Convention Invention

Well, it’s been a year of lockdowns and quarantines and Zoom meetings and sourdough bread — and I know a lot of people have been missing going to conventions. So let’s take a look at a new novel about sci-fi conventions — with a few twists. Here’s The Con by J.D. DeLuzio.

This is the story of a convention. Two conventions, actually, both booked into the same Canadian hotel on the same weekend. One con is a very traditional science fiction convention; the other is a weekend-long meeting of the Jane Austen Society.

And because you can’t write about conventions without writing about people, this book is about a large-ish group of people attending one or the other con.

There’s Telfryn Tyde, a middle-aged geek with a history of mental illnesses; Brian and Augusta Slesak, married nerds with secrets; Patti Washington and Chelsea Ashe, supergeeks supreme; Thomas and Mark, nerd brothers chasing girls; Denise Moon, frustrated musician; Kate the Athlete, attending a con she doesn’t understand solely to chase her love; and Lady Susan Vernon — or rather, the hardcore roleplayer cosplaying as the minor Austen character.

Oh, and also Azogo of Uirtkauwea’ki, who might be someone wearing a stunningly complex costume… and might not be.

The book starts out a bit confusing, as a lot of characters are dropped on the reader in the space of just a few pages, and some of them are more important than others. But soon enough, all the characters get sorted out, aided by short spotlight chapters that let us get acquainted with everyone quickly.

It actually comes as a shock when the plot suddenly barrels onto the scene. Telfryn gets a couple sudden shocks that unexpectedly re-awaken the mental issues he thought he’d conquered long ago, and a chunk of the rest of the cast is enlisted in one way or another in locating him and helping him get back on a more even keel.

The story wraps up as the cast members make new connections, new friends, new relationships, ponder the nature of conventions, cons, and truths, and pack their cars to return to their normal lives.

Verdict: Thumbs up. A slow starter, but a book I came to enjoy a lot.

Far and away the most fun part of this novel is the characters — which was a little surprising because there were a few of these folks who I really disliked! Thomas and Mark, the nerdy girl-chasing brothers, were infuriatingly familiar, at least initially, though they got a lot more bearable as the story went on. And I never got to a point where I liked the Slesaks at all.

Lady Susan Vernon was also someone I had a hard time liking. All of her spotlight chapters were told through Lady Susan’s internal voice, which was entirely in-character as a scheming, shallow, seductive, judgmental Regency-era woman — in other words, it’s almost exactly as if Lady Susan Vernon were plucked out of Jane Austen’s unpublished novel and dropped into a modern sci-fi convention.

And I want to emphasize that my dislike of some of the characters was not in any way a bad thing! They were all fully realized and detailed. They felt like real people — it’s just that some of them had personalities I disliked, just like other real people.

The plot itself isn’t the most complex one in fiction, but it’s well-described, engrossing, even intense. And intensely weird, too, as that’s the point where we start to see something that might be science fictional going on — if we can believe our senses, that is.

And outside of the main plot, there are plenty of wonderful moments. The impromptu battlebot tournament in the garage. Kate’s meeting with the Doctor Who cosplayer. The genuinely moving, even glorious, Anglican evensong performed by Denise for the Janeites (and possibly a visitor from another planet).

It’s a great book about real people, even if they’re technically fictional. Go pick it up, okay?

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