The last thing anyone does at a science fiction convention is read science fiction.
If you're sort of stodgy, you can talk about science fiction. But if you're like most convention guests, you'll try to be science fiction.
Samantha Nocera, 20, of Pittsburgh, wore low-cut, hand-hammered copper breast plates to Unicon 10 at the Sheraton Inn Washington-Northwest in Silver Spring. And her copper bikini is modeled after a character in her own novel "The Unwilling Hero," which she is writing.
She said she found the convention great fun. "I like riding up and down in the elevator and howling at 4 a.m. We had an elevator party," she said. "It's 'Oh ho ho, Sam, you're so funny,' instead of 'Get away, swamp rat.' "
Some of the estimated 950 convention-goers don't write or even read science fiction. "We have people who don't read. We have people who watch TV and wear capes and tennis shoes and make fools of themselves," said convention art show director Joe Mayhew, 34, who has attended science fiction conventions since 1960.
Mayhew said a hotel representative told him the Unicon group compares pretty favorably with other convention groups. "He said, 'You look kind of funny but you don't set fire to the furniture,' " said Mayhew.
However, somewhere along the line, some people did kick in a window in the lobby, discharge fire extinguishers, break a glass table, sleep in the meeting rooms and make a lot of noise late at night, according to Unicon's hotel liaison Clinton Winchester.
The guest of honor, Michael Shea, a fantasy writer from California, has some gloomy words on why people misbehave. "We're all meat, monkey meat, and in the hands of the wrong monks, we're dead meat . . . You read about Charles Manson and other dark monsters and you realize the Devil is with us, very much." (Actually, the Devil was up on the fifth floor, easily identifiable by his red shorts and red shirt.)
Shea told his audience of about 50 that science fiction and fantasy should be more than escapism. "I read it to have fun, and I write it to have fun, but fun can and ought to be chewing on the real problems as well." Shea paid no attention to the sound of howling out in the hall.
After his lecture, Shea talked patiently with one hard-core fan, who got him to sign seven books, two Unicon programs and three index cards. "It seemed like sort of a harmless neurosis. I thought it was kind of funny."
Sometimes conventioneers didn't attend any events. The gamemasters of Reklone 3 scarcely stepped out of their fifth-floor hotel room all Saturday. They missed the whole convention. They missed the panels with science fiction writers and reviewers expounding on James Joyce, Joseph Conrad and Thomas Wolfe. They missed the bad movies ("The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao" and "The Lost Missile"). They missed the masquerade. They missed the pictures of unicorns and satyrs and dragons at the art show. They missed the dealers' room, where people sold plastic Godzilla monsters and chain-mail headpieces and stuffed duckbill dragopuses and science fiction buttons, books, comic books and T-shirts.
"We're not FIAWOLs," said gamemaster Amy Lindsey of Fairfax. "That stands for Fandom Is A Way of Life. They, like, go from con to con and are covered with buttons and can recite you every line of '2001.' "
In the game scenario, all 74 players were time travelers summoned to fix a hole in time. Each was given a duty to perform, usually involving getting information or items from other characters. By mid-Saturday, the game was progressing well. "The two people who are trying to revive Adolf Hitler as a vampire just bought a magic spell to do it by selling their souls to the Devil," explained gamemaster Nina Sur.
"This is all top-secret stuff, by the way."
Outside, Reklone character "Irene Finkelmeyer" (Elisabeth Kovar of Bethesda) had to leave. "I'm supposed to meet the followers of Fred at 4," she said, adjusting her flowing green top, pinned with a silver brooch. (Fred is "the one god, the true god, the fun god.")
Andrew Looney, a computer science major at the University of Maryland, spent about six months writing most of the script and the character descriptions for Reklone 3. "We made up the Church of the Second Coming of Fred. I was a little bit worried about offending someone," said Looney, who sings in the choir at the Ager Road United Methodist Church.
Across the hall, members of Boy Scout Troop 223, who spent three days on a bus to get to Washington, D.C., from Nebraska, planned their next day's sightseeing. Doug Bailey, an Eagle Scout from Hastings, Neb., said he thinks the people at the convention are "different."
"I was walking down the hall and somebody asked me who I was supposed to be," said Bailey, who wore a neatly ironed Scout uniform.
"I think they thought I was a space cadet."