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Someone please tell Ben Bova that ascots aren't the neckwear of choice for style-conscious males this fall.
Actually, scratch that. A former Harvard University instructor, network television analyst and popular fantasy novelist, the silver-haired, ascot-sporting Bova is the designated toastmaster at a Friday-night banquet featuring honored guest George "Mr. Sulu" Takei of Star Trek fame and some really mediocre dinner theater. And at a dinner-theater performance, especially a dinner-theater performance wedged amid a three-and-a-half-day science-fiction convention, the fashion police are, understandably, off duty.
Way off duty.
To the point where a callow, painfully self-conscious dork with a Frankenstein hairdo and thick eyeglasses can sit in the same room and freely ogle the beautiful blue balls atop Empress Inebria's head.
And so this cat -- let's call him "Mark" -- contemplates doing something he normally doesn't do: talk to a woman. Never mind that Inebria's boyfriend, Admiral Delirium Tremens, is seated directly to her right, his bulbous antennae just as prominent as those of his steady mount. A simple exchange of pleasantries will give Mark all the human contact he requires in order to tough out the 365 days before he can return to a white-clothed table in a corner of Collinsville's cavernous Gateway Convention Center and recharge anew his one-man blue ball admiration society.
"I really like the balls on top of your head," Mark finally blurts.
"That's enough, pal," shoots back the shrill, domineering Empress.
The come-on having tanked, Mark's gaze reflexively shoots toward the floor. Taking a sip from an almost-empty glass, he mutters something about how he used to play professional soccer for the St. Louis Steamers (hard to believe) and narrowly missed making the National Hockey League's Blues (bullshit).
Well, maybe he'll get lucky at the after-party. This is Archon, after all, the most decadent little science-fiction convention in the Midwest.
"More geeky nerd types have gotten laid at Archon than ever would in the outside world," Empress Inebria says of the annual confab, which transpired at the Gateway Convention Center and adjacent Holiday Inn this past September 30 though October 3. "It's Fear and Loathing in Collinsville."
"If you can't get laid at a science-fiction convention, you can't get laid," seconds Victor Milan, an Albuquerque-based science-fiction author and the regular master of ceremonies for Archon's annual masquerade competition. "It's a refuge for the shy to meet other socially inept people."
Inebria was first dragged to Archon at the age of eighteen by a group of gay friends, whom she refers to as her "fairy godfathers." A chef at a ritzy Clayton retirement home in the "mundane world" -- geekspeak for everyday life -- she is by her own assessment a stout, witty, not spectacularly attractive woman in her early thirties. At Archon she "walks the line between cool and geek."
Where that line blurs -- literally and figuratively -- is after 10 p.m. at the Holiday Inn during each of the convention's three nights, when the hotel's entire first floor becomes a writhing bacchanal of unscrupulous consumption on par with the biggest Greek-system costume-themed bash ever.
"I go because I was told it was a four-day party," Inebria's blue-suited sidekick, Duchess Libatia, explains. "You can run around in a costume and act like a fool and nobody minds. At work I have to be respectable."
Rounding out the quartet is Intoxicatia, the Duchess of Vodka. Together they form the "Drink-Ons," an alcohol-themed antidote to Star Trek's Klingons. Each Drink-On is clad in a blue spacesuit, silver gloves, boots and shoulder straps, with blue spaceballs extending from the top of their heads. Inebria sports a blue wig, Libatia a green wig and Intoxicatia a purple one; only the six-foot-four-inch Admiral Tremens goes au naturel. Instead of guns and bullets, the Drink-Ons' bandoliers are holstered with hard packs of Camels and lined with test tube-like clear plastic containers of premixed vodka concoctions called zipperheads that taste like cough syrup. Affixed to the Drink-Ons' backs are neither rocket packs nor munitions, but rather plastic bladders filled with coconut rum and Pepsi, inhaled through suckle-tipped cords. Their bloodstream, you see, is not awash in plasma: The Drink-Ons subsist on liquor and liquor alone. To take away their coconut rum is to stop their hearts cold.
The Drink-Ons are greeted by camera flashes from their fellow revelers as they enter the ground floor's vast, crowded hallways. Room after room is packed with masked marauders, most of whom would be branded "insufferable dorks" in the mundane world. But this is their playground, and they've got less than 48 hours to roll around in the safety of its sandbox before the confab shuts down, returning the vast majority of Archon's 2,500 party mutants to geek status.
Still, fandom -- the broad-brush term used to describe science-fiction enthusiasts and their multitiered subculture of brethren, from gamers to furries to filkers (think Weird Al Yankovic spouting Lord of the Rings and Buffy-related lyrics set to Eminem and Spice Girls melodies), medieval masqueraders and role players -- commands at least a smidge more respect than it did back in the day.
"In the '70s and '80s, talking about science fiction immediately got you labeled a geek," says Steve Swope, a costuming enthusiast who appears alternately as Peter Pan and Captain Spandex, the latter a kaleidoscope-caped take on the Green Hornet. "Now it takes five minutes."
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