It's been more than 35 years since droves of them first invaded Baltimore. And this weekend, more than a thousand will once again make their annual descent upon Charm City.
Don't worry, though. These friendly visitors aren't another type of red-eyed bug; they're a swarm of eager science fiction and fantasy fans who'll gather at the Wyndham Baltimore-Inner Harbor Hotel for the convention known as Balticon.
About 1,700 folks from around the country (and a few from England and Australia) are expected to begin meeting tomorrow for the 38th annual "con," a four-day event that cel- ebrates all things related to the sometimes quirky, sometimes whimsical genre.
As usual, activity will be centered on interactive panel discussions -- including one called "Is Star Trek Dying with Enterprise or Can It Be Saved?" -- that allow experts and creators to engage in lively talks with both their peers and fans.
And though plenty of hardcore Trekkies will undoubtedly participate in this year's program, organizers say that many of Balticon's regular attendees aren't interested solely in what they called the genre's most stereotypical representations.
"Science fiction is more than just one [thing]. Many people associate SF with space, [but] we're not limited to just that," said event spokesman Seth Rosenberg.
Balticon, he noted, is a way for science fiction and fantasy aficionados to broaden their horizons by experiencing the art form's different aspects, such as literature, visual art, music and computer technology.
These facets are showcased in offerings ranging from tutorials on creating and embellishing costume designs to live performances by sci-fi-inspired folk musicians, known as filk artists.
Several published authors, filmmakers and makeup artists will sign autographs and talk about their work; and experts and scientists from NASA and local universities are scheduled to lead informational talks on hard science topics, including the Hubble Space Telescope project and the SARS virus.
Even the most obscure subject matter will be covered, Rosenberg noted, which also means that some of the programs may appeal only to the genre's most die-hard lovers.
That said, he believes the convention has a wide enough range of activities that even the most casual fan will stay entertained.
For those just looking to meet and party with other sci-fi and fantasy fans, there's a masquerade and live-action role playing. And an art show and dealer room will serve collectors' needs.
Balticon, Rosenberg said, has "everything that people might be interested in."
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What: The annual science fiction and fantasy convention of the Baltimore Science Fiction Society.
When: 2 p.m. tomorrow through 3 p.m. Monday
Where: Wyndham Baltimore Inner Harbor Hotel, 101 W. Fayette St.
Cost: $52 at the door for a four-day pass or individual dates as follows: $25 on Friday, $37 on Saturday, $32 on Sunday and $12 on Monday.
Information: Call 410-563-2737 or visit www.balticon.org.
Interactive panel discussions are one of the main attractions at Balticon. Here are a few examples of the programs planned for this year's event:
"Creating Alien Cultures"
"Fans: Are You Hopelessly Typical?"
"Writers Who Make Me Want to Slash My Wrists"
"Harry Potter - What's the Big Deal?"
"Vampire Movies We Love - And Hate!"