Miscellaneous musings from the perspective of a lefty (both senses) atheist with a warped sense of humor.

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Location: Madison, WI, United States

I am a geek, but I do have some redeeming social skills. I love other people's dogs, cats, and kids. Snow sucks, but I'm willing to put up with it just to live in Madison.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Attack of the Anti-Superheroes

Fiction has lately been treated to an increase in the number of anti-heroes in lead roles. These are the protagonists with whom you are invited to identify and whose stories are in the foreground but whose behavior would normally qualify them as villains. The best known of these is fictional mob boss Tony Soprano, but they're popping up all over.

And, of course, comics feature superheroes — characters with one or more human traits that they have in abundance, or exaggerated beyond all reason, or perhaps powers that humans can only dream about (like flying ability).

I believe I've discovered a new class of critter that combines the features of both: the anti-superhero. And they walk among us.

I'll get to them in a bit. Let me start by setting the scene.

This past weekend, I attended Odyssey Con, a smallish general-purpose science-fiction convention here in Madison. The intimate feeling of the con was enhanced by its location in a commuter hotel — the Radisson near West Towne — whose meeting rooms were obviously designed for business presentations to audiences no larger than several dozen.

Also adding to the cozy atmosphere was the trifurcation of the attending audience, as the gamers and the film junkies each had their own rooms and tracks of programming and largely stuck to them. So, while there were 300 fans on the premises, only about 150 of them (at best) were involved in the con's general activities.

Since I spend a lot of my time at WisCon (Madison's other SF con, 3 decades old and topped out at 1000 members) doing registration and other organizational work, I don't get a chance to attend and participate in as much programming as I'd like. I try to make up for that at Odyssey Con (or OddCon, as it's affectionately known, even by the people who run it). At OddCon 7, I was on 7 panels and in the audience for a like number.

I must pause here to say a few words in praise of Jack McDevitt. He was one of the guests of honor at OddCon, and normally GoHs appear on a few panels for the primary purpose of answering questions about their own works and life experiences. As pros in the SF field, they are viewed as experts, and other panelists as well as audience members defer to them. They are not expected to have invested any time at all in specific preparation for any panel.

Not Jack! He not only appeared on a flock of panels, he moderated several of them. And he had done his homework! He had notes about each of his co-panelists, which he used during the introductions, as well as a cogent opening statement of his own and a list of questions to be raised on the panel topic. He did a spiffy job of controlling the flow of the discussion, reining in those who tended to go off on tangents while making sure that everyone who wanted to contribute could do so. And, of course, he himself had lots of interesting thots to contribute. He was friendly and accessible thruout the entire weekend.

And now we come to the anti-superhero part. While the majority of people attending the panels either listened quietly or had worthy contributions of their own to add, we also had to put up with, well, listen in ...

= = = = = =

 • The Triteness Repetition Team. Like the Teen Titans, each of whom has a single specialty, each of these guys takes some meaningless phrase as her or his very own and flogs it to death during every utterance.
   – "I Mean" Man
   – "Y'Know" Kid
   – "Like" Lass

 • Mr. Irrelevancy. Makes remarks that may have had something to do with what everyone was talking about 10 minutes ago but which land with a dead thud of "Huh?"s in the midst of what's going on now, bringing everything to a dead halt. (Not to be confused with Mr. Irrelevant, the last football player chosen in the annual NFL draft.)

 • Nasal Banal Woman. Adept at stating the trite and obvious, memorable for doing so in a remarkably irritating voice.

 • Stream of Consciousness Man. Gets started, thinks of something related, thinks of something related to that, keeps free associating indefinitely.

 • The Interrupter. Possibly related to Stream of Consciousness Man, The Interrupter also forms instant associations based on the current topic but, not having the floor at the time, shares these insights by blurting.

 • Technobabble Boy. Knows every obscure techie reference that's ever existed (or been imagined), as well as the TLA (three letter acronym) for it, and assumes everyone else does, too.

 • Pregnant Pause Dude. The photographic negative of Technobabble Boy, Pregnant Pause Dude assumes that he's surrounded by cretins who know pretty much nothing about anything, so he must frequently pause until the last dimwit around him finally twigs to the brilliant Einsteinian insight or outrageously clever Wildean turn of phrase he's just graced us with.

 • Monomania Man. "Why are you talking about all this other stuff? Lime Twizzlers! That's what's important!! Lime Twizzlers are a threat to mankind's very existence!!! Pay attention!!!! I will tell you all about LIME TWIZZLERS!!!!!"

 • Gushing Girl. Really, really, really, really admires the handsome young cartoonist on the panel and can hardly wait to tell him how brilliant he is. Yet again.

 • Auctor Novus. "What a remarkable coincidence yet again. Just as before, I deal with this very topic in my new book, Personal Miracle, just out in hardcover from Goliath Corp., $24.95, available in the dealer's room and, as I said, also via my website, ... Did you want me to spell that out for you? No, no, no problem. S - T - A ..."

= = = = = =

Now for the scary part. I understand they've cloned themselves and may be appearing soon at a con somewhere near you. And there are probably different kinds of anti-superheroes out there as well. If you run across any such, let us all know. Forewarned is forearmed.

Until next time ... Vigilance!

= = = = = =
Why do they call it tourist season if they won't let us shoot 'em?


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