by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright February 2012
On Thursday February 9th, 2012 Sorensen Student Center at UVU was swirling with bodies. About half were college age men and women, most of the rest were older, up through gray-haired, but there were also plenty of youngsters dashing here and there through the crowd. Most were dressed casually, but one or two youngsters were dressed as fairies and a half dozen as ballroom dancers. (ballroom dancing lessons were going on the floor below)
The happening was LTUE (Life, The Universe, and Everything), an annual science fiction writers convention that is held for three days in February, usually at BYU, but this year at UVU.
This is a report of my observations at this year's event.
LTUE is one of two long-lived science fiction-oriented conventions in the Wasatch Front area. (the other is Conduit held in Salt Lake City in May) This was LTUE's 30th year.
I first started attending science fiction conventions in the late 1970's. At that time I was going because it was another venue for playing Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). The "Trekkie" aspects were only mildly interesting because I considered Star Trek and Star Wars to be space opera and I liked my science fiction hard core.
I attended once or twice, then moved on -- there were more interesting and important things to do in life.
My interest in LTUE renewed briefly in the mid-90's as I got serious about my science fiction writing. I attended panels and learned more of the craft.
Then I got interested LTUE again in 2008 after I returned from my final stay in Korea. I was now a science fiction writer with many stories under my belt, newly published hard copy books, and a distinctive writing style. I was invited to be a speaker, and I jumped on that opportunity. I am now a regular speaker at both Conduit and LTUE.
The people who attend science fiction conventions are excited and enthusiastic about science fiction. They demonstrate that at these gatherings in many ways. The simplest and most abundant is talk, lots of talk about the latest happenings in science fiction books, graphic novels and movies. These days the line between science fiction and fantasy is quite blurred so Harry Potter and Twilight are very much a part of the conversation mix, and "SF" has come to mean "speculative fiction" rather than "science fiction".
This convention culture has a lot of jargon. "Con" meaning a convention, "Trekkie" meaning a person fascinated with Star Trek and Star Wars, "Filk singing" meaning parody folk singing, "Fandom" meaning enthusiasts of a particular writer or franchise, "Fan Fiction" meaning writing stories using an existing franchise world, such as Star Wars, and "Fanzine" meaning a publication centered around such stories. ("franchise" is another jargon word, but from Hollywood, not cons, meaning a series of movies/books centering on a specific "world" or mythology.)
Another popular activity is creating costumes inspired by these various franchises. These get paraded around the halls during the con, and at Conduit there is a costume ball on one of the evenings. Most of these center around the popular franchises: Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter, Twilight and zombies. These days some of the costumes get quite elaborate. Some take weeks to make, and hours to assemble. Yet another popular evening activity is filk singing, mentioned earlier. These are parody folk songs.
During the day attending speaking panels, wandering the halls, and watching movies are popular activities. The movies include a lot of Japanese-inspired anime. Anime is also a popular theme at these cons.
And there is both a huckster room where memorabilia is sold and an art room where aspiring illustrators can show off and sell their stuff.
And finally there are the con organizers. This is a grass-roots group of extra-enthusiastic locals who have regular meetings throughout the year leading up to the con. They arrange facilities and hustle for "Guests of Honor" -- prestigious writers who come to speak at the panels.
(Role-playing gaming is still an activity at Conduit, but D&D itself has transformed over the decades from the "manual" form of the late seventies/early eighties into card game and computer forms nowadays. I don't find either of these new forms particularly interesting, so I haven't attended cons for D&D for thirty years.)
o Compared to other conferences I attend, such as Consumer Electronics Show, these SF cons are heavy on enthusiasm and light on money spent.
o The "imagination" displayed at these cons centers heavily on popular franchises. It seems that familiarity and shared emotions are much more important to attendees than new science and technology concepts.
o In the same vein, lots of urban legend gets heard at these cons. The hard science types are in the minority.
o People of all ages and genders attend these cons, but the racial mix is not as diverse. It's mostly "classic Utah" -- white and Mormon.