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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Long Con: Star Trek Conventions, Present and Past

Posted By on Tue, Nov 13, 2012 at 1:45 PM

If you haven't been giving much thought to your impending mortality lately, this should help: Star Trek: The Next Generation turns 25 this year. Remember how long ago your 25th birthday was? Exactly. The Next Generation is getting a great birthday party, too, in the form of Creation Entertainment's Official Star Trek Convention at the Westin St. Francis this weekend, Nov. 16-18.

But this whole thing goes back much farther than a mere quarter of a century. As shown in the excellent documentary Back to Space-Con, the first Star Trek convention in San Francisco was held at Lincoln High School Feb. 25, 1975. Being a longtime Sunset resident, I take great pride in my neighborhood for getting things rolling. Granted, I was a year and a half old and living in Fresno in February of '75, but still, 94116 FTW!

At the time, the original Star Trek series had been off the air for five years, the underrated Saturday morning cartoon version had come and gone, and the fans were unsure if the show would ever return f'reals. This was also pre-Star Wars, so nobody was seriously considering the possibility that Star Trek would come back in the form of feature films, let alone that a new series with a new cast would debut in 1986. All they had was their love of the show and the creativity it inspired, and at Space-Con they had the opportunity to let that particular freak flag fly and meet other people doing the same.

Space-Con was there at the beginning of the show-specific fan-convention culture, one which still thrives today. My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic conventions such as Everfree Northwest are spiritual descendants of Space-Con, and just like I got more than a few "There's a convention for that show? LOL!" comments from non-Pony fans when I told them I was going to Everfree, the very idea of a Star Trek convention in 1975 was mysterious and downright laughable to most people who weren't fans. (What I can't fathom is how people today who've grown up knowing that show-specific conventions exist can still be surprised to hear about a new one. There's a pattern here, folks!)

But while a direct line can be drawn between Space-Con and Everfree, both being homegrown conventions put on by the fans for the fans -- for that matter, Everfree is a 501(c)3 non-profit which raised over $13,500 for Seattle Children's Hospital this year -- Creation Entertainment is a different beast: a big, lumbering corporate beast with decades of baggage (it predates Space-Con by four years) and a front page which will make your corneas ache if you look at it too long, complete with an animated gif for email.

Web atrociousness aside, Creation has cornered the show-specific convention market, doing not just Star Trek but also Supernatural, Xena: Warrior Princess, Farscape, The Vampire Diaries, and other shows which you probably can't believe actually have conventions. (I wouldn't be surprised if Creation has My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic on their roster in ten years.) And these aren't just conventions; these are the official conventions. But they can still be fun, as this weekend's convention promises to be.

Though the 25th birthday of The Next Generation is a major focus, stars from many iterations of Trek will be appearing all weekend long, with original series actor George Takei getting top billing. According to Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, his character Sulu was born in San Francisco -- and besides who doesn't love him on Facebook? Also, he's narrated the San Francisco Orchestra, which is awesome.

Takei will be appearing on stage Sunday, but the bulk of the stars will be there Saturday, selling autographs and/or photo ops throughout the weekend -- though you have to buy separate tickets for such things beforehand. It's all tightly controlled and prearranged, surely to keep the whole direct-contact-with-fans thing from turning into a clusterfuck. And I wish them luck with that.

Personally, I'm more excited about the writers than the actors, and one of my favorites will be appearing: "The Trouble With Tribbles" scriptwriter and longtime Trek truth-speaker David Gerrold. His column in the January 1980 issue of Starlog about the financial prospects of the first Star Trek movie is brilliantly un-sentimental, and I read Gerrold's nonfiction book The Trouble with Tribbles about the making of the original Star Trek episode dozens of times when I was a kid, instilling a lifelong love of reading film and television history. (I have distinct memories of reading it in church, when I was supposed to be paying attention to whatever it was you were supposed to pay attention to in church.)

Gerrold may or may not be doing a writing workshop on Saturday morning; at this time the official site is vague on the matter, and the actual schedule of what's happening on what day hasn't been posted yet, making it a bit of a crapshoot to buy tickets for individual days.

Almost certainly appearing on Friday is Morgan Gendel, whose multimedia presentation "Journey to the Inner Light" describes his struggle to make it as a freelance TV writer, and how that resulted in what may well be the best episode of The Next Generation:

And happening either Friday or Saturday (depending on which part of the page you're looking at) is the Star Trek Video Game History panel, including "a look back at works from the past with synopsis from different games, artwork, and video clips." Oooh, neat! As I've mentioned before, my truck with modern video games pretty much ended when the Atari 2600 was discontinued in the early 1990s, but I loved me the Star Trek arcade game back in the day.

Full details (or at least as many details as they've released at any given time) are on the official site, and ticket sales end sooner than you think. And May the Force Be With You.*


Sherilyn Connelly is a San Francisco-based writer. She also curates and hosts Bad Movie Night at The Dark Room, every Sunday at 8pm.

Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF (follow Sherilyn Connelly on Twitter at @sherilyn) and like us on Facebook.

* See what I did there?

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