by Bill Mullis
So your boyfriend -- or, perhaps, girlfriend -- has invited you to your first science fiction convention, and you’re a little panicky. You've heard all about these sci-fi weirdo types, and you’re not sure you can hold a conversation with Coneheads. There are some strange folks out there. You should know. Apparently you're involved with one now.
But he’s different. You wouldn’t hang out with a weirdo. It’s all the other nerds you’re worried about.
I'm here to help.
On genre and costumes
You will encounter a wide range of subcultures at your typical con, both in and of costume: Trekkers, Jedis, Transformers, barbarians, Hobbits, elves, furries. The undead will likely be there, along with Browncoats and Medievalists. Various alien races will be represented. Just remember that most of these folks have day jobs where they don’t dress this way, but where they excel just like normal people.
There are two things to never show:
1. Fear. Look that Klingon in the eye and tell him how much you admire the manliness of his forehead. Shake the zombie’s hand if it’s offered; the fingers that come away with your hand aren’t real. Usually.
2. Shock. Depending on current fashion, you may be confronted by men in huge mechanical robot costumes or women in scandalous lack of costumes. It’s all an act; the girl in the Stormtrooper bikini will go back to work Monday in the law offices that handle your corporate legal matters. The young man in the floor-length trench coat is in real life the manager of your local supermarket. That sawed-off shotgun he’s carrying is just for show. It’s not real. Usually.
Yes, you will hear a good bit of jargon. It may sound meaningless, but it fulfills the true purpose of jargon, functioning as a shorthand for ideas that there aren't any adequate “normal” words for. You should, whenever possible, ignore the fact that you have no idea what people are talking about. Just look interested, laugh when they laugh, smile knowingly when they lower their voices. They aren't talking about you, after all. Usually.
If you look confused, you will be labeled as a 'mundane,' which I assure you is not an unkind term. Unless they use the word 'mundane.' “Reality,” as the saying goes, “is for people who can’t handle science fiction.” So buck up and ask your date later what the heck they were going on about.
On the programming
The convention will have a variety of activities, from book signings to author panels to award presentations to viewings of classic movies. This is where you’ll find your hard-core fans, who aren’t really there to socialize. So feel free to duck into these venues if you want to be left alone for a bit.
And finally, when all else fails:
Most conventions are in hotels; most hotels, as luck would have it, have bars. You know what to do. Share and enjoy.
Bill Mullis, when not disguised as a native of South Carolina, makes his home on a medium-sized planet in the vicinity of Betelgeuse.