I love the Ad-astra SF convention because it’s mostly about writers and readers. While Darth Vader does wander around and the costumes are fantastic, the emphasis and debates center around SF novels and their evolution.
So one would expect that science fiction authors and readers would be the first ones to embrace new technology. I assumed that SF people would be on the cutting edge of exploiting new gadgets, especially related to reading and writing.
Instead, I was surprised this weekend when I found that there was hardly a mention of e-books. When they did come up, heads shook and people spoke of upheaval. Readers and writers expressed concern about who would be the gatekeepers in this new universe if the publishers couldn’t keep the riff-raff out of print. Others talked about the smell and feel of paper books, even when I pointed out that they were probably talking about the scent of printing chemicals and binding glue, and in the case of their old paperback collections, mildew and mold.
I went to the only panel dedicated to e-books and found a nearly empty room. Of the five panelists scheduled to speak, only two had turned up. The audience consisted of four of us, with a fifth coming late.
Now the 10:00 am Sunday morning time slot probably didn’t help; there’s quite a bit more partying on Saturday night at an SF convention than most people ever imagined. The Chizine party rocked, and not just because they provided lots of free beer and wine. I’m guessing that some people weren’t up and running Sunday morning with their usual vigor.
But still, when you think that Amanda Hocking has sold a couple of million SF e-books in the last year, you would think everyone at the convention would at least know her name, but I was stunned to find that many of those avid readers had never heard of her because they don’t buy e-books and they don’t follow that market.
We had a great panel in spite of the low turn out, and it was clear by the end of the hour that we were all die-hard converts to e-books, including author Dave Duncan, whose wily agent, Richard Curtis, jumped early and fast into the e-book market and has all of Duncan’s back list out there and selling. Ryan McFadden, who converts Chizine’s published novels into e-book format, did a great job as the unexpected moderator.
Now my generalization about the technophobia must be taken with a grain of salt since it’s based totally on anecdotal evidence. Science fiction master Robert J. Sawyer was doing readings from an e-reader ten years ago, and he’s one of the earliest adopters I know of that technology.
But I’m a bit concerned now. I’m on a panel about e-books this coming June at the Bloody Words mystery convention in Victoria. I’m looking forward to the conference, but I have to wonder if I’ll show up for the panel and find an empty room. Will I be abandoned by my fellow panelists and speaking with a tiny audience? I’d love to speak to a full room, but it would be rather disappointing if I discovered that mystery writers and readers are more interested in e-books than science fiction fans.