Science fiction, fantasy CONverge

More than 2,300 people attended the science fiction and fantasy event.

In a hotel hallway last weekend, Klingons discovered the shortest distance between a vintage video game party and a space lounge lays just past the sexy 20-something woman in the red duct-tape dress.

Though the party might seem strange to some, University students and employees enjoyed their love of science fiction and fantasy at CONvergence 2005.

More than 2,300 people showed up to the weekend-long event this year, enjoying room parties, panel discussions, art galleries, live performances and the weekend highlight, masquerade.

“The diversity and creativity are CONvergence’s main attractions,” said former University student Jeff Sherman, whose band Telephone! played Friday night on the mainstage. “You’ve got hardcore dress-up Klingons in one corner and then you’ve got places like the space lounge, where people are offering a very cool, interactive multimedia experience.”

This year’s special guests were equally diverse, including University physics professor Dr. Jim Kakalios, who gave a talk on the science of superheroes.

CONvergence history

“It’s almost mythology at this point,” said Windy Bowlsby, CONvergence’s director of communications, who helped start the first CONvergence in 1999.

Bowlsby said CONvergence grew out of a longstanding science fiction convention called Minicon, which drew crowds as large as 3,500 people. When the event scaled back and retuned to its literature and science fiction roots in the late 1990s, it caused uproar within the community, she said.

“They decided to do away with the masquerade, the art gallery, the room parties. People felt like they were getting kicked out – like they didn’t have a convention anymore,” Bowlsby said. “That’s why we decided to have a convention that allows every different expression of fandom that you can think of.”

CONvergence is different from other science fiction and fantasy conventions in that it is run completely by volunteers and enthusiasts ñ- not by a large business, Bowlsby said.

A seven-member board organizes the event and 700 volunteers oversee all aspects of the event programming, lighting, sound, promotion, security and hospitality.

Room parties

On Thursday afternoon before CONvergence began, University Supercomputing Institute employees Bridget Kromhout and Samantha Thomas and their friends unloaded flooring, wall panels, lights and computer equipment to transform their dull hotel room into Corporate Dystopia, one of the more popular room parties at CONvergence.

“The room was so crowded during video bingo we had people playing out in the hallway. We told them, if you can see the screen, you can play,” Thomas said.

Themed room parties are a big attraction at CONvergence and sometimes costs thousands of dollars. Room-party groups not only front the cost for poolside cabanas, but often provide free alcohol, food and prizes to attract party guests.

“We all have real jobs – we thought we could throw a real big party,” said University alumnus Joe Laha, who helped run Dystopia. “This was our cheapest year, we spent $3,000. Last year we spent about $4,200.”

Other room parties included Vice City, which sported a dozen television sets and vintage video games, and the House of Toast, where the motto is, “Everything is good on toast.”

More than 700 people have preregistered to attend next year’s CONvergence, Bowlsby said.