Often stigmatized by outsiders and even casual fans as the domain of geeky males who refuse to grow up, science fiction is undergoing something of an image overhaul these days. If this weekend's Astronomicon convention is any indication, the genre is beginning to show signs of a shift toward a more feminine perspective. In fact, this particular convention celebrates the contribution of women to sci-fi in its various forms.
As a society, we can only hope to be moving at warp-speed away from deep-set notions like "girls aren't good at math," so it was only a matter of time before art caught up. KevenDiVico, one of the event's organizers, expects that featured guests such as painter Julie Bell (whose artwork is reprinted above), astrophysicist/author Catherine Asaro, and feminist/alternate history-themed author Pamela Sargent can not only serve as examples for young women in the audience, but also share tips for those interested in pursuing similar career paths and expanding the form in their own way.
On a more general level, DiVico would like to see science fiction cross more demographic barriers. As he runs through Astronomicon's three-day schedule --- which also features hands-on workshops, a presentation on young adult literature, and a tournament competition on DDR, a video game where you dance on touch-sensitive pads --- it's clear that he isn't aiming this event strictly at genre loyalists and wants very much for families to feel welcome.
"Science fiction pervades everything we do," says DiVico, who owns a gaming company locally named Laughing Pan Productions. He points out sci-fi's roots in the classic literature of H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, and, of course, Mary Shelley, but also stresses its broader implications for the human condition: "It gives us entertainment and escapism," he says, "but also allows us to pose 'what if?' before we get into trouble. Perhaps our moral and ethical growth isn't occurring as rapidly as technology is developing."
Of course, old stereotypes die hard, and no sci-fi convention would be complete without a borderline-obsessive focus on Star Trek. This year's "Fan Guest of Honor" is Bjo Trimble, who, as DiVico explains, started the very first letter-writing campaign to get the series back on the air. A "wake" is also scheduled as a vehicle for panel debate on whether the Star Trek franchise should be put to rest in light of ambivalent comments William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy made to the press recently about the show's 40th anniversary.
Astronomicon takes place Friday, November 10, through Sunday, November 12, at the Clarion Riverside Hotel, 120 East Main Street. For more info check out www.astronomicon.info.