The family and I enjoyed a wonderful weekend at MarsCon… which came with an unfortunate postscript. But more on that later. This was a very well-run convention which has grown popular enough that it will be moving to a larger venue next year. This year’s theme was The End of the World, and the organizers certainly went all out to properly “theme” the hotel. Zombies and their ilk were everywhere — in the lobby, in the halls, popping out of trash cans and bio-hazard barrels, or caged like moldering zoo exhibits. Zombies also made up by far the most popular category of hall costumes, with about ten percent of the con-goers arriving “zombified” and looking like they’d stepped straight out of one of Robert Kirkman’s graphic novels or TV shows. There are many, many ways to end the world, of course; costumers could have dressed up as radioactive mutants, rogue asteroids, giant insects, free-floating Ebola germs, flesh-eating bacteria, or clouds of carbon dioxide (if they’re of an Al Gore turn of mind). But zombies are “in” this year, and so Zombie Apocalypse was the disaster du jour.
My one disappointment was that I forgot my camera at home. Dara tried using her cell phone in its stead, but none of the phone pics came out very good. Aside from all the zombies and zombie paraphernalia, I spotted several other terrific hall costumes I wouldn’t have minded shooting photos of. One young(? – can’t be absolutely sure, since the outfit completely covered him) man dressed as a splendid-looking Wesley Dodd Sandman from Sandman Mystery Theater, one of my favorite comic book series from the last twenty years. My partially empty two hours spent in the Autograph Armageddon group signing session (which were somewhat enlivened by ten-minute readings performed by some of the signers) got a bit of a lift from an alluringly chubby Zatanna who paraded herself (with boyfriend in tow) at the opposite end of the hall for a few moments. No fishnet stockings, though. Perhaps she had a hard time finding them in her size. Wish I’d had my camera… [Update: I took a look at a couple of other con-goers’ photos on Facebook, and the attractive young lady in question was, in fact, wearing fishnets. My bad. I guess my eyes aren’t what they used to be, and, after all, she was parading herself on the far side of a very large room…]
My biggest tip of the hat goes out to those MarsCon folks who organized the children’s activities. My boys simply had no time to get bored. From the time we arrived on Saturday morning to the time we left on Sunday afternoon, they had things to do (which made me feel a whole lot less guilty about asking Dara to look after them while I attended to programming). As soon as we got to the con, Levi began building a Soda Can Robot (with the very welcome assistance of a local school teacher who had just put another one together and so who knew what she was doing, unlike yours truly), while his brothers built Star Wars spaceships out of Lego blocks. Then it was time for a pair of shows. Craig Adams and Debra Burrell are the husband-and-wife team behind the Fuzz and Stuffing Puppets. They put on a delightful half-hour show called “Attack of the Giant Carrot” which my three boys simply adored; the puppeteers included a reference to the 1951 classic SF film, The Thing from Another World, to give a laugh to old Dad, too. I had to miss the next show, “The Hysterically Correct Pirate Show,” which the boys also thought was the bees’ knees (how’s that for an anachronistic use of slang?).
For nearly as long as I’ve been attending SF conventions, certainly during the past decade (when I’ve been going as a professional), I’ve been hearing doomsayers foretell the end of the con circuit due to “the graying of fandom.” It’s a truism, of course, that any culture which fails to reproduce itself will eventually die out. So I was extremely encouraged to see so many little kids and their parents at MarsCon, this year and last (this year even more than last, happily). This infusion helps the con scene in multiple ways. Parents are a lot more likely to attend (and to enjoy themselves) if their children’s interests are catered to. And if kids attend conventions when they are small (and have a wonderful time), they are a lot more likely to continue attending at teenagers, then as adults. It’s very possible that we’ve witnessed the future organizers of MarsCon — say, of MarsCon 2035 — running around in their Batman or Wonder Woman Underoos here at MarsCon 2012.
All of the panels I participated in ran smoothly and were well attended (not something I can report about every con I go to). “Undead Overload?” with Keith DeCandido and Adam Seats was one of the more entertaining vampires/zombies panels I’ve been involved in during the last couple of years. As moderator, I separated out the undead into four quadrants: vampires, zombies, mummies, and reanimated corpses (Frankenstein monsters). I suggested that maybe the notion of “undead overload” was due to too many vampires and zombies and a comparative dearth in the last ten years of mummies and reanimated corpses. We also talked about how the intense competition to create ever-new and appealing variations of the hot “monster du jour” often leads to that creature “jumping the shark,” or at least being transformed into something quite unlike its original self. I opined that Stephenie Myers’ vampires are really creatures of Fairie, and George Romero’s zombies (and those of his imitators) are actually ghouls.
My favorite panel of the weekend, as I knew it would be, was “Masterworks of Apocalyptic Fiction” with the inimitable Bud Webster and Baen editor Laura Haywood Cory. Bud is tremendously fun to panel with because, like our mutual friend Barry Malzberg, he is a walking encyclopedia of the science fiction genre. The three of us had a grand old time talking over such disaster classics as J. G. Ballard’s cataclysm cycle, Nevile Shute’s On the Beach (a “cozy apocalypse” I called it), Larry Niven’s Lucifer’s Hammer, and Thomas Disch’s inventively grim The Genocides. Classic end-of-the-world films got some love, too, including The World, the Flesh, and the Devil, The Omega Man, the Planet of the Apes cycle, and Roger Corman’s Teenaged Caveman (okay, not a classic, but I threw it in, anyway). My coup of the weekend, though, may have been getting Laura seriously thinking about having Baen republish Ward Moore’s neglected “comic apocalypse” classic novel, Greener Than You Think.
According to the program book, S. M. Stirling, Danny Birt, Leona Wisoker and I were supposed to be creative on a Sunday morning with “Starting at the End: MarsCon Authors Build an Apocalyptic Story Live.” However, even after a few cups of coffee, I think none of us were very much up to the challenge, so Steve Stirling, our fearless moderator, instead led us through a second round of “Masterworks of Apocalyptic Fiction,” which suited me just fine, as I got to talk Ballard and Shute again (and one can never talk enough Ballard and Shute).
Having the family along, I didn’t get as much of a chance to chat with fellow attendees as I usually do, but I still squeezed in opportunities to show off my gang to as many of my friends as I could. Levi had a chance to talk science fiction books with Bud Webster, as I’d hoped he would. It was neat to talk with Danny Birt and Leona Wisoker, no matter how briefly. And I had my first opportunity to talk with Steve and Jan Stirling since the “Hurricane Katrina” Bubonicon of 2005, and I was able to share with them the thank-you I posted to them for all their post-storm support as the postscript to my book The Good Humor Man, or, Calorie 3501. They didn’t get a chance to see Levi and Asher, though, which was a shame, since the last time they’d seen them, Levi had been just under two and Asher had been six months old.
I mentioned an unfortunate postscript to the con. Apparently, my kids and I did not pay enough attention to the many warning signs at the con which told us to beware of the zombie virus, because we inadvertently brought it home with us. Levi came down with the stomach flu late Sunday night. He vomited all over his bed and all over his brothers, then spent the rest of the evening shooting foul substances out both ends. I prayed, as did Dara, that he had swallowed an amoeba or something bacterial, rather than having picked up a virus, since the former would be less contagious. Unfortunately, a virus it was, since less than forty-eight hours later, earlier today, first Judah and then Asher began the same vile cycle.
So Dara and I are staying up tonight, keeping a vigil over the boys. Poor Dara has already had to do eight loads of laundry in just the past thirty-six hours. We’re taking shifts staying in the boys’ room, trash pail at the ready. My shift comes next… It may be years before poor, traumatized Dara lets me take the boys to a con again.