UPFRONT-Sci-Fi Fantasy

In Williamsburg, the attendees of MarsCon 2011 come together to bring imagination to life.

Every January I take a vacation to my imagination. I'm actually in Williamsburg, but I'm not there for the traditional historical tour, which I normally love. I'm there for MarsCon, a three-day science fiction and fantasy convention hosted at the Holiday Inn Patriot.

When I was a kid, I was really into Star Wars and Star Trek. So much so that at the old Pembroke Mall theaters, I ran into a Star Trek club called Starfleet Atlantic, and as a curious 11-year-old, I joined them. At their meetings, they kept talking about the "cons" they went to. So, at 12, I went to one, too.

I met a lot of great people and many actors, artists and writers and soon realized that most of the attendees were a lot more knowledgeable than I was. I had a lot of other interests, and the writing I was beginning was mainstream, not sci-fi, but regardless, I loved going to the local conventions.

One day, I asked my parents if I could try running a convention myself. They were a bit masochistic, so they smiled and said yes. From age 13 till I went to college, I chaired a few conventions, bringing in actors from Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica as well as nationally known writers and artists. The conferences were fun to organize and fun to attend, but once I started college, my interests shifted to other things.

When I moved back to Hampton Roads, I heard about MarsCon, which began as a time for those who ran the other local cons to relax with their friends. Over the years, the other conventions faded away, but MarsCon continued and grew larger. Now, several well-known authors and artists headline a group of dozens of established special guests.

I have been at guest at MarsCon, too, leading several poetry workshops and being part of several workshops for aspiring fiction writers. A few years ago, I began hosting an open mic in the hotel bar on Saturday afternoons, and now that event has grown to be an amazing time featuring the talent of all the convention attendees and some of the special guests, too. Last year, local folk musician Bob Zentz played, followed by a woman who was trying her first stab at standup comedy, followed by some pre-teens doing a skit, followed by a man reading poetry …

The convention is a great time for everyone. There are gaming rooms that host dozens of role playing and war games. There are live action games for those who want to pretend to be vampires or werewolves for a weekend. Each evening brings plenty of entertainment: belly dancers, Irish folk musicians, comedians and more. A lot of people don costumes (several costume contests are held during the convention). And the good folks from the Rocky Horror shows at the NARO theater screen the film as well as host a great party.

Well-known authors host panels, presentations and autograph sessions. This year's featured writer is New York Times bestseller Jim Butcher, along with his wife—award-winning author Shannon Butcher. There's time to share ideas with well-known science fiction artists and comic book artists and authors, space scientists, publishers and game designers.

I enjoy browsing the massive dealers' room, where you can buy just about any collectible related to science fiction and fantasy as well as fossils, costumes, and my favorite: giant microbe stuffed animals. (Last year, I gave my mother Ebola for her birthday.)

But the real pleasure for me at MarsCon is the people who call it a home away from home, and I'm not sure I've been around a more friendly, intelligent and fun group of folks. You can get into great conversations about the latest NASA program or the latest Star Trek movie at the drop of a hat, hang out at parties together that are held in the hospitality suite or just relax over a beer with friends.

The people at MarsCon have interests and abilities that may be outside of the mainstream. When they get together, they are all different, but all part of the same idea: have some fun while using your imagination. Everyone is welcome to relax and dream big dreams.

For more information on MarsCon 2011, held Jan 14–16 in Williamsburg, visit www.marscon.net.