Nerdcore: CONvergence review by Fish DeSmith

Categories: Gaming

CONvergence
Bloomington Sheraton, July 3-6
Review by Fish DeSmith
Photos by Ward Rubrecht

Every year during the first weekend of July, a strange force draws geeks from miles around to Bloomington's Sheraton Hotel. This mysterious tractor beam is emitted by CONvergence, a sci-fi and fantasy convention run by MISFITS (the Minnesota Society for Interest in Science Fiction and Fantasy). The con isn't just a big get-together (and winner of this year's City Pages Best Fan Convention); it also raises funds for the non-profit group's other cool activities year-round. The days of Con went mostly like this: mornings and early afternoons filled with panel discussions, demonstrations, autograph signings and craft time, while evenings were for showy mainstage events and then devolved into a booze-and-sugar-fueled party.

This year's con celebrated the event's 10th year anniversary, and the first two floors of the hotel were filled with fun stuff to do. There were lecture rooms (with panel topics such as Censorship in Comics -- The Past and the Future). A main stage hosted the con's big attractions, like the masquerade costume competition and dances. There were places to fuel up and relax, like Connie's Spacelounge (a sci-fi themed smoothie bar and entertainment venue) and ConSuite (providing no-frills free food to hungry con-goers). The con also staked out the 22nd floor of the hotel's south tower, which hosted a literary lounge (featuring many big-hitters of the speculative fiction world reading their work) as well as open rooms for gaming.

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Connie's Spacelounge featured blacklight minigolf. More photos by Ward Rubrecht in the slideshow.

The Sheraton's pool area and garden commons were lined on the north and south with two-story rows of balconied rooms containing ongoing parties, run independently by Con-goers but providing much of the gathering's late-night entertainment and alcoholic opportunities. It can take a while for newcomers to get the hang of the party rooms -- fan groups, or just friend groups, rent them from the hotel to provide themed areas for geeks to intermingle.

Some of the highlights of the party rooms included Campaign CONvergence, where Lord Palpatine, the Joker, Vizzini (of Princess Bride fame) and Arnold Rimmer (of British sci-fi spoof Red Dwarf) ran against each other for President of CONvergence, with scheduled stump speeches, sanctioned ballot box stuffing, and, at the end, free champagne. The House of Toast? They give you toast, with hundreds of bizarre toppings to choose from, like cucumber jam and kimchee, and hourly specials like pesto and bruschetta.

The TARDIS Tea Society provided tea and cucumber sandwiches. The USS Nokomis had a "working" replicator (with sci-fi food cubes, aka jello), and invited you to scream your lungs out in a Star Trek mirror-universe "torture booth" in the adjacent room. The Dreaming, an Egyptian-themed room with elaborately painted hieroglyphics and billowing drapes, handed out free CDs and had hard cider on tap (and a dude dressed like Anubis guarding the entrance). At times it was a gauntlet to make it through the crowds between you and the free food and booze, but there was a method, and a lot of fun, to the madness.

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Costumes from all eras -- including eras that haven't existed (yet?) -- were on display. More photos by Ward Rubrecht in the slideshow.

Saturday night held the most popular portion of Con -- Masquerade, the yearly costume competition. Forty-five minutes before doors opened, the line for admittance already snaked around the vendor area and out of sight. The costumes ranged from beginner renditions of anime characters to incredibly work-intensive larger costumes, like the full suit of Master Chief's space marine armor. Unfortunately, during the Masquerade it was at times hard to get a good look at many of the costumes, as the contestants were sometimes only on stage for a few seconds. Luckily afterwards most of the costumed contestants milled around the commons area for a closer look at their craftsmanship.

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Dave Crawford's LED-powered glove. More photos of Crawford and other con attendees in the slideshow.

My Con "wow"-moment, when I stopped in my tracks and just ogled, was when I saw Dave Crawford. Dave was relaxing in a comfy chair with both arms sheathed in multi-colored electronic mayhem. In his full suit, he looks what might have happened if the Borg had assimilated Rainbow Brite. Inspired by some small LEDs he made into a bracelet, this tinkerer decided to go all out and make a full suit - arms, legs, torso and head, and for his efforts won Best Workmanship in the Masquerade a few years ago. A 10-lb battery belt powers the lights, as well as a palm pilot on his left forearm and an mp3 recorder on his right. The recorder is attached to an ear bud and a directional mic, because with the headpiece on, Dave's hearing is all but cut off, and the recorder allows him to playback what's going on around him into the ear bud. Online research and a passion for shiny, blinky things fueled this project and it was one of the most astonishing and unique things of the weekend. -- Fish DeSmith

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