Dino Graniello

The Phenomenauts will beam in to play next Friday at Westercon 66 in Sacramento.

Time to suit up for Westercon 66

Published: Friday, Jun. 28, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 4TICKET
Last Modified: Friday, Jun. 28, 2013 - 6:39 am

Westercon, a science fiction and fantasy convention running Thursday through July 7 in Sacramento, started in 1948.

Compared with it, San Diego's 43-year-old Comic-Con is a con come lately.

Westercon is no fixture, though, despite its status as the longest-running general science-fiction convention in the American West. The event lands in a different western city each year, and last visited Sacramento in the early 1980s.

"There is a core of us who like to go visit other communities," said Westercon 66 (this is the festival's 66th installment) co-chairman Kevin Roche, who lives in San Jose. "Local folks get to meet folks from other places, and this mixing and synergy happens."

Started when sci-fi conventions were devoted primarily to books and magazines, Westercon today encompasses film, television and anime as well. But it focuses on fans, just as it did six decades ago.

Unlike sci-fi or comics conventions that rest on celebrity appearances, Westercon highlights fan community and interaction.

"The professionals do come out, but the professionals in most cases are fans in their own right," said Andy Trembley, Roche's Westercon 66 co-chairman.

Westercon 66 will bring in novelist Nicola Griffith ("Slow River"), novelist and screenwriter David Gerrold (author of the famous "Star Trek" episode "The Trouble With Tribbles") and other media guests. But they will not just sit behind microphones at fan Q&As.

They hang out at the convention, and might dance alongside conventioneers as Bay Area band the Phenomenauts – kind of a rockabilly Devo – plays Friday night at the Hilton Sacramento Arden West hotel, site of all Westercon activities next week.

Fans star in the con's marquee event – a July 6 costume competition. The contest is close to the co-chairs' hearts.

Roche, a 52-year-old research scientist, and Trembley, a 42-year-old systems administrator, are married. They met 15 years ago at a convention called Costume-Con. They still express creativity through clothing. And hula hoops.

The hoops helped hold up Roche's recent rig of "a fleet of flying saucers, worn like a sandwich board," Roche said. Roche and Trembley also don historical costumes, including 14th century Japanese clothing. They are Renaissance faire veterans.

Costume contest participants get 90 seconds onstage to showcase costumes. The outfits need not be wholly original, but costumes derived from books, television or other media should show some originality.

The winning entry a few years ago involved contestants dressed as characters from the stage musical "Wicked" who were participating in a version of "The Dating Game."

Westercon's list of costume contest rules runs as long as the train on a Renaissance wedding dress. The rules limit the displays of weaponry and skin.

The cautions resulted from experience, Trembley and Roche said. Trembley recalls a non-Westercon costume event in which would-be ninjas threw real knives at each other.

In the go-go 1970s, sci-fi convention costume contestants often arrived onstage wearing little but their freak flags. Westercon organizers now ensure all contestants take a PG-rated approach.

That goes for the general convention as well, though Westercon's open-minded approach to sci-fi and fantasy media extends to its embrace of fan subcultures, including "furries," who celebrate anthropomorphic animal characters and often dress in furry-animal costumes. The fandom includes fetish elements, though many furries are motivated more by childhood nostalgia.

The atmosphere at Westercon might move from PG to PG-13 late at night. But that also happens at insurance conventions.

Late-night participants will not see "anything different than you might see going to a nightclub," Roche said.

Helping judge the costume contest will be fan-power forerunners John and Bjo Trimble. Involved in Westercon since the late 1950s, John, 76, and wife Bjo, 79, led the letter-writing campaign that helped keep the original "Star Trek" on the air in the 1960s.

Back in the day, the Trimbles were "Trek" fans who had befriended "Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry and sometimes visited the set. On one visit, the mood was downcast.

"The only way to find out anything on a set is to ask craft services," John Trimble said by phone from the couple's Southern California home. "So we did, and we found out word had come down (the series) was going to be canceled. We said, 'There ought to be something we can do about this.' "

Since it was 1967, they could not take to Twitter.

"Social media didn't exist except in letter and telephone," John Trimble said.

But craftiness did. The Trimbles obtained convention and dealer mailing lists, formulated guidelines for letters to NBC, and encouraged each writer to tell 10 friends, and so on. Letters and petitions poured into NBC, and the show was renewed.

The Trimbles now chat with fellow fans on Facebook and by email.

"The richness there is you can contact people from all over the world almost instantaneously," Bjo said of the Internet.

Fans always have corresponded with creators and other fans, the Trimbles said, but snail mail sent to Africa and the Middle East often failed to reach its destination in the 1950s and '60s.

Avid science-fiction readers from young ages, the Trimbles met under a piano, where a group had gathered to escape the crowd at a Hollywood party thrown by Forrest J. Ackerman, a sci-fi memorabilia collector and fan ringleader.

They have seen the future as predicted in sci-fi novels, films and television shows – and watched as breakthroughs became obsolete.

"My previous (cell) phone was one where you flipped the top up," John said. "And I never flipped it up without thinking of Scotty."


WESTERCON 66

What: A four-day convention for science fiction and fantasy fans.

When: Thursday to July 7

Where: Hilton Sacramento Arden West hotel, 2200 Harvard St., Sacramento

Cost: $65 for attending members (membership is open to all); attending membership goes up to $75 Monday. Attending member- ship for children ages 7-12, when accompanied by a paying adult, is $30; children younger than 7 are free. Adult single day: $25 Thursday and July 7; $30 July 5 and 6. Convention participants are eligible for special room rates.

Information: www.westercon.org


Call The Bee's Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118.. Follow her on Twitter @CarlaMeyerSB.

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