December will mark the beginning of convention season (the 2017-2018 season to be precise) for yours truly and I thought I’d take a little time to mention where I’ll be and what I’ll be talking about:
First up on the agenda is Smofcon 35, in just a few week’s time, December 1st thru 3rd, in Boston.
Before going any farther, I think it important to translate the name of this relatively small yet extremely important convention, as it is derived from convoluted fanspeak and may not be fully appreciated otherwise:
“con” of course is the shortened form of “CONvention”, sometimes of “CONclave”, and more rarely “CONvict” (although the latter usually only appears after the fact). It is typically appended as a suffix to other words or abbreviations in the creation of a convention name, thus – “World CON” or “Phil CON” (the annual event that commemorates Phillip of Macedonia’s brief flirtation with heterosexuality), although it can also be used as a prefix (“CONKahn” – an unusual event where teams of contestants, dressed up as Captain Kirk of Star Trek fame, scream the word “Kahn” or “Con” and the opposing team receives points for correctly guessing whether they are screaming “Con” or “Kahn”),
From this brief yet thorough explanation, you should now be better able to parse conversations overheard on the street. For example, if you overhear someone at the bus stop saying “I’m going to the con”, you can be pretty sure they’re attending a convention in town, rather than taking a trip to Washington D.C.
Now as far as “smof” is concerned, things get a bit complicated, because “smof” is not actually a word, it’s an acronym, which is a word made up of the initial letters of other words, or sometimes multiple letters from each of several different words, but never made up from whole words, which would be taking us into the realm of portmanteau, an affectation of this magazine’s first publisher and a subject far too deep for us to get into at this juncture.
“SMOF” should more properly be written as “S.M.O.F.”, as it is an acronym, which you ought to know by know, if you’ve been paying attention. Our vaunted digital age, however, is a demanding one that values succinctness and brevity above all else and so, over time, the abbreviation has become abbreviated by dint of the removal of four periods. Which just so happens to correspond to the number of periods found at the end of a sentence when one is ending said sentence with an ellipsis, as we will do right now by way of example, even though there are no omitted words that can be derived from context, thusly….
WHY the number of periods removed from the SMOF acronym corresponds to the number of periods found in an ellipsis at the end of a sentence is, of course, a subject of much debate at Smofcon, as one would expect of a convention named Smofcon. That is, if anyone expects anything from a convention named Smofcon. I suspect it might be a more valuable and rewarding experience for the members of Smofcon to discuss why they expect anything, let alone anything from the convention, rather than wasting time on something that is clearly nothing more than a mere coincidence. (Or is it?)
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
S.M.O.F. stands for Secret Master of Fandom. SMOF also stands for Secret Master of Fandom, as does smof….
When referring to a group of fans, we can append an ‘s’ to the “Master” (Masters being the official name for a group of fans, like murder is for crows and gaggle is for geese. Of late there has been significant pushback against the word “master” by fandom’s feminist contingent. A committee has been tasked with proposing gender-neutral replacements.)
Putting it all together reveals that “Smofcon” translates to the Secret Master(s) of Fandom Convention, a phrase that sounds relatively ominous, which is probably why they started this whole abbreviated acronym business in the first place.
At this point I am required by law (well Alaskan State Statute, but this piece might be read in Gnome, so, cover the bases) to state that the Secret Masters of Fandom is NOT a cabal that secretly influences the direction of world fandom, that there were NO Smofs on the grassy knoll (JKK has pictures, now in AP’s posession), the passenger manifest of the Hindenburg does not name any known associates, and fandom did not officially exist at the time of the Johnstown flood. (Yes, those are caveats.)
If you believe they were playing softball on Sunday in 1939, well, you should probably think twice before attending Smofcon.
Smofcon’s official description states that it is a convention for convention runners to get together and share methods and insight about the running of conventions. Wikipedia defines “Smof” as:
“(smof) is an honorific bestowed upon the fans who actually do the organisational work behind much of fandom or are stalwart members of the fannish community. This includes fans who are regarded highly by others for their work in running conventions, fanzines, and fan funds, and who work (for the most part) on an entirely voluntary basis for the good of fandom in general, as well as those whose standing is high within the fannish community by dint of their long participation in it.”
Which begs the question: if all of the con-runners are attending Smofcon, who is running the show? Who indeed.
I was informed back in 1977, by none other than Jack Chalker, a fan and author who is credited with one of the earlier usages of the term SMOF, that I was one. Well, we know that, but in this case I think he was referring to my being a smof. He then informed me that no good smof proclaims themselves a smof, that honor must needs be bestowed by others. My elevation to membership in the
cabal group was apparently by dint of the work I was doing on that year’s Worldcon.
This might be one explanation as to why I have been invited to speak at this year’s convention. (Another explanation might be that I’m attending and volunteered to speak and have been known to “give good panel” at previous conventions. It might also be a mistake; it might be an invite for the Invisible Fan.)
Regardless, I will be attending Smofcon and pontificating during at least two panels –
FANDOM IS LARGE: Fandom has always changed, evolving over time and adapting to the new norms, new technology, and new SF/F content – but does it seem like the rate of change is accelerating lately? Fannish memes that have been around for decades don’t resonate with some new fans nowadays. Why? Have we perhaps been negligent in passing on our traditions or have we failed to change with the times? Have we failed to let other groups know how inclusive we believe ourselves to be? What changes in conventions might solve this problem, while still honoring our fannish traditions? How can we fix this?
I’ll be appearing with Erin Underwood , Aurora Celeste, and Marcin “Alqua” Klak. There will not be a basket of puppies in attendance, so I feel safe in not wearing my clodhoppers.
I’m also scheduled for On Security: A discussion about what to do when things really go wrong. We’ll look at topics ranging from crowd control to weapon policies, harassment to medical issues (the latter will be covered in more detail this afternoon.) Keep conventions safe! As I have a fair amount of experience with that topic.
Later on in the year I’m scheduled for Boskone 55, (February 16-18, Boston) where I have previously made appearances and yet they keep on inviting me back.