And Now, My Dragon Con 2021 Report

A crew of Master Chiefs waiting for the Dragon Con Parade to start.

I had fun! Thank you, that is all.

Okay, I’ll add just a few more comments.

1. The first is that I was surprised and happy I was asked to be the Literary Guest of Honor this year. I had been asked to be so for 2020 and had accepted, and then COVID happened and everything went virtual, and I assumed that was that. Which would have been fine! Dragon Con is a major convention and I have no doubt that it has any number of people to ask to be a guest of honor. So that they would ask me to repeat was a happy-making event. I accepted again, and I was also pleased that this year there was an in-person component as well as a virtual component.

2. I was also mildly curious how I would handle that live component! Dragon Con 2021 was my first in-person science fiction convention since January 2020, and my first public appearance of any sort since March 2020, when I was on JoCo Cruise. In the intervening time I had done almost no travel at all, had taken no airplane rides or had even been to an airport, did very little speaking to non-family or friends and otherwise had kept largely to a 50-mile radius from my house. Going to Dragon Con after that was basically a cannonball into the deep end of the social interaction pool; even at a “reduced” level of in-person attendance, the convention still had at least 42,000 attendees when all was said and done.

So how did I do? Reasonably well. I did find myself getting “peopled out” more quickly than I usually did at previous conventions, which I think is an artifact both of having been away from public events for 18 months, and also, you know, just getting older. I generally solved this problem by retreating to my hotel room between events and (Saturday excepted) going to bed at a shockingly early hour for a convention. I averaged more than eight hours of sleep a night at Dragon Con, which is substantially more than I get at home. I chalk that up to not having cats waking me up to show me their ass at 3am, but regardless of why, it helped me get through the con without having my brain fry up.

3. It also helped that, as it turns out, everyone at the convention was uniformly lovely and happy to see to me there. The Dragon Con staff were terrific and solicitous of my well-being, and attendees were likewise generally appreciative to see me in the flesh. I think overall people were so happy just to be out of the house that it added an extra level of excitement and gratitude to the events, and (in my experience anyway), everyone was willing to play nice with each other maybe a little more than they might otherwise. It made for a legitimately genuinely pleasant convention experience, more so than usual, especially with regard to a convention the size of Dragon Con.

4. Yes, you say, but what about COVID? It’s still out there! And yet you went to a 40k-attendee convention! What’s up with that? Well, look. I’m vaccinated and all my immediate family is vaccinated, and Dragon Con’s attendance policy was that everyone attending had to be vaccinated or have a recent negative COVID test (the convention also had pop-up testing and vaccination opportunities). Moreover, everyone had to be masked; panelists (all of whom, at least on my panels, were vaccinated) could take off their masks when doing panels but attendees had to keep theirs on. Speaking for myself and only for myself, this set-up was an acceptable level of risk.

And for some people it wasn’t — I know at number of Dragon Con guests/panelists/attendees/etc decided to stay home, including some I know personally, because they weren’t comfortable with that set-up. Which is fine! Some of them have kids at home below the current vaccination age, or have family members who are in a larger risk pool for breakthrough infections, or simply just did their own math and decided it didn’t work for them. You can’t argue with that and I won’t. Everyone should do what they’re comfortable with. But for me, the math was, I feel pretty good about my chances; let’s see how it goes.

(It’s also my understanding from various Facebook posts I’ve seen that at least a few (mostly) dudes dropped their attendance because they were spittle-flingingly angry that their god-given right to be a public carrier and/or recipient of the COVID virus had been unconstitutionally abridged by the convention’s “mask and vax” policy. Bless their hearts, as they would say in Atlanta. They weren’t missed by me.)

Now back home, I feel tired, and I have a mildly sore throat from (I very strongly suspect) the fact I talked non-stop for five days because LOOK PEOPLE WHO ARE NOT MY FAMILY OR PETS, but otherwise I feel fine. My plan is to sleep a lot when the cats let me and otherwise take it easy. Or in other words, welcome to my usual week these days.

Me waving in the Dragon Con parade.

5. I had a pretty great time across the entire convention, but four events in particular stand out for me. One, meeting Maurice LaMarche, perhaps best known as the voice of The Brain in Pinky and the Brain but also the voice of the narrator in the “When the Yogurt Took Over” episode of Love Death + Robots. I got to express my appreciation to him for that work, and to otherwise geek out about him. And that was just the first day! Two, getting to take part in the DragonCon parade. They sat me up in a Camaro convertible and had me wave at the crowd, nearly all of whom squinted at the sign on the car to see who I was. Which was not surprising! I don’t actually expect people to know who I am. It was still a fun and delightfully surreal experience. Three, DJing the “Last Party on Alderaan” dance. I was a last-minute sub for whoever the original DJ was, but that was fine by me, since I’ll take any excuse to spin tunes and have a good time and dance with my wife. Here’s a brief video of the dance, with a cameo by me and Krissy at the end. We had a bunch of fun and I was super-sore the next day. Four, taking part in the charity D&D game DMed by John Hartness, in which I played a very grumpy dwarf. Very grumpy. Some would say it was typecasting, and they would be right. It was a blast anyway.

6. In all, Dragon Con 2021 was pretty much exactly what I had hoped and wanted it to be — a really wonderful first time back into the world. I’m deeply appreciative that the convention folks had me back, and I hope I was a good and useful guest to them. I was happy just about every minute I was there, and very glad I got to come visit. I look forward to coming back.

— JS

25 Comments on “And Now, My Dragon Con 2021 Report”

  1. So glad it was a great Con for you! Sorry to have missed it!

    Even at 75K a few years back, things were very much as you describe (as a fan, not a guest). Southern fandom has always had a bit of a really-big-family feel that’s hard to beat. It can be daunting around the dinner table the first few times, but the fam is fine.

  2. I was stupidly excited to pass you in your car as my parade group marched past. I was even more stupidly excited when I realized I was listening to you read from Kaiju Preservation Society while dressed as Mothra. Yours was the only panel we did all weekend (due to unvaxxed child worries) and you were awesome, nap and all. Thanks, and hope to see you next year!

  3. I so wish I could have attended. Atlanta’s 8 hours away, which is about the distance to drive to my in-laws, and I’d much rather hang out with 40k+ geeky strangers than my in-laws.

    I also hope this means you’ll be willing to do a book tour next year for Kaiju. I’ve missed you!

  4. So very fun! Loved the dance scene. Cool to see DragonCon taking a reasonably cautious approach to con in the time of COVID. Wished I could’ve been there. Maybe next year.
    Also–they need bigger signs on those GOH cars in the parade. Not being totally up to date on popular culture, I’ve done a lot of squinting through the years.

  5. My wife and I met you briefly at the National Book Fair in Washington DC a couple of year ago (she was the person who followed you from your big-room reading to your signing and chatted with you about teaching reading to her 3rd grade students. You made my day when the two of you, on your way to your signing table, approached me in the super long line to say “hello”). Your willingness to engage energetically with staff and fans at these events is great. Excellent report, I wish I could’ve been there.

  6. I spoke to you briefly after your final panel and wanted to thank you again. Your post here made me realize the near-fatal mistake I made—I was determined to see ALL THE PANELS and used up all my people juice, so I went to my brother’s party and ended up leaving before things got started. The panels I saw were not worth the party I lost. Except yours.

    (I also made the mistake of walking from the Hyatt to the Sheraton and back in four-inch heels. But that’s pretty much my own dumb fault.)

    Next year, I’m going to be more vigilant about making sure I have plenty of decompression time. Thanks for the tip.

  7. The video of the dance won’t play. At least not on my iPhone. It could be me.

    No worries but felt you’d want to know.

  8. Love that first image. Looks like a Neill Blomkamp set! Don’t know about a one-on-one vs Wikus van der Merwe, but Scalzi vs Chappie? Oh, my money is on the Bradford, OH guy for sure (maybe with some backup from Will Wheaton).

  9. I made a similar risk calculation about Convergence, which required vaccination and masking.

    Being at a con again was so great. SO great. I have missed that sort of socializing a LOT.

  10. I am not so sure that I would be ready to do a 40k+ convention. If it was outdoors? You bet. I am all in.

    I am fully vaccinated, but…. I dunno. Living in Arizona…. Most people dont mask. We’re not even 50% (of total population) vaxxed, (though we’re close to it).

    I guess I will have to decide soon enough: Phoenix comicon is coming up in a couple of months. And it is typically way bigger than 40k people.

    My membership keeps rolling over, as the con keeps getting pushed back….

  11. If it was outdoors
    rephrase: if it was outdoors, and masks were required, and proof of vax was required… then I am all in.

  12. …and apparently I was far from the only person who had that concern. Just got the email that Phoenix Comicon has been pushed out several more months:

    “Passes and exhibitor space already purchased for the 2020, 2021, or January 2022 event will automatically transfer to these new dates. You will not need to do a thing. The complimentary Friday Buddy Pass received when buying a Full Event or VIP pass will continued to be honored for May 2022. ”

    A wise decision, I think.

  13. I was the tall black lady trying to earn husband points. :D I think your presence at con made so many people happy, and I’m exceptionally glad that it made YOU happy to be there.

  14. It’s a genuine, complete delight to see someone having such a completely good time! Thanks for posting this – and for your books, and for “whatever”.

  15. I am pleased to hear that SF fandom can put on a con with those attendance rules and that many attendees.

  16. I didn’t realize you were a last minute addition for DJing the Last Party on Alderaan, but we are still talking about how that was the BEST dance party at DragonCon that we’ve ever been to.

  17. Reminder – now is the best time to buy tickets to NEXT year’s DragonCon. Hopefully we’ll be closer to our endemic flu-like Covid, and my kids will finally be vaccinated.

  18. As others have said, great job at the Last Party on Alderaan! It was, by far, the best one of those Dragoncon ballroom parties I’ve ever been to. Usually the music choice at those things is rather uninspired, and it’s just an excuse to get out and dance without needing to deal with the crowds trying to push through to get from place to place and take pictures, so we normally don’t ask for much. But you managed to pick a selection that somehow managed to feel “on theme” without being too on the nose, and was all eminently danceable! Kudos on the good work! Sincerely: that one dude in the ridiculously impractical for dancing in Mistborn costume.

  19. Ok, yeah, that all sounds good. But, did you, like, meet any dragons? Because if not, I feel like it may be false advertising.

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