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A Conventional Experience

Updated on March 28, 2015

I arrived to the entrance hall on Friday afternoon, ready to start my weekend of science fiction. I glanced around, trying to spot Laurie. Hopefully, she would be around the registration area. This was my first science fiction convention and I didn’t want to be lost for the entire thing. Trying to get through the clusters of people exchanging greetings and renewing friendships that had begun the previous years, I searched for the badge table. I had received a very bright pink card from the registration people and needed to put a plastic cover over it and pin it to my shirt. Dodging a woman with a huge collar that stuck out at least two feet, the table with the badges came into view. With a sigh of relief, I grabbed one of the covers and assembled the badge.

By the time I was finished with the preliminaries, I had realized that I was really underdressed. My clothes were nice, a red shirt and black pants, but not anything like some of the outfits I’d seen. Some costumes were highly recognizable, like the Star Trek uniforms, and others were so weird I had no idea what they were supposed to be. The Gateway Center had been home to Archon, this convention, for a few years now and everyone seemed to know where he or she was going, except me. I stared at the Medusa on the cover of the program book for a few seconds before I opened it. I searched through the schedule to see if there was anything to do this early. Friday afternoon didn’t seem to be a big time for planned events.

I bought a hotdog and chips, reveling in the salty flavor, and wandered into the noisy room to the back of the hall. The babble of conversations increased dramatically as I crossed into the Dealer’s Room. Dust, leather, and mothballs combined to give the room a weirdly comforting smell. Drifting through the crowd of buyers, I wandered around all the tables. “Buy a dagger or a sword,” one of the vendors called toward the crowd, “sharpening included.” Looking toward his table, I caught a glimpse of an elegant sword. The sheath was a deep ruby and the hilt was an ornate white dragon’s head. My breath caught as I admired the skillfully polished katana. Part of the attraction was that it was like the sword used in Highlander, but it was a well-crafted weapon. The vendor let me hold the blade and it was surprisingly heavy. Real steel would make the sword pretty heavy and the hilt was genuine ivory. With a slightly shaking hand, I flipped the price tag over and my hopes were dashed. There was no way I could afford a three hundred dollar sword, no matter how much I wanted it. One last look at the gleaming weapon, and I had to force myself to move to the next table.

Dresses hung from a rack at the next area, and I knew the prices would be beyond my means. The fabrics for the dresses were velvet and silk; things a normal person during the Renaissance could never have afforded. The material smelled faintly of mothballs and Febreze, but a group of females had surrounded the clothing like vultures. Circling and flipping price tags, the ladies hunted for the nicest dress at the cheapest price. A triumphant cry heralded a flurry of money exchanging and a woman carrying off a bright blue dress. Rushing away before I could be drawn into the circling women, I moved to the next row of tables.

By the time I managed to exercise enough willpower to leave the Dealer’s Room, I was weighed down by a few items. I had wisely decided to carry my book bag with me and it was filled with my purchases. At the bottom of the bag were the five books I bought, each only three dollars. A small dagger, which had been very expensive, sat between the books and the navy blue t-shirt that I had bought right before walking out the door. The three buttons, an impulse buy, laid on top of the t-shirt. My wallet was considerably lighter than when I came into this room, and I decided that it was a good time to find Laurie.

I heard what sounded like cheers from across the parking lot, at the Holiday Inn. The hotel was hosting all the gaming events for the convention, including the RPGs and the LARP. I rushed across the parking lot and grass, shivering in the chilly October air, and reached the Holiday Inn. The local chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism was giving a battle demonstration and the audience was cheering for the favorites. The melee was almost finished as I walked past; only two opponents were still fighting. I paused a moment and watched the dark-haired warrior make the killing blow and become the champion. Then I swung open the glass doors of the hotel and walked into the lobby.

Following a sound that reminded me of hail, I found the gaming room and the numerous people rolling six-sided, ten-sided, and twenty-sided dice. All RPGs required an enormous amount of dice. Groaning about hit points, and frantic scribbling on character sheets encompassed the conversations in this room. I had never seen so many gamers in one room before; it was a little freaky. They had identical expressions of concentration and frustration on their faces. Most were casually dressed, but I saw a few in capes, uniforms, and dresses. I spotted Laurie at the corner table rolling a twenty-sided dice and smiling triumphantly as she saved her character from death. She was dressed in black and wore a yellow badge with her LARP character’s name printed across the front.

“Good to see you,” Laurie said, “I can’t stop to talk right now, I’m in the middle of a tournament.” I watched her frown in concentration as she rolled a ten-sided dice, and tallied something on her sheet. Watching her completely focus on her game, I realized that I was not a true gamer. I liked to play once in a while, but I had never lost myself so completely in a game. I would have stopped and talked to my best friend, who I hadn’t seen in months. After a few moments of play Laurie looked up and said, “Why don’t you go check out the video room? I hear they’ve got some good Japanese animation this year.” Taking her advice, I soon found myself sitting next to a Klingon watching a Japanese animated movie about the end of the world.

I followed much the same pattern on Saturday, wandering around until something caught my attention. I had the feeling that I was missing out on some things, but the people watching was great. The LARPers and gamers stayed mostly in the hotel; but the other fans wandered around the convention center. I literally ran in to a very tall knight, armor and all. I discovered that he was on his way to the Masquerade Ball that started at eight. At a quarter ‘til eight, I found myself crowding into the Grand Ballroom where the Masquerade was to take place. The lights dimmed and the stage began to eerily glow. A few tense minutes passed, and the stage was flooded in multicolored lights and the Star Trek theme started to play. The MC walked on to the stage and the show commenced. The costumes were incredible, as was the staging. The show opened with a God and Goddess, who had created their costumes from the reflective sides of cds. Next a group staged an action sequence from The Green Hornet. One group dressed as the Muppets; another showed up as the cast of Xena: Warrior Princess. There were a handful of other, less cool costumes, and then it was finished. I completed my Saturday by watching the midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show with Laurie. I probably heard about half of the actual movie, because everyone was saying the audience participation lines. Amazingly, almost everybody knew most of the lines. That is true dedication that, I guess, is what being a fan is all about.

The convention ended on Sunday with the Guest of Honor giving a speech and the authors giving last-minute autographs. I stood in line for twenty minutes to get Laurell K. Hamilton’s autograph, but David Feinrich’s line was much shorter. Some of Hamilton’s fans were a bit odd, after all she did write vampire books. I spotted three or four fan in line that had played the LARP vampire game all weekend. “I wonder if she based Jean-Claude on someone she knows,” I heard one girl ask. That would be interesting to know; Jean-Claude was the sexy vampire in Hamilton’s series. “Richard’s better.” “My favorite’s Jason.” “Nobody kicks ass like Anita, except Edward.” Hamilton’s series was extremely popular with everyone, that’s why the line was insanely long.

When I moved to Feinrich’s shorter line; I noticed that his fans seemed to encompass the Star Trek crowd. Military science fiction was almost a genre unto itself. Some of Feinrich’s fans seemed like ordinary people who wouldn’t be a convention like this, but it takes all kinds. Concluding the weekend with a last visit to the Dealer’s Room, without purchasing anything, I left the convention. Returning to campus was a let down after spending the weekend in the weird world of sci-fi fandom. Not many people have the dedication and creativity of sci-fi fans and it was a remarkable, though at times weird, experience.

© 2015 Casey Cooper

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