We have returned safely from Dragon Con 2021, which went significantly better than we feared…..
DC’s policy in this year of the never-ending pandemic was to require that all attendees be either vaccinated or have proof of a negative COVID-19 test within the previous 72 hours, and that all attendees wear masks while in indoor public spaces. These rules, I’m pleased to say, were enforced. I was regularly seeing people being told to put their masks on when they entered buildings, badges were being checked, and vaccination status was checked during badge pickup anywhere from one to three times. In addition, there was a cap on attendance, and the crowds were noticeably smaller than usual.
We took a leisurely route down to the con this year — instead of dead-heading it down in one 14-hour trip, we broke it up. First we drove to Raleigh on Tuesday and spent the night with ToniAnn and Kyle. Then on Wednesday, their friend (and con roommate) Mike joined us, and, after several of us did some work stuff, Mike packed his stuff in TA & Kyle’s car, and we caravanned to Charlotte, where we stayed in an AirBnB and had a fun night of food and gaming.
Thursday, we headed down to Atlanta — stopping for lunch and also for a bit of shopping at a really good liquor store in Anderson, SC — and arrived at the convention!
DC has been bleeding back into Thursdays for a while now, and this year they had actual programming Thursday night. So after we checked in (both to the hotel and the convention) and parked the car (we found a good deal in a lot about half a mile from the hotel), there were panels! First I saw Wrenn do a panel on the Urban Fantasy Track, where five panelists each made the case for one of the first five seasons of Supernatural to be the best. Wrenn had season four, and she defended it quite eloquently, though in the end, the audience felt that season five’s defense by Hanako Ricks was the strongest (Wrenn did come in second, though).
After that, we went to the American Sci-Fi Classics Track for the first of many times. The Classics Track — magnificently run by the great Joe Crowe and Gary Mitchel — has become my home away from home at DC. Full of goofy nostalgia, great fun, and hijinks galore, the Classics Track also helped all of us get through the last year-and-a-half of insanity with their Quarantine panels (which you can find on their YouTube channel). On Thursday, we were there to watch ToniAnn be part of a most excellent panel on Labyrinth.
Friday was when the convention started in earnest for me. First I watched TA again, this time doing a fun panel on The Mummy Returns on the occasion of its twentieth anniversary. (TA cosplayed as Evie for the occasion.) Then I did my self-defense workshop, which was slightly altered from the usual — for safety’s sake, I kept the participants farther apart than usual, and I also didn’t do one-on-one demonstrations of the techniques with people. It still went quite well (I had about 40 people, which is good for a normal-sized DC, much less this smaller-scale version).
The rest of the day included one hour at Bard’s Tower selling and signing books, talking about writing military SF with a panel that included my friends and colleagues Van Allen Plexico and Marie Whittaker, among others, and then talking about Aliens on the occasion of its 35th anniversary on the Classics Track with Darin Bush and a bunch of other neat folks. Friday ended with “First Contact Improv,” an annual tradition on the Science Fiction Literature Track that is always a hoot and a holler. We of the panel were passengers on a sleeper ship that’s been pulled over by alien police. Best part of the panel were the, um, unique translations provided by the wonky universal translator……
Saturday started with a fun look back at Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends forty years after its debut, again on the Classics Track (complete with two people cosplaying Firestar!), then I had my autographing and reading. The autographing went very well — I was next to John Scalzi (who obviously had a much bigger crowd, though I did get some of his sloppy seconds), and it was good to see him and catch up a bit, and several people came by to get me to scribble on things, and even buy some of my books! The reading was less well attended, sadly, but I did get to do my first reading of “Ragnarok and a Hard Place.”
(Overall, the convention was excellent about cleaning and tidying up and making sure folks were masked and all that good stuff. However, the one and only exception the entire weekend that I encountered was at my reading: somebody dropped the ball in the Hyatt. My reading in Vinings was the first thing in that room that day — the previous day, there was an eight-hour gaming session in the room. When TA and I arrived at the room, it was a mess — nobody had cleaned up after the gamers, who were last in there eighteen hours earlier. There was even food lying around! I did complain to the con, though….)
I did another Alien panel after that, this one on the Horror Track, and was specifically about writing Alien tie-in fiction. It included me and Andrew E.C. Gaska, both writers of same, and Steve Saffel, the editor at Titan in charge of same. (Later that night, I had a very nice meeting with Steve, which was good on both a personal and professional level. Steve and I have been friends for almost three decades now, and the meeting was also fruitful regarding a potential future project.)
While the con was, as I said, doing well with trying to keep folks safe, we all agreed that going out to eat was a hugely bad idea. (Also the likely unsafest part of DC would be walking around Saturday night when people are drunk and stupid.) However, TA, Kyle, & Mike have a tradition whereby they always go to the Landmark Diner — who, conveniently, were on Uber Eats! So we ordered in a very yummy meal that was delivered to the hotel, and we played more games while we waited.
Sunday was my busiest day, but also the most fun. It began with an Urban Fantasy Track panel on writing media tie-in fiction with me, Dan Jolley, and Terry Mancour, which was better attended than any Sunday-at-10am panel had any right to be, and the folks there asked some great questions.
That was followed by my first of two Quarantine Panel followups on the Classics Track: THE BATTLE OF THE FICTIONAL BANDS! We did something like a million of these last year, with fictional bands from all across the spectrum (The Soggy Bottom Boys! Dethklok! The Oneders! Dingoes Ate My Baby!) competing against each other. Some of the arguments got pretty contentious, and it was fun all around. For the in-person version, the audience was more involved. They picked the sixteen bands that went in the bracket, and they ultimately voted on who advanced, after the panel presented their arguments. Here’s the final grid:
It was a tough battle in the end, with Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem going up against Wyld Stallyns. But in the end, the Muppets won. As it should be. We even had an upstart upset, as the Three Caballeros — whom most of the room didn’t even know about — surged thanks to an audience member who pleaded their case very eloquently.
After that, the Military SF Track did a fun panel on the heroes and villains of Stargate Universe, which included me and Van arguing a lot (he thinks Rush is way more heroic than I do, for starters), and it was particularly fun debating where Greer fit on the hero/villain spectrum.
Then there was another couple hours at Bard’s Tower following a lunch and relaxation break, then two more panels: one on Star Trek novels with me and Dan Jolley, and then the novelizations reading.
The Trek one was odd, because I haven’t written a Trek novel in a decade, and Dan’s only coauthored one Trek novella twenty years ago, but it worked out okay. We just opened it to questions right away, and some folks asked general tie-in-writing questions that Dan could answer — as well as “what would you most like to write?” questions that we both could take. And I got to talk about Articles of the Federation a lot, which was fun….
Another Quarantine Panel followup came next: “Classic Sci-Fi Novelization Readings.” Having already done that on the Tube of You, we did it live, and it included John Hudgens reading from the Howard the Duck novelization, Chris Cummins reading from the Gremlins novelization (both of which were way more out there than the movies they novelized), me reading from Gene Roddenberry’s rather turgid Star Trek: The Motion Picture novelization, TA reading from my Gargantua novelization (in a thick New Jersey accent, no less), and we ended with a superb reading from William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back, Ian Doescher’s brilliant reworking of Star Wars the way the Bard woulda done it, as performed hilariously by Denise Lhamon and Darin Bush.
Monday, Wrenn and I packed up the room, sprung the car from the parking lot, packed up the car, checked out of the hotel, and then put the car in a closer, more expensive lot for the day. We did it in record time, aided by the con’s lower attendance meaning we had better-than-usual elevator karma. (We also are really good at packing up in a hotel room after all these years, even with the COVID interregnum….)
My last two panels were “Dead at the Keyboard,” my only Writers Track panel, which included Trisha Wooldridge, Peter David, Megan Mackie, Anthony Francis, and two other writers whose names I didn’t get because they were on the far end of the panel from me, and it was Monday, and my brain was fried. But we talked about different ways of dealing with obstacles (mental and physical) to writing, and it was very useful and broad-ranging and fun.
The convention closed for me with, of course, the Classics Track: “Roll-a-Panel: Critical Fails.” We rolled a twenty-sided die every five minutes or so, and then talked about a movie that was, um, not a critical darling. Everything from Plan 9 from Outer Space to BloodRayne to Star Trek Nemesis to Mac and Me to the 1998 Godzilla, and so on. It was, of course, hilarious and fun and absurd, and the perfect coda to the con.
We did visit with a couple of friends before hitting the road, which was wonderful, then we drove up to the suburbs of Charlotte to visit our old buddy Ed. Traditionally, Monday of DC we meet Ed at a barbecue place, but we didn’t want to chance a restaurant in these fraught times, so Ed cooked for us. We had a lovely time catching up with Ed and then drove up to Salem, Virginia and stayed in a Holiday Inn Express. Tuesday, we roused ourselves, checked out, and headed the final 471 miles home to a couple of grateful kitty cats who haven’t left our sides since.
It was so good to see so many wonderful folks. I didn’t come close to listing all the people I saw at con, and I apologize to those I left off. In particular, it was great to meet readers of my work, as well as to create a few new readers.
I’m really glad DC was able to be pulled off. If nothing else, it proves that the anti-maskers are full of fecal matter. The number of people I saw unmasked over the course of the weekend was vanishingly small. I’d say 99% of the attendees followed the mask mandate, and if several thousand people at a science fiction convention can keep their masks on in order to keep folks safe, so can other people. It didn’t remotely interfere with the enjoyment of the con.
Now that I’m back home I’ve got about a thousand things to do, starting with tomorrow’s Voyager Rewatch and Lower Decks review, as well as laundry, editing, writing, and other fun stuff. Wheeeeeee!