A Storm Trooper, a Na’vi and Mark Twain

Walk into a Mexican Restaurant…

No, this isn’t the start of a bad science fiction joke. It’s what I saw this past weekend at StarFest, a convention put on each year by StarLand.com.  I was a guest speaker on Saturday, and my talk was about Hubble Space Telescope science. I’ve given talks at StarFest (and its former sibling conference StarCon), and at WorldCon and Shore Leave and other conferences over the years. They’re always a lot of fun and the audiences are always very receptive.  This one was no exception — I was very happy to have a standing-room-only crowd, some in costume (which is always fun). And mind you, I am a Trekkie from WAY back, so I can appreciate the frame of mind in which conference-goers attend. The very first con I ever talked at (back when I was in graduate school), I was greeted by a whole troop of fully battle-clad Klingons in the front row — and I was happy to report that they did NOT hurl bat’leths at me at the end of the talk!

Now, it’s a no-brainer that astronomy and science talks might be welcome at a sci-fi/star trek/anime/gaming/you-name-it kind of convention.  There’s a certain passion that folks who are into these things also bring to the rest of their outlook on life.  They tend to be curious and intelligent and open-minded and open to new ideas and directions of discussion.  So, at such a con, it’s easy to find yourself in a conversation with a kid dressed as Harry Potter, passionately defending the idea that we should go to the Moon before we go to Mars.  Or, you find yourself chatting about NASA’s budget with (as I did) an older gentleman dressed in full steampunk.  Or, you end up in a conversation with a movie star (as I als0 did) about astrology and astronomy, and her boyfriend joining in with questions about life on other worlds.  There’s a wonderful art room, with everything from paintings and pottery to original fan-based art for all the genres. It’s coordinated by our friend Tim Kuzniar of Autumn Star science fiction, fantasy, and space art. And the dealer’s room is an amazing sight. Among the booths for belly dancing jewelry, carved dragons, and science fiction movies and books and gamers I found like-minded souls who share a sense of what’s out there, what’s to be discovered, and what piques our curiosity.

A Na'vi at Starfest. Copyright 2010, C.C. Petersen.

So, it’s a great place to experience all the artistic influences that are related in some way to space, to astronomy, to exploration… to the flights of fantasy and imagination that can give us races like Na’vi, the quaint but forward-looking writing of Mark Twain, and the power and backstory that an Empire Storm Trooper represents. Not to mention all the folks in Star Trek uniforms, Batman outfits, dressed as robots, the Terminator, animals, Na’vi, and even Charlie the Unicorn.

About the folks in the title at the top? Our friend Tim spotted them before dinner and I saw them after dinner.  I didn’t have my camera handy to catch the three of them together, although I caught this Na’vi (at left) an hour or so later after the costume contest. But, the vision  of the three of together  is in my memory — and I like the mix of metaphors, times, and ideas that bring together three people who can attend the same meeting, dressed as creatures from very different times and idea-spheres, and find common ground in a Mexican food joint.  That’s the beauty of mixing science and culture — the hybrid that is born brings you scenes like that one.  And, I look forward to going again next year, presenting a talk, and talking to whoever– and whatever — shows up!