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A Weird and Warped Look Into the Future

CYBERCULTURE | THE SCENE / ANAHEIM

September 02, 1996|AMY HARMON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

--It's a fascinating new approach to interstellar time travel.

--Now, that's not the one that requires an infinitely long cylinder, is it?

--No! All this requires is a wormhole. Really.

The warp factor at the 54th World Science Fiction Convention in Anaheim over the weekend exceeded all previous records set by Star Trek's venerable starship Enterprise, but the 6,000 attendees didn't seem to notice.

That's because the one thing the motley collection of tax lawyers, telemarketers, computer programmers and astrophysicists gathered here share is an affinity for hurtling through alternative realities at faster-than-light speeds. And a willingness to pay $150 a head once a year to do it together.

The annual conventions, organized and financed entirely by science-fiction fans, serve as a place for devotees of the genre to party, meet the writers who are their heroes and talk, incessantly, about the future.

The pervasive ideology is a reverence for the weird.

Fur is big. (Witness the overflow session on Furgonomics: "Just what would a chair look like if you had a tail?").

Costumes are good. Imperial storm troopers mingle with Star Fleet commanders, satyrs argue the finer points of nanotechnology with that science-fiction staple, babes in leather. Boundaries of discrete fictions are blurred, heightening the sense of the surreal--always a plus.

But in between ice cream socials and Jell-o parties (lime Margarita effortlessly defended itself against cherry Coca-Cola), there is also sincere discussion: about the sudden broadened popular appeal of the genre, about the generation gap dividing the world of sci-fi fandom, and about technology and its impact on the future.

This last is an especially pressing concern as the technological revolution accelerates and many of science fiction's imaginings come true. Although the genre is dismissed by much mainstream literary and film criticism as adolescent and cultish, much of science fiction takes quite seriously its role as a peephole into possible futures by way of today's reality.

Sporting "your basic intergalactic trader outfit," Susan Ferer, 36, who is employed at a Los Angeles-based satellite firm, says she comes here to find like-minded people with whom to share her concerns.

"The people I work with don't see the broader implications of what we're doing," Ferer says. "Here people take it for granted that we should think about the effect technology is having on us and how we can prepare for it."

"Science fiction has always helped us to imagine ways to deal with the opportunities of technology, including the incredible power to make wrong choices," says Mike Glyer of Sierra Madre, who works in the appeals office of the IRS and organized the convention in his spare time. "And lately that's become more relevant to a lot more people."

Amy Harmon covers technology and cyberspace for the Los Angeles Times. She can be reached at amy.harmon@latimes.com. The gathering at the Anaheim Convention Center ends this afternoon.

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