Thursday, May 28, 2009

MARCON Day 3: In Space, Can Anybody Hear You Pray?

Every year, for the last 44 years, Memorial Day Weekend is a big deal as sci-fi, fantasy, and otherwise "interesting" folks converge in the Central Ohio Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio. MARCON, or Multiple Alternative Reality Convention, is a gathering for fans, readers, writers, and anybody who is interested in comics, sci-fi, and fantasy. The three-day event is one of the most enjoyable events I go to in a year, but it is also one of the strangest. Let the tale end:

It's the last day of MARCON and my head is spinning. Too many drinks in the wee hours of the morning at room parties will do that to you. For those of you who don't know, room parties are parties that are forced into private hotel rooms because they get out of hand with either too much drinking or too much sexual play, though never both at the same time. Mine was the drinking kind.

Looking over at my clock, I notice that it's already 9:30 in the morning; I have a panel at 10 so this is a big issue. Jump out of bed, jump into the shower, and run to my car. A quick drive, along with the proper tipping and payment for valet parking, and I am in the convention center. Woot, I make it on time.

I head to Madison and look around; there is almost nobody there. This seems to be what happens on Sundays: everybody who is attending the con is either hung over, still asleep, or taking down the displays. What is officially a three-day con is more or less a two-day convention for most people. This disappoints me; not only am I on two Sunday panels, but I usually think that Sunday panels are the best panels of the convention. Oh well.

So I migrate to Madison and meet up with Madame Heaphy as we are about to start our panel. Low and behold, there is only one person there, a teacher-in-training who is focusing on science and math. Well, our panel is about teaching science fiction (even though I am only 21 I have taught scifi to high schoolers and studied it at many levels). So we'll do a one-on-one, but that's perfectly fine. Instead of the lecture and slide show we have planned, we sit down and simply ask him to tell us the subjects he must cover.

Earth’s layers? Journey to the Center of the Earth. Evolution? The Sound of Thunder. Gravity? Cold Equations. Any and every subject he needs to cover has been talked about in a scifi book, so he will be able to use them in class with his kids. God, I wish I had a teacher like that back in the day.

I have a break between panels so I head over to listen to a talk on 50 ways to leave the planet. We discuss a laser propulsion system which is a potential launch device, along with solid state and liquid fueled engines. We also discuss the various lift-off and landing techniques that NASA and JPL are working on for future spacecraft. Though the talk was advertised as being about 50 ways to leave space, we discussed only about five; but they were pretty interesting.

That's one of the problems with panels at conventions. While you might set out to talk about the new Harry Potter movie, or The Hobbit movies, or even 50 ways to get off Earth, the panel rarely goes where it should have. Take the time travel panel I was on during the first day. While we did discuss the physics behind it, we mostly talked about why time travel is so common in literature. Though I don't necessarily mind when people move off of the subject, it can be annoying when I really want to learn something.

After the panel on leaving the planet I go to my second panel of the day: Life on Mars. As we sit there and start to talk, I notice that most of the attendees have no idea why we are talking about a TV show. I pause and ask: “Who here has seen the British version, who has seen the American, and who thinks that we are talking about the red planet?” About half the room leaves when they realize that we are talking about the TV show Life on Mars, not the planet itself.

After everybody settles down I get to start actually talking about the show. We discuss the differences between the two versions, the sequel (Ashes to Ashes), and how the endings were vastly different. Near the end one of the viewers pipes up about how she didn’t like the World Trade Center scene as it reminded her too much of 9/11. The rest of the time we spend discussing certain gotcha and gut-wrenching moments and why they were used to tell time and set the mood.

Afterwards I decide to wander around the convention one more time. Checking out the dealer’s room, I buy some more dice, a goblet, and a present for my girlfriend. I also head down to the art room to check out the amazing pictures, sculptures, and origami. They also have some computer cases, which are well done, and look very Tron-like (granted, they were a mod based on Tron).

As I am making my way to the exit I notice one more panel which looks interesting: In Space, Can Anybody Hear you Pray? While this a popular line to alter and convert (including as the subtitle of a porn movie), it's an interesting idea. This panel is an interfaith meeting of convention goers who don’t want to leave their God(s) behind. They sit there, listen to a sermon on peace, and basically act normal. I am struck by how different this is from the rest of the convention: here you have a stereotypical Sunday morning, vs. the craziness that went on earlier in the weekend. It was a real surprise.

Overall, I had an amazing time at MARCON this year. Though I was scared by some of the things I saw (the walking vagina and two men dressed in Sailor Moon outfits will forever haunt me), I enjoyed most of it. The masquerade was amazing, the ball was good, and the costuming was stunning. I learned a fair bit at the panels, was able to share my knowledge with the rest of the community, and even had a lot of fun at the parties. It was a great experience for me, and I hope you enjoyed reading about it.

Here's to next year and seeing you there!

My post about Day 1 talked about my first panels and a general intro to the convention. Day 2 was about the characters and costumes you will find at MARCON and similar conventions.

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