Monday, September 8, 2014

Monday Commentary: A Quick Dragon Con AAR

That's right, ladies and gents: It's time for another AAR!

Dragon Con 2014 was my eleventh Dragon Con -- and my eighth as a volunteer. At this point, I don't even bother to hit the Walk of Fame or queue up for a media guest panel because I've already met my favorites (those who happen to be living, that is). Indeed, except for a couple of forays into the Marriott to see some Classics Track events and at least one trip to the dealers' halls, I spend all of my time in the bowels of the Hyatt, where Verizon phones have to be set on airplane mode (at least if you want to avoid being an "outlet hugger"). Boring? Mayhaps, but it suits me. As I remarked in my last post, the people who hang about the Science Fiction Literature Track are My People, and I would much rather stay in one place and chat with them than fight the madness elsewhere. (And it does get pretty mad -- especially during peak hours. I think I was accidentally stepped on every single time I went to get something to eat. The Peachtree Center Food Court was just that crowded.)

Who are some of my fellow trolls in the Hyatt dungeon? Well, first we have Sue, our intrepid leader. Sue's been in the fandom since the mid-seventies, so she's actually seen Larry Niven drunk and singing filk songs in some random corridor at a World Con. ("Back when we were both much younger,"she was quick to note.) I had several long conversations with her about fandom issues, including the whole "cosplay is not consent" thing (which we both felt should be covered by common sense or, if necessary, the local police) and the various SJW crusades that have been poisoning our well water. As a small-L libertarian, Sue welcomes honest discussion and a touch of controversy; actually, this year, she was a little disappointed that everyone was so nice on panels that were intended to be contentious. (And yes: Even the more outspoken Baen authors were exceedingly well-behaved. At one point, John Ringo decided to be frank about why he didn't go into teaching in his early twenties, but that's the only time anyone succeeded in causing offence.)

We also have Bill. Bill's been in the fandom even longer, he's ridiculously well-read (especially with the early stuff), and - I hear tell - he has an astounding science fiction library that I dearly wish I could raid. This year, Bill fell on his sword for the rest of us and listened to a paper presented by a young - and evidently ignorant - academic claiming that Heinlein was both racist and sexist. If I were not up at the Baen Roadshow, I probably would've ripped that chickadee a new one over her hack reliance on presentism and her absolute failure to look into Heinlein's actually very progressive attitudes on both race and sex. Bill, on the other hand, was able to restrain himself, though the conversation we had afterwards was pretty damned fun.

And then we have Shawn. Shawn is an AP English teacher in the Atlanta metro area, so we have some common experiences that go beyond science fiction specifically. We both know exactly what's wrong with Common Core, we've both seen a precipitous crash in our students' writing and critical thinking skills, and we both decry the push to indulge our students' tastes, which hampers the development of true empathy and encourages shallow analysis. Shawn's personality is a bit hard to describe, but he's got this dark, sarcastic quality that frequently makes me laugh. At one point, for instance, he jokingly called me a home-wrecking whore because - well - I accidentally flirted with Robert J. Sawyer on a panel. (Sorry! Sawyer made a remark about how he'd never dream of hitting on me, and the "Well, I'm available..." came out before I thought about what I was saying. This is what happens when I'm both focused on entertaining an audience and operating on insufficient sleep.)

Oh, yes! Speaking of which, I did appear on two panels:
  • The first was "Science Fiction 101" on Friday afternoon; the purpose of said panel was to generate a list of works that were "essential" to understanding the genre as a whole. (Note to Dad: Toni Weisskopf mentioned the connection between Heinlein's Starship Troopers and Joe Haldeman's The Forever War, which allowed me to talk about my college term paper and add Card's Ender's Game to the conversation.) Was this a successful presentation? Yes, I think so. Personally, I think our track needs to have more "history of" panels in the future, as there are quite a few people walking around who have no freakin' clue what the genre - or the fandom - was like in its early days. (See also: the people who think the exploration of "alternate sexual lifestyles" is something totally rebellious and exciting. Ah, no -- if anything, I think a story featuring a traditional Christian marriage may be more subversive.)
  • The second was "The Big Stuff" on Saturday afternoon, in which we discussed high concept sci-fi. I was the only fan on this panel and consequently felt ridiculously out-classed, but I managed to get some words in edgewise about my desire to see high-tech personal medical monitors that are linked to the local EMS and about my qualified optimism regarding high-tech in general.  
I also got a chance to meet Larry Niven, but I'm really afraid I struck him as a complete doofus. I remember telling him that Lucifer's Hammer was the second work of science fiction I read as a middle-grader and that my father is also a big fan, but after that, my memory's kind of a blur.

Photographic proof!
Was it a good con overall? Absolutely -- although, once again, I do wish I had more time for after-hours socializing. I was staying in a hotel up in the Emory area, so I was beholden to the MARTA schedule and consequently couldn't hang around the BFC for very long -- nor could I go out with some of the CLFA members who were in attendance. Next year, I'm going to try to get a room downtown so I can come and go whenever I please. That should makes things a thousand times easier.

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