He was a smartly dressed Klingon warrior, she a pert Starfleet officer. It would seem a forbidden love, but like Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare's "star-cross'd lovers" whose pedigrees seemed to doom their passion, Curtis and Jeanne Clason were destined to marry.
It was three years ago, at a science fiction convention in Pasadena, when Jeanne, captivated by Curtis' "really neat" costume, met her husband-to-be. By Saturday, though, things had changed: They were still in love, all right, but now he was bedecked as an ancient Roman legionnaire, she as a 12th-Century Norman noblewoman.
The San Diego couple's story was among the fabulous tales told during the 42nd annual West Coast Science Fantasy Conference at the Anaheim Marriott, where 2,500 science fiction fans have converged for the 4th of July weekend. Known as Westercon 42, the conference, which closes Tuesday, features books, collectibles, panel discussions, films and paraphernalia devoted to science fiction and fantasy fanatics.
But, as the conference organizers are quick to say, it is the participants, who paid $60 each to attend the four-day affair, who are the real attraction. Driving cars with "Beam Me Up, Scotty" bumper stickers, dressed as fanciful characters from TV or their own imaginations, singing songs about glorious battles from the "Star Wars" movies, the fans professed a universal distaste for the mundane, stifling place they call the "real world."
"They have jobs behind computers all week long," said the conference chairman, Lex Nakashima of Granada Hills. "One weekend a year, they can let loose."
Or, as conference spokesman Mike Frank, 33, put it: "Your typical science fiction fan started out being socially maladjusted. They tend to be slightly overweight and don't dress too well, to be quite honest with you."
The fans search for "imaginary worlds that they can lose themselves in," he said.
Those imaginary worlds run a considerable gamut, from the comfortable fantasies produced by Hollywood studios to a radical overthrow of society itself.
Dawn Hildreth, 23, came dressed in an "Arthurian" costume she made herself from place mats, scraps of fabric and a plastic sword. A San Diego lab technician, Hildreth said she was drawn to fantasy characters because "they have the best of human attributes." She gave examples of her heroes from "Star Wars": "Princess Leia is a tough lady who's soft inside. Obi-wan-Kenobi represents the elderly man who's really wise."
In contrast, Dafydd Ab Hugh has little patience for the George Lucas vision of the future, which he dismissed as Establishment propaganda that upholds today's unjust status quo.
"A huge proportion of science fiction writers are libertarians or anarchists," said Ab Hugh, 28. "We believe all states are just organized groups of thugs. We don't believe in the social contract."
Ab Hugh, a Los Angeles computer programmer, also writes science fiction stories.
Invited to address a panel entitled "Might Makes Right," Ab Hugh told of his provocative literary mission: "I'm forging a scalpel to thrust through the eyes of society. I want to burn a flag through literature. I want a death threat from the Ayatollah. I want to be censored. We are aiming at the total transformation of society!"
Some participants have more modest goals, though, according to Jeanne Clason, the 28-year-old tax auditor who married the Klingon.
"There's a lot of people who come to 'cons' (as these people call conventions) and try to pick up people who are wearing sexy costumes," she said, adding that she was wearing a "Lt. Uhura-style" miniskirt when she met Curtis.
Westercon chairman Nakashima, an aspiring movie producer, complained that media portrayals of science fiction fans have been uncomplimentary. "It's easy to make fun of it, because it looks strange," he said.
Conference participants, he said, are just like enthusiasts of other stripes: "Not everyone likes the Dodgers."
Well, maybe. Scott Jordan, 22, an aspiring special-effects technician, had driven down from Seattle in a battered Ford Torino, decorated with bumper stickers that warned: "Tailgaters Will Be Terminated" and "Don't Mess With a Dragon."
"The characters these people play in the convention halls are the characters they truly are inside," he said. "When they deal with society-- that's when they're acting."