Labor Day weekend is upon us, which means only one thing: Dragon*Con. For four days, debauchery the likes of which would put Sodom and Gomorrah to shame takes over downtown Atlanta, as geeks from around the world celebrate all things science fiction. For 26 years, the country's world's universe's largest gathering of Trekkies, steampunks, zombies, furries, goths, Klingons, Sleestaks, Predators, Aliens, et al, take over the Hyatt Regency, Marriott Marquis, Hilton, Sheraton, and the Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel.
This year, 40 fan tracks touching on everything from Joss Whedon, the paranormal, legitimate science, and skepticism to gaming, Tolkien's Middle Earth, filking (look it up), and more are all part of the programming. A brand-new puppetry track is being unveiled as well, promising panels on puppeteering techniques, puppet building, live performances, and guest speakers including Peter Linz (Jim Henson Company, Avenue Q) and Leslie Carrara-Rudolph, aka Abby Cadabby of "Sesame Street." There's also a panel on Sid and Marty Krofft chronicling the psychedelic puppetry masters' Atlanta legacy, which sounds like it's not to be missed. Alice Cooper will be there, too, reminiscing about his 1973 album, Billion Dollar Babies, among other things. Fantasy fiction icon and New York Times best-selling author R.A. Salvatore will also be there, along with hundreds of other guests, including cast members from AMC's "The Walking Dead," "The Venture Bros." co-creator Doc Hammer, and the original television series Batman, Adam West.
And what would Dragon*Con be without the annual parade? Last year more than 3,100 Stormtroopers, Slave Leias, X-Men, and various other iconic heroes and villains from the sci-fi universe showed up in full costume to march down Peachtree Street. Even if you haven't laid down the ducketts to attend Dragon*Con this year, everybody loves a parade. It's one of the most exciting pop culture events that our fair city has to offer, and it's fun for parents and kids alike. Where else are you going to see a gang of Wookies and Boba Fett's walking side by side in perfect harmony? But be warned, the crowds this con draws are not for the faint of heart: If you're claustrophobic, agoraphobic, or otherwise not into partying Close Encounters-style with the approximately 46,000-plus sci-fi enthusiasts who've come to let their geek flags fly, take Morpheus' advise and swallow the blue pill.
With that, here are seven people who are bringing your sci-fi fantasies to life at Dragon*Con 2012.
As the Chief Communications Officer on board the original USS Enterprise, Lt. Uhura, born Nichelle Nichols, literally went where no woman had gone before — a role that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. praised as being the "first nonstereotypical role portrayed by a black woman in television history." Kirk may have been the captain, but in her snappy red dress and go-go boots, Uhura owned the bridge, breaking new ground for pop culture throughout the '60s, '70s, '80s, and beyond, providing a strong female role model for young girls to follow. Throughout the years, Nichols has worked closely with everyone from Duke Ellington to NASA, all while aging gracefully into a respectable acting career. But who are we kidding? This is Uhura we're talking about, and she's gonna be at Dragon*Con! Catch her at the Ms. Star Trek Universe Pageant (Sat., Sept. 2, 4 p.m., Sheraton Grand Ballroom A-F), at her "A Woman Leading Change" panel discussion (Fri., Aug. 31, 2:30 p.m., Sheraton Grand Ballroom A-F), and the Star Trek Mash Bash (Mon., Sept. 3, 11:30 a.m. at Sheraton Grand Ballroom A-F).
Stan Lee is like royalty when it comes to American pop culture, which is why he was named Grand Marshall of the annual parade. Best known as the man who invented Spider-Man, as well as co-creator of the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, and the X-Men (with artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko), the former president of Marvel Comics has been shaking up the superhero game for nearly 70 years. Even at the ripe old age of 89, he shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. (Witness his public battles in recent years over credits and royalties with his former employer, Marvel.) See the man, the myth, and the feisty legend in person for his "Stan 'The Man' Lee — Excelsior!" talk (Fri., Aug. 31, 5:30 p.m., Marriott Atrium Ballroom). You can also catch him leading the 11th annual Dragon*Con parade down Peachtree Street (Sat., Sept. 1, 10-11 a.m.) or at his "Excelsior! — It's Stan Lee" talk (Sun., Sept. 2, 10 a.m., Marriott Atrium Ballroom).
As Special Agent Dana Scully on "The X-Files," Gillian Anderson melted the hearts and minds of many a teenage boy in the '90s, all while serving as the voice of reason to Fox Mulder's (David Duchovny) serial paranormal flights of fantasy. Prior to "The X-Files," Anderson learned her craft as a stage actress, and it was the fact that Scully was being pitched as a strong female role that attracted her to the part. She won an Emmy, Golden Globe, and two Screen Actors Guild awards for Best Actress in a Drama Series for the part, and she stuck with "The X-Files" for nine seasons and two feature films. She has continued acting throughout the States, England, and Australia, earning several more awards along the way. Her latest work includes appearing in a BBC adaptation of Great Expectations and being cast as the lead role for a new BBC Two series titled "The Fall." Catch her "X-Files" talk (Sat., Sept. 1, 7 p.m., Marriott Atrium Ballroom) and her Agent Scully discussion (Sun., Sept. 2, 1 p.m., Marriott Atrium Ballroom).
To the Trekkies he is Ensign Harry Kim of "Star Trek Voyager" and Commander Garan of the fan mini-series Star Trek: Of Gods and Men. But here on planet Earth, Garrett Wang is the three-time returning head of Dragon*Con's Trek Track programming. He's also the first actor from a sci-fi/fantasy series to fully embrace his role and take it one step further by working behind the scenes at a convention. In addition to Dragon*Con, Wang plays host to panels and such at FedCon in Germany, Trek Expo in Tulsa, Okla., and Spock Days in the town of Vulcan in Alberta, Canada. But those other fests don't hold a candle to Dragon*Con, and all of the Trek-related features are his domain. It's no easy task managing one of the festival's most celebrated components, especially on a strictly volunteer basis. That's right, no out-of-this-world salary, and no king's ransom for Wang. He does it purely out of his love for science fiction and his dedication to the con. Due to his hectic schedule, Wang may be elusive this year, but you can catch him at the "Number One" Q&A with Jonathan Frakes, better known as Commander William T. Riker (Fri., Aug. 31, 5:30 p.m., Sheraton Grand Ballroom A-F) or at the "Stranded in the Delta Quadrant" panel with other members of the Starship Voyager crew (Sat., Sept. 1, 2:30 p.m., Sheraton Grand Ballroom A-F). He'll also be at "The Never Ending Trial" panel (Sat., Sept. 1, 5:30 p.m., Sheraton Grand Ballroom A-F), the Ms. Star Trek Universe Pageant (Sun., Sept. 2, 4 p.m., Sheraton Grand Ballroom A-F), and the Star Trek Mash Bash (Mon., Sept. 3, 11:30 a.m., Sheraton Grand Ballroom A-F). Read a Q&A with Wang on clfreshloaf.com.
Last year, Chad Ramey showed up at Dragon*Con carting around a nuclear fusion reactor that he'd built from scratch in his parents' garage when he was still in high school. This year, the Georgia Tech computer science major (with an emphasis on IT and human-machine interface) returns after a summer internship at NASA's Johnson Space Center working on the next generation of lunar and Martian rovers — the kind that carry people. Catch him rolling around the con on his homemade Segway ("Chadway") or at any of his three scheduled appearances: On Saturday afternoon he'll be on the "Evil Geniuses for a Better Tomorrow" panel (2:30 p.m., Capitol Ballroom, Sheraton), complete with a nuclear reactor demo and liquid nitrogen ice cream. He'll also be at Saturday night's Hacking 101 panel (7 p.m., Marriott A601-602) followed by the "Fusion Reactors and Space Robots" discussion (8:30 p.m., Hanover C-E, Hyatt) talking more about nuclear fusion and his internship with NASA. Finally, on Sunday he'll take part in a no-holds-barred debate over "Fission vs. Fusion" (7 p.m., 202 Hilton) showing his support for the latter. "After my summer at NASA I've realized that fusion power will be essential to future long-distance space travel and to possibly build civilizations on the moon or Mars," Ramey says. "It's safer and more controllable than fission, as well as up to 63 times more powerful — two atoms that fuse release a great deal more energy than one that splits."
Journalist and famed skeptic Benjamin Radford has written many articles and six books on topics ranging from urban legends to various paranormal phenomena, while ruthlessly championing critical thought. He wants to believe, but the facts are the facts, and when someone comes out of the woodwork with a new photo offering irrefutable proof that the Loch Ness Monster really does exist, he's the guy you'll see on "Good Morning America" proving it to be a fraud. While this may make him seem like a party pooper, Radford is in it for the right reasons, and he does offer a much-needed voice of reason and sanity amid so much chaos at Dragon*Con. "I'm endlessly fascinated by everything around me, why things are the way they are, how things work, why people believe things. Some people may think that looking into topics like ghosts or UFOs or Bigfoot or miracles or crop circles is a waste of time, but I disagree," Radford says. "If these things are real, then we should try to understand them. But if they aren't real then the alternate is equally interesting: Why are people reporting and experiencing things that don't seem to exist, or whose existence or nature hasn't been proven? My goal is to try to understand things, try to figure out what someone experienced or photographed." His latest books, Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore and The Martians Have Landed! A History of Media-Driven Panics and Hoaxes, are sure to be hot topics at his Monster Talk LIVE! (Sat., Sept. 1, 5:30 p.m., Hilton 207, 206, 205) and the "Mass Hysteria: Madness, Myths, and Truths" talk (Sun., Sept. 2, 2:30 p.m., Hilton 207, 206, 205). He's also hosting two scientific investigation workshops in which he'll explain the investigative process, including critical thinking, evaluating unusual claims, interviewing, and conducting field experiments (Sun., Sept. 2, 10 a.m., Hilton 309, 310, and again at 2:30 p.m., Hilton 205, 206, 207). And yes, his "Sex and the Spirits: Ghost Porn" discussion (Fri., Aug. 31, 8:30 p.m., Hilton 207, 206, 205) sounds like it's going to be one of those Dragon*Con moments that'll be talked about for years to come. Check out the Q&A with Benjamin Radford.
Erin Hill is a self-proclaimed geek, which may be true, but there's a whole lot more to her character than an encyclopedic knowledge of "Star Trek: Voyager." Fronting the band Erin Hill and Her Psychedelic Harp, she's carved a pretty unique niche for herself by blending her loves of science and songcraft into one dreamy and effervescent sound. Her résumé boasts various acting gigs, as well as performances with Kanye West, Enya, Cyndi Lauper, Joan Osborne, Levon Helm, and the likes. But Hill is perhaps best known as "the pretty white girl" who appeared on "The Chappelle Show" singing Dave Chappelle's thoughts. Her 2009 album, Four Leaf Clover, by Four Celtic Voices with Celeste Ray and Erin Hill reached the No. 1 position on Billboard's world chart, but with Her Psychedelic Harp, she reaches for a more cosmic sound. She counts Bowie and the Beatles as influences, and songs such as "Lookout Science" and "Giant Mushrooms" from her album Girl Inventor show off a pop sensibility that places her in a league that's all her own: It's whimsical, even a little weird at times, but there's an inviting quality to her voice and harp, making her a welcome departure from the patent leather goth growl and Celtic folk strumming that you typically encounter at Dragon*Con. Catch Hill performing on the Hyatt Exhibit Level Concourse on Sat., Sept. 1, at 11 a.m., and again on Mon., Sept. 3, at 11 a.m. She's also playing opening music for the Parsec Awards on Sat., Sept. 1, at 4:15 p.m. in the Hyatt International Ballroom North, as well as performing one song for the Dragon*Con Film Festival on Fri., Aug. 31, and again for the Film Fest Awards Ceremony on Mon., Sept. 3.