This weekend I drove about 3 hours south to Portland to attend Orycon, a small-ish science fiction con of around 2,000 people. It felt like a good-sized con, although I’ve come to realize that what makes a con feel “big” or “small” is not so much the number of attendees, but the ratio between the size of the crowd and the size of the space in which it’s held. ConCarolinas was small, but felt crowded and cramped. NASFIC was small, but felt empty. Orycon was small(ish), and felt just right. It was dense enough that you always felt like you were at a con, with people in costumed finery wandering by at almost all hours of the day and night, but was still spread out enough that you could usually find somewhere to sit if you needed it.
Orycon was also my first introduction to the fandom and convention scene in the Pacific Northwest. I did notice a few differences with East Coast cons– although some of this may just be my own experience. But I felt like the crowd at Orycon was, on average, several years older than the crowd at the East Coast conventions I’ve been to. It is because Orycon’s focus is more on literature and less on media? I’m not sure. But it’s quite clear that fandom spans all age groups, and that was an impression I got more strongly at Orycon than I have at any other convention. It’s kind of reassuring, actually, to know I won’t have to turn in my geek card in my later years.
I also felt like there was more of a celebration of “the other”, of “the weird”, than there was at the East Coast cons. I wrote about this aspect of conventions in my Dragon*Con write-up, and I felt it even more strongly at Orycon. The atmosphere at conventions is incredibly, marvelously, accepting. On panels, someone might casually mention that they were gay, or bisexual, or polyamorous, or pagan, or various adjectives that might get you a raised eyebrow if you were overheard on the street. But at Orycon, no one so much as batted an eye. It was all taken in stride, and even though I’m a straight white male, it felt good to be around such an accepting crowd. We all have our differences, after all, our ways which make us “weird”– and being nerds and geeks, we pretty much fall into the “weird” category by default.
But first and foremost, Orycon is a convention to celebrate sci-fi and fantasy, and as I mentioned earlier, its biggest focus is on the literature side of things. There were a lot of great writing panels, lots of readings (the zombie erotica reading was particularly interesting– I honestly wasn’t sure how that would work, but it did… some stories were even romantic), and lots of panels that were just generally fun. In fact, I’d say that Orycon had the best selection of panels of any con I’ve been to– Dragon*Con had a wider selection, of course, but Dragon*Con panels are usually gigantic. The Orycon panels were nicely sized, and usually small enough that it was easy to ask questions. I got to meet some of the panelists, and chat with a few who I already knew (notably Mary Robinette Kowal, who I have now talked to at conventions on both sides of the country), and even chip in a few puns at the “Pun-ishment” panel… which went exactly as the title implies. 4 panelists and a good chunk of the audience doing nothing but coming up with horrible puns for an entire hour. As I mentioned on Twitter, I left with a headache.
Now it’s back to Seattle, and back to the NaNoWriMo novel I’ve been putting off and falling behind on. See you next year, Orycon.