The idea behind AlienCon is simple: “To explore the unexplained.”
So says Melissa Anelli, one of the organizers of this weekend’s gathering of those who believe — or are at least open to being persuaded — that aliens visited, and possibly populated, the Earth eons ago. The idea may seem preposterous to some, but organizers are expecting thousands of people to flock to the convention center to share stories, listen to experts, shop for all sorts of alien-themed stuff and (since the weekend is meant to be both illuminating and fun) even party and strut around in all manner of alien costumes.
“The incredible and bright passion that people have for the unexplained — we knew it was out there in the culture, but we didn’t totally grasp the power and the passion of people,” says Anelli, founder and CEO of Mischief Management, a chief organizer (with A+E Networks) of June’s AlienCon, which brought together about 20,000 fans in Pasadena, Calif. “The ancient aliens astronaut theory obviously has ardent supporters.”
Popularized by Erich von Däniken’s 1968 book, “Chariots of the Gods,” the ancient aliens (sometimes referred to as ancient astronauts) theory proposes that extraterrestrials with advanced intellects visited the Earth in prehistoric times. Some adherents maintain they taught humans, and are behind the constructions of such marvels of antiquity as Stonehenge, the pyramids and the gigantic Moai heads on Easter Island. Others believe that the visiting aliens bred with prehistoric humans, and that accounts of their visits have formed the basis for many religions and cultural beliefs.
“AlienCon is going to be a tremendous time for anyone who is interested in finding out about the unknown,” says Giorgio A. Tsoukalos, an expert on ancient astronauts theory and co-executive producer of the History Channel’s “Ancient Aliens: The Series,” a staple of the network since 2010 and the inspiration for AlienCon. “It’s all about a coming together of like-minded people, with which they can exchange information without feeling ridiculed or laughed at.”
Which is not to say, organizers stress, that AlienCon is meant as some sort of academic symposium or for-eggheads-only gathering. There’s a costume contest set for Saturday night, and cosplay will be a theme throughout the weekend.
And while the celebrity guest list includes von Däniken and other experts in the field, it also features a handful of big names from the world of science-fiction television. They include Jenna Coleman of “Doctor Who,” Michael Dorn, who played the Klingon Worf on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” and Robert Picardo, aka The Doctor on “Star Trek: Voyager.”
There’s plenty of overlap, organizers note, between science fiction and ancient aliens theory. AlienCon is happy to exploit and celebrate that connection.
“Let’s face it — ‘Star Wars,’ ‘The Empire Strikes Back,’ ‘Close Encounters,’ ‘Alien,’ all of the big science fiction franchises are based on that whole idea of, ‘What if...’ ” says Kevin Burns, creator and executive producer of “Ancient Aliens” on History. “If there hadn’t been Erich von Däniken’s ‘Chariots of the Gods,’ there wouldn’t be that line at the beginning of ‘Star Wars,’ ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….’ Because what that implies is ancient astronauts theory.”
Adds Jill Tully, vice president of brand licensing for A+E Networks, which includes History, “We go way beyond people who are very curious and want to have serious dialogue, to also fans of current science fiction genres. ‘Star Wars,’ ‘Star Trek’ — they’re all from other worlds and planets. They’re all aliens.”
Russell Morgan, a retired advertising executive from Illinois who attended the Pasadena AlienCon, said he enjoyed both the serious and the not-so-serious side of the convention.
“The best part to me was the ‘Ancient Aliens’ panels,” Morgan, who admits to being in his mid-50s, writes in an email. “It was like being in a LIVE, interactive version of the show. All the presenters were on top of their game, and really delivered.”
Besides, he noted, “The people who showed up in costume just kept me smiling all day.”
Agreed Scott Kelly, a 65-year-old semi-retired precision machinist living about 85 miles east of Pasadena who attended with his wife, “The best part was the panel discussions. ...We did view AlienCon as an opportunity to be involved in serious discussions and to hear the experts’ opinions and viewpoints. And of course we expected to have fun and hang out with other believers.”
Vendor Eddie Sison, who was selling an assortment of “oddities” at his table (skulls, bugs, alien-themed stuff), said AlienCon was a blast. And profitable, too.
“All my high-end stuff was moving,” he wrote in an email. “They brought their wallets, and they weren’t afraid to use it.”
Serious believers, of course, will find no shortage of ways to enjoy AlienCon. Von Däniken, at 83 still active in the field and a frequent guest on “Ancient Aliens,” will be at the center of a golden anniversary forum, “Ancient Aliens: 50 Years of ‘Chariots of the Gods.’ ” A group regression session is scheduled to help people recover their memories of being abducted by aliens and other contact.
A new History series, “Project Blue Book,” based on a 1950s Air Force program that investigated UFO sightings, will be previewed. And panel discussions on everything from “Ancient Aliens: Mysteries of Antarctica” to “The Power of Popularity: A Conversation about Doctor Who and Star Trek” and “Is Artificial Intelligence An Existential Threat to Humanity?” are scattered throughout the weekend.
But casual fans, even skeptics or agnostics, are welcome, organizers say.
“Lives can be pretty routine, and this is a fun way to get out of your own head and learn about what might be out there that you didn’t know,” says Anelli. “You will definitely come away knowing something that you didn’t know before. And what’s a better use of a day than that?”
If you go
AlienCon is set for Nov. 9-11 at the Baltimore Convention Center, 1 W. Pratt St. Tickets are $61 per day, $124-$686 for the weekend. Information: thealiencon.com.