Literary Balticon

May 25, 2006|By SAM SESSA | SAM SESSA,SUN REPORTER

Balticon's heart beats for books.

Every year, press and patrons like to fawn over the folks in bizarre and intricate costumes, fantasy role-playing games and movie screenings at the four-day science-fiction conference. But organizers want to remind people that Balticon started out as and remains a lit fest first.

"Balticon was primarily and still is primarily a literary convention," said Dale Arnold, a Balticon organizer. "We tend to go more with literature than with film and media. Even though we do have a film festival, the primary focus is literary."

There are a number of false perceptions people have regarding Balticon, which starts tomorrow, Arnold said. Women do come, and have come ever since the first one many years ago (he said he's looked at old pictures for proof). Yes, there are ... interesting ... costumes - but the vast majority of Balticonnies wear normal attire. And, contrary to popular belief, most of the adults are married. If they ever lived in their parents' basements, nearly all have since moved into their own pads.

"Where did this ever come from? I don't know," Arnold said. "I guess society insists that's what it must be, and they don't ever want to change their minds about it."

If you glance at this year's speaker list, you won't see high-profile actors like William Shatner or Leonard Nimoy. Instead, the special guest of honor is accomplished science fiction author Gene Wolfe, and the guest of honor is writer Neil Gaiman.

"We're not a media con," Arnold said. We discuss media, we have media-related things, but we're not going to pay an actor to come and talk about his acting. In the popular mind, that is what a science-fiction convention is."

The 40-year-old Balticon began as an annual meeting of the Baltimore Science Fiction Society, a group of dedicated young science-fiction readers, Arnold said. Eventually, so many people started showing up, they decided to invite a guest speaker, and Balticon was born.

It now includes live theater, a masquerade, a Klingon feast, film fest, live music, video games, anime and role playing. Some people stay up for the entire four-day stretch.

Vendors set up tables and sell their wares, such as books, jewelry, swords and costumes. Larry Sands, a leather artisan, has attended Balticon since 1979. He now runs the dealer room and sells leather products detailed with fantasy art.

"I thought I'd get a table so it wouldn't cost me anything to go," Sands said.

Turning 40 is quite a milestone, Arnold said. "It is a tremendous number in terms of psychological effect: the fact that we made it for 40 years from something that started out as a bunch of post-teenagers 40 years ago that were trying to get together to talk about their favorite science-fiction literary subjects," he said.

Little has changed about Balticon's fan base. It's still a gathering of friends. Colette Fozard, a 35-year-old science-fiction fan who lives in Hyattsville, started going in 1989 and said she's missed only one since. She met a lot of long-term friends she sees once a year at the convention.

"For me it's almost like a family reunion of the family you sort of choose, and they're not chosen for you by genetics," Fozard said.

The 40th Balticon starts at 1 p.m. tomorrow and runs nonstop through Monday at the Marriott Hunt Valley, at 245 Shawan Road in Hunt Valley. Tickets are $55 for a weekend pass, $25 for tomorrow, $27 for Saturday, $32 for Sunday and $12 for Monday. For more information, visit balticon.org.

sam.sessa@baltsun.com

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