|English: People in Star Trek costumes, at DragonCon Parade in Atlanta in 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I awoke slightly later than usual, which is to say 9:00 am, as I had burned the midnight oil at the Star Trek Reboot Review on Friday. My original plan was to attend the 10:00am "Give Me The Bottom Line" writers panel with Mike Resnick and Peter David, but after the Friday disappointments with the Writer's Track, I decided to bow to convention and take in the legendary Dragon*Con Parade. After a quick foodcourt "breakfast" (scare quotes intentional) I staked out a spot betwixt the Hyatt and Marriott along the main parade route.
Now, the parade doesn't start until ten, and when I arrived at 9:30 the crowd was already three-deep along the street. I snagged a view behind a group of parents, as it's easy to see over kids. By the time 10:00am rolled around, the crowd was 8-10 deep on every side. Despite not being in costume, I got compliments on my Diesel Sweeties t-shirt, to the point someone snapped a photo of me. (I tweeted said event, and R. Stevens himself acknowledged my nano-infamy.)
And then, the parade.
I am neither equipped nor disposed to recount every single costume I observed in the parade, and I opted out about 11:00 am in favor of heading to a Skeptic Track panel. Suffice it to say, the parade was this...
...only moreso. Special shoutouts go to the Steampunk X-men, who really stole the show.
For those keeping score, this is the point when Dragon*Con's rep as the "Geek Mardi Gras" began to feel real. We blocked off the middle of downtown Atlanta during a major holiday weekend (with a major college football game in the offing just a few blocks away at the Georgia Dome) so a few thousand people could show off homemade costumes for a couple of hours. We bent the biggest city in the South to our will. I'm not a big cosplay guy, but that right there is some badassery.
Also, between the Klingons, the Spartans, the Colonial Marines and the Viper Pilot Squadron, I defy anyone to get mouthy with the D*C population. These geeks will level your ass and not skip a beat. Also, as mentioned previously, Dragon*Con has its own armory with its own minigun. Don't start none, won't be none.
From the Parade I made my way to the "These Are The Ways The World Will End" panel at the Hilton, headlined by Scott Sigler and Phil "Bad Astronomy" Plait. The premise was basically discounting all the inane 2012 Mayan Apocalypse theories and related crap in favor of laying out all the actual doomsday scenarios that could conceivably exterminate all human life.
IT. WAS. AWESOME.
First, the not-awesome. The Hilton is decidedly less crowd-friendly than the other venues, with cramped hallways that don't afford two-way traffic very well. Couple that with the almost unbelievable popularity of the Skeptic Track and, well, let's just say the Parade caused fewer traffic jams. Luckily I was traveling solo so I didn't have to wait for other companions in the crowd and I could be the guy that politely asks if the one empty seat in a row is taken.
This, incidentally, was how I met one Emily Finke, dressed in what appeared to be a Rule 63 Steampunk Doctor Who outfit. She was one of a host of 20-something academics and grad students crowding the panel room (the unspoken appeal of the Skeptic Track, if you ask me). I somehow appear non-threatening to this demographic -- don't ask me why, most people detect my high Asshole Quotient pretty fast -- so we hit it off rather well and made small talk until the panel began.
This was my first panel where the crowd was sufficient to require video projections of the speakers. It was also the first panel that began with a musical number. And I gotta tell you, any tune that namechecks gamma ray bursts, asteroid strikes and the entropic heat death of the universe is worth your time. Dr. Plait sang to us our odds of dying from any of a half-dozen plausible disasters (hint: eventually the heat death will claim us all), and that set the tone for the panel.
It wasn't just the Bad Astronomy show, however. Dr. Pamela Gay is an astronomy rockstar and the first person who made me believe we have viable asteroid strike countermeasures. Dr. Ali Khan, AKA Rear Admiral Ali Khan, AKA Assistant Surgeon General Ali Khan, is the proverbial guy in the US government charged with protecting us from zombie attacks. Seriously. He also deals with bioterror countermeasures and epidemic containment. These are nerds' nerds, and they are compelling as all get out and funny to boot. This lineup deserves its own convention.
The hour evaporated all too quickly.
As you can imagine, I felt compelled to take in an additional Skeptic Track panel, this time on integrating skepticism into education and public discourse. The panel was intriguing, particularly the high school physics teacher from Illinois, but it seemed more focused on internecine skeptic disputes about the differences between debunking and educating. This boils down to, essentially, are you an asshole about your skepticism? A few probing questions usually go farther than fighting dogma with dogma, but some folks just can't resist getting their hackles raised.
I think I ate lunch at this point. Probably something from Farmer's Basket. Yeah, that sounds like me.
From there it was back to the Hyatt, where a nice ex-Air Force major I'd met in Friday's Armory panels was doing a briefing on street-level surveillance techniques. It was very well done, and put the lie to the plausibility of a single detective trailing somebody over long distances. Typical surveillance is done with a three-man team on foot and two-man support squad in a vehicle. Very nice details, including a printout of his slide deck. The best writing resources I'd take home from Dragon*Con by far.
Afterwards, I navigated through Hyatt to the "Libertarians in Space" panel -- the sequel to the "Liberals in Space" panel from which John Ringo had notoriously flounced the day before. This time, Ringo was joined (to our surprise, as he arrived a few minutes late under suspicion of bowing out) by Michael Z. Williamson (a friend of our own local ConGlomeration) and Mark L. Van Name. Libertarians all, and -- to their credit -- honest about the viability of their ideals in space colonist settings.
Which is to say, there's no chance in hell that a group of Libertarians will ever colonize space. The independent "nobody can tell me what to do, I don't need anybody" streak of Libertarianism is diametrically opposed to the necessary cooperation that keeps you alive aboard a spacecraft. Death by explosive decompression is a pretty good veto on your demand for ultimate self-determination. This led to some interesting (if all too brief) side commentary about responsibility being the forgotten corollary to freedom and liberty, but mostly the crowd left peeved that their icons didn't paint a picture of a likely anarcho-capitalist paradise among the stars. I give them credit for their honesty.
Alas, two good experiences in the Hyatt foolishly convinced me to try the Writer's Track one more time, opting into the "Characters That Come To Life" panel headlined by John Ringo and Tracy Hickman. It devolved into another pimp thread, and I quickly tuned it out.
I returned, slightly dejected, to the hotel room in the Marriott. There I found Hickman (my roommate, not the author) decompressing from a run in full Stargate costumery. We elected to hang for a bit before collectively heading over the Westin (finally) to take in the "Firefly Drinking Songs" pub sing headed by Marc Gunn. Hickman took a little extra time gearing down than planned, but we made the second half of the panel, and it was raucously awesome, with audience-contributed verses and an almost visceral joy permeating every chorus. We actually could have made more of the panel, but the room was overloaded and we had to wait until a precious few attendees left before we were allowed in. Popular? Oh, yes. If and when I ever return to Dragon*Con, "Firefly Drinking Songs" goes on the must-attend event list. In any case, I'm still debating buying the CD -- it was that much fun.
After the sing-off, the typical throng of people that know Hickman appeared, once again including Courtney Warfield and, to my enduring delight, Alex Caldwell (who does an awesome Sam Carter cosplay). I didn't have another panel lined up, and this group of heathens convinced me my next best move was to either attend one of the various and sundry dance parties that dominate Dragon*Con's Saturday evening, or take in the "Dragon*Con After Dark" risque costume contest. Yeah, we chose the latter.
Hickman and I located the end of the line for D*C After Dark -- a couple blocks away from the Hyatt, where the event was planned. (This is one of the few mega-panels that doesn't get replayed on Dragon*Con's internal closed-circuit TV network -- for obvious reasons -- so it's routinely sold out.) That left us two options: The "SuperVillains Ball" at the Sheraton or the "Last Party on Alderaan" at the Marriott.
Now, I am what might be generously termed aggressively caucasian. One look at me and it's very clear, rhythm doesn't live here. Dancing? Not really my thing. But hey, this is Dragon*Con. If ever there was a dance crowd that wouldn't judge me, it had to be here, right?
Hickman and I, with Charles Thompson now in tow, headed to the Sheraton...where we found a dead party with maybe a dozen or so attendees. It was shocking. I hadn't seen that much open space at Dragon*Con since Thursday morning. I supposed all the villains were at D*C After Dark. Whatever the case, we bailed in less than five minutes.
Along the way, we lost Charles again, but Hickman and I made it to Alderaan. If you've never seen an all-ages rave lit almost exclusively by the ambient glow of mock lightsabers, you haven't really been to the tenth level of nerd awesome. Seriously. It was enough for me disavow my whitehood for a few minutes and actually, legitimately dance (to Teo Cruz, of all things). I was shaky at first, but then the universe conspired to assist me, delivering the one and only track that I will unashamedly dance to, regardless of occasion.
Judge if you like, but Jay-Boy can bring it when my music is with me.
Hickman had to bow out for a while, so I flew solo for a bit. I can neither confirm nor deny that lightsaber limbo went down. (It totally did.)
I drifted out a short time later. There was an attempt to attend an Abney Park concert across the lobby, but my now 16-hours-in contacts decided to leap from my irises in protest, and by the time I fought through the Gauntlet of Marriott Elevators to my room and fixed said contacts, I was too beat to make it back downstairs. I crashed about 1:00 am, filled with a strange auditory echo of sea-shanty filking and apocalyptic predicto-singing overlaid with mid-level house music. You pretty much only get that at Dragon*Con, which apparently is also the only place you'll catch me attempting to dance.
Geek Mardi Gras, indeed. Two days of Dragon*Con down. Two to go.
[To be continued...]