Thursday, June 01, 2006

Where The Geeks Are

In my last post, I made the case that a science fiction convention isn’t really all that different from any other gathering involving people in a close-knit hobby or shared interest. Now I will cover some things that are fairly unique to the sf convention community.


Balticon 01This is the stuff that makes the evening news and newspaper articles. In actuality, probably less than 10% of the attendees ever wear a costume. The real uniform is a tee shirt with a clever geeky inside joke on it. My favorite was “Han Shot First” in a Star Wars-ish font. Costuming, or cosplay, is much more prevalent at j-pop conventions like Otakon, which I got dragged to by my son back in September. The costumes at Balticon were usually very good and, for females at least, tending towards things with wings. I did not get a picture, but one guy had a dead-on Jack Sparrow outfit.

Star Trek is unfairly associated with science fiction in the general public’s mind. William Shatner’s great Saturday Night Live skit pretty much sums up the general perception of pimply virgins dressed in Vulcan drag. However, Star Trek as a cultural force is on the wane. A poster for a more media-related convention, Shore Leave 28, features mostly actors from the Stargate franchise. The whole time I was at Balticon, I only saw one Starfleet uniform, although Klingons were out in force.

Balticon 12I will go out on a limb and say that Firefly/Serenity is the current milieu of choice for costumers. Something about a sharp dressed Browncoat reeks of cool, at least by science fiction convention standards. The local fanclub chapter had a booth and there was both a stage play and a radio drama centered around the Firefly universe.


Balticon 38The pinnacle of the costuming track is the Masquerade, which is a standing room only event where costumers are judged fashion-show style. The judging is divided into experience classes and is a whole geek sub-culture all of its own. This year’s Balticon had a much stronger Masquerade than I expected. The showstopper was the seven foot tall Minotaur.

I was lucky enough to upgrade to an aisle seat for shooting pictures, but even with a zoom lens, the judges’ heads and the fast pace of some of the skits played havoc with my autofocus. I’ve put the less fuzzy pictures on my Flickr site if you want to see more.


Balticon 60Card and board gaming is a big feature at science fiction conventions. Some of the games have only a passing connection to science fiction. Popular ones include Settlers of Cataan, Munchkin, and anything that can be described as “Risk, but way more realistic.”

The gaming room also tends to be the most fragrant room at the convention. Some of the players get so involved in their games, they tend to neglect basic hygiene. Some cons post the 6-2-1 rule, which loosely paraphrased says:

  • Get six hours of sleep a night. Most events don’t start until 10 am, so that’s plenty of shuteye even if you party or game most of the night.
  • Eat at least two meals a day. The snacks in the con suite don’t count. It has to be something that you have to sit down for.
  • Take at least one shower a day. That’s per DAY, not Convention. If you wear a costume, even more often is better.

Unfortunately the shower rule is often more honored in the breach.


We didn’t have a room and just daytripped in, but after-hours is when the real socializing begins. Room parties are very common and a great way to relax and cadge free snacks. I think they are technically supposed to be dry, but a lot of hosts have a bottle or two of Romulan Ale tucked away if you ask. I feel sorry for any innocent bystanders staying at the hotel, but I’m sure the staff tries to book the larger groups together.

Groups vying for a Worldcon bid will throw parties to drum up support. A lot of parties have a theme around a show or book. These parties, as lame as they sound, are where the real interaction takes place and you can meet very interesting people. At one con, I found myself talking to a teenager with bright blue hair about the meth problem in rural Maryland.

There are a lot of other things that I haven’t talked about such as filking and LARPing that are too dorky for me to even describe adequately. Not that I should judge. Afterall, I’m on the same side of the zoo fence as they are.

In summary, science fiction conventions are not for everyone. I have been to five, which gives me a laminated lifetime membership in the Geek Club to the rest of the world, but in the SF con world, I barely qualify as a dilettante. A lot of things about convention attendees skew the standard deviation curve the same direction. SF fans do tend to me smarter and more engaged than the general public, but there are plenty of things to roll your eyes at as well. If you get a chance, give one a try. It at least gives something to talk about for years to come.

Blatant Comment Whoring™:
What's the dorkiest event or activity you have been involved with and would you do it again?


Impetua said...

Hm, that would have to be some old-fashioned Dungeons and Dragons with friends from high school... so this was some time ago... I am just not dorky enough to be captivated by rolling 11-sided dice and consulting skills tables, so no, never again.

I have become a dabbler in RPG's both online and on PS2 though. Evidently I require a dazzling graphical interface.

Oh, and I used to attend the Rocky Horror Picture Show, but only in costume once. It was Halloween. I was only slightly drunk. And young.

kontan said...

I'm a band freak so guess that's mine. Paid for college so call it what you want, I loved it! still do! LOL

Elizabeth said...

My boyfriend took me to a professional wrestling match in Peoria, Illinois when I was in high school. We saw Jake “The Snake” Roberts. Ahh, what one will do for love….

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

Went to a monster truck show with a (cue large reverb here) "FOUR FOOT MUD BOG!" The odd thing is, I enjoyed it.

Anonymous said...

Every year I drag my wife to a Drum Corps International event. If my friends from band in high school knew, I'd never hear the end of it.

yellojkt said...

I go to band competitions because my son is in the marching unit. I've never gone just as a spectator. I did date a xylophonist from DCI group when I was in high school.

Anonymous said...

I'm usually a dork on my own and not due to anything I'm doing with others. Mostly due to being clumsy. Yesterday I slammed the dog step of our car right into Glenn's leg. He was annoyed that I didn't see his leg and I said, "I do that to my own leg some days, don't take it personally."

I really disliked being on a trip abroad and getting off of a bus with a group of folks that really did act like "ugly Americans" I hate to say it.

Of course I'd do it again, because I could leave them and do whatever I wanted on my own and it was an affordable trip due to that package pricing thing.

Impetua said...

I just looked at the filking and LARPing links and remembered a roommate I used to have who was into Society for Creative Anachronism. She made a fair living sewing yurts and costumes.

I remember thinking with longing that dorks have more fun. But could I really stuff myself into a bodice and attend a renfair? Uh, no.

yellojkt said...

I know a person in the Cooking Guild with the local SCA and has read the entire Wheel of Time series, but would never dream of going to a science fiction convention. We all draw different lines in the sand.

Anonymous said...

t"What's the dorkiest event or activity you have been involved with.."

Prob'ly drinks and dinner (in that order) with you last Tuesday.

"...and would you do it again?"



Suburban Turmoil said...

I love your posts on this topic- I'm fascinated by conventions and have always wanted to go to one, just to see what it's like.

I went once to a WWE wrestling match in Columbia, SC and had a blast!

utenzi said...

I like the elf. She's cute! I've not been to a con in 20 years. Amazing.

Anonymous said...

Interesting conventions of conventions. Star trek is falling off the map I guess. Who got the breast meat from the goose that laid the golden egg I want to know.

Dorkiest thing for me? I wore Vulcan ears and Star Trek T-shirt. But I'm sure the statute of limitations has expired o that one.

Malnurtured Snay said...

I live just a few miles from Hunt Valley, but I can't remember the last time I made it to a Shore Leave Convention. I used to go all the time -- I can remember, as a kid, being chased through the hallways in the early morning hours by a bunch of Klingons looking for deodorant. :)