Shortly after 2:30 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, a small conference room in the basement of the LAX Marriott filled to the brim. The science fiction fans attending this year's Loscon crowded together in tightly packed seats for a discussion of the life and work of Philip K. Dick led by noted authors Tim Powers (The Anubis Gates) and Jerry Pournelle.
Dick, who died in 1982, is one of the most easily recognizable names in science fiction. His novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was adapted for the big screen as Blade Runner. Films like Total Recall, Minority Report and A Scanner Darkly are also based on his work. But we weren't in this room for a discussion of film. Inside the panel, the focus was literature.
Powers, a long-time friend of Dick, gave some interesting insight into the famed author. According to Powers, Dick wrote fast and changed his opinions on the theologies that informed his stories almost as quickly. Dick also subscribed to the "first draft is the final draft" school, Powers says, which made his books a "snapshot" of his views at the time of writing.
This was an intimate discussion, one in which fans could ask questions without having to line up early on in the session. It was the sort of panel that makes Loscon stand out from many larger events.
"We like to have our guests get up close and personal with the fans," says Arlene Satin, chairman of the annual fan-run convention.
Loscon is a weekend-long fundraiser for the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society (LASFS), a club that holds the honor of being the oldest sci-fi group in existence. Fred Patten, historian of LASFS, has documented the history of the organization back to the fan communities of the 1930s, which you can read on the group's website. What you need to about LASFS, though, is that they have a clubhouse in Van Nuys where they meet Thursday evenings and count authors working in the genre amongst their members. Plus, their long-running, Thanksgiving weekend convention is certainly a huge influence on the conventions that regularly take place in L.A.
Satin says that the recent economic downturn has meant fewer people at Loscon, but, she adds, they're still pulling in about 1000 bodies for the event. It is, she says, ultimately a "literary convention," but the activities here go far beyond reading and discussing books.
At Loscon, you'll find a lot of the same elements you'll see at other smaller, fan friendly conventions. There are screening rooms showcasing anime and science films. There is a dealer hall where you can find everything from zine-styled sci-fi publications (I picked up a few of those) to costumes. There are tables filled with information on upcoming conventions.
Loscon also boasts an art show, similar to the one I saw at Dragon*Con last summer, featuring work from both professionals and hobbyists and representing a wide range of media. There's a library stocked with sci-fi titles. They have a room dedicated to filk music -- songs frequently based on sci-fi and fantasy stories -- that runs all night. I checked out an afternoon concert from Allison Lonsdale and Eben Brooks. They played to a fairly full room and sang songs inspired by Robert Anton Wilson, vampires, drunk Klingons and the serial killer convention in The Sandman. Brooks also led a rousing parody of Plain White T's hit single, "Hey There, Delilah." His version is called "Hey There, Cthulhu" and had the crowd cheering.
One of the highlights of Loscon was a new feature, "Make Room! Make Room!" This is a room dedicated to L.A.'s community of makers, including people from hackspaces like Crash Space in Culver City. Here, you could learn about homebrewed beer, robots and rockets.
Tim Trzepacz is one of the people behind Loscon's makers' room. He's a video game developer whose program Rhythm Core Alpha allows people to make music with a Nintendo DSi. He also recently started up Developer's Interest Group ("a group that's so uncool that only the cool people would show up," he says) that hosts monthly gatherings at LASFS's clubhouse. Trzepacz says that the DIY project scene fits well with science fiction conventions. This much is obvious when you see Melvis, a human-like robot made in part from an animatronic Elvis Presley bust and put together by Thomas Messerchmidt and Tim Lewis.
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When I was talking to Satin, two young boys interjected and said that they were "fourth-generation" sci-fi fans. To hear that kids who were most likely still in grade school have been introduced to this fandom is heartwarming. It's not out-of-the-ordinary to say that books can inspire people to do really cool things, but at Loscon, that sentiment is immediate obvious. From DIY projects to songs, the love of science fiction literature is everywhere at Loscon. It will be amazing to see what the young generation will do with their love of the genre.