MarsCon 2011: The Talks

At the beginning of March I went to MarsCon 2011, a convention for people who like science, science-fiction, fantasy, anime and other nerdy hobbies.  This year’s theme was Days of Magic.

This was my first MarsCon, but I’ve been to CONvergence and other nerdy weekend events. MarsCon was significantly smaller than CONvergence; the main stage was about the same size as some of the speaker rooms at CONvergence.  But the schedule was chock full of programming (i.e., talks, games, presentations, roundtables…i.e., stuff to do), there was plenty of costuming to enjoy, and lots of music and fun party rooms.

As with any con there was always something going on, so there was always something that we were missing. We didn’t hit much of the Dementia Track (odd, silly, nerdy, comic music acts), and I skipped some of the hard science presentations in favor of sleeping, eating, hot tub-ing, hanging out in room parties and generally having a fantastic time.  But I did manage to hit three panels on Saturday.

Dude, Where’s My Flying Car

The thing that I remember most about this panel is that it was full of neat ideas and yet amazing on-topic. The three presenters were Brett Glass (science and tech non-fiction writer), a gentleman named Dave (Shockwave Radio Theater) and Tom Gardner (chemist and scientist at large).

Brett Glass

Tom Gardner and Dave

The panel members discussed the technology that we have now and compared it to the tech that people in the 1960s-90s thought we would have (digital future vs. a cyber future). Everyone agreed that our biggest technological achievements to date are the amount of memory capacity we have and our ability to search our stored data. There was a lively discussion about the challenges that have yet to be conquered before we can make flying cars part of our daily lives (energy requirements, noise pollution, traffic infrastructure and laws, safety. We crash the hell out of our regular terrain cars; can you imagine the damage we could cause with airborne vehicles?!). The panel also discussed privacy – what it is and isn’t and what we can expect and should demand in today’s digital (google) age. We discussed technologies that didn’t quite make it, tech that are on their way out, and the effect that social media is having on how we define “self” and “community”.

Best Quote: “The best thing about the future is that you can emulate the past.” (Dave)

Vampires: Why They Die in the Sunlight and Don’t Sparkle

Kiki Canon (Bad Philosophy podcast), Jamie Turnball (dementiaradio.org), DJ Vlad (World of Darkness LARPer)

This one I didn’t like. I mainly went so that I could report back to my blog buddy, Alannah, that I went to an anti-Twilight Vampires talk. It was billed as a discussion panel on Vampires as a genre, so I thought they’d do their “Boy, doesn’t Twilight suck” thing and then move on to discussing…you know…Vampires as a genre.

But the group never left the “Boy, doesn’t Twilight suck” theme. Early on they posed the question of whether letting kids read Twilight is at least a way to get them reading, but it quickly devolved into NO AND LET ME TELL YOU WHY TWILIGHT SUCKS SO MUCH. They painted such a morbid picture of Twilight as a creepy, stalkerish, trashy romance, borderline pedophilic, misogynistic piece of intentional Mormon propaganda that I started wondering if I had read the same books as they had.  Incidentally, at the end of the talk two out of three of them casually mentioned that they had never actually read ANY of the Twilight books because they were sooooo awful that they just couldn’t, so they got all of their information from second-hand critiques.  Rly?

Yes, the writing in Twilight is not masterful (see how kind I am?). Yes, Bella is pathetic in a lot of ways and Hermione would totally kick her ass (whoops! entirely different story there). But (confession time!) I enjoyed reading them…I wanted to see what would happen next. They flowed (if you ignored the poor grammer) and had a tension that kept me engaged. I wanted to see which twists and turns we were going to make.

There are some really icky ideas in the Twilight novels: Why should sex hurt, lust be dangerous, or women stay with men who hurt them? No, it’s not okay to go into a months-long coma because a boyfriend leaves you. Yes, the idea of a teenage boy “imprinting” on a newborn baby (i.e., flesh eating, blood-sucking monster) is creepy and weird. But you know what? Stephenie Meyers on her best day could never hope to approach the grotesque psychological darkness that I enjoy from some of my favorite horror authors, and they are celebrated for their effed-up imaginations. I just wanted to yell at the panel “It’s FICTION, PEOPLE”. Not great fiction, but neither does it seem to be some master plan for brainwashing the next generation.

Kids are getting exposed to all sorts of screwed up ideas through television and books. Hell, my 13 year old little sister (from BBBS) saw Precious. I don’t want to see Precious. My point is that there are worse things out there for teenagers to be reading. As with anything – if you have concerns over what your kid is reading (and you should), have a chat with them before and after they read it.

Oh…wait…I was talking about the panel. Dammit! Moving on.

ZARGS and You

Erik D. Pakieser

ZARGS is an acronym created by the presenter, Erik D. Pakieser. It describes five invader/disaster scenarios which one might someday encounter, as foretold by apocalyptic/societal collapse movies and books.

The neat thing is that ZARGS doesn’t just adress five specific examples of Earth’s potential future doom, but rather the five major invasion strategies which may be  used against us AND possible defenses that we have against them.

The underlying assumption is that these are all bad guys. They aren’t just new visitors who we start taking out because they look diffrunt from us ‘muricans. We’re starting with the premise that the invaders have made clear their intention of enslaving us or wiping us out. Just roll with it, y’all. 

Zombies – Any swarm of independent operators. These are creatures that hunt for their own advantage. They’re not controlled by any outside forces and don’t have a group plan. You can either stay and defend your fortress or bug out – try to outrun them and hide in an area that isn’t infested. Erik challenged us to consider whether we’d be prepared for either – how defensible is your home and do you have supplies to last? If you leave, do you have the wilderness survival skills to not die of exposure or thirst in the first few hours or days?

Aliens – This is a catch all group that describes any malevolent otherworldly threat that we can’t predict or don’t understand. We may not be able to identify our alien invaders, we may have to discover how to defend ourselves, they may or may not be operating independently or have an invasion plan.

Raptors – Raptors are intelligent man-eating monsters that hunt in groups. You need major firepower to take down raptors, but you also need speed and evasion skills because raptors may be fast. The thing with raptors is never shoot for the head – always take out the legs or pelvis and then finish ’em up with a fatal shot. The pelvis is easier to hit and even if you don’t kill them, they’re down. Also – always watch for the other hunters of the raptor party! If you only see one, look for the others!

Graboids – Raw, brute force, may not be too intelligent. You need HEAVY artillery to take care of these guys. Think Tremors. Graboids may be avian, subterranean, or ocean monsters. Their huge size may limit their speed and manuverability. They may work alone or in small groups. To some extent, environment defines whether a hunter is a graboid or a raptor: If you’re in the water with a ocean monster, you’re dealing with a raptor – it has the home court advantage and can move much better in the water than you can. If you’re shooting at flying graboids (or raptors), don’t try to lead the creature (run and shoot over your shoulder) – turn around to face the theat, plant yourself and take aim.

SkyNet aka our new Robot Overlords – The most distinct feature of the robot invasion is that individuals are controlled or directed by a central system. Killing individuals has no long-term advantage because the central hub can always make or send more; you must remove the central hub. You might employ a computer virus, try to reprogram the central station or physically disable or destroy the hub.

We also discussed supernatural threats (we decided to lump these into “aliens” because you can’t predict or understand the treat a supernatural invasion might take) and attack by microbes. We decided that with microbial attack the only real way to be safe is isolation or discovering what kills the bugs; they’d probably fit best into the “zombies” category.

I enjoyed this panel because we always related the five invasion types back to the movies or books from which the ideas came. It was good, gorey imaginative fun with some emergency preparedness truth nestled into the fantasy. If you ever get a chance to see Erik speak – do it!

After the morning talks, the Hubby and I rode the lightrail over to the Mall of America for lunch and then headed up to the room to catch some ZZZZ’s before the Saturday night party rooms.

Next MarsCon Post: Costumes and Creatures!

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4 Responses to “MarsCon 2011: The Talks”

  1. Erin B. Says:

    Graboids! Ha I love that that name stuck. What a silly movie…. off to Netflix to add it to my queue.

  2. Paula Says:

    Re: Twilight Sucks. Why yes it does. The reasons why most people say they haven’t read it is the same reason why I haven’t “Actually really truly read it” because I “Actually really truly tried.” The grammar and structure is so bad it makes me fear for publishing. The best thing to come out of it, IMHO is that it has fodder for English purists across in classrooms and the interwebs. The best one though is: http://reasoningwithvampires.tumblr.com/

  3. Paula Says:

    re the above: sorry for doing the one thing you hated – focusing on Twilight as yuck. Beyond that I loved your blog and was glad to see what you and I talked about in Cozumel reiterated here. Love ya.

  4. Alannah Murphy Says:

    Awesome! Can’t believe I missed this post. Thanks so much for letting me know about it and aw, I’m touched you suffered that Vampire panel.

    Wow, they really could have taken the opportunity to do something good with that instead of just attacking Twilight, and how could they not have read the books? Sorry but you cannot go on and on and on about how something sucks, if you haven’t actualy had the experience of reading the entire thing, at least the first book. Which I suffered…(only the first book)

    I vote for a Zombie invasion, I have seen Shaun of the Dead so I’m prepared lol.

    All the panels sounded interesting. Shame they haven’t got things like that here, I’d go to something like this…

    Thanks for the great report 🙂

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