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DragonCon: Paradigm Shift

Attending DragonCon has become a family tradition.  I started attending over twenty years ago; my wife has been to nineteen. My daughter has been every year since her birth.  I’ve seen changes over that time, some good, some not so, but the biggest, most startling change happened right underneath my nose.  I don’t know that I would have noticed it except for the events that happened at the end of the con this year.

The conevntion has always been a vacation for us, a time to relax as school starts back (my wife and I teach), and as we’ve gotten older – and since the little one has come along – we’ve moved away from the central craziness of the original hotels to the relative quietness of the Sheraton.  We have to walk a bit more, but, hey, it’s peaceful at night and we don’t have to fight for an elevator.  As the con winded down, we would always call to make our reservations for the next year, something you could never do in one of the other host hotels.  Been doing it for as long as we’ve been staying there.  Never had a problem.  Never until this year.  And that’s when it hit me: DragonCon had become huge.

Every year, the con had gotten bigger.  It had spread out a little more.  It had gotten more and more guests.  But none of that registered until I failed to get a room this year.  It struck me then how things had acually changed.  I remembered how I used to be able to go to any panel I wanted to attend.  Even those with the “big stars.”  All I had to do was show up a few minutes before and I’d get a seat.  It was usually toward the back, but it was a seat.  This year, and the few previous, if I wanted to see someone like Sir Patrick, I had to be in lines hours in advanced.  I therefore sought out the smaller, more obscure panels this year.  Full houses.  I tried tp get into one about commercial space flight – turned away.

So here’s my major gripes with the new DragonCon:

  • Massive lines to big events. Yep, if you want to see big names, you’re going to have to sacrifice other events.  Never really had to do that before.  I was used to walking from one event to another.  Now, it’s hours of standing – people are not allowed to sit because of fire regs.  This was the first year, too, I had to stand in line to get on an escalator.
  • Total stand stillTrying to get through the lobby of the Marriott sometimes is horrible at best.  There are times, esepcially in evening when the cosplayers come out, that you cannot even move.  I’ve had to stand for minutes out a time, just to go through the lobby.  And the walkways between hotels are great for the most part, but when it rains, everyone tries to use them.  They clog up too.  Makes for a very unpleasant experience when all you’re trying to do is get from point A to point B.
  • Displacement of writers and comics.  This is the saddest one for me.  Don’t want to be all hipster, but I remember when the writers and comic guests ruled the con.  They still do to an extent when you get a name like Salvatore.  But the grand old men like Niven and McDevitt are pushed to the nether regions.  On a good note, these are the few panels you can always get into.  Writers created and drove SF&F, but now they’re being replaced by movie stars and glamor girls.  The comic artist have their location, too, but try to buy a comic – good luck.  They were five comic dealers this year.  The con started out comic heavy.  I reckon SDCC is going through the same transition.
  • Mad dash for rooms.   Then there’s the mad dash for hotel rooms.  This is the first year I’ve purchased memberships without having a room.  My usual spot sold out for next year’s DragonCon weeks before this year’s even started.  And when the hosts hotels open blocks for the con-goers, servers crash and phone lines are jammed for hours while the rooms disappear in minutes.  I feel like I’m being pushed away from something that I felt I belonged to.  Rooms are available a mile or two away, but that’s just too inconvient for the family.  Before, we would separate, meet, and come and go as we pleased.  Those days may be gone for good.

Yep, I had an epiphany.  If I’m going to have a “full” con experience next year, I’m going to have to change my way of thinking.  I’m happy for the producers and staff.  They are undoubtedly sucessful, and they make lots of happy people.  But I’m going to have to change my way of thinking.  It’s not my little vacation anymore.  It’s an event, and I’ll have to get out and tangle with everyone to get those panels and to secure that room. 

I really don’t know if DragonCon will get as big as SDCC.  It doesn’t seem to be the corporate entity that ComicCon has become.  That makes me glad.  DragonCon, at least, still seems to be for the fans and by the fans.  There’s just a lot more of them now.  A whole lot more.


Nerd Props to . . .

David Bowie



David Bowie has done much to bring SF & F to the masses.  I mean, who hasn’t heard Major Tom’s plight in Space Oddity at least once in their lifetime?   A lot of rockers dabble in SF&F, though, right?  But then Bowie went and did that album about an alien stranded on earth who becomes a rock star.  Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars landed upon unsuspecting masses, and what appeared to be just another glam rock album turned out to be a wonder-filled SF parable songs like Moonage Daydream and Suffragette City.  The album pretty much kickstarted Bowie into superstar status, and while he could have pretty much done anything he wanted to at that point, he did it again.  Sort of.  The follow up to Ziggy was Diamond Dogs, a kind of surreal, Orwellian nightmare that sported a mutated, half-man, half-dog,  Ziggy-like Bowie on the cover, and the songs range from the apocalyptic visions Diamond Dogs to the discoish sounds of 1984.  Even though he metamorphosed into the Thin White Duke shortly thereafter, we are forever grateful to him for these rock and SF masterpieces.


                                       So Nerd Props to you, David Bowie!  



Quite Quotable

Life isn't about fair.

Michael A. Stackpole, The Dark Glory War


So, would I seem crazier...

...if I told you that I ate sardines for breakfast this morning because it sounded tasty or because I was LARPing as a post-apocalyptic survivor who was running out of options in the bunker?


The Great Tarzan Adventure #7: Tarzan the Untamed

There’s a lot to be excited about in ERB’s seventh Tarzan adventure.  Tarzan the Untamed begins as a tale of revenge for the murder of his beloved Jane.  By the end of the story, Tarzan has not only fought the Germans in WWI but has also stumbled upon another lost city. No spoilers there; it’s all on the back cover blurb.  After the disappointment of the last book, I was definitely ready for a change, and this book seemed to offer it.  As you may know, I loved the revenge story of Beasts, and I love me a good lost civilization story.  And how can any story go wrong by throwing in some pulpy war action into the mix.  When all was said and done, I wasn’t thrilled out of my socks, but I was ready to leap into the next volume. 

Without further aideu, here’s what I liked and what I didn’t.  Spoilers beyond this point.

Here’s what I liked:    

The Revenge Story:  I don’t know what it is, but Burroughs does revenge yarns well, with Tarzan anyway.  I suppose it’s because Tarzan doesn’t allow himself to be restrained by “civilized” conceits.  He does what he sees as fitting and just, no matter how bloody the outcome may be.  I think it’s here where we see Tarzan at his most primal.  It’s frightening at times.  I like it.

WWI Story:  Didn’t expect this one, but it was really cool seeing Tarzan fighting the Germans during the Great War.  Of course, this was tied into the revenge tale, but it was very different to me.  I mean, here’s the Lord of the Jungles running through the trenches.  I don’t ever recall trenches in Africa, so this historical elelment is suspect.  I liked it nonetheless.

The Lost City of Xuja:  I really liked this lost world tale.  When Tarzan finds the skeletal remains of what appears to be a Conquistador, I got chills.  And then the city itself was bizzarre and eerie.  When the maniac inhabitants begin wailing for no reason at random times – wow.  Creepy.  Very pulpy, and very much in the vein of the sword and sorcery tradition.  The lions the inhabitant used were cool, too.  The birds . . . not so much.  

Here’ s what I didn’t like so much:      

Lady Spy:  She sort of tied both stories together, and she sort of gave us the “civilized” perspective of watching Tarzan during the course of the novel.  So, I see why she’s there.  I think it was the her-wanting-Tarzan-to-love-her thing.  I knew she wasn’t a German, despite what Tarzan thought.  I guess you could call this the Burroughsian mistaken identity/love/hate relationship that most of his heroes indure in their first books.  Maybe I like her more than I thought . . .

Tarzan’s cruelty: Animals are verocious.  They track, they hunt, they kill.  But they are not cruel.  We’ve seen this streak in previous novels, but now it’s getting old.  He traps a lion and starves it.  You may say, well, it was because he was going to feed a German to it  Well, I say, he trapped the lion well before he thought of feeding it a German. And yeah, he had the lion as a companion – briefly – but it was only after he had beaten into submission. In fact, his cruelty really makes me not like him as a character at times.

Two Tales:  The novel really felt like two different stories.  It was a war story AND a lost world story.  Yes, he pulled them together with Lady Spy, but I think the revenge story could have been played out more along the lines of Beasts.  At least the Xuja story was better, in my opinion, than the previous the Opar story.  In fact, he spent more time in Xuja than he did in Opar in the entire Jewels of Opar novel.    

So there you go.  I liked Tarzan the Untamed.  It had potential, but two-book feel kept it from top honors for me.  That place is still held by The Beasts of Tarzan.  I must say, just looking at the cover of the next entry, Tarzan the Terrible, I am quite pumped.  The end of Untamed, even with the unsurprising revelation that Jane was alive, made me want to jump into the next one, but even more enticing than that - there’s a DINOSAUR on the cover!  Tarzan meets dinosaurs – I’m all in for that one. 

Hope to see you there!