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At Balticon, it's all about science fiction and fantasy

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Jonette Butler wants something understood: Balticon is not a comic book convention.

"It's nothing like a comic book convention," said the chairwoman of this weekend's Balticon 45, which started Thursday and will run nearly continuously through 4 p.m. Monday at the Marriott in Hunt Valley. Pausing a moment for effect, Butler then adds mischievously, "and it's everything like a comic book convention."

What she probably means is that Balticon, like any good fan convention (be it dedicated to comic books, "Star Trek" or Civil War memorabilia), brings together people of similar tastes for a full-psyche immersion in their preferred field.

What she means is that Balticon, for nearly half a century the area's No. 1 gathering of science fiction, fantasy and horror devotees, will be awash in the fantastic, the otherworldly and the mind-stretchingly amazing. What she means is that Balticon is a place where no one need apologize for being a fan of the unbelievable.

But it will not be a forum for comic-book collectors and will not be overrun by people in Spider-Man costumes. Adam West, William Shatner and Lindsay Wagner will not be signing autographs for hefty fees. And the topics will be equal parts pop culture and science, the realms of make-believe and hard-to-believe.

The emphasis, she promises, will be on the written word, even if it's not accompanied by a splash panel showing the Norse god of thunder in immortal combat against forces looking to take over the Earth.

"Balticon is a literary convention," said Butler, who first checked out the convention back in the 1970s and has been a steady visitor for the past decade. "The goal is to promote and enable reading, especially books in the science fiction, fantasy and horror genres. … Whether their interest is in costumes or reading or writing or anime, theater, music — we have it all."

The convention program, a "pocket" version of which runs for more than 50 pages, includes 14 "program tracks," touching on such subjects as science, music, anime, filmmaking, art, dance, gaming, video and new media.

The schedule includes dozens of workshops, panel discussions, lectures, awards presentations and readings. And the guest list has well over 100 names — including the guest of honor, science-fiction impresario Ben Bova, whose career goes back more than 50 years; artist guest of honor Vincent Di Fate, a much-acclaimed fantasy and sci-fi illustrator; and special guest Steve Geppi, the man behind Geppi's Entertainment Museum at Camden Yards and the publisher of Baltimore Magazine.

There will also be a dealers' room, filled with books, collectibles and all manner of sci-fi goods. Film fans can enjoy a short-film festival set for 7 p.m. Sunday, featuring entries from the U.S., Australia, France and Spain, or opt for the world premiere of the feature film "Ninjas vs. Vampires," from the same twisted kinds responsible for the cult favorite "Ninjas vs. Aliens," set for 9 p.m. Friday. There's a masquerade ball at 9 p.m. Saturday, a hula hoop jam at midnight Sunday and concerts featuring music guests of honor Bill and Brenda Sutton at 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. Monday.

"You can totally lose yourself here for the weekend," Butler promises.

Just about everything, she stresses, is family-friendly. "There are a lot of sci-fi conventions that do a lot of heavily adult-oriented stuff, but we have very carefully steered clear of that," Butler said. "We feel very strongly about promoting youth literacy."

But perhaps best of all, Butler notes, is the chance to listen to, speak with and maybe even have a personal moment or two with the convention's guests.

"We have author readings, where people are in a pretty small group — in some cases, 30 or fewer people — and there will be lots of time for a question-and-answer period. And then we have these Kaffeeklatsches, a time to sit down and have a nosh and talk to your favorite author.

"Of course," Butler adds, "our guests are going to be in the hallways, going back and forth. You might turn and find that one of the guests of honor is sitting next to you in the audience."

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

If you go

Balticon 45 runs through 4 p.m. Monday at Marriott's Hunt Valley Inn, 245 Shawan Road. Weekend passes are $62; $31 for kids. Daily admission ranges from $8-$48. Go to balticon.org

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