Last year, as you may recall, I spent a lot of time in the Marriott visiting the dealer’s room, the exhibitor’s room, and the Walk of Fame, indulging in a little fanthropology and also buying the shiny. Not so this year. I wanted to see more convention content. I was cash poor. And it was a pain in the ass to get to the Marriott in a self-propelled wheelchair. This was not the fault of the con staff or the attendees, who were, generally speaking, an incredibly helpful bunch of total strangers. It was the fault of the geology of Atlanta.
Yet, though I was Hyatt-bound by blasted hills, I still had those moments of Dragon*Con uniqueness. Like, for example, that moment on Thursday evening when the elevator door opened and I found myself face to belt-buckle with a seven foot tall Ring Wraith. Or the guy I encountered in the elevator on Friday night who was convinced I was the kind of person who’d be willing to drink alcohol off a strange man’s back. (Not so much.) Near as I could tell, D*C was still the multi-colored bacchanal I remembered.
I saw about half the content I wanted to see, which I suspect may be a permanent D*C dilemma.
I launched the con proper by attending the first panel on the Writer’s Track, “How to Write a Story in an Hour,” which was presented before an amazingly full house for so early an event. Via call and response, we all invented a middle-aged midwife character with a talent for sensing paranormal ability in unborn children. Then things began to lose cohesion as we tried to hash out the particulars of the conflict, and I got into a polite argument with the moderator challenging his assertion that the antagonist has to be someone we can hate. Why can’t he or she simply be someone with a different worldview? Or, better yet, as I whispered to a few people sitting nearby, why not end the story with a twist? Why can’t the character we are lead to believe is the white hat turn out, in the end, to be evil after all? The panel concluded with an exhortation for all of us to try to write this story, as each person will have a different spin. No kidding.
The Friday evening Serenity panel, meanwhile, was fun. ny. Ron Glass looked a little stunned at first, which lead to a running age joke. Still, he gave as good as he got, horning in on Morena Baccarin in particular. At one point, a fan praised both Morena and Jewel Staite for providing the audience with positive female role models. Morena responded that she was proud of her work on the show and that, as an actress, she never took a role that she felt was sexually demeaning. Ron came back with: “Wait a minute- don’t you play a whore?” To which Morena replied: “I’ll only say this once- Companion. There’s a difference between me and the girl you had in your room last night.” Ron: “If it walks like a duck…” Adam Baldwin, meanwhile, was a giant fan suck-up in all the best ways, with Ron occasionally playing his back-up. Both thanked the audience a number of times for their overwhelming support. Throughout the hour, I also learned that the cast liked filming on the Universal lot better because it had rides; that Morena and Jewel became best friends as soon as they met on set; that Ron wanted the role of Book rabidly as soon as he read the script; that, to get in character, Adam tries to call on his inner “scruffy eight-year-old”; that Morena is actually not a big fan of make-up, while Jewel is a total fashion diva; and that Jewel plans to flip Nathan Fillion off on the red carpet (shh- don’t tell Nathan).
Next was the B5 Mindwalkers panel, in which the moral of the story turned out to be: Read the Books. We spoiled the hell out of the Psi Corps and Technomage trilogies. I opened the panel with my answer to the question, “Why is there no equivalent to the Psi Corps on other B5 worlds with telepathy?” In addition to the truism that races like the Minbari and the Centauri have had more evolutionary time to come to terms with the presence of telepathy, I also advanced the following theory:
Reading the first book of the telepath trilogy, I was struck by how easily I followed the logic behind the formation of the proto-Psi Corps (which is not to say that I necessarily approve of the ultimate result- only that I understand why things turned out the way they did). In any democratic, individualistic society (and the EA appears to function as a democracy- JMS was writing what he knew as an American), the concept of privacy usually evolves philosophically to the status of basic human right. What does a democratic society do, then, when a minority begins to manifest abilities that could threaten that right? This is one half of the Human dilemma.
The Minbari? Are a collectivist society and do not appear to have comparable conceptions of privacy. Consider, for one thing, the fact that when a Minbari chooses to take a mate, it is traditional, at some point, for the Minbari's clan to listen in on a night of lovemaking. (Whoo hoo? :-)) Even your sex life, it seems, belongs to your extended family. Conclusion? No privacy, no telepath problem- or at least, not as dramatic a problem.
The other half of the Human dilemma is this: in democratic, individualistic societies, the freedom to pursue one's happiness is assumed to be a basic human right from the beginning. Regulating telepathy to protect the aforementioned privacy right will necessarily violate the right to freely pursue one's happiness to some degree. And there will be inevitable disagreements as to how much regulation is too much, which leads, inevitably, to BOOM.
The Centauri Republic? Is supremely pre-modern. There simply isn’t an assumption that one is free to do with one's life what one wishes. Everybody has their specified place, from the gods on down to the slaves. So if telepaths are forced to conform to the status of employees of the nobility, it just isn't a deviation in the natural order of things when you're Centauri. Conclusion? No assumption of liberty, no telepath problem. At least, no problem that cannot be traced to the constant competition for power between the noble houses in general. In fact, as we determined through discussion, the clannishness and paranoia of the Centauri political class may actually help to boost a telepath’s status, because he has a special talent that can be used to an ambitious noble’s advantage and that gives him bargaining power. Hence the formation of the Guild.
After that, we veered off into the tall grasses. One of my fellow panelists openly speculated that the Shadows’ vulnerability to telepathy was first discovered on Narn, but I’m not sure of the timelines on that. As mentioned above, we also spoiled several audience members as to the origins of the technomages. And the subject of Centauri precognition came up, which I took great pains to differentiate from telepathy. In the process of the precognition discussion, I, interestingly, stunned the assembled when I asserted my belief that Londo is a seer beyond the usual male Centauri mold. Apparently, this is not self evident to B5 fandom in general. *g* Explaining my “provocative” conclusion, I pointed out that Londo saw a great deal more than his death in his vision; that, when he was in extremis in The Very Long Night of Londo Mollari, he saw Sheridan’s future; and that Cartagia didn’t know who would kill him. Looking back now, I wish I had also pointed out that Urza and Refa didn’t seem to know the specifics of their deaths either, because the others rather quickly retorted that Cartagia “was crazy” and thus he didn’t count.
After my debut as a panelist, I wheeled off to the Buffy track to sing along to Once More With Feeling, then stopped by the Friday night Shindig. I didn’t stay at the party for long, though, because, by this point, I still hadn’t run across kernezelda and the others, and a social gathering isn’t as much fun when your friends aren’t along for the ride.
Having pushed my own room party to Saturday night to accommodate the Shindig, I went to bed on Friday night at a reasonable hour.
Coming Up: The Farscape ladies, the room party, and converting another fan to our peculiar brand of B5 slash.