a panel discussion on the BSFA awards, Fantasy in the Court at Goldsboro Books, and the launch of Sarah Pinborough's excellent Poison.
I thoroughly enjoyed each evening, and would estimate that the attendees of the three, when put together, make up a significant proportion of London's geek-culture, certainly when it comes to traditional definitions of 'fandom'.
At the Pinborough signing, I was in a circle of discussion with Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Joe Abercrombie, Tom Pollock, Gav Pugh and myself and made a comment about the ubiquitous facial hair on display. All these fine men have equally fine facial follicles, or a similar disdain for razors, depending on how you look at it. I don't, and thus felt slightly naked before their fearsome chin-bristles and authorly might.
The reason I lack chin bristles, apart from an enjoyment of being clean shaven? I couldn't grow a beard if I tried. I'm nigh on 21 years of age, and can't grow a beard. The shame. Some combination of youth and late onset puberty have combined to make my jaw unable to be warmed by the furry friend of fantasy authors. This is embarrassing, but a fact of life, that I shall have to overcome, probably by finding a unique selling point - like wearing glasses, or not balding (unlike most/all of the above... Cheeky)
This has a serious point, however: I was the youngest person at every single one of those three events by at least five years.
If you discount industry, who some (including me) would argue have to attend a book launch or industry-heavy meet-and-greet, I was probably the youngest by eight-to-ten years. This shocks me, and clearly says something about fandom for us to consider, namely: is fandom defined by age?
There are two obvious answers to the questions of youth and fandom. 1) Youth doesn't like fandom, and 2) Fandom doesn't like youth. I'd argue that both are equally applicable.
An article in The Guardian recently pointed out that the
last of four key developments in a person's reading life is the ability
not to give a shit about other people's opinion of what you read, and
just reading for your own pleasure: most youth have yet to reach that
stage. - They are busy reading Dostoyevsky because you are meant to read Dostoyevsky. I'm reading Hardinge because I want to read her. I've reached stage
Even where those my age have reached this stage, they just aren't interested. Most people my age are out shagging, or drinking, or smoking, or taking drugs, or being academic, or having existential meltdowns about their lives as they adjust into 'true' adulthood, while facing the end of their secondary or tertiary education. I am not: I am lucky enough to have had a steady (and rather splendid) girlfriend for six years (aww), to have a solid idea of what I want to do in my life (publishing & writing), to have established hobbies (football, reading, refereeing), to not drink often or much, to not smike. In short, I'm a touch odd when it comes to my age group. Youth is not cut out for the rigours of fandom. It lacks the disposable income to pursue it to the nth degree: it would rather go to Aiya Napa than Eastercon.
Most of all, it lacks reader-experience. Once again, I strike myself as an exception rather than a rule in terms of the amount I've read. I read 50+ books a year and yet I haven't read everything by my favourite author in the world, China Mieville. I certainly would be blown out of the water on anything approaching a rigourous discussion on science fiction pre-2012 by any established (or semi decent) fan. Simply because I was 18 in 2011, and had other things on my mind. And this is a difficult obstacle to overcome, especially when attending an event for the first time, unsure as to who or what to talk about.
Fandom as a result does not accept newcomers easily. Its an insular community of authors and fans who know everyone and each other, who appreciate and keep in touch via the interwebs, the BSFA, the BFA, Twitter and the like. To reiterate, everyone knows everyone. This is intimidating. To walk up to Joe Abercrombie in conversation with Mark de Jager is to walk up to people who've known each other as acquaintances, maybe even friends, for five years. I met Mark, when pissed, once at the Goldsboro Books thing. I met Joe once, when pissed, at Blackwell's last year. To integrate, you have to have a presence, establish an identity over time, to join a group that is already formed.
Youth lacks that easy way in, that
knowing-someone-who-knows-someone that is, for some, the key to entering
fandom. It lacks the life and reading experience necessary to take the bull by the
horns and chat to a randomer about feminism in Epic Fantasy.
Youth is an outsider to fandom, in general not ready for it. But simultaneously, I think fandom is not accessible to youth, to the new, to those unable to grow beards. One day, I'll stroke mine and look at a fresh faced wee lad, and think of this blog.