Entirely Too Many Words About Geeking Out: The Dragon*Con 2011 Recap

September 9, 2011 at 11:50 am | Posted in Entertainment, Sci-Fi, Star Wars, Star Wars Books | 3 Comments
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Day Zero

Dragon*Con. If San Diego Comic Con is the “Nerd Prom” of the convention sphere, D*C is the four-day-long frat party.

The trip begins at an ungodly hour for me. Three AM and I’m in my car, making my way to Seattle-Tacoma International to kick off my weekend of misadventures with airplanes. Countless sleepless hours and a layover in Denver later,  I rolled into Atlanta around 4PM to meet up with my roommates*, one of which was Nanci from EUCantina. Now, Day Zero is devoted to getting your bearings straight and meeting fellow con-goers before the chaos starts. This is your one chance to enjoy a real meal (IE: something other than a hastily eaten protein bar) and conversation before the mad dash from hotel to hotel starts. Right away I met up with Dunc of ClubJade and Riley and Bethany of the Star Wars Report.

*I use the term “roommate” loosely. At Dragon*Con, no one sleeps. You catch a few hours of eyelid closing time, get up, and hit more panels. Repeat. 

Day One

That’s a whole lot of Star Wars Expanded Universe right there.

On Friday, the fun began. Nanci and I were panel buddies for much of the con, so we started off with a writing class led by Mike Stackpole and featured Aaron Allston, two long-time favorite authors of Star Wars Expanded Universe fans. This was the first in a series of workshops they were putting together, and I can say that they were fantastic. Thoroughly entertaining, funny, and enlightening. If you ever get a chance to attend one of their seminars, go for it.

After that it was an Hour with Tom Felton, who is hilarious. From here I escaped with a long-time friend to run up the street and through the heat* to the Whedonverse track, where a panel retrospective on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel was being held. This was far and away one of the most popular events at the entire con, drawing an enormous crowd and my first long queue line of the trip. Ah queue lines, part of the unique Dragon*Con culture. Want to meet new people? You’ll have your chance in line, where you’ll be spending upwards of two hours waiting for the most popular panels. Get cozy!

*To put this into perspective, I’m a lifelong Seattle native. 75 degrees is hot. We were hovering around 90+ the entire trip.

My friend Shannon and I attended the last panel of the day, a Star Trek: The Next Generation retrospective with Brent Spiner and Gates McFadden. Let me just say that Brent Spiner does Patrick Stewart better than Patrick Stewart. If you’ve ever heard him do that impression, you know exactly what I mean.

Day Two

Saturday started off with another writing workshop Mike Stackpole ran. This might have been one of the greatest writing classes I’ve ever taken, a seminar entitled 21 Days to a Novel. Once again I have to reiterate, if you have any interest in writing fiction and you have the chance to attend one of these classes by Stackpole and Allston, it’s well worth the paltry sum of $10. If for no other reason, these panels were a fascinating look into how the writing minds of some of our favorite authors work. It’s easy to fall into the fallacy that fiction writing is for the select few, those who have the unquantifiable gift of being touched by inspiration or something equally nonsensical. The reality is that these writers have methods and techniques that drive their writing. Much of it is mechanical, quantifiable.

After that workshop, Nanci and I headed off to the Meet the Stars of Star Wars panel featuring Peter Mayhew, Carrie Fisher, Ashley Eckstein, and the guy who played Jango Fett whose name I can never spell (ed. note: Temura

Guys! Guys! I found Carmen San Diego!

Morrison!). Many of the questions from fans were directed towards Fisher and Mayhew, but Eckstein and Morrison were still very popular. Carrie? Irreverent and hilarious. Of course, it isn’t a Star Wars panel if someone doesn’t ask about the dreaded Holiday Special. Fisher and Mayhew were apparently in a good mood, because they dropped a few bars of Holiday Special theme song for the audience.

Later in the day, we trecked back to the Star Wars track for the Heir to the Empire retrospective with Tim Zahn. Lots of great stuff, nothing more so than when he said (and I’m paraphrasing) “I don’t think it’s necessary to kill characters. You can put them on a bus, but there’s no need to outright terminate a still useful character. But I’m not bitter.” Cue laughter. Zahn was incredibly gracious and provided some wonderful insights into the writing process behind the book that jump-started the expanded universe. Perhaps the most interesting bit of information? How close we came to not having Zahn write the book. He was approached to write the novel a mere six weeks after signing with Bantam Spectra. Only a short while earlier, he nearly signed with TOR books. As he put it, Heir to the Empire sort of “fell into his lap.”

After the HttE retrospective, it was time for me to run off to another queue. This time it was an early Dr. Who viewing party, where they made me do everything but sign an NDA not to leak what I saw to the internet. Even  though the episode was about to air in 30 minutes on BBCA. I have to say, there’s nothing quite like watching an episode of one of your favorite TV show with friends. Well, I take that back. There’s that, and then there’s watching a brand new episode in a room with 1,400 other fans.

Day Three

Sunday was a day devoted mostly to Star Wars. I started off by heading down to the Walk of Fame with some friends, where we met Ashley Eckstein, voice of Asohka Tano from The Clone Wars and the mind behind Her Universe. Of all the people I met at Dragon*Con, she was perhaps the most sincere and the kindest. If you’re a female science fiction fan or know someone that is, you owe it to yourself to pick up something from Her Universe. Support Eckstein, she’s done a tremendous amount of work knocking down the gender barrier in science fiction.

The first official event  of the day was a Mythology, Philosophy, and Truth in Star Wars panel with Gary Kurtz and Tim Zahn. It was pretty interesting to see Zahn and Kurtz argue a bit about what Kurtz called the “over-intellectualization” of Star Wars. It seemed as if there were some differing opinions on the expanded universe and the analysis of the fandom as a whole by fans. Tim argued that there was a market for continued stories and that it was a wonderful thing that fans were so interested in these tales. Star Wars has become a modern myth, and even with the expanded universe, not all questions will be explicitly answered. There’s still a great amount of room for speculation and imagination on the part of the viewer and reader.

We went back to the writer’s track after that and went to another writing workshop, this one led by Aaron Allston. At one point Aaron said something along the lines of “torturing characters/readers is fun,” which got an “Aaron Allston? Torture Characters? Noooooooooo” from the audience. This workshop was great, if for no other reason than we got to discuss the overarching themes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel with one of the EU’s most beloved authors. Allston a Whedonite? Confirmed.*

*Though there is part of me that still suspects Aaron Allston and Joss Whedon are the same person. Has anyone ever seen them in the same place? I think not!

Every panel should be as irreverently hilarious as Carrie Fisher’s.

Next up was the longest queue of the con for us, the Carrie Fisher Honestly panel. Forget the fabled Adult Themes in Star Wars panel. This blew it out of the water. Two minutes in Carrie had already covered the topic of natural male enhancement, conducting a panel with just her breasts, dropped six expletives, and heckled a fan in the front row. Again, that was the first two minutes. It only got more hilarious after that. On a more serious note, several fans with bipolar disorder took the time to thank her for being an inspiration to them. It was everything you would hope a celebrity event would be. Candid, honest, and side-splittingly hilarious.

Next, we met up with Dunc and the Star Wars Report duo to attend an Ask the Authors of the Star Wars EU panel that was featured Walter Jon Williams, Tim Zahn, Mike Stackpole, A.C. Crispin, Aaron Allston, Rebecca Moesta, and Kevin J. Anderson. The best moment* was probably when they were asked what their favorite scenes from the books they’ve written were. Zahn said the action scene he wrote at the end of Choices of One. Stackpole said it was a tie between Corran making his own lightsaber and the death of Elegos in NJO. Aaron said “Well, in Iron Fist …” which got a chorus of anguished groans from the audience as they recalled one of the most tragic deaths in the entire EU before he said “… the death of Ton Phanan.” He actually got a little choked up talking about it. I may have as well. As Stackpole pointed out, while getting a little misty eyed remembering Elegos, these were powerful moments and it was wonderful that so many years on, they’re still getting a strong reaction from readers.

*Honorable mention. When asked “What character would you want to be?” Mike Stackpole responded by saying he’d want to be Tycho Celchu. Aaron Allston immediately chimes in and says “Oh, you just want Tycho’s hot wife.”

I need to take a quick break to talk about something you may have seen making the rounds on Twitter the last few days. On Mike Stackpole’s website, he talked about returning to writing Star Wars novels. In brief, the ball is in Del Rey’s court. He’s interested, and I can tell you with absolute certainty that the fans are also interested. Despite not having written an expanded universe novel in eleven years, Stackpole was just as popular as Aaron Allston and Tim Zahn, perhaps the two most beloved writers in the entire EU right now. The interest is there, both on Stackpole’s part and the fans. I know I would love a new Stackpole novel in this universe, be it a Rogue Squadron tale or something entirely different. That’s why I signed this petition.

We stayed for a Star Wars trivia contest and a Clone Wars panel before taking off to meet up with a few other friends for the Star Wars Adult Themes Panel. Where things happened. Yeah. Things. That happened.

Day Four

There’s no frakking way I’m hitting my connecting flight, is there?

Monday was the wind-down day. Nanci and I went to another writing panel with Terry Brooks, Mercedes Lackey, and Tim Zahn. Aspiring writers, ever feel down? Ask Zahn sometime about all of the rejection letters he got while trying to make a name for himself. The last panel of the con was a BSG event with Tahmoh Penniket and Edward James Olmos. I have to say, Olmos is one of the world’s most interesting individuals. He’s definitely someone that should be high on your list of people to see at a con.

After that, it was time to go home. Provided I could beat Tropical Storm Lee, but that’s an adventure no one particularly cares about.

I think Wil Wheaton summed up Dragon*Con better than anyone:

Every convention has its own personality, and D*C’s feels like a giant party that passionately and furiously celebrates not only the things that we love, but it celebrates us for loving them. The cosplay is unreal — I saw an Iron Man that looked better than the CGI in the movie, a Brotherhood of Steel that could have come straight out of Fallout, and a God of War guy who could have been the actual guy from the cover of the game — and the people doing it are clearly having the time of their lives.

Someone asked me yesterday how this con compared to Comicon, because he’d never been to SDCC and was curious. It thought about it for a minute, and I told him that SDCC has been taken over by media companies who are trying to use us to sell movies, so it has atmosphere that makes Hollywood more important than the people who attend the con. By comparison, Dragon*Con (based on my extremely small sample size) feels like a con that’s about the people who attend it. If there’s any media here, it is here to serve them, not the other way around like it is at SDCC. He told me he suspected that, so he’d just keep going to D*C, and save himself the trip to San Diego. I couldn’t disagree.

Dragon*Con was a privilege to attend. It’s by fans, for fans. It’s a celebration of fandom and everything that makes it wonderful. It was a chance for me to put faces to the nebulous names I only knew from Twitter handles. Sure, I had the chance to get books signed and was in close proximity to celebrities from some of my favorite science fiction franchises, but that wasn’t the best part. I got to know other fans and make new friends, all who have one thing in common.

Being fandom geeks is just part of who we are. You’d better believe we embrace that.

Posted By: Lane Winree

3 Comments »

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  1. Sounds like whoever wrote this had a great time. Makes me look forward to getting to a con myself some year.

  2. Great article Lane, someday I’ll have to make the trip. Sounds like it was a lot of fun.

  3. I have got to go to D*C!


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