From lit to light sabers

Balticon organizers say books, not special effects, energize the sci-fi fandom

May 22, 2008|By Brad Schleicher | Brad Schleicher,Sun reporter

Celebrate your roots.

That's what Balticon -- Baltimore's annual science fiction and fantasy convention -- is all about.

Although technology and special effects have provided a visual manifestation of the sci-fi universe, Balticon's emphasis is on literature, the original medium that exhibited so many otherworldly characters, concepts and locations.

"It's clear that we focus on the written aspect of the genre," says Gregory Wright, a Balticon chairman and coordinator. "There are numerous programs that focus on books and short stories and allow open discussion on the genre."

For years, Balticon's emphasis on the written word has gone beyond small book talks. Every year, the Compton Crook Award, an accolade highlighting the best first novel in the science-fiction genre, is handed out at Balticon, and the guest of honor is usually a prominent author in science-fiction or fantasy.

In its 42nd year, Balticon, taking place this weekend in Hunt Valley, will feature award-winning science-fiction author Connie Willis.

But despite its literary focus, Balticon has embraced science fiction in other media. There are art shows, a costume contest (or "masquerade"), concerts, card and role-playing games, film festivals and other events that contribute to nearly 300 hours of programming throughout the four-day convention.

For Wright and other coordinators, it's an effort to create as wide of a selection of events as possible, though sleep becomes secondary for many.

"Even before I started coordinating the convention, sleep wasn't on the top of my list of priorities," says Wright, 41, who has attended Balticon for the past 23 years.

Despite an emphasis on literature, one of the other unexpected aspects of the convention is inclusion of a panel discussion that gives scores of sci-fi fans the opportunity to speak with professionals and professors from various scientific fields.

Wright says bringing the scientific community into the convention has historical precedence in sci-fi history and serves to bridge the gap between what is possible and what could be.

"Many of the science-fiction authors from the golden age of science fiction were also scientists," says Wright, referencing Isaac Asimov, Hal Clement and Jerry Pournelle. "Hard science fiction is used to classify science fiction that actually leverages real-world science fact and theory as a major part of the plot. Many of the longtime fans of the genre grew up watching the early space missions in the 1960s or grew up watching the space shuttle go from theory to reality. An interest in science is as much a part of the culture as the stories themselves."

brad.schleicher@baltsun.com

The 42nd Balticon starts at 1 p.m. tomorrow and runs nonstop until 5 p.m. Monday at the Marriott Hunt Valley, at 245 Shawan Road in Hunt Valley. Tickets are $59 for a weekend pass. Prices vary for single-day passes. For more information, go to balticon.org or call 410-563-2737.

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