention, aka ReConstruction. In just over a month, I'll finally be able to meet some of you in person and receive immediate responses to the things I say. I just hope I come across as well in person as I do when I'm writing and have the luxury of editing what I "say" before you read it.

Plus, ReConstruction will be a celebration of science fiction fandom. I'm guaranteed to have something in common with virtually everyone there. I can't wait to see what new friends I'll make.
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