Slice of Pi-Con

One sweet little con.

They gave us the Pi room.

This was my first Pi-Con.  My usual con-companion, Elaine Isaak, wasn’t going, and another carpooling opportunity didn’t arise, so I drove down myself (see “Fishing without a pole”).  It was great mental preparation.

Pi-Con is a small, relatively intimate convention, still figuring out what it is about (this one was #5).  It bills itself as “An Event for Geeks, Nerds, and Dorks”. The meaning of first two terms have been migrating steadily into positive self-identification, but this was the first time I’ve ever encountered the word “dork” used as anything but an insult.  Well, heck, we learned how to co-opt the pejorative with “queer,” so why not “dork”?

It was easy to get to know people.  Small hotel, seeing the same faces again and again.  Tiny little consuite which offered the usual fare with the conspicuous absence of veggie platters.  By the last day the floor desperately needed vacuuming, and the sorry state of the place kept the more fastidious participants away.  But they offered cheesecake and (of course) pie, so they are okay by me.

I got off to a somewhat rocky start.  I hadn’t allowed myself enough time to get there, and I blew in half an hour before my first panel, a discussion of Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis”.  I like to get settled before I go on, so I was already a bit off-balance.  One of the three panelists couldn’t make it, so it was just me and the Guest of Awesome, Hugh Casey.  I thought I was supposed to be moderating (that’s what the schedule said, anyway) but he was convinced he was moderating.  I was all set to talk about the film’s meaning, symbolism, its significance as a silent epic, German Expressionist film in general, and early science fiction films in particular.  Every mad scientist’s laboratory forever after came from Rotwang’s lab, and if he wasn’t the inspiration for Dr. Strangelove, I’ll eat my hat.

Well, being a filmmaker (among many other things, which is why he was the Guest of Awesome) Casey took the panel in a completely different direction, and the audience seemed cool with it.  They talked tech, what film stock was used, the quality of the restored segments, and then followed a trajectory out of the atmosphere into realms of contemporary science fiction where I was not prepared to go.  Oh, Hel.  I sat back, smiled and let them have at it.  They were having fun, so who was I to argue?

Besides, the rest of my panels were plenty awesome enough to make up for it.  I got teamed up with the likes of Mario Di Giacomo, Shira Lipkin, Jeff Warner, and the Vikki formerly known as Rose.  And Robert J. Sawyer, the author G of H, with whom I had the honor and pleasure of serving on two panels.  I was so impressed, I bought his book.  Anyone who knows me knows I read precious little fiction (here’s why) and own less.  I believe in public libraries.

Honestly, we are having much more fun that it looks. (photo courtesy Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert)

The audiences were much leaner than at bigger conventions, but they were highly engaged, and the panels often had the intimate feel of those heated discussions that often happen in bars. If I had to choose, I’d say the one I did with Jeff Warner and Rob Sawyer on “Atheism and Skepticism in SciFi” was my favorite.  It was Sunday morning, the disadvantage of that being that it took me a few minutes to blow the fog out of my head and get up to speed.  The advantage was that I’d had a chance to do a couple of panels already with these guys on similar topics.  The chemistry was awesome.  It was pure intellectual chocolate.

Now then, aside from the serious work of geek discussions, there were the extracurricular activities.  I wanted to see what “Repo! The Genetic Opera” was about.  I found out.  A little outside of my comfort level I must confess.  There was also a showing of “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” which is much more to my taste.  This, unfortunately, was a disappointment, too.  Just not enough people in the audience, and it was far too scripted.  Made me nostalgic for the days of midnight shows in real theaters where they brought toast, toilet paper and spritzers, and there was a whole lot more spontaneity and amateur participation.

I should have stayed at the Barfleet party, and I’ll know better in the future.  I discovered Barfleet at Arisia, but I had no idea what lay behind it.  Barfleet is a national organization whose sole mission is to provide hospitality and throw parties at science fiction, gaming, and other genre-related conventions for adult convention attendees.  It’s the perfect collision of Trek and high spirits.

Captain Rhandom Bhagczech of the Barship Shameless

Captain Rhandom Bhagczech, commander of the Barship Shameless (“Shamelessly Going Where the Tactful Dare Not Tread”) and his crew hosted a bash that included an impressive sound system and open bar.  Purchase your official U.B.S. Shameless cup at the door, and drink all night (don’t forget to tip your bartender).  There were also Jello shots circulating courtesy of Arisia.  The Captain was gracious enough to pose for a picture outside the door; no photos inside.  These folks are having fun, inhibitions be damned, doing stuff they’d really prefer not to have documented and possibly circulated on the Internet for Aunt Prudence to see.

There were other parties on the floor including Philcon, Lunacon and Arisia, all dry, but with food and coherent conversation that isn’t competing with an aggressive sound system.  That’s great.  That’s as it should be.  But I preferred the company of extroverted aliens in interesting uniforms dancing to “Blinded By Science” (and synthohol).

I attended the feedback session after the con was over.  Very well-run and orderly, with constructive discussion of what went well and what didn’t.  Some wanted more “lifestyle” panels, others wanted more Science (insert round of applause here).  Some bitched and some praised, and everybody loved Barfleet (more applause).  Compliments also went to the staff, who were without exception friendly and helpful.  Notes were dutifully taken in detail to be used in the organizing of 6Pi-Con.  If they want me back, I’ll be there.  This is one sweet little con.

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