By Lindsay Toler
By Chad Garrison
By Brett Koshkin
By RFT Staff
By Lindsay Toler
By Riverfront Times
By Danny Wicentowski
By Pete Kotz
"The year we moved to Collinsville," Swope adds, "I heard that the week the convention typically happened at the Henry VIII a group of frat boys showed up and said, 'Hey, where's the free beer?'"
With good reason: For the flat registration fee of $45, Archon registrants over 21 are entitled to all-you-can-drink kegs of Busch in the horse brutality (translation: "hospitality") suite all weekend long.
"It's a three-day drunk," says Jim Garrison, a Breckenridge Hills traffic cop and longtime Dungeons & Dragons devotee. "It's hedonism."
If Texas Hold 'Em is hip again, it's only a matter of time before sabacc makes its comeback. The Babe Ruth of this intergalactic 72-card spin on poker is none other than Lando Calrissian, whose hall-of-fame sabacc-playing career in a galaxy far, far away was blemished only when he foolishly wagered the Millennium Falconon a single hand. His opponent turned over a full house -- and Calrissian reluctantly turned over the spaceship's title to a triumphant Han Solo.
These days Calrissian draws a skimpy following among Star Wars faithful. (Even the vile bounty hunter Boba Fett has his own fan club.) Okay, so Lando sold Solo down a cryogenically frozen river shortly after making his debut in The Empire Strikes Back. But consider that homeboy was boxed: The Empire showed up on his doorstep in Cloud City and said, in essence, "Give up the Allies or it's your ass and the hindquarters of your legion of followers."
To atone, Lando hopped in his long-lost Falcon's cockpit and staged a jailbreak of Leia, the 'droids, Chewbacca and a one-handed Skywalker, who'd been left for dead at the hands of his turncoat, heavy-breathing Jedi father. And in the climactic Part Three, Calrissian utterly redeemed himself by masterminding the daring rescue of Solo from Jabba the Hutt's clutches.
Might Lando's obscurity be attributed to the fact that he's black? Fandom, while far more diverse and dynamic than it's typically given credit for, remains largely a subculture of out-of-shape, socially awkward white males (at least in America). Actually, in light of this, the collective cold shoulder is probably more attitudinal than racial. Lando is anything but out-of-shape and socially awkward: He can pull any of the females these nerds aspire to simply by snapping his well-manicured fingers and asking the sought-after minx if she's heard about his little maneuver at the Battle of Tanaab.
And indeed, says Swope, for a subculture accustomed to being everyone's punch line, the fandom wastes no time establishing its own pecking order, one not dissimilar from that commonly employed in the mundane universe: "One of the dirty little secrets of fandom is that everybody looks down on people who joined five minutes after they did."
The snobbery isn't in-your-face, though -- unless you're talking about gamer discrimination.
"The only open hostility is between gamers and everyone else," says Hanke. "It's like high school on alcohol."
Listed in the Archon program of events under the heading "Gaming Continues," this flock of card-playing addicts deals its first deck in a pair of first-floor ballrooms at the convention's opening buzzer Thursday evening and doesn't stop till the Holiday Inn janitors threaten to turn off the lights and lock them in on Sunday afternoon. A fair number of these Magic- and Dungeons & Dragons-obsessed combatants don't sleep, shower or take a moment of time to mingle with the rest of the Archonite subcultures -- which tends to piss off the nongamers.
"It's pointless to pay [the registration fee of] $45 to play a game you can play at home -- with the same people," scoffs veteran Archon attendee Stacy Key.
Vampire author and Archon panelist Elizabeth Donald, who's also a Belleville News-Democrat reporter, agrees that prejudices exist in the fandom subculture, specifically ones directed at traditionally closed-minded institutions in the ordinary world. In fact, on the second day of programming in Collinsville, her workshop deals with that very subject.
"If you were to walk around the halls of this convention with a Christian T-shirt on," Donald says to the crowd of about twenty who've gathered in a small conference room in the Gateway Convention Center, "how many funky looks would you get?"
As many as an overweight schlub wearing a black Lord of the Rings T-shirt and carrying a 128-ounce plastic QuikTrip coffee jug would get from a gaggle of blonde Pi Phi's at a Beta Theta Tau mixer, no doubt. Still, as subcultures go, Archon tends to be about as big-tent as they come: Evidence Inebria's witnessing a gay Klingon civil commitment ceremony, conducted on convention grounds in full Star Trekregalia, a few years back.
"It's where all alternative social groups come to meet," Hanke says of Archon. "Every culture that isn't mainstream is there."
"Thranks have a sense called faz, where they sense air currents," lead panelist Elizabeth Barrette notes, referring to a creation of novelist Allen Dean Foster during a Saturday-afternoon workshop entitled "Real Aliens, Real Abilities," held in the convention center's austere Illini-A conference room. "Of course, they don't develop color vision until after metamorphosis."
Of course they don't.
The seminar's intended purpose is to provide a road map for depicting, in literature and art, extraterrestrial creatures that have attributes grounded in scientific reality. But something more profound is going on here.