Sunday, October 06, 2013

VCon 38 - Day 2 - Guiding a Newbie Deep into the Jungles of Nerdom

I am not a morning person. Really, really, really not a morning person. Even when I've had to get up stupidly early for weird job shifts back in my radio daze, I could do mornings, but never learned to like them. Tolerated them at best. When it comes to SF cons, I may make vague noises about attending morning sessions (and cons - including VCon - very often have good sessions scheduled in the morning), but, for various reasons - not the least of which is the complete awfulness of mornings - never wind up going to them. Until today.

The day started far too early (especially given last night's late blogging run-down of Friday's adventures at the Con) because I had to drop off my wife at her volunteer gig if I was going to be able to have the car to go to the Con. Luckily, the wife's activity and the Con are in the same municipality, so that made things fairly easy - dropped her off, then drove over to the Con hotel in less than five minutes. I even arrived an hour before programming started, so I was able to get breakfast at one of the hotel's restaurants. Breakfast is a somewhat alien meal, what with my avoidance of mornings, but when in Rome...

The first session of the day for me was 10am's "Others Among Us", concerning mainstream culture's adoption of an increasing number of science fiction and fantasy movies, TV shows, books (Harry Potter, A Song of Ice and Fire, etc.), and even comic conventions, and raising the question of whether that means nerds are no longer outsiders. Absolutely fantastic panel, and they had a lot of thoughtful things to say (even if they wandered off topic a little from time to time) about whether mainstream culture really is more accepting of the SF community now, and what the obstacles to greater acceptance might be. Some pointed out that while younger people tend to adopt SF culture more readily, they may not be fully integrating with the traditional SF community (or integrating the traditional SF community into their own) because they just aren't communicating through the same channels - they don't know that we're even here! A good point; it's been nagging at me for years that as I've looked around the con (and the WorldCon in Montreal not too long ago, and the one many years ago in Winnipeg) that fandom seems to be getting older. Sure, there are a few highschool and university students who come, and some of the people my age who are parents bring their kids. But by and large, the crowd is predominantly middle-aged people and seniors. That's a problem if this sort of gathering (meaning cons that are focussed on thoughtful discussion of literature, rather than comic cons which seem increasingly to be merely a place to strut flashy costumes and less concerned with substance) is going to continue. One thing that wasn't mentioned, which I've often wondered about, is whether the younger generation is more accepting... kids do seem to be flocking to the comic cons by the thousands, and following SF-related books, TV, and movies, while middle-aged mainstreamers tend to maintain the old illusions of the ghetto of science fiction. I recently had some co-workers who were otherwise well-read and reasonable people, who stated that they couldn't stand sci-fi... until I pushed them a little and got them to admit that they loved Game of Thrones, and Battlestar Galactica, and thought "they guy who directed the new Much Ado About Nothing was brilliant" (Whedon). And even then, they were a little uncomfortable with the notion that SF could be intelligent, mature, and compelling. I remember a few years ago talking to another coworker who pulled out every term in the literary criticism dictionary and twisted them in all kinds of weird ways to allow that Tolkien's LOTR was "real" literature rather than fantasy - of course, having majored in English Lit, I was able to smile and call her on her bullshit and point out that she was just waving her hand and using a lot of fancy terms that basically meant fantasy, and that there was nothing wrong with the "F" word. So, I don't think acceptance of geeks and geek culture is truly here yet. But getting back to the panel, someone pointed out that part of the problem is within the geek community itself, because, like all communities, we have our own bullies who try to belittle and marginalize newcomers, which doesn't make us any allies among the mainstreamers who try to adopt parts of geek culture. That's an important point, because if we, as a culture, are going to whine about ostracism from the mainstream, we better damn well make sure we're not putting up our own barriers that keep newcomers out.

After that, I had to duck out of the con for a little while to pick up my wife. We're going to Worldcon next year in London, but she's never been to an SF convention before (I don't count the Vancouver FanExpo we both went to two years ago, because the atmosphere of a Worldcon is closer to that of a smaller, local SF con, rather than a bloated commercial comic convention/merchandising marketing blitz), so I thought the best way to prep her was to bring her to the Saturday programming at VCon this year. So, after lunch, we came back to the hotel, got her registered, and wandered around for a while so she could take it all in. Admittedly, this isn't traditionally her scene, so she was a little taken aback at first, but she was very impressed with the level of skill many of the cosplayers had put into the making of their garb, and by the time we hit the dealers' room, she was getting into it. First stop was at the White Dwarf Books table to chat with our buddy Walter, the owner. Then, as we made our way around the room we came to a lady selling knitted wares, who made an easy sale when my wife caught sight of her TARDIS toques, and I saw that she had a couple of 4th Doctor scarves. We probably would have bought them anyway, but when she offered us a deal if we bought both, we were hooked. So, add one TARDIS toque, and one Baker-era scarf (don't ask me which series, I'm too tired to remember scarf specifics, and I don't want to unroll the damn thing to check the tag on the end that's currently buried in the middle) to the pile of Con goodies.

Her first real session was the live Caustic Soda Podcast, with guests John Kovalic (of The Dork Tower) and Mur Lafferty (of I Should Be Writing). I became of fan of Caustic Soda last year when I attended their podcast recording at VCon, and shortly after I began listening to it, my wife picked it up and fell in love, so this was the perfect way to begin the programming side of her con-going experience. As usual, Joe, Kevin and Torren were wickedly, mercilessly, brutally funny while talking about a range of awful subjects, ranging from families dying in unusual accidents to discontinued sugary cereals of the 80s. John and Mur fit right in, and were hilarious in their own right - in fact, they had probably the best lines of the 'cast:
Mur: " can't brawl to Simon & Garfunkel."
John: "You people have ruined me."
At the end, we went up and thanked the team for their efforts, and I bought a Caustic Soda T-shirt. It'll go nicely with the podcast's pin that I picked up last year. Does that now make me an official Soda Jerk? Or do I have to undergo some arcane and uncomfortable ritual to be initiated into the ranks of this particular fan sub-set?

From there, we went up to the "Justify The Science Flaws" panel, where a crack team of real scientists, moderated by Neo-opsis editor Karl Johanson, focussed their collective genius on pointing out science flaws in well-known SF movies and TV shows - including Pacific Rim and episodes of classic Star Trek - and then tried to come up with explanations (some more plausible than others) for why those supposed mistakes might actually be possible. Another panel of great personalities, and (as it is every year) the session was educational as well as entertaining. I certainly enjoyed it, and I was happy that my wife did too.

After that, we had a look around the art exhibit, and then called it an early day. I could have kept attending sessions and stayed until mid-evening, but my wife had had her fill for the day, and I didn't want to ruin her positive first con experience by forcing her to stay and overload on nerdity. Sometimes easing into the pool is a better way to teach a person to swim than booting them into the deep end. Now she knows what to expect at Loncon 3 next year (sort of) and will probably be able to enjoy it more.

As for me, I wasn't going to complain about an early day and the chance to eat at home and get to bed earlier. That'll give me the energy to more thoroughly enjoy the final round of sessions on Sunday.

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