Fantasy convenes at the Hyatt

April 02, 1994|By Scott Timberg | Scott Timberg,Contributing Writer

Vacationers visiting the Hyatt Regency this weekend may get a little more Baltimore charm than they bargained for, as "Balticon 28," the 28th annual Baltimore regional science-fiction and fantasy convention, plays itself out.

About 1,500 people are expected. Some will be costumed, some won't be. Highlights include a talk by author Fredrik Pohl ("The Space Merchants") at 3 p.m. today.

To outsiders, hundreds of people in pirate suits, wizard's robes, tight black denim, and sci-fi garb may look odd. But to conventioneers, it's the others who are out of place.

"A lot of the people here consider people who aren't part of the group as 'mundanes,' " says Joe Mayhew, a retired librarian and convention staffer who writes, illustrates and reviews science-fiction.

While other conventions are more serious, book-oriented or less packed with programs and workshops, the Baltimore convention has a strong emphasis on animation, art and film, Mr. Mayhew says. "Many of the people here are attracted to soft fantasy, to sword and sorcery, the kind of people who enjoy wearing a cape."

But all these conventions have one thing in common: they appeal to hard-core fans who find the small, tight community of the science-fiction and fantasy "village" more appealing, interesting or comforting than the larger world.

Not all serious fans are outcasts, Mr. Mayhew says. "These are people who feel like outsiders for one reason or another. They want to find a world they can matter in. I think it's true of every person here."

L Conventioneers are attracted by the idea of fandom, he says.

But don't confuse Balticon fans with Trekkies, Mr. Mayhew says. "The Star Trek fans are there to worship. They come to meet and touch and be closer to the arcana of Star Trek. Fans [here], though, not only meet their writers to compliment but also to criticize. If you don't live up to their standards, many of them will tell you right away. They view the medium [science fiction] as something that they have a stake in and are there to protect.

"You're going to find a certain group of people who walk around in a cape and a [Renaissance Festival] accent. But there are other people who you wouldn't find the least bit embarrassing. It's a cross-section. What brings them together is a desire to participate in this particular village."

"Here most people have heard of you and know what you do," says Mercedes "Misty" Lackey -- a writer from Oklahoma who has 33 fantasy, science-fiction, and horror books in print after 5 years of writing. "When you say you're writing adult fantasy they don't assume you're writing pornography," says Ms. Lackey, Balticon's guest of honor.

"It's odd enough in this [day and age] to read for pleasure. It's even odder to read fantasy. So it's the one place where you can count on meeting people who're reading more or less what you are. It's like if this were a convention of Ukrainians or something -- we're all speaking the same language. You can walk around in a costume and nobody thinks you're weird."


What: Science-fiction convention

When: April 1-3 (ends at 3 p.m. Sunday)

Where: Hyatt Regency Hotel, Inner Harbor

Tickets: Weekend membership at the door, $40 ; one-day pass, $30 on Saturday, $10 on Sunday

Call: (410) 528-1234; ask for the Balticon operations desk

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