The Alien Con 2016 is the newest science fiction convention to come to Silicon Valley at the Santa Clare Convention Center on October 28-30, 2016. My goals for this particular con was to talk to Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica/Longmire), get the autographs of Katee Sackhoff, Jewel Staite (Firefly), and Marta Kristin (Lost In Space), and attend the Godzilla panels with the suit actors from 1954, 1985 and 2000 movies. Things didn’t quite work out that way because Alien Con wasn’t a regular science fiction convention. I was lucky to escape when I did.
Although I had a three-day pass for the weekend, I attended only Saturday. The programming for Friday wasn’t enough to overcome the fatigue of attending after work from my technical job (I did swing by to pick up the badges for my friend and I) and Sundry wasn’t enough to overcome the fatigue of being on my feet for seven hours on Saturday. Except for the Star Trek Las Vegas Con, most cons don’t have enough content to keep me preoccupied for the entire event.
The first order of business was to pick up the autograph tickets that I’ve ordered through GrowTix (they also handled the ticketing for Silicon Valley Comic Con earlier this year). I originally had Angela Cartwright (Lost In Space) on my autograph list, but I got an email and a partial refund from GrowTix on Friday night that she cancelled her appearance. Except that she didn’t. She was at the autograph tables when I arrived.
A volunteer at the autograph ticket booth informed me that her autograph was available for cash only. Since she was charging a higher price than the autograph ticket I previously bought, I scratched her name off the autograph list.
The automatic partial refund also invalidated the QR code for my autograph tickets that I loaded into my iPhone Wallet. A volunteer called over a GrowTix representative, who, after I provided my email address, generated a new QR code for scanning and I got my autograph tickets.
Panels (Or Lack Thereof)
My friend and I went over to where the Battlestar Galactica and Godzilla panels were being held inside the Hyatt Regency hotel next door to the convention center. None of the volunteers knew exactly where the Magnolia and Napa rooms were and kept telling us to go up the escalator to where panels were being held but not the ones that we wanted. After we circled back and forth between the hotel (up escalator) and convention center (down escalator), we figured out that we needed to go underneath the escalator to find the Magnolia room.
We waited in a line for a half-hour until a volunteer announced that the Battlestar Galactica panel room would accept no more people. Since we found the Magnolia room, we went looking for the Napa room to get in line for the first of three Godzilla panels. With the narrow hallway crowded with people waiting in lines for different panels, we couldn’t find the Napa room. We did found ourselves at the side door to the Magnolia room, where volunteers ushered us and others into the two back rows of empty seats.
Since Edward James Olmos (Commander Adama) cancelled his appearance (“abducted” according to the Alien Con website), Katee Sackoff had the stage to herself. She told stories about her time on Battlestar Galactica and her guest appearances on The Big Bang Theory. When someone asked a question about the current season of Longmire, she left everyone in suspense by telling them to wait until next Tuesday for the new episode.
After that panel was over, we found the Napa room with the doors closed and a volunteer announcing that the Godzilla panels were cancelled as a translator wasn’t available. A different translator was available for the “Grilling with The Godzillas” dinner at a Korean BBQ restaurant that night and a Godzilla panel for Sunday morning.
My friend paid $199 to go to the Godzilla dinner, which became a gathering of hardcore fans. One person flew in from New York City, others drove up from Los Angeles and down from Seattle. Those Japanese suit actors really know how to party, as the scheduled two-hour dinner lasted four hours.
The Exhibit Hall
Alien Con had an exhibit hall at the far end of the convention center — and that’s where things got very strange indeed.
While walking all the way over to the exhibit hall, I’ve noticed several smaller technology conventions taking place that each occupied a large room. Like several of exhibitors at Alien Con, the focus was on Virtual Reality (VR) technology. With an abundance of Chinese attendees and Chinese characters on the display signs, it was impossible to tell what aspect of VR technology was the focus. When I inquired at each one, I was respectfully but firmly turned away from company events being held for the employees.
The first thing you see when walking into the exhibit hall is a massive foam replica of the Psychlo alien ship from “Battlefield: Earth” by L. Ron Hubbard dominating the floor, someone playing a Psychlo alien that looked like a short ape in a space suit on elevator boots (the Psychlos are 12-feet tall and weigh 1,000 pounds), and two tables with L. Ron Hubbard books for sale. Considering that L. Ron Hubbard has been dead for 30 years, I found it surprising to find a booth dedicated to his work.
Coincidentally, I started reading “Battlefield: Earth” before the convention since Amazon had the ebook on sale for $1.99 USD. The book itself was surprisingly good. This got me interested in reading the “Mission Earth” ten-volume series. I’ve read the first three books when first published as hardbacks in the 1980’s but lost interest in collecting the rest of the series. With Amazon offering each ebook for $5.39 USD, I’m reading the entire series from beginning to end.
A quick stroll around the exhibit hall didn’t reveal much of interest. Among the usual vendors that sold the same comics, posters and Funko POP dolls at every con in Silicon Valley, I came across a book booth that proved beyond a reasonable doubt that alien abductions were absolutely true. That should have tipped me off that I was entering the Twilight Zone.
The Alien Conspiracy Panel
Before entering the exhibit hall, I noticed a long line next to the doorway that wasn’t moving. As I got finished looking around, I’ve noticed that a portable stage went up and someone setting up table, chairs and microphones. I went over to stand with about 30 people. A moment later, a thousand people from outside filled the space between the stage and the L. Ron Hubbard spaceship. This was an angry crowd that was verbally demanding their money back, screaming “Bullshit!” at the top of their lungs, and threatening to murder the guy setting up the stage. This felt like a Trump rally that was ready to explode in violence.
For a very intense 30 minutes, I listened to crowd around me.
Most have stood in line for four hours to attend an alien conspiracy panel originally scheduled in a small room inside the hotel. Unlike the line for the Battlestar Galactica panel, these people weren’t willing to find something else to attend. Hence, the angry line and panel got relocated to the exhibit hall.
One women described in great detail about how aliens abducted her from a family farm in Ohio and aborted her unborn baby when she was a teenager. Someone else mentioned that the “believers” attending the panel were angry old white people, possibly dying from various radiation-induced cancers, and that the next generation won’t continue on with the “work” that they spent decades pursuing. The guy making Trump jokes soon found himself surrounded by several men telling him to shut up or else.
A woman and a man stepped up on the stage. The audience started clapping and cheering, surging forward and pushing me closer to the stage. The women breathlessly announced her credentials as a university professor in the paranormal and extraterrestrial phenomena since the 1970’s, that she interviewed thousands of people who got abducted by UFOs, and how Wikileaks will finally reveal the government’s program to cover up the existence of UFO’s.
At that moment, I felt an urgent need to leave. When I saw a man walking past me and forcing his way back through the angry crowd behind me, I stepped into his wake to follow him. Soon several others were following us. We went our separate ways behind the L. Ron Hubbard spaceship. I circled back through the vendor booths to exit a side door and escape to freedom.
After that bit of excitement at the exhibit hall, I’ve decided to get my autographs done and get out before the police in riot gear breaks up the weird and pissed off alien conspiracy crowd.
While I was waiting for Katee Sackhoff to autograph a Longmire picture, I asked a her question that’s been bothering me as a fiction writer: “What’s the fundamental character differences between Kara ‘Starbuck’ Thrace (Battlestar Galactica) and Vic Moretti (Longmire)?”
These two characters are both strong women who wear uniforms, carry guns and kick ass. In my mind, they were the same character. As a writer who occasionally write short stories with female protagonists, I couldn’t accept that and felt like I was missing something obvious.
Katee told me that she played the characters quite differently from each other: “Starbuck takes everything seriously. Vic is more sarcastic about life and doesn’t take things as seriously.”
That’s something to think about.