At Shore Leave, a sci-fi mind-meld

The Baltimore Sun

Michael Schilling is tired of the bum rap sci-fi convention-goers have gotten from "Mundanes," those who think the fandom is only comprised of one type of human.

"On TV, they don't show the eloquent doctors or lawyers who attend these conventions," said Schilling, a member of the Star Trek Association of Towson. "They only show the pointy-eared guy."

Marilyn Mann, programming coordinator for Shore Leave, a local, fan-run science-fiction convention set for this weekend, said such events are similar to others that draw like-minded, if disparate, crowds: "On some levels, it's the same reason someone goes to a football game. It's fun to share something that you're interested in with other people that are excited by the same thing."

Shore Leave 30, which celebrates the convention's 30th anniversary, runs tomorrow through Sunday at the Marriott Hunt Valley Inn. Supporters say, as in past years, this year's event will be an educational, family-friendly and entertaining event that attracts people from all walks of life.

"It's a big, three-day party," said Schilling, head of publicity for Shore Leave 30. "Star Trek is just the excuse."

The convention will feature a costume contest; a dance; a Klingon banquet; video presentations; an art show; scientific presentations; numerous sci-fi authors; a sci-fi/fantasy game room; memorabilia dealers; meet- and-greets with sci-fi celebrities, like George Takei and Malcolm McDowell; and more.

During the Masquerade, costumed guests can compete on stage for trophies, by showing off their costumes and giving performances. Past participants have performed mini-skits that range from re-enacted scenes from sci-fi shows to comedy routines.

The Klingon banquet features Klingonian food, games and a variety show. In addition, attendees can help raise funds for charity by paying a "Klingon" to arrest someone and place them in a makeshift jail for a few minutes.

Shore Leave also screens several fan films or works created by fans.

Some fan films rival the quality of big-studio films and even feature original actors or writers from various series. Many convention-goers are eagerly anticipating the premiere of the first smooth cut, or rough draft, of "Blood and Fire," produced by a top-tier amateur film company. The original script, written for Star Trek: The Next Generation, which aired from the late '80s to the early '90s, never materialized into a televised episode because of its controversial subject matter. The story line involves an openly gay couple and a thinly veiled reference to AIDS.

The formerly taboo episode finally airs during a time when its subjects are no longer off-limits and at an event where a symbol of the nation's changed attitude toward homosexuality, the openly gay and soon-to-be-married Takei, is a marquee guest.

Takei and fellow Heroes star McDowell share the celebrity roster with several other sci-fi thespians. The lineup includes veteran stage, film and TV actor William Morgan Sheppard, who has appeared in numerous Star Trek series; his son Mark Sheppard of Battlestar Galactica and Bionic Woman; Jewel Staite, David Hewlett and his sister Kate Hewlett, all of Stargate: Atlantis.

Kate Hewlett believes that sci-fi draws so many people in because it resonates with them on numerous levels.

"It's a great way to escape. But it's not just entertaining," she said. "It can also be political, relevant and moving."

Takei thinks the most compelling aspect of sci-fi lies in its exploration of future possibilities.

"I think it's the notion of what might be possible that draws people in," said the Star Trek actor. "Sci-fi depicts utopian worlds that we all look forward to and strive to achieve."

These and others reasons have helped Shore Leave keep a relatively steady head count over the years. Organizers expect this year's number of Shore Leavers to equal or surpass those of previous years.

"Shore Leave has the programming of a big, corporate-run convention but the feeling of a smaller gathering," said Schilling. "That's one of the reasons that fans are so loyal to it."

Takei enjoys this type of event "because it is fan-produced and fan-activated."

To the naysayers who see sci-fi conventions as a waste of time and only for geeks with no lives who live in their parents' basements, Schilling has this to say:

"Some people get it. And some people just don't."

Shore Leave 30 runs tomorrow through Sunday. Hours are noon tomorrow-1 a.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. Saturday-3 a.m. Sunday and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday. Three-day admission is $75. One-day admission is $20 for tomorrow, $50 for Saturday and $40 for Sunday; $15 for children 5-12; free for children younger than 5. The hotel is at 245 Shawan Road, Hunt Valley. Call 410-496-4456 or go to

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