The operation to give Jonathan Adams Vulcan pinnae will be just in time for the upcoming Sci-Fi on the Rock convention.
In Jorge Luis Borges’ famous dystopian fable “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”, a cabal of scientists, artists, linguists, and mathematicians all working in secret under the direction of an eccentric and wealthy 19th-century atheist named Ezra Buckley conspire to produce a copiously detailed, multi-volume encyclopedia of the fictional planet Tlön. Years later, well into the 20th century, the eleventh volume of the secret encyclopedia falls into the hands of the bemused narrator who recounts, with some lament, his initial encounter and fascination with the encyclopedia of Tlön. He has since grown bitter and disillusioned, for once the discovery of the encyclopedia was publicized, everyone became obsessed by the intricate details of Tlön, its languages and history and people—to such an all-encompassing extent, in fact, that all human culture has effectively been forgotten, and Earth has itself become, for all intents and purposes, Tlön.
In a sense, Borges’ ironic little nightmare is a parable for every so-called culture war. Each new generation recreates the world in its own image, and every ageing generation is horrified by the young. Yet while many today are inclined to see L. Ron Hubbard prefigured in Ezra Buckley, most of us would agree that culture is a far more fluid and adaptable thing than such nightmare scenarios admit.
All this is apropos of bringing to your attention Sci-Fi On the Rock’s first annual Science Fiction convention, to be held at the Hotel Mount Pearl on Sunday, April 1. If further proof of Newfoundland’s relentless trek toward modernity were still needed, it would be hard to find a better example than this.
Darren Hann, one of the principal organizers of the convention, was a yearly visitor to Toronto Trek who decided there was enough interest to hold a convention here.
The phenomenon of conventions has even become a subject of increased academic interest.
Dr. Jennifer Porter of Memorial’s Religious Studies department taught a new third-year course this past semester entitled “Implicit Religion: Finding the Sacred in Secular Places.” The first section of the course looks specifically at science fiction fandom as something that is implicitly religious—for some people, anyway—according to the definition of that term elaborated by Edward Bailey.
“Something is implicitly religious,” says Porter, “if it fulfills three criteria. First of all, commitment: Is the person in question completely committed to this thing. If I define myself in terms of my fandom and I express that in ways in my daily living, such as by hanging pictures on the wall or using jargon from the show or relating to others on the basis of this commitment, this is sort of a first-level indicator that something might be implicitly religious.”
Porter is fortunate in not having to go combing through the jungle in order to find an adequate human specimen for her research. One of the walls of her office is covered from floor to ceiling with framed, matted, and signed photos of various Starfleet Officers, Klingons, Ferengi, and other denizens of the Star Trek universe which she, a proud Trekkie from the earliest days of her childhood, has collected at various conventions over the years.
“Secondly, something is implicitly religious if it integrates various aspects of a person’s life that are usually separate or opposite. For example, if it integrates their play time with their work time, or if it crosses lines of gender—if you normally hang out with people of the same sex, but in this context [e.g. a convention] suddenly you break down those barriers.”
Not for nothing have conventions become one of the most popular answers in surveys of where people lost their virginity.
“Finally, is it an ‘intensive’ focus of yours. Do you commit huge amounts of time and energy to the thing. And does it have ‘extensive’ effects—that is, does it filter out through all dimensions of your life and experience. Do you use it as a lens through which you understand a wide variety of things.”
If Dr. Porter is St. John’s Trekkie par excellence, which seems hard to dispute, you would be equally hard-pressed to find, on the other side of the main division in this subculture, a Star Wars fan as committedly, integratively, intensively, or extensively devoted to his passion as Chris Carter of Mount Pearl.
Carter was three when A New Hope was released in 1977. He claims the opening scene in which Darth Vader emerges on the deck of the spaceship Tantive IV is one of his earliest childhood memories. To this day, he continues to watch all six movies in the series at least once a month.
More conspicuously, however, he frequently dresses up in a $1500 Darth Vader suit with two friends of his who are themselves the proud owners of a Storm Trooper and a Biker Scout costume, and the three of them run around the city generally frightening people.
Together they form Vader Party (vaderparty.com), and they are available to enliven your child’s next birthday party or, for that matter, any business function that seems in danger of being not quite surreal enough.
A more cherished and expensive second Vader costume hangs on a mannequin at home in Carter’s study. By day, he works in Child and Youth Care.
Nevertheless, Carter is politely dismissive when it’s suggested his love of Star Wars is something either implicitly or explicitly religious. (He is not, in other words, one of the 20,000 Canadians who claimed “Jedi” as their official religion in the 2001 census.) “I’m just big into things that can’t happen in the world that we live in,” he says. “I get too much reality every day.”
“I never really intended to do kids’ parties,” he freely admits. “I just wanted a costume. I wanted to put it on a mannequin so when I came down to sit at my desk, Darth Vader would be next to me. But my wife wouldn’t allow it.” He laughs. “She said it was too much money. So I basically just thought of the idea of doing kids’ parties as a way to recover the cost, and she agreed to let me buy them.”
One is inclined to believe Carter when he speaks of his wife’s inexhaustible patience.
“She’s not a fan herself,” he says.
Workshops in subjects like “Lightsaber Techniques,” a Survivor-like contest to determine which local geek has supreme knowledge, a chance to have your picture taken with Vader Party, and much more await you at Sci-Fi on the Rock’s first annual convention this Sunday at the Hotel Mount Pearl.