In the interests of full disclosure, the author of Lost at the Con, Bryan Young, is a writer friend of mine from the Origins Author Library. I’ve invited him to submit to the anthology I’m putting together. I try my best to review all books as fairly and honestly as possible, but bias happens. I didn’t pay for this book, either; I purchased it for zero dollars during a promotion where anyone could download the ebook for free. I was not, however, asked to write this review or compensated for it.
Lost at the Con is a novel about a journalist, Cobb, who is sent on-assignment to a science fiction convention in Atlanta, Griffin*Con, which is obviously meant to be an analog for Dragon*Con, the largest fan-run science fiction convention in the United States. The novel is written in a gonzo journalism style, which is to say, it gives the journalist a narrative voice rather than reporting in a traditionally dry, objective manner.
The first few chapters were slow for me because Young spends a lot of time setting up the world of Griffin*Con. If you’ve never attended Dragon*Con, you’ll appreciate the descriptions of the hotels, convention layout, costumers, etc. But as someone who has attended the convention before, I didn’t need so much detail, so these sections bored me a bit. If you’ve been to Dragon*Con, you can probably skim these parts.
There’s a second reason I had a hard time getting into the first few chapters of Lost at the Con. Cobb works for an editor he hates, doing a job he despises, living with a girlfriend whom he allows to be unfaithful (to clarify, I have no problem with open relationships, except when one partner is obviously unwilling–as is Cobb, here). He is a self-admitted alcoholic who spends the first half of the book searching for his next gulp of booze. He complains about everyone he meets and everything around him. He is, in a word, pathetic.
But I kept reading, because as much as I hate to admit it, I saw some part of myself in Cobb. I think everyone probably does (though some readers will be reluctant to admit it). We’re all wage slaves, or hate our bosses, or we’re trapped in emotionally stunted relationships, or we’re drinking way too much to numb the pain. Cobb felt familiar. He represented the worst parts of myself, the parts I’d like to jettison. Reading about those parts of myself is not easy, but generally when a novel taps into self-loathing, that’s a sign that the work is exploring universal themes and there’ll be some payoff at the end. Fortunately, Lost at the Con does not disappoint in that respect.
It becomes increasingly clear, as Cobb’s adventures at Griffin*Con become more bizarre and entertaining, that he’s not only representative of the reader’s own weaknesses, but that he’s also unhinged. He has a really difficult time telling reality from his slightly paranoid imaginings. Once I realized this, parts of the novel made a lot more sense, like his completely unreasonable fear of a cosplayer dressed as Steampunk Abraham Lincoln.
In the end, Cobb experiences what a lot of geeks experience at science fiction conventions (or, if you’re me, writing conventions): a sort of nirvana, bliss, a clarity of purpose and motivation. Young foreshadows the ending quite a bit, and this experience is very familiar to any geek who has attended a convention, so it feels…not predictable, but right, like “Of course this is the ending, it has to be. It’s the only ending this book could have.” Cobb hits bottom in a big, flamboyant way, and from there he can rebuild himself–better, faster, stronger, much like Steampunk Abraham Lincoln improved on the original. The convention takes the place of an ancient religious rite, the kind where a person’s soul is washed and renewed, past transgressions are forgiven, and the future is full of endless possibilities.
So my advice to you, dear reader, is that even if you find the beginning of Lost at the Con a bit slow, the action builds, and it wraps up with an ending I found surprisingly resonant. Just don’t be shocked if it makes you crave a science fiction convention! Sadly, the next Dragon*Con is almost a year away, but I can recommend some others to keep you busy in the meantime–like Ohayocon!