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The Total*Con 2002

by John Grant

Science-fiction conventions (or "cons", as they are always called by the fans . . . um, aficionados) are a foreign country to normal people, but they are a way of life to the, um, literary devotees who attend them.

Having just this past weekend attended a typical con, and being utterly exhausted as a result, I feel it incumbent upon me to explain to a marveling world some of the activities that went on there.

Total*Con 2002 was held in the Shambala Hotel in scenic Elizabeth, NJ. The hotel itself is a rich evocation of that exotic school of architecture most generally known as brutalism: elegantly massive slabs and cubes of concrete, their tastefully muted gray elaborated by an eight-inch-thick layer of fluorescently obscene graffiti, alternate with windows either smashed or projectile-vomited against from within by some of the brightest luminaries in the artistic world. Even as I approached this dream palace on Friday evening, I felt as if I were entering the aethereal realm of fantasy. What better place to celebrate the literature of the imagination?

Once inside, the fun began at once with the three-hour line to register. Standing and later slumping there, I ruminated upon the deep philosophical insight that there is nothing like a collection of science-fiction, um, adherents to make one feel slender.

Once registered, for a mere $285 + tax, I found my hotel room, which was conveniently next to -- and occasionally part of, depending on the size of the fan who'd just jumped in -- the swimming pool. Pausing only to admire the aesthetically pleasing window -- the work of the late Jackson Pollock and a shrimp biriani -- I skipped off merrily to check out the bar in case of any fellow-, um, -litterateurs who might by chance be wearing Vampirella costumes to signify their critical acumen.

Thwarted in my search for culture, I paid a mere $19.50 for a small glass of House Reserve Buffy the Vampire Slayer Bud Lite and opened up my Official Convention Program Book. Science- fiction conventions, you see, are dominated by a highly complicated program of discussion panels, where the great and the mighty eruditely discuss such questions of burning importance as:

* Why Buffy is to Die For
* Moments of Magic Realism in Buffy the Vampire Slayer
* Why I Prefer Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Survivors
* Buffy Once Said Hello to Me
* Imagine Buffy Dressed Up as Vampirella (paramedics in attendance)
* The Physics of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
* I Thought You Said Buffy Was Going to Be at This Convention
* Harlan Ellison -- Fact or Fiction?

Seasoned, um, imagineers will inform you that the main point of a science-fiction convention is to avoid as many of these discussion panels as possible.

I had in fact hoped that the convention committee would have allocated me a slot in which to shamelessly plug my own new novel Lots of Co-Eds in the Shower (for details of which see http://www.entertainment- geekly.com/web/general/mar2002/smithee2), but I discovered from the Program Book that this was not to be. So, after having offered my untouched pint unsuccessfully to various other bar patrons, I hopped forth happily in search of the Dealers' Room.

The Dealers' Room at Total*Con occupied about 90% of the total space devoted to the convention. In return for a mere $17.50 I received a large and (as it has proved since I got home) indelible rubber stamp on the forehead to signify that for the rest of the convention I could go into the Dealers' Room without further payment except the daily $10.00 processing fee, I entered a true wonderland.

Imagine this, dear reader. Hundreds if not thousands of stands where you could buy every conceivable item connected with the literature of the fantastic! There were Buffy the Vampire Slayer trading cards, Buffy the Vampire Slayer propeller beanies, Buffy the Vampire Slayer CDs and cassettes, Buffy the Vampire Slayer posters, Buffy the Vampire Slayer videos, Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics, a Buffy the Vampire Slayer massage parlor, Buffy the Vampire Slayer Barbie dolls (complete with staked Ken), Buffy the Vampire Slayer underwear (available in XL, XXL and XXX sizes, with orders being taken vigorously from the, um, enthusiasts for sizes yet more generous than this) and Buffy the Vampire Slayer condoms (trade was realistically slow at this stand). For the recklessly imaginative there was a bookstall.

Having checked at the bookstall that my collection of Buffy the Vampire Slayer novelizations was indeed complete -- although one of the assistants advised me to pop back every few hours to purchase the new ones as they were published -- I hurried to the busiest stand in the whole of the Dealers' Room, which was the one selling Buffy the Vampire Slayer bubblegum just across the aisle from where a bunch of scream queens dressed as Vampirella were selling autographs to anyone stupid enough to be seen to be interested.

Some hours later, jaws aching but smiling in a wryly sophisticated way through what I'm sure everyone assumed was just a multicolored facemask, I decided to go and sus out the convention Art Show. I must say that I had not expected to have to pay a fee to be allowed back out of the Dealers' Room, but it was a mere $22.00 so I raised no objections.

I never in fact reached the Art Show and the practical demonstration being run there, Decorate Your Own Window, because I consulted the convenient map of the convention rooms in the Program Book and ended up instead along with hundreds of other art, um, connoisseurs in a Chinese Laundry in Atlanta, whence I have returned just in time to write this article and to find an e-mail informing me that the luggage I'd left in my room at the Shambala has been auctioned on eBay by the convention.

The question obviously remains: Was Total*Con worth it?

The answer is, of course, a resounding YES! Although I am, as I noted at the start, completely exhausted by all the relentless fun, fun, fun, not to mention the walk back from Atlanta, I cannot recall having had such an overwhelmingly enjoyable weekend since . . . well, since the last science-fiction convention I attended. "Enjoyable" is perhaps the wrong word here, because of course the experience was, as you will have gathered, far more profound than mere entertainment. I feel cerebrally stimulated to a level unattainable by the mere mortals of the mundane world, those poor, unfortunate souls who fail to realize that science fiction is the literature of the intellect and that its, um, readers are truly the Apostles of Tomorrow -- those despicable jerks who for some plebeian reason think it's not a mark of the elite but a target of derision to have "Buffy For Pope" rubber- stamped on one's forehead.

So, YES, I'll be at Total*Con next year, you betcha! See you all there!

The End