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Science Fiction’s Family Reunion

A trip to Balticon is like cozying up to the bar at a Star Wars cantina

Science fiction fans love technology, so it’s no surprise that they stay in touch with each other using Twitter, Facebook and Skype. But they also enjoy getting together in person. One of the biggest destinations is just around the corner: Balticon, the annual convention of the venerable Baltimore Science Fiction Society.
    Every Memorial Day weekend for 46 years, Balticon has hosted the luminaries of science fiction: Isaac Asimov, Neil Gaiman, Anne McCaffrey, Ben Bova and more. Thousands of fans from around the country and the world meet in the flesh to talk, drink, share stories, play games, swap ideas, buy books and collectibles and pull wickedly imaginative pranks.
    Walk through Balticon’s bustling dealers’ room, and you can strike up a conversation with Syntheia Finklepott and Montague of SteamPunkFunk, whose elaborate costumes blend Victorian elegance with Jules Verne-inspired gadgetry. Or with Brian Koscienski and Chris Pisano, the publishers of Drunken Comic Book Monkeys Volume 3: Scary Tales of Scariness.
    Broad imagination and deep knowledge invigorate dozens of panel sessions, featuring topics ranging from how to improve your knitting to how to write believable alien sex scenes. Other attractions include costume balls, role-playing games, readings, autograph sessions and live music.
    When you finally need a break from all of this activity (and in four days, you certainly will at some point), you can head down to the video rooms to watch movies current and classic, short films like Job Interview with a Vampire and Hambusters and episodes of classic science fiction shows like Star Trek and Doctor Who.
    The main activity at Balticon, however, is conversation. Fans are a friendly species, eager to meet new people and to renew acquaintance with old friends. Indeed, they make no distinction between the two.
    Last year, Gary Lester and I convened at Balticon, in part to promote our new science fiction website Channel 37. There we befriended Zach Ricks, an attorney from Texas, and Scott Roche, a computer technician from North Carolina, the co-founders of the science fiction magazine Flagship.
    Scott in turn introduced us to a legend of science fiction podcasting, Nathan Lowell. Lowell’s book, Full Share, came within a whisker of cracking the Amazon Top 100 in sales — astonishing because he’s published not by one of the big New York houses but by small Ridan Publishing. The superstar chatted with us as if we were old pals — instead of star-struck fan-boys.
    Early on, I struck up a conversation with an older fellow wearing a beat-up badge reading Balticon 9, 1975. Bill ‘Scratch’ Bachrach describes himself as a professional fan. He’s been going to conventions for as long as I’ve been alive. Scratch is an unshakable optimist. Echoing the sentiments of an earlier generation, he is convinced — downright determined, actually — that he will not die on this planet.
    I asked Scratch whether, in this age of instant communication, science fiction conventions will eventually whither away. No, he said. “Conventions are where introverts can be extroverted.”

May 25-28 at Marriott Hunt Valley Inn: $62: 410-785-7000; www.balticon.org.