Shore Leave offers sci-fi pleasures way beyond 'Star Trek'

Ed Toton, of Virginia, dressed as a Jedi, showcased his R2T0 robot at the 32nd annual Shore Leave science fiction convention. The event returns this weekend in Hunt Valley.
Ed Toton, of Virginia, dressed as a Jedi, showcased his R2T0 robot at the 32nd annual Shore Leave science fiction convention. The event returns this weekend in Hunt Valley.(Colby Ware, BALTIMORE SUN)

If getting arrested and spending some time in a Klingon jail is your idea of a good time, then don't miss this weekend's Shore Leave 33. It could be the place your dream comes true.

"People love it," says Michael Schilling, a spokesman for the three-day science-fiction and fantasy convention opening Friday in Hunt Valley. "People get arrested by Klingons in full costume, they throw you in jail. I think they do things like sing the 'Barney' song to torture you."

Sounds painful. But it's just one of the ways visitors can enjoy themselves at Shore Leave, now well into its fourth decade of providing a place where sci-fi and fantasy fans can unself-consciously get their geek on. And while the convention got its name from an episode of "Star Trek," in which crew members of the Enterprise found themselves on a planet where both their greatest fears and most welcome fantasies came true, Shore Leave is not just for Trekkies, or Trekkers, or whatever fans of the show preferred to be called these days.

"We like to offer a little something for everyone's tastes," says Schilling. "Shore Leave used to be basically a 'Star Trek' convention, but we like to call it a media and science-fiction convention now. Unlike years ago, when it was just mainly 'Star Trek,' there are so many options these days with the proliferation of cable and pay-per-view and satellite and such."

Certainly, the guest list for this year's convention extends well beyond the USS Enterprise. In fact, only two guests have a connection to the original TV series: actors Gary Lockwood and Sally Kellerman, who appeared together in a first-season episode called "Where No Man Has Gone Before" (about a crew member who gains godlike powers and a godlike ego).

Other actors who will be signing autographs and posing for pictures include John de Lancie (the irrepressible Q from "Star Trek: The Next Generation"), Christopher Judge ("Stargate SG-1"), Tricia Helfer ("Battlestar Galactica") and Emilie Ullerup ("Sanctuary").

But, Schilling emphasizes, Shore Leave is more than just star sightings. In fact, he says, the bigger attraction may be the camaraderie, the experience of talking fantasy and sci-fi with a few hundred people who feel just as passionate about the genre as you do.

""The real joy of it is to see all these folks, to see some old friends, hopefully make some new ones, get caught up," he says. "When you're younger, you may go to a convention simply to see the stars — you might be an autograph hound. But as you get older, your tastes start to change a little bit, and you may find yourself enjoying the company more than just seeing the celebrities."

And the chances for fun outside the realm of celebrity are plenty. There's a gaming room and a film festival running throughout much of the weekend. A dealers' room includes vendors offering all sorts of collectibles and other memorabilia. And there's a near-continuous schedule of round-table discussions touching on nearly every subject, from whether Capt. Janeway of "Star Trek: Voyager" should be brought back to life after being killed off in a 2007 novel (5 p.m. Saturday) to "NASA Priorities for Future Solar System Exploration" (noon Sunday).

And then there's Saturday's Klingon jail, where (for a fee) you can have someone incarcerated and (for another fee) they can get released. The money all goes to charity.

Try it, Schilling suggests to the uninitiated. You just might like it.

"Science fiction, fantasy and, especially, conventions have a certain, shall we say, negative connotation to a lot of people," he explains. "People look at that and go, 'The Trekkies are in town, all the nut cases. Look at all those weirdos with the pointy ears.'

"But there are so many different things to do. You're going to find yourself going there and saying, 'Really, this ain't bad. This is actually a fun time.'"


If you go

Shore Leave 33 runs 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday at Marriott's Hunt Valley Inn, 245 Shawan Road. Weekend registration is $20-$85; day passes are available for $30-$60. Information: 410-701-0669 or shore-leave.com.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun