What Makes A Star Trek Con Tick?
by Lynn Hester
What makes a Star Trek Con tick? Well, the answer of an unexploded bomb does spring to mind. However, as I will (attempt to) be reasonably serious, a few other considerations will have to come to mind.
A Trek con has many of the features prevalent amongst all SF/Media cons - namely Guests (mostly actors, actresses or technicians from Star Trek itself, although sometimes the connection is extremely tenuous to the point of non-existence); programme items of talks, quizzes, panels, workshops etc.; the ubiquitous dealers room; a badly attended disco and, something basic to a con of any flavour - a bar.
So, if we take them one point at a time, we should - theoretically - be able to pin-point what makes Trek cons special - or different - or duff (delete as applicable).
- Guests. Any SF cons I have attended have been top-heavy with writers as guests. This is, of course, as it should be as - I think - Science Fiction is primarily a written medium. And, although Media cons usually have an actor or two thrown in, the writer on whose book the film/mini series/series is based can usually put in an appearance as well. A Trek con usually has an actor or two, possibly a writer whose story has been filmed as an episode and..... do you get a sense of deja vu here?
- Talks, quizzes, panels, workshops. Well, as it's usually the guests who give the talks, and we've (okay, I've) already decided that Media con guests lineups are spookily similar to Trek, I think we can agree that, although the names will have changed, the composition will be roughly the same.
- Does it really matter if a quiz asks you which planet Eccentrica Gallumbits comes from, or what planet Elaan came from in season three? What about which book Flitterwing Captains are mentioned in or in which episode Commodore Stocker's name makes an appearance? No, I don't think quizzes are the answer either.
- And so, on to panels. Typical question to an author : "Why did the character of X,Y or Z respond in the way that they did?" Is this question being posed to Harlan Ellison at an SF con, David Gerrold at a Trek con or to Douglas Adams at a Hitcher con? 'Nuff said.
- Authors' workshops are usually open to the first 10 to 20 attendees who express a preference - sorry, that should read "an interest". So, to be perfectly honest, these don't impinge on the vast majority of con goers, There are also others run for people who make costumes, models etc. but, never having attended any, I don't feel that I'm qualified to comment. Perhaps someone else could, but how different can they be? So, considering the minority of attendees who are affected by these activities, are they enough to significantly affect the flavour of the con? Personally, I would say not.
- The only part of the programme which parts company to many other con programmes is in the video rooms. Very few SF/Media cons would have Star Trek running 24 hours a day for 4 days in 2 to 3 video rooms. Thank God, I hear you cry. And this is as it should be - it may well be a hardened Trekkers lifeblood but many other fans would rather toast their genitals before a blazing log fire (with sparks flying, I may add) before dipping them into a jar of honey and presenting them to the nearest bee hive. (On the other hand, a person's private perversions are of no concern of mine!).
- Dealers rooms the length and breadth of the country are replete with Fan Clubs touting for members, professional dealers hawking their wares, the usual crew of amateurs selling anything from a "working" phaser ("only one careful lady owner - honest Guv') to the most exquisitely artworked tee-shirts to moth eaten, dogeared paperbacks of books you've never heard of and have no particular wish to either. Was that a Trek, S/F or Media con's dealers room I just described?
- Being past the first (only the first I hasten to add) flush of youth, my regular appearance at disco's on a Saturday night is a thing of the long distant past. What I can remember though, through the mists of time, (or was it through the fog of alcohol?) was that girls dance with each other, trying not to feel too self-conscious and boys, huddling in corners, nurse their ale. I have observed much the same occurring at Trek, S/F and Media cons.
- Bars - aha! perhaps we're finally at the crux of the matter. Once upon a time - are we sitting comfortably? - the majority of Trek fans were female. Honest! I know you might not believe me now, but, pre Next Gen, we outnumbered men about three to one. Now, things are much more even. The point I am trying to get at, in my roundabout way, is that the bar at a Trek con on a Saturday or Sunday night was a place you could get served with a minimum of time being spent trying to attract a barmaid, sorry, a barperson's, attention. At S/F cons on the other hand, I was almost always sober, as trying to wade through the piles of bodies, or bodies of piles as the case may be, usually had me in retreat, muttering threats to bring an electric cattle prod with me next time. That was then. Nowadays? Well, suffice to say, a good twenty minutes of Sol III this year was spent vainly trying to attract anyone's (staff or otherwise) attention before finally managing to slake my thirst. What made this doubly irksome was that I was on antibiotics and couldn't even drink alcohol!!! Behind this ramble, I'm trying to point out that STcon bars are almost as busy as S/F and Media con bars these days.
So, now I've pointed out all the differences between Star Trek cons and all the rest. Or rather, to be honest, the lack of them. But there is a difference. Something in the air? Curry? Garlic? No, dear friends, rather an atmosphere, a camaraderie which, sadly, seems to be lacking at some other cons. It has been said that there are no strangers at Trek cons - only friends you haven't met yet (stop barfing in the background!!!!). At an S/F con I personally can feel, how shall I put it, a wee bit intimidated? (And if you know me, it takes quite a lot to do that.) But not at Trek cons. Even people who aren't all that keen on Trek have commented on it. They are simply very good fun. They don't even have a PG certificate on them. So what is it, this substance that would make you a fortune if you could bottle it? Sorry folks, but I haven't got the answer. Oh no, did you just read the preceding tirade for nothing? Hopefully not. Hopefully, someone out there who is, perhaps, more attuned with the ebb and flow of fandom, who is more eloquent than I (if possible), can put a name to it. I hope so, 'cause I would dearly love to know.
But, if you want to thoroughly enjoy yourself, without feeling intimidated, get served marginally quicker than at a BR ticket queue, and be able to buy the same old guff that you could buy at any other con, then I'd say go to a Trek con. We won't even chain you to a chair and make you watch the bloody stuff (unless you beg. But then, we're back to personal perversions again, aren't we?).
This page updated on 09 July 1999