TT: A Serpent in Paradise?

JANE: So, last time you were talking about how a larger club can embrace numerous sub-fandoms.  Certainly, that can work but from what I’ve seen – and please remember, I’m not in any clubs — the biggest conflict seems to be at the convention level, when a sub-section of the group wants to have media guests.

Sailor Moon!! at Bubonicon

Unlike author and artist guests, who attend for free or (in the cases of Guests of Honor) for expenses only, media guests are expensive and often do little more than a canned presentation, then sit and sign photographs of themselves (for which they charge even more).  The movie Galaxy Quest captures this very well.

I’ve seen more than one group fragment over this.

ALAN: We don’t have this problem – we have a national media convention called Armageddon which is run as a business (and which, I am told, makes a healthy profit).

The national SF conventions themselves are much smaller affairs, run by volunteers, and they seldom have media guests because Armageddon takes over that function for them.

JANE: There are media conventions here, too.  That isn’t really what I’m talking about.  The problem that can arrive is when a convention that’s more like what you describe as your national SF con develops a group of fans who can’t understand why a media guest can’t be added to the roster.

ALAN: Despite what I just said, there have been occasions when our national conventions have had media guests. If you are careful about who you invite, it can work out surprisingly well. One year our national convention had Danny Don Jules (the actor who played Cat in Red Dwarf) as the guest of honour. He turned out to be an absolutely wonderful guest – he was fun, he was funny, he was very approachable and best of all he was a very knowledgeable science fiction fan who was absolutely thrilled to have been chosen to play a part in an SF television show. It was one of our more memorable conventions – everyone had a ball!

JANE: How did Mr. Jule’s participation come about?

ALAN: I presume the organiser just felt like it and so she wrote to him care of the BBC. That’s just the kind of thing she would do, and she was astonishingly successful at persuading people to come and be guests at her conventions. She was very good at what Granny Weatherwax calls “Headology”.  She put together several excellent conventions by all by herself, with minimal help from other people.

JANE: She was lucky and I guess your national con must have a good budget!

ALAN: No. They are all self-funding from membership fees and the like. There are no external funds for the convention to draw on.

JANE: Impressive!

I’ve attended various conventions that featured media guests.  Most were, sadly, pretty unmemorable. Some didn’t even seem to know much about their own characters or shows.  Knowing that those people were being paid large amounts to smile and sign their name, when I was racking up expenses to be there and doing multiple program items for which I carefully prepared in advance…  Well, I’ll just leave it there.

However, some years ago, New Mexico Tech had a very small SF convention.  The organizer had a family relationship to Nichelle Nichols who played Uhura on Star Trek.  She was amazing.  Not only didn’t she mind being at a con that was small and without a lot of frills, she was thrilled to be free to walk around and be part of the event.  She went and watched the belly dancers, talked to anyone who wanted to chat, and – although I will always regret missing this – apparently went to a campus bar and tried to get the uptight students to dance.  I would have danced with her, no question.

But, as with your story about Danny Don Jules, Ms. Nichols had a lot to offer as a person.  Her speech was not only about Star Trek but about the responsibilities of being a role model.  Anyone further from the whining has-beens of Galaxy Quest could not be imagined.

George Takei was also delightful the two times I crossed paths with him.  So I think media guests may have something to offer – but only if they’re permitted to be more than talking heads for their fictional selves.

ALAN: Media SF/F invites another aspect of fandom to blossom forth – costuming. Some of the costumes can be quite elaborate and are often more than just a simple copy of what the characters wore on TV or in the movie. I remember once seeing a delightful pink dalek trundling itself down a hotel corridor.

JANE: Most conventions here have formal costume contests, as well as informal “hall costumes.”  Some conventions give prizes for both.

Costumes can be a great way for fans to shout out what they’re interested in.  Our local con has some pretty magnificent storm troopers from Star Wars who show up, as well as people meticulously costumed as characters from various anime and comics.

I’ve actually learned about various shows by asking what inspired a particular costume.

ALAN: Not all costumes are necessarily movie-based.  I remember one in particular…  But let me see if I can find a picture of it to share.  Then I can tell you about it next time.

7 Responses to “TT: A Serpent in Paradise?”

  1. James Mendur Says:

    There’s a strong contingent of Honor Harrington (and the space navy of Manticore in general) cosplay at conventions, I’ve noticed. It helps that the covers of the first few novels featured characters in uniform quite prominently.

    As for Danny John-Jules, you are so lucky, Alan. And his F&SF cred extends beyond Red Dwarf. He also sang/voiced one of the Fireys in “Labyrinth,” although I discovered him in his performances in the cozy island mystery TV show “Death in Paradise.” His website, though, has an unreleased version of the Fireys’ song with David Bowie singing and a bunch of candid photos from the recording session.

  2. James Mendur Says:

    Link to Danny John-Jules’ website with the song and photos:

  3. Dawn Says:

    I met Nichelle Nichols several years ago at MileHicon in Denver. She is one of the coolest people I have ever met. I was a bit starstruck and she really was so nice. She was the reason I went that year.

  4. Brent Edwards Says:

    From the two times I’ve “met” her, (saw on stage once, had a brief conversation a second time) Nichelle Nichols doesn’t have the personality of Uhuru. Personable, warm, and friendly, she is approachable and open to everyone.

    She’s a gospel singer, and she’s as broad as the music she sings.

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