S-F Convention Proves Out of This World

Martin is a Times editorial assistant

Reality is for those who can't handle science fiction!

--A T-shirt at the 44th Annual World Science Fiction Convention in Atlanta

More than 5,500 science fiction/fantasy fans gathered here to celebrate all that was bizarre, spectacular and amazing in literature, films, TV and computer gaming. They came, they saw, they even put on a masquerade.

Author Ray Bradbury, guest of honor at last weekend's gathering, explained the allure of science fiction. "Science fiction is the history of ideas, the excitement of ideas, the magic becoming reality. Every minute of every day, you talk about the future. We (the writers of S-F) are the pre-historians. We built it first. Science fiction is to prepare the future. Besides, ideas are no fun unless you can throw them up in the air and watch them dance."

The hotel hallways, lobbies, eateries, spare floor space and most especially elevators provided ample room for one of the main occupations of the attendees--conversation. Opinions were multitudinous, loud and argumentative. Authors and their works came under heavy discussion, as well as the minutiae of current S-F and fantasy film releases. Hundreds of panels, presentations and discussions were offered, covering topics as diverse as "Fantasy: Do You Have to Live in the Real World?" "The Bunny-Eat-Bunny World of Cartoon Writing," to "The Latest in Horror: Loud, Literary or Both?" But most fans came to see and be seen.

Joann Lawler of Philadelphia, an accountant for the telephone company, surveyed the crowd in the lobby of the Hilton, one of two hotels where the convention was headquartered. "I've been a little tired, but this a pretty decent convention. Folks who aren't into science fiction might not understand what was going on, but it's a unique batch of people. You wind up with friends all over the country by going to these conventions."

Maurice Beyke of Huntsville, Ala., echoed Lawler's sentiments. "It's a good place to meet friends."

'Like a Family Reunion'

Convention organizers Penny Frierson of Birmingham, Ala., and Wilma Meir of Walnut Creek, Calif., agreed with the attendees. Frierson said, "This is like a family reunion every year. And the easiest way to meet this family turns out to be working it (the convention) and not milling about in the lobbies." Meir laughed, "Running a convention is a strange form of madness. You give up a good part of your life for two years to run a WorldCon. This is like Mickey Rooney's 'Let's put on a show!' "

But both agreed they would do it again.

The dealer's or huckster's room was a place to part fans from their money and give them the rare copy of "Weird Tales," a pioneering S-F pulp magazine from the '30s, or T-shirts, used paperbacks, posters, exquisite jewelry, stuffed dragons, autographed first editions and computer games. Amid the array of goods for sale, fans would perform impromptu choruses of "Filk songs" (fractured S-F/fantasy-oriented lyrics to well-known tunes) or tootle on kazoos. Strangers would stop to add their voices (or kazoos).

However, to prove it wasn't all fun and computer games, there were some serious aspects to the convention.

Mattie Falworth of Pierrefonds, Quebec, is a professor at Vanier College in Montreal who has taught science fiction for 10 years.

Broaden Horizons

"I've come here to broaden my horizons (regarding teaching materials). This is my first convention, but it won't be my last. There is an academic field here to explore. There is no better entry into literature than science fiction. It gets students to read and provides thought-provoking content. It's an exceptionally easy introduction to symbolism, metaphor and allegory. It provides an opportunity for sociological commentary and the history of ideas."

There was also a blood drive, a WorldCon tradition, which took in 86 pints and an auction for the family of S-F writer Manly Wade Wellman, who died this spring, leaving large debts.

The acerbic and popular author and screenwriter Harlan Ellison was auctioneer, and during the 3 1/2-hour auction he raised more than $28,000, the largest bid being $5,200 for a Stephen King notebook.

Oscars of the S-F World

Ellison also accepted a Hugo for his novelette, "Paladin of the Lost Hour" (which was also seen as an episode on television's "Twilight Zone"). The Hugos (also known as the Science Fiction Achievement Awards) are the fan-voted Oscars of the science-fiction world. Among the winners were Orson Scott Card (best novel, "Ender's Game"), Tom Weller (best nonfiction, "Science Made Stupid") and Mike Glyer (best fan writer). Best dramatic presentation went to Universal Pictures, "Back to the Future."

Ideas in Costume

The convention not only provided ideas in print, but ideas made manifest in costume.

The traditional masquerade brought out master craftsmen who had spent hundreds of hours producing costumes that could grace a film with a $38-million budget, and novice costumers who use a minimum of materials.

The official presentation was much like a fashion show, but afterward convention attendees got a closer look at the constructions outside the ballroom. Wearers of the spectacular costumes, glorious in lace and exotic elements, passed by in the halls and crowded into elevators and stood patiently for photographs.

Once the official programming was through, what many fans felt was the real official activity began: party hopping.

After 10 p.m. restless fans abounded, searching for the ultimate party and perhaps a chance encounter with old friends or their favorite author. The whole 10th floor of the Marriott (the official party hotel--the Hilton was ostensibly for those who wanted to sleep) provided what was known as the Con suite.

The floor itself is a rectangle of lounges around the 48-floor-high atrium. During the day authors signed books, but at night, fans crowded the couches and tastefully carpeted floor space to do spontaneous productions of the "Rocky Horror Picture Show," play Dungeons and Dragons, read novels and even play cards.

By the end of the five-day convention, a few more fans were seen in public snoozing instead of schmoozing.

But not even Atlanta's damp and cold could slow the euphoria of friends remet and reaffirmed; the raging imaginations; the memorabilia bought and hoarded; and the glow of a World Science Fiction Convention.

The travelers from beyond were home, once again.

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