Multiple choice time: For the Memorial Day weekend, you can:
(a) Flip burgers, or
(b) Listen to a keynote address by a Nobel Prize winner.
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It’s not a trick question. This year’s Balticon, the annual convention of all things sci-fi and fantasy, includes an appearance by Dr. William D. Phillips who was part of a team that did groundbreaking work on development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light.” That work, in 1997, saw Phillips and his colleagues awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics.
Even for Balticon, which has attracted nationally known speakers, it’s a coup to have a Science Guest of Honor of this caliber.
“It’s an great accomplishment,” says Dale Arnold, spokesperson for the Baltimore Science Fiction Society (or BSFS forw short), which sponsors Balticon each year. The Highlandtown-based group will hold the event over the Memorial Day weekend (Friday, May 25-Monday, May 28) at Marriott’s Hunt Inn.
For years, Balticon was held in the city, but it gradually outgrew the space available and moved to the county. BSFS continues to hold its regular activities, including membership meetings, book discussion groups and even planning meetings for Balticon, at itsHighlandtown headquarters. (More about those activities later).
Dr. Phillips isn’t the only honored speaker at the con. This year’s Guest of Honor is author Jody Lynn Nye, who wrote “View from the Imperium” and “A Forthcoming Wizard.” Nye is the co-author of works such as “Dragon’s Den,” “Myth-Fortunes” and “Myth-Chief,” with Robert Aspirin. Aspirin, who died in 2008, is this year’s Balticon “Ghost of Honor.”
Other notable appearances will be made by Jim Odbert (Balticon’s Artist Guest of Honor) and Heather Dale and Ben Deschamps (Music/Filk Guests of Honor).
The meeting also includes 24-hour programming that includes authors, publishers, editors, artists, musicians, scientists and more. An art show, concerts, computer room, gaming room and other attractions will also be featured.
“We have over 300 hours of programming,” says Arnold, noting the wide range of different subjects to be covered in sessions.
“We have an entire track of programming for kids, science programming, literary, sci-fi, fantasy —” he breaks off, laughing. “It’s like a seven-ring circus.”
If you think sci-fi and social life are mutually exclusive, think again. Special events at Balticon include a steampunk ball, medieval dance and the Balticon Masquerade, easily one of the most popular events of the con. The Balticon Sunday Night Short Film Festival is also expected to draw strong attendance.
Live Action Role Playing (LARP) will be offered throughout the conference. Don’t understand LARP? It’s an ongoing, improvisational form of acting that involves acting out roles of various fictional characters. The LARP will run throughout the meeting. A scenario is presented to all registered players, who take it from there.
Last year, Balticon attracted over 1,800 participants.
Over the years BSFS has expanded its offerings. From its Highlandtown headquarters at 3310 E. Baltimore Street (a former theater that maintains its sloped floors), it holds regular membership meetings, offers a lending library, holds book groups and book crits, hosts social gatherings of all types, and circulates an e-newsletter to keep members apprised of goings-on within and without the organization. (Details: BSFS, www.bsfs.org; the Balticon website is www.balticon.org).
“We have something for everyone, as long as it’s related to sci-fi,” says Arnold.
by Mary Helen Sprecher