Sunday, January 29, 2012

I Was A Preteen Star Trek Hat Kid

You never forget your first - convention, that is. Back in the day, before the ubiquity of the internet linked fan communities from coast to coast and continent to continent, conventions were the prime mixers of fans and the places where fandoms were anchored. I didn't get the chance to attend Rustycon 29 in Seattle last week like I'd intended, thanks to western Washington being choked with snow, but on this grey and dismal New Westminster Sunday I thought I'd write a bit about my first convention, or at least the little of it that I can remember.

Today it's called Polaris, but twenty years ago it was known as Toronto Trek, being Toronto's preeminent Star Trek convention. In retrospect it's no surprise that this was my first intersection with the convention sphere; it was only because of my age and situation that the next time I crossed paths with that world wouldn't be until ten years later at Anime North. It was one of the many Star Trek conventions that had sprung up in the twenty years following the first such convention, back in 1972, when the syndication of the original series had allowed Star Trek fandom to retain its vitality. My mother took me there, and considering that we had shelves of Star Trek tie-in novels that constituted my first real look at the science fiction genre as well as the entire original run of Star Trek on those Columbia House VHS tapes, there's nothing surprising about that either.

let's see what this galaxy-class starship can do when it's in the middle of a hollywood warehouse

I don't recall very much about the convention itself. This would have been in the summer of 1993 or 1994, making me eleven years old at the most, and with both The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine fresh on the airwaves, it was energetic. I recall that it was busy, and there were a lot of cast and crew from the series in attendance. What I recall most strongly was a "stump-the-audience" event, because I won it.

The way it worked, to my recollection, was this - if you were in the audience, you could stand up and ask a trivia question related to Star Trek, and if nobody could answer it you won a prize. I'm not sure how much advance notice I had of the way it worked, but it was enough to formulate a plan: win by asking the most obscure question I could find. Fortunately, for that, I had the Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual. I'd read it again and again at home so I already had a fair idea of where to go, and I still remember the question I came up with when the event runners called on me.

"Where," I asked, "was the Starfleet Type 15 shuttlepod manufactured?" This was something that had never been stated on screen, ever, because really it's completely irrelevant, and in the days before on-the-fly smartphone access to Memory Alpha it would have had to come down to someone in the audience having memorized the section of the Technical Manual dealing with shuttlecraft and shuttlepods.

When the time ran out, no one had answered correctly - so I won! I had stumped the audience and I got to go up to the front to pick my prize. From what I remember and what was retold, there were two choices up there. The first was a complete soundtrack for the then-new Star Trek: Deep Space Nine on compact disc, and the second was a Deep Space Nine baseball hat.

So which one did I want, they asked?

"Umm... I don't think we have a CD player at home," I said. I certainly didn't, not at that point, but at that age I would have had only the vaguest notion of what a CD player even was - all the computer software I was familiar with at the time came on floppy disks, and when it came to music it was still the era of records and cassette tapes in my experience. "So I'll take the hat."

We did, of course, have a CD player at home. I was just totally unaware of that. I imagine that whoever ended up getting the CDs was thankful that I'd chosen the $10 hat instead. I don't know what happened to that hat - it disappeared sometime during the '90s, and I've never seen its like again.

Nevertheless, it was worth it. If nothing else, I suppose it was a significant learning experience for me - the first time, to my recollection, where I'd ever posed a question that a whole bunch of grownups couldn't answer. That's an incredibly empowering feeling for a kid, a big step on the road to independence and adulthood.

To answer the question: the Starbase 134 integration facility at Rigel VI.

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