Is That a Horn on Your Head, or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

(The following is an essay I have written for the Cerridwen Press newsletter. Enjoy! -ekd)

There was a very tall man with broad shoulders standing in front of me. The room was crowded, so I waited patiently until it was opportune for me to step past him. As I did so, he turned toward me and said, “Excuse me,” in a polite, friendly voice.

He had horns.

Not huge devil’s horns out of some bad fantasy movie with Tom Cruise. Just small, discreet horns about two inches long, protruding from his forehead.

Now if you looked pretty closely, you could see the thin clear band holding the horns to his head. But I didn’t want to look that closely. He was a pretty big guy. And he did have horns.

I was at a science fiction and fantasy convention. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, there are thousands of Cons every year, ranging from a small gathering of a few hundred in Nashville to Dragoncon in Atlanta, which attracts more than 20,000 every Labor Day weekend.

The stereotypes evoke images of four-eyed geeks in Star Trek uniforms saluting each other with the Vulcan hand signal and building model ships while discussing the fine points of alien technology.

In fact, this is only partially true.

In reality, these conventions have been going on since the 1930s. They began as literary conventions discussing the great science fiction novels of the time, and have since expanded to include fans of fantasy, horror, role-playing games and all kinds of genre fiction.

Con-goers tend to be fairly intellectual types, yes. That means they read. And there are some in Star Trek uniforms. There are also people in pixie wings and (as we’ve seen) horns. There are brutes in full battle gear and children in wizard robes. There are medieval gowns, black trenchcoats, velvet capes, black-feathered wings, vampire teeth and T-shirts with elaborate artistic designs. Being in costume is part of the fun for your average Con-goer, and at night, the costumes get a bit more… daring. Whatever your kink, you can find people of like mind at a Con.

The dealers’ room is an eclectic shopping mall of fun. For ones who dress up, there’s every kind of costume. I expected a vast array of memorabilia, but instead, I found the best assortment of used books this side of eBay. Beside the inevitable model ships were displays of original art in abstract and fantasy themes. Alongside blooper tapes of old science fiction shows was a small-press publisher of short-story magazines, authentic reproductions of ancient weapons and a collection of antique comic books that would have made my godson drool.

What’s your interest? Sure, there’s demonstrations of various plot-derived card games, sociological aspects of science fiction shows and history of fandom. But there were also intensive writing seminars, discussions of the future of space exploration and women’s roles in popular fiction, a subject near and dear to my heart. Ever wanted to discuss the warrior woman archetype in fantasy fiction? You’re home.

It’s easy for “mundanes” make fun of these people. They wear bizarre clothing, use strange hand signals, devote a huge amount of time to the study, discussion and observation of their chosen world. Their devotion to these fictional realms is absolute. They use strange words and wear strange disguises.

But think about the fans of the Green Bay Packers, who strip to the waist in zero-degree weather, paint their bodies and dance and scream at games. Think of the legions who sit in their living rooms or the local bar watching football night after night in absolute devotion. Think of the fans who wear enormous blocks of cheese on their heads. Are they less strange or obsessed?

And in no other place will you find men like the ones at Con.

They are courteous, having studied the Knights of the Round Table, and more willing to listen to a woman’s view than men in most other venues. If anyone ever gets out of line, there are nine burly men in kilts ready and willing to stand up for a woman whose name they don’t know.

And they have swords.

There is real diversity to be found at Con: ages range from eight to eighty, and attendees are black, white, Asian, Hispanic, you name it. After all, what’s the difference between black and white when there’s a Klingon standing behind you?

For a writer, Cons are beyond valuable. A writing seminar may charge you hundreds of dollars to listen to a “famous” writer who… needs to do writing seminars to pay the bills. At a Con, you’ll pay at most about $40 for an entire weekend to stalk published writers who are happy to pontificate about their work, and these folks are helpful. Through Cons, I have met such authors as Harlan Ellison, Anne McCaffrey, Sherrilyn Kenyon and Brian Keene. I have learned more from authors at Con than any writing seminar or college courses could ever have taught me.

Where else can you learn about the physics of faster-than-light travel a few steps away from a live sword-fighting demonstration and a workshop on how to survive a zombie apocalypse?

So if you decide to venture to a Con, leave your shyness, uncertainty and preconceptions behind. Wear black. Bring a notebook. And if you should see a man with horns on his head, smile at him. You never know – he could just be happy to see you.


  1. Yay!

    nothing too interesting in my comment. I just wanted to say something because I enjoyed your post. and I'm looking forward to seeing you at the next Hypericon. and I swear I'll read at least one of your books by then. and I'll plug it to everyone I know. all both of them.


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