Out of this world: Chattacon 36 draws thousands

Out of this world: Chattacon 36 draws thousands

January 23rd, 2011 by Kate Belz in News

Rachel Grove, 13, plays the monkey and her father, Doug, plays an organ grinder, background, while Katie Pickett, right, looks on. The trio were part of a workshop on "steampunk" costumes, a fashion that combines Victorian-era clothing with steam engine-inspired gadgetry. Science fiction and fantasy enthusiasts attended Chattacon at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo on Saturday.

Rachel Grove, 13, plays the monkey and her...

Depending on the science fiction or fantasy movies you watch, you may enter medieval realms, a planet on the fringes of an asteroid belt or a post-apocalyptic wasteland ravaged by zombies.

But rarely do you get to see a fairy, an alien and a zombie sitting around sipping beers, deep in argument about the space-time continuum.

That's what makes Chattanooga's annual science fiction/fantasy convention, Chattacon, stranger - and better - than fiction, longtime attendees say.

"You can find your tribe here, whatever aspect of the 'nonreal world' you may be into," said K.C. Charland, who is the head of games at the convention. "It's about shameless imagination and geekery here."

This year's three-day convention, in its 36th year, brought more than a thousand fans from all over the nation to the Chattanooga Choo Choo. The event raises money for a nonprofit, Chattanooga Speculative Fiction Fans, which promotes literacy.

"Its really a midsize con [conference]," said Charland, who has been coming to Chattacon for 23 years. "But people love it because they can get to meet authors and get to see people they've known for years."

The convention features seminars hosted by science fiction authors, illustrators, moviemakers, costumers and dozens of other specialists. It provides a forum to tease out questions many of their neighbors and co-workers might dismiss.

This year's featured panels included: "Are zombies the new vampires?" "How is the price of gold affecting the modern dragon?" and "Why isn't the future what it used to be?"

No matter what the interest, faithful attendees say the conventions are like family reunions.

"You will see that the most loyal friendships develop here. We've watched each other's children grow up," said Robert Bunn, of Cedartown, Ga., who has overseen games at cons for 16 years.

"I get to be around geeks," said 12-year-old Simon Crowell, a "self-proclaimed geek" from Athens, Ala. "There's very few people where I'm from who share my interests."

Simon goes to cons with his parents and enjoys the gaming.

"I'd say its pretty much equal to Christmas for me," he said.

Charland, human resources director at Miller Industries in Ooltewah, Tenn., said that however much they may love fantasy, many Chattacon attendees are plugged in and successful in the "real world."

"Geeks are no longer just people playing Dungeons & Dragons in their mothers' basements," she said. "We've got doctors, engineers, nuclear physicists here."

Bunn, who is a political consultant for the Democratic National Committee, says being a geek is now an asset.

"Yesterday's geeks are today's bosses. There's an open-mindedness and imagination that allows you to see beyond your cubicle. While we're here, we get to think about the impossible becoming possible."

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