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 I go to in a year, but it is also one of the strangest. Let the tale begin:
I step off of the bus, the stench and the chatter no longer surrounding me. I look up, see the concrete atrocity that is the convention center, and start to wander towards a door. Locked. Next door, still locked. I wander the entire half-mile length of this randomly assembled building until I reach the hotel. Finally, an open door.
I am early, as I need to register as a panelist, yet I am nowhere near being the first to arrive. Even though panels will not start for about two hours, people are all over the center and the hotel, ready to go. It is a Friday, at three in the afternoon, for god’s sake, but apparently these people do not work. No, instead they prep their costumes, meet their old friends, and get ready to party — in a purely Klingon fashion, that is. I make my way though the crowd, hoping to find the green room, only to be taken aside by dozens of groups trying to recruit me. I must resist.
I finally make it to the green room, show my ID, sign in, and get a nice little badge. Looking at the table I see the first of the four con food groups, caffeine. I head over, fill up on Mountain Dew, and head out for my first panel. Tonight I am talking about time travel in fiction and reality. I am really out of place.
I sit down to the panel, surrounded by three high-level physicists and one acclaimed literary critic. Me, I am simply a student who has a passing interest in time travel and have published one story involving it. I swallow, introduce myself, and just hope nobody questions why the hell I am there. During the introduction I am asked that very question. Why does that always happen?
As the panel starts, we talk about the actual physics that make time travel possible; HOLY COW, I am really in over my head. Finally, after about 30 minutes of me sitting there staring at my hands, I am able to talk about something I know: the literary aspect of time travel. Finally I have a place in this panel, and finally I am actually contributing.
For the rest of the 90-minute program we discussed time travel in fiction, the reality behind it (usually nothing), and how it is useful as a literary device. I was finally in my element, and it was a lot of fun. The viewers participated, talked to us, and we answered most of the questions. The panel went well.
As that was my only panel of the day, I meandered through the convention center to check out other panels. At the Mars Society panel I learned about the future of human exploration and expeditions to the red planet. I learned of the proposed ideas, the various prototypes of space-faring vehicles, and the social studies that are being conducted to figure out what sort of crews would be best. More generally, I learned about why we needed to go to Mars and what was in it for us.
I then moved on to a more militaristic condieration of other planets. “Is Planetary Invasion Feasible?” was an interesting panel, as we examined the possibility of invading another planet, as well as the logistics and other highly important features of potential interplanetary warfare. Sadly missing, however, was an explanation of how the Jedi and the Sith fit into the picture.
Overall, the first day was an interesting experience. I learned, lectured, and saw quite a few interesting things. Sure, most of the convention-goers had yet to arrive, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. Saturday will be even more varied, and scarier. Why is it so scary, you ask? Well, they decided to make me a panelist on teaching SF; the concept of being accepted credibly and listened to as a 21-year-old was a little intimidating. The new day will bring new people, new panels, and an even better chance of seeing a hot female-unit in a Sailor Moon costume.
Day 2 will examine more panels and the the various “characters” one meets at a convention. Day 3 examines the Sunday events, my last panels, and the fact that in space, nobody can hear you pray.