Passing It On
by Ernest Lilley
SFRevu Editorial ISBN/ITEM#: EL0609
Date: September 2006 / Show Official Info /
Pretty much everyone who has an interest in SF knows that its readership is aging into oblivion. What's unfortunate is that the genre itself is doing quite well, by which I mean that the quality of writing is very high and the number of books coming out every month continues to offer readers plenty of selection. But younger fans are generally lured away by other media, and the ones that do show up at conventions are more likely to be wearing star fleet uniforms than toting book bags. Certainly that was my take on the state of affairs at last month's World Science Fiction Convention in LA. Now, proximity to Hollywood may have skewed the fan distribution some, but the number of folks under thirty seemed pretty small...and they didn't seem all that engaged by the literary panels.
Sitting in on discussions of genre, writing, and literature with the field's top writers, editors and critics it occurred to me that there was more here than I'd gotten in most of my college courses. It's too bad that SF conventions don't market themselves as educational opportunities, because they have the potential to be terrific ones. Besides the discussion of genre fiction past, present, and future, they provide access to all levels of literary professional, from writers that have just gotten their first short story published in a fanzine to the heads of major publishing houses, and everyone in between.
It seems to me that there's a lot of educational opportunity going to waste at cons, and I wonder why aren't we courting the educational community? I'd suggest that every convention have an education liaison who contacts local (and non-local) colleges and high schools to discuss opportunities with teachers.
If, for instance, a con attendee chose five panels grouped around some theme, say "Gender Issues in SF&F" and wrote a paper on it, maybe with an interview of a Hugo winner or Sr. Editor (and of course you can find both in one person if you're lucky) wouldn't that be worth a credit or two?
At the very least, any literary SF convention would offer plenty of meat for some independent study credits, and hopefully we already have enough members of the community on college staffs to help us work out the details.
Online Universities might also be a good place to look to find interest in academic programs in SF, and though writing may be what we offer most consciously, there's a host of opportunities for other disciplines as well. From physics to cultural anthropology, SF cons offer a vast repository of knowledge and a population worthy of study. After all, between the writers of the past and their readers, now grown up, we're the people who dreamed up the future we're living in, and the ones who wonder what tomorrow will bring.
For openers, I'd suggest that every convention's PR person contact the English departments of all the schools in their region, including colleges, universities, and high schools. Open a dialogue with the staffs and let them know what we have to offer. Send program descriptions from past cons and bios of the sort of folks we get on panels.
I'd also look to create program tracks which follow the development of SF over the last hundred years or so for anyone who didn't start reading it in the 1940s, 50s or 60s.
Both the literature and proponents of science fiction and fantasy have matured to the point where the future is not so much about what they will do next, as to who they pass their knowledge onto. It's time to gather the next generation around the fire and share the old stories with them. I'm sure we'll be surprised at how much we learn in the process.
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