Science Fiction Outreach at C2E2

Science Fiction Outreach took a booth at C2E2 in Chicago to promote reading and SF conventions.The event ran from December 10-12. James Bacon was there to help. 

By James Bacon: I had a terrific weekend and thousands of books were given away. Helen Montgomery was leading the operation with a host of fans helping out. The books, so many kindly donated by fans, were moved from storage to McCormick Place on Wednesday by Helen and Dave McCarty. On Thursday set up was in full flow and the shelving was built with Leanne’s help, and books put out. 

Weeks of preparation had gone into sorting the books, especially separating kids’ books, as these are at a premium for kids present at con, but even they are separated into age groups.

Friday was busy enough but with some superb examples of cosplay. Readers, once convinced that ‘Free’ meant free descended upon the booth with eagerness. Dune and Frank Herbert were perhaps the most asked for, although we had plenty of prequels, sequels, so that was good. Horror as ever proved to be strongly popular, and media tie-ins from Star Wars to Star Trek were very popular. There was considerable interest in magazines, while related books flew out.  

Leanne, Johnathon, Dave, Noelle, Michelle, Alan, Sue, Pam all helped to call out free books, replenish, chat, engage and recommend. Pam had donated a given box so as it got opened was able to give first-hand recommendations. It was also nice to meet fans for the first time and they were a lovely crew. 

Here the call of free attracts all fans. One needs to be ready to meet erudite well-read fans, of all ages and backgrounds, and I loved talking to readers. 

“Any authors you are looking for? And who’s your favourite?” work well, while “Would you like a recommendation?” was also popular. If one found a good book and lightly said “This is awesome space opera” it was soon taken away. Fans like recommendations. A Penguin book of Irish Myths lasted seconds.

It’s great fun, although a hard part is convincing people that the books are free, that yes, you can take more than one and you know, there were fans who were so grateful, so pleased to be going home with something, unexpected and nice and certainly in some cases, clear they hadn’t expected to be taking anything home and that is amazing.  

Librarians and teachers flock in, inquisitive and eager to spread the word, collectors wonder and share their passion but are reluctant to take books they hope fans younger than them will pick up. Chicon regulars fist bump and show their pride and pleasure with the efforts and cosplayers cone in to browse.  

Octavia Butler, Yoon Ha Lee and Aliette de Bodard proved easy to recommend, readers were actively enquiring about writers from as diverse backgrounds as the fans at C2E2. It’s easy to talk about great works while catering to such requests. Anthologies also offered great opportunity to allow a low investment spec try of a specified genre or area, and with themed subjects covering so many aspects, even with the most challenging of requests “I like war stuff” was easily sorted with some Joe Haldeman edited anthologies to choose from.   

Likewise James White, Justina Robson and Robyn Hobb were snapped up by readers looking for pointers. Pratchett, Rice, Banks, Harris, Gaiman, LeGuin were snaffled quickly too, but with less prompting. 

Real excitement and pleasure was palpable, and it was fun. 

We had T-shirts available for a @$25 donation and these proved popular, and people were just so nice and lovely, and donations kindly flowed. There’s real respect and appreciation. 

Every book has a bookmark promoting Outreach, Worldcons, local cons. But also flyers were given out for local cons and worldwide ones too.

With a good crew in hand, breaks were encouraged and I was gratefully given time to enjoy C2E2. 

Had a cracking weekend. In between giving away free books, with Helen Montgomery and the gang, meeting fabulous cosplayers, and enthusing about dozens of authors, I also got to roam about C2E2.  

It was amazing to meet Larry Hama, who was so friendly and we spoke about the Vietnam issue of Journey Planet, while he knows the west of Ireland well. He also was happy to use a Sharpie on a fan that would get tattooed! 

Larry Hama wields a Sharpie

It was fabulous to catch up with Dublin 2019 featured artist Afua Richardson who continues to do amazing work, and I was chuffed to get her to sign Marvels Indigenous Voices for which she did a variant cover. 

Gene Ha was super lovely and kind, and we enjoyed overcoming some pronunciation challenges, our mutual friend  Pádraig Ó Méalóid, being easy to read one way and not sounding like the person I mean when I say Pádraig. Gene is a guest at Capricon and Chicon 8 and I’m very excited. 

I asked Chris Claremont, “So about the Leprechauns in the X-Men?” and got a wonderfully thoughtful response. Indeed we spoke for longer than I expected, and it was a good discussion. 

Chris Claremont

Stephanie Hans was impressed that comics signed to other fans make lovely postal surprises, while I got to meet some amazing people thanks to Christopher Hwang. I failed to meet David Mack, and I wanted to thank him again for an awesome time at Thought Bubble

It was all go. It was huge. There were a lot of people but not overly crowded. 

The Covid policy was good, everyone wore a mask, polite and cheerful wardens reminded people, in a respectful way, assuming forgetfulness in the first instance and having masks for anyone who dropped them. This approach is good, it works. 

The con had hundreds of large 10- or 12-foot tables, next to a long run of different food trailers or stands and a bar, where beers and food could be eaten. At these tables there was no issue if you had no mask on while enjoying your break. People were respectful asking to join tables with others, but still given space some distance away at the same table, while anyone who I observed saying “I’d prefer you not” was respected or thumbed up and folks moved on. It was good, thoughtful. There was no anti-establishment bull, but likewise no heavy-handed unnecessary enforcement. Regular announcements informed us all that masks were mandatory. It was good. 

The cosplay was excellent and I offered praise and took photos of favourites.  

Timothy Zahn was as ever delightful, and it was good to speak to him, asking what’s next for this author and his character Grand Admiral Thrawn. 

A wonderful personal moment was some kind praise from Garth Ennis for the Battle issue of Journey Planet, noting a particular poignant element, a photo of myself and Dad and an article I wrote, while I discussed research I’ve done on V for Vengeance, published in 1942. 

Garth is so good to his fans, he signs and signs and signs and is generous with his time, he contributed to JP with an interview and kindly donated to charitable activities arranged by Paul Trimble, but you know, praise from professionals for your zine, is nice. I can’t wait for his next work with PJ Holden and Keith Burns, The Lion and the Eagle

Detroit Pizza is Amazing. One pizza was equal to all the cheese I ate in three months. Got a go on a US school bus, met Josephine the French bulldog who got off her pedestal of guarding Battlecat to say hello. Along with thousands of fans taking away books. 

The Science Fiction Outreach Project continues its good work and as a 501(c) accepts donations.

More photos after the jump. 

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