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Don't Try This At Home by David Langford: Introduction

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Over the years since 1976 I've produced an absurd number of SF convention reports, in styles ranging from the esoteric to the bloody esoteric. New readers should perhaps begin elsewhere. No, the marketing department says that won't do. New readers should perhaps not begin at the beginning. This is because the later reports (especially those covering larger conventions), from say 1987 to 2014, were written with at least half an eye on a broader audience rather than the manic in-group of British fanzine fandom that formed my target readership even before I'd been accepted by that gang of drunks and layabouts in the late 1970s. So much for wise advice. Be assured that even I no longer understand some of the jokes and spoofs in my early convention coverage.

Although generally adopting a seat-of-the-pants approach, I became briefly theoretical about this fannish literary mode in a talk delivered at the 1997 UK Eastercon:

... I should also mention the Chris Priest principle, which is that not everything that happens to an sf fan is worth writing about. This emerges with hideous clarity in convention reports, which are one of the great classic forms of fanwriting. In Shakespearean times everyone was sooner or later expected to bash out a sonnet or a blank verse drama, and the fanzine equivalent is the con report. I forget how many I've read that tell you in great and circumstantial detail how the writer travelled to the con hotel, often – a cunning narrative surprise – using some form of transport. Further astonishing developments include eating unlikely meals, drinking, overspending in the dealers' room, drinking too much, having remarkable and unique bowel movements, drinking far too much, staying up far too late, and being taken completely aback by a colossal hangover next morning. It's a real challenge to write a con report that avoids all of this – or even any of it. ("Twenty Years of Uproar" at Intervention, Easter 1997)

As to whether I ever rose to this challenge, my literary agent has advised me not to comment.

Let's note a few omissions. My inordinately lengthy account of the 1980 Worldcon in Boston occupies several chapters of my TransAtlantic Fan Fund trip report The TransAtlantic Hearing Aid (1985; ebook 2015), whose full illustrated text is available free from the TAFF website at taff.org.uk. "You Do It with Mirrors" (1993) – a worm's-eye view of the 1993 Jersey Eastercon from the highly distorted perspective of running the convention newsletter – is collected in The Silence of the Langford (1996; ebook 2015), freely available for money. Several other sets of convention notes have been left out because they seemed overly tedious and/or ephemeral – the dustbin of history is lined with far too many one-paragraph summaries written for my newsletter Ansible – or because rereading them made me shudder uncontrollably. On the other hand, just to be on the unsafe side, I have included a spurious report on a convention I didn't actually attend and a searing exposé of a particularly bizarre book launch party.

Now read on. The reports are arranged chronologically, but first you get another introduction. The management, then and now, is not responsible. Safe when used as directed. But don't try this at home.

David Langford
July 2015

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