“DragonCon is what happens when the Internet turns IRL,” says Abby, one of my roommates for Labor Day weekend. With 50,000 people all crammed into a four-block radius in the heart of downtown Atlanta, it’s easy to see how Dragon*Con, billed as the world’s largest science-fiction and fantasy convention, has come to encompass a little of everything that could remotely be considered “geeky on the Internet.”
This year’s DragonCon boasted over four thousand hours of programming spread across five hotels, a far cry from the first run in 1987, which had fewer than 1,500 attendees and took place in a single building. Though many people think the “Dragon” in DragonCon comes from its close association with fans of Anne McCaffrey, author of the bestselling Pern novels, it actually comes from the local club of sci-fi nerds and gamers that started the con.
Almost immediately, D*C began expanding from its sci-fi, fantasy, and gaming roots: In 1990, it merged with Comics Expo and chose thriller and espionage novelist Tom Clancy as guest of honor. Over the years, it added more programming tracks to encompass demand from ballooning membership. Today, sci-fi/fantasy bastions like Star Trek, Star Wars, and the Whedonverse all have their own programming tracks; but so do anime, British sci-fi, Young Adult lit, and gaming. The Armory track shows hardcore RPG enthusiasts how to build, train with, and use weapons of all sorts. In the Science track, panels devoted to building robots and discussing the state of NASA, while over at the Electronic Frontiers track, netizens explore everything from SOPA to Reddit to how to be a better hacker.
The result is a dizzying hodgepodge of nerdiness. D*C is literally the only place in the world where I can cross the hall from a panel on actual cannibalism to attend a podcast of Celtic drinking songs for Trekkies.
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