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Missoula’s sci-fi underground convenes at MisCon 2000

One of the first ways you know that you are entering alien country is when the verbal landscape begins to change and everything takes on aliases, acronyms, a.k.a.’s, and “we call them’s.” To the uninitiated, almost everything must be laboriously explained, yet the definitions and limits that accompany them are also inadequate for categorizing the events of the 2000 MisCon convention. Thus forewarned, enter.

“Basically, it’s geek stuff, you know, for the kind of people who are really into Monty Python movies,” says Bob Lovely, when asked about the connection between science fiction, fantasy, horror and role-playing games.

Bob, who is this year’s MisCon chairman, is known in certain circles as “Cthulhu (kuh-thu-lu) Bob.” Cthulhu Bob told me that his name came from one of his favorite role playing games, although after attempting an explanation, confessed that to the tyro, the etymological details were frankly “complicated and uninteresting.”

There is very little offered at this weekend’s expected gathering of 250-600 gamers, geeks, artists and filkers—yes filkers—that can slip in under the radar unexplained. MisCon, which has been holding a sci-fi convention in Missoula every year on Memorial Day for the last 14 years, promises: “a full-spectrum science-fiction convention experience with movies, anime, gaming (table top, role playing and computer) with a multimedia art auction, and impromptu writer’s workshops with authors such as Fred Saberhagen, who will be reading from his latest work.” Besides the Saturday night art auction, there is also an impressive line up of Guests of Honor or (GOHs) as Cthulhu Bob et alia call them.

First, filker—or filk artist—Tom Smith will be appearing and playing what Cthulhu Bob describes as an improvisational comedy mix of Celtic storytelling and Weird-Al-Yankoviching around. Filking’s nerdy origins go back to a sci-fi convention held in the 1930s, where the folk music billed as entertainment for the gathering was misspelled as “filk music.” It’s comforting to know that despite the speed at which society has been changing, the qualities of a truly geeky joke are probably as good as eternal. Although, had science enamored Woody Guthrie the way the labor movement did, things might be a bit different around here, and the idea of him singing about Martians is downright provocative.

Besides filking it up, there will be a wide spectrum of games available and one of the industry’s gurus, Steve Jackson of Steve Jackson games. Jackson gained notoriety outside the gaming world when one of his role-playing games drew the attention of the Secret Service who raided his business in 1990, confiscating files, computers and nearly wrecking his business. It seemed the feds were peeved about one of Jackson’s games, Cyberpunk, which set role players in a futuristic setting where the how-to’s of credit card fraud were just a little too real. Jackson sued, won a large settlement from the Secret Service, and is now something of a hero in these circles.

Although role playing games and filking are all fun for the kids, no one would take a sci-fi convention seriously that didn’t address the question on everyone’s minds: “How much longer are we going to have to wait for the aliens to get here?” And when it comes to aliens, the mother of all close encounters (and shabby government cover-ups) has to be Roswell. Who better to see in person and iron out those questions that have been bothering you ever since your copy of Alien Autopsy went missing than Jesse Marcel Jr., a.k.a. “the Roswell Kid.” In 1947 when the alleged UFO crash occurred in the deserts of New Mexico, Air Force Major Jesse Marcel Sr. was the first man on the scene of the crash, where he apparently saw little green men dying from exposure and shock. Like a good dad, he brought home some of the interplanetary goodies for little Jesse, who will be sharing his experiences with the choir this Sunday morning at 10.

Actress Julie Caitlin Brown, better known as the vaguely reptilian Na’Toth from “Babylon 5,” will be at the convention to give the lowdown on “B5” in a Q&A session. She will also be performing in concert—it is unclear if this will be done in costume or not—but interestingly enough, her debut album is called Shedding My Skin.

The MisCon convention will be held May 26-28 at the Doubletree Edgewater in Missoula. $25 gets you into all events for the weekend, $10 for Friday or Saturday only and $15 for Sunday only. For more information go to www.miscon.org.

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