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Science Fiction's Convention of the Unconventional

Aficionados discuss concepts, creative writing, characters -- and costumes.

August 27, 2006|Christopher Goffard | Times Staff Writer

When you feel the overwhelming impulse to don your Jedi Knight robes, speak Klingon or debate Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics, it's good to be among people who understand.

The rest of the year they're clerks and bankers and office workers, wary of ridicule. But for the 6,000 or so fans expected to make the trek, the 64th-annual World Science Fiction Convention, which began last week and concludes today, is a harbor for like-minded souls.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday August 31, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 38 words Type of Material: Correction
Sci fi convention: A caption in Sunday's California section described an attendee at the World Science Fiction Convention, David Rose, as being dressed as Flash Gordon. Rose was dressed as the film and comic strip character's enemy, Ming.

"I find the mundane world, after a while, is just a little too tiring," said Greg Dienhart, 42, a customer service representative for a warranty company who strolled the Anaheim Convention Center on Saturday in the black robes of a Hogwarts professor from the "Harry Potter" books.

"The mundane world looks at us and our outfits and thinks we're weird, yet guys will go out in the freezing rain and paint themselves blue and orange for a football game." He added, "Yeah, I'm the weird one."

This year there were appearances by many of the genre's best-known writers, as well as an exhibit of the 1960s Batmobile and a replica of the Mars Exploration Rover.

Harlan Ellison, 72, one of the field's most celebrated writers, described the convention as the "rampant, obsessed ego-fest of the world of fantastic literature."

There were panels on global warming, genetic modification, the TV show "Lost" and legal systems of the future.

There were also memorials to two of the convention's guests of honor -- Howard DeVore, a longtime fan, and Frankie Thomas, star of the "Tom Corbett, Space Cadet" television series, who died in May.

"I'm going to be 39 years old in a month, and I love playing dress-up," said Randi Tinkham, a museum textile conservator from Santa Fe, N.M., who wore a self-made Pirate Queen costume with a gold-lame veil, a quilted petticoat and a skull-and-crossbones choker. "These are my people. It's a safe environment where you can explore your geekiness."

Though weaponry is a staple of many costumes, organizers discourage participants from bringing realistic-looking guns. "It's a bit of a downer," said Dienhart. "There were 200 or 300 Storm Troopers who felt bereft of a weapon yesterday. Before 9/11, you could wear what you wanted as long as you didn't brandish it in a threatening fashion."

Longtime convention-goers say the event is drawing an increasingly older crowd, with many of the same visitors showing up year after year.

"The really young kids, with the Internet and MySpace, basically don't develop the affinity for reading that leads to wanting to go among other readers and share experiences," said writer Robert Silverberg, 71, well-known in the field.

He has been attending the convention since the early 1950s, an era before "Star Wars" and "Star Trek" when it drew just a few hundred people and focused on the written word.

Then, the genre was "largely the province of socially maladjusted teenage boys," Silverberg said. "People looked at you strangely if you carried a science fiction magazine around. Now it's mainstream stuff."

Blogs and chat rooms have made such gatherings irrelevant to some: Finding fan communities is now just a mouse-click away. But for many fans, face-to-face camaraderie remains a powerful pull.

"There is a quantitative loneliness in their existence," Ellison said, "because they have separated themselves from the American Idol generation."

Added Silverberg: "There are a lot of awkward, ungainly, unhappy people who come to meet other awkward, ungainly, unhappy people. These people, who are misfits in their real-world lives, come where they find acceptance."

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