The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Con is like that. A massive horde of gamers, geeks, sci fi fans, and all other manner of like-minded folk take over downtown Atlanta, GA, every Labor Day weekend for DragonCon. And if you’re reading my site at all, they likely have something that would be of interest to you.

The way DragonCon is structured is that there is a series of “tracks” about various special interests, raging from horror to Star Trek, Star Wars to costuming, gaming to writing, wrestling, and so many more. The schedule, when it comes out, goes on for pages and pages of descriptions of the tracks and the various panels within them. There’s even a track for skeptics, which I suspect would interest one friend and fellow writer of mine.

And it’s not just fans that come. Most of the cast of the ScyFy show Warehouse 13 was there. Many players from True Blood, John Barrowman of Torchwood and Dr. Who fame (who will be on the new show “Arrow” this fall) were all speaking and signing autographs. I got to hang out with Richard Hatch, Apollo from the original Battlestar Galactica briefly in one of the hotel bars. Writers more your speed? Kevin J Anderson, R A Salvatore, Laurell K Hamilton, Timothy Zahn, Mercedes Lackey were just some of the writers there, telling stories about writing, sharing tips, and dropping hints of future books.

Dr. Who confronts Ultron--- only at DragonCon would this make sense.

Part of the great fun for me is not only the chance to learn a lot from people who know their stuff, but the opportunity to be with so many like minded people. Let’s face it, a lot of us that are into sci-fi, comics, fantasy, whatever, get at least some degree of static for our choices. Not all, granted, but a lot. Here, we’re the norm. One of my favorite memories from the ‘11 Con is, amid the swirl of costumes (more on that later), three guys in business suits at the hotel bar, clutching their drinks. As I passed, one asked the other two “So, have YOU figured out what’s happening here yet?”

The Con is in five hotels, the Westin, the Sheraton, the Hyatt, the Mariott Marquis, and the Hilton, the last three connected to each other (and a nearby food court) by enclosed walkways, that many of us call “habitrails,” like the places for hamsters. The Marquis is in the middle of the three connected hotels, and as such, it’s the center of a lot. At the height of con, in the lobby area, it’s a huge press of fans, many of them in costume. Now, to be clear, you don’t need to be in costume to go to DragonCon. But a lot of folks do, and you ones that range from cheap Halloween “I guess I see what you were trying to do,” to some that look as good, if not better, than the ones in movies or on TV. And you’ll see popular characters, really obscure ones, and clever variations. One of the best last year was someone in the black and white suit John Travolta wore in Saturday Night Fever, topped with a Star Wars Stormtrooper helmet glittered up like a disco ball. This year, among others, I saw the Sun Maid Raisin Girl, a Stormtrooper Lifeguard, and many variations on Avengers. One thing I did notice as a trend in costumes. There were a very few of the DCNU ones, mostly the more classic character looks, at least from what I saw. But the DCNU can claim one victory. This is the first year I can remember not seeing anyone dressed as Oracle. That made me a tiny bit sad, I admit.

Add in a near-perfect recreation of Dr. Who’s TARDIS, remote controlled R2-D2′s and a K-9 (also of Dr Who fame), and some amazing props, and you see some great stuff. For one of the contests, it’s not just costumes but some kind of actual story, and one of the entries was a great Captain America, along with women dressed as the dancers from his recent movie, recreating the bond-drive scenes. I got a very close look at Cap’s shield, and it was phenomenally well done, looking just as good close up as it did on stage for the contest.

There are also two huge rooms (slated to be moved to separate buildings next year as the Con keeps growing) of dealers. They have replica weapons, action figures, toys, books (sometimes signed by the authors who are also there), games, props, about anything you could think of. There’s also a huge room of artists who sell and sign their work, and some at least will talk commissioned pieces.

There’s just a giant air of celebration among all the folks who go to this. It’s a huge party where you already know you have at least something in common with most of the people there. And this year, they straightened out whatever problems they had with pre-registration last year, turning a multi hour long process into a matter of minutes. There’s a somewhat upscale urban dance club between two of the hotels, and the looks from the patrons waiting to get in at the river of costumes flowing past is just really entertaining.

The only issues I noticed this year were minor, and more the doing of hotels, not DragonCon itself. One of the events in one of the ballrooms was shut down early after noise complaints. This seems a bit odd to me, that they book a hotel ballroom for a party that runs late near rooms where people sleep. Smacks of poor planning in my humble opinion. The Marquis, as I mentioned earlier the center of much of the partying/costume displays, also removed several sections of seating where in years past tired con-goes had sat to rest and chat. The staff of the Marquis lobby bar was also a lot more aggressive this year than I recall in past years about “If you’re not ordering, you can’t sit here.” But, as I said, these are minor issues. I strongly recommend the event to anyone interested in any aspect of, well, geek-dom, or whatever you care to call it.

One other note- as the weekend progresses, and as it gets later on some nights, I’d really hesitate to call it a family friendly atmosphere. It’s not bad, nothing over the top, but still…. if I had kids, I really wouldn’t bring them to this. Just a thought. Also bear in mind the crowds. Last year the official numbers were 45,000 attendees. This year they said 52. Hope to see you next year at DragonCon!