Geeks Gone Wild

If you can't get laid at a science-fiction convention, you can't get laid!

Three chunky guys back a trio of chairs up against the rear wall; apparently the back row is too near the front of the room for them to comfortably crawl into their self-conscious shells. For another guy in his forties sporting salt-and-pepper stubble and a blue-and-white-checkered flannel, simply sitting amid the general population is too intense, as he gets up from his seat and crumples into a human ball on the floor behind a pillar in the corner.

Meanwhile, leaning against a wall in a posture of rapt attention is a pizza-faced gentleman wearing a black T-shirt that spoofs MasterCard's "Priceless" ad series: "Enough imagination to play RPG's: priceless."

"RPG's" is shorthand for role-playing games, where pseudo-method actors adopt "fannish personas" and act out a "live action game" based on a pre-set "scenario." If you think this sounds a lot like a pack of five-year-olds engaging in a game of backyard make-believe, that's because it's essentially what "LARPing" is -- only these kids are mostly middle-aged men who've been beaten into social submission by the evil forces of the mundane world.

What happens at Archon stays at Archon -- so don't 
tell my boss about that little goat's-blood-drinking 
Jennifer Silverberg
What happens at Archon stays at Archon -- so don't tell my boss about that little goat's-blood-drinking incident.
Singing Vikings agree: They've never had anything 
quite like the moose.
Jennifer Silverberg
Singing Vikings agree: They've never had anything quite like the moose.

"My upbringing wasn't as pleasant as I would have wished, which is true for a lot of people in sci-fi," novelist Milan says. "I think the attraction is for those who need a shelter from threatening reality: fantasy as refuge."

But some cases are beyond explanation, such as that of the old fellow in the crumpled blue dress shirt and suspenders back in the "Real Aliens" workshop.

"Large bugs!" he shouts, for no apparent reason.

The room falls silent.

Other Friday- and Saturday-afternoon workshops make it clear that Archon attracts large-bug moments like flypaper.

Take, for instance, "Firearms v. Energy Weapons," a quasi-debate between Ben Bova and a fellow novelist, Joe Martino.

"I find it hard to believe that anyone would choose a firearm over an energy weapon," begins Bova, sans ascot.

"As a target shooter, I am well aware of the problems with firearms," Martino counters. "Energy weapons seem to bypass that, but the problem with energy weapons is they don't exist."

Oh, but they do, Bova assures the assembled crowd of mostly disheveled gun and warfare nuts.

"In February '66, I arranged a meeting of the Pentagon to give them a briefing on optics lasers," Bova continues. "To me, the first and most important use of laser weapons would be against ballistic missiles."

Right, agrees Martino, but "the energy density of a battery comes nowhere near the energy density of gunpowder."

This conversation would strike most people as wonky, over-technical and dry. But nothing could be more stimulating for the Jack Black doppelganger seated in the second row, who enthusiastically -- really enthusiastically -- asks Bova if he's heard of a developing law-enforcement laser capable of coiling to a getaway vehicle's undercarriage and shorting out the car's electrical system.

Bova nods vacantly. Clearly he hasn't got a clue what J.B. is talking about.

A Goth in the back catches the author's drift.

"Forgive me," intones the Goth. "But isn't that a little Batman-ish?"

Well, yeah. But are such fantastical speculations any less dorky than, say, hard-core baseball fans discussing the merits of the latest in sabermetrics? To the uninitiated, a couple of geeks clad in capes discussing the historical accuracy of a lawn joust just completed are probably no stranger-sounding than two dudes debating whether Cardinal head case Matt Morris should start at home or on the road in the postseason. It's all foreign and pointless to most, which explains why baseball stat junkies and sci-fi fanatics seek venues where their level of knowledge is appreciated and nurtured.

On Saturday night Lando Calrissian enters the Gateway Convention Center in a mesh Colt 45 trucker hat, powder-blue shirt, brown polyester pants, East German marching boots and a black velvet cape with gold clasps. He is escorted by a newly acquired piece of arm candy, Princess Enfuego of Oaxaca, a visually alluring medieval facsimile of Emmylou Harris clad in a purple gown and head wreath.

Before they can get in line, the pair are stopped by an agitated young man who insists upon taking their picture. They oblige, only to find the shutterbug abandoning post-photo diplomacy in favor of chasing down Slave Leia for his next shot.

Calrissian and Enfuego join the Drink-Ons, who are seated toward the back of the main banquet room, home to tonight's climactic masquerade competition.

All heads swivel at the sound of an upright warrior's scream. "Hey everybody, Con virgin!" the man shouts, pointing at a young lady seated next to him.

"Let's sacrifice the virgin!" another warrior yells.

That ought to win her over, guys.

Milan opens the masquerade with a swift, humorously mean-spirited monologue, verbally flogging a late-arriving angel.

"I see someone with a halo entering," he chides. "You must be in the wrong place."

The room erupts in laughter. The lights dim. Caitlin and Molly Cook, two sisters of primary- and middle-school age, glide across the stage in cute little medieval gear.

"It is glorious to be here!" they say in unison.

Plenty charming, to be sure -- at least at first. A somewhat perplexed Calrissian has reservations about this kind of culture being foisted upon youngsters at an early age. Shouldn't parents at least give a kid a chance at acceptance in the mundane world, rather than slot her in as the odds-on favorites in the Kentucky Derby of nerdhood? Then again, Lando has never sired an offspring (at least not that he knows of). True to form, he turns his attention back to his brown-eyed girl.

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