Boston events

There is but one family-friendly, literary-loving, geeking-good-time convention going down in Boston this weekend that has attracted everyone from George R. R. Martin to Patrick Rothfuss: Vericon, Harvard’s annual science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction convention, happening this weekend March 21-23.

Ore Babarinsa, convention chair and Harvard College class of ’15, explained to BDCwire that Vericon is open to the public with events for all ages.

And by events for all ages, we’re talking author panels, book signings, workshops, movie screenings, and board game demos, in addition to previews and premieres of role-playing games. There will also be a “Mystery Science Theater 3000”-style live, acted-out screening of the film “Upside Down.” Throw in milk-and-cookies bedtime stories and a masquerade ball, a few live bands (including a Norse-themed choir), video game competitions, LARPing (live action role playing), and some anime, and this is the geekfest of the year at a school known for legendary geeks.

But what separates this particular geekfest from all the others is the intimacy: celebrity geeks mingle among the minions, and there are stories of card games going on with legends in the hallowed halls beneath the masquerade. When most college cons don’t attract Martin or Rothfuss-level talent, Harvard does.

Before you think LARPing, role-playing, and MST3K and are all, “this might be a little too geeky for me,” consider that there will be panels on writing and interactive media.

“There are so many experiences outside of normal textual form,” says Babarinsa, “How do you write that? How do you blend it together?”

And how do you blend Islam with fantasy? Honored Vericon guest Saladin Ahmed, author of “Throne of the Crescent Moon,” is slated to attend. Ahmed is an Arab-American from Detroit, writing contemporary Islamic-inspired fantasy (and he’s been nominated for several awards for it, including the Hugo, Nebula, and Gemmell, among many others.) “Sci-Fi conventions are a weird, but wonderful mix of parties, writing seminars, film festivals, costume contests, and all sorts of other weird geeky stuff thrown into a blender,” he says.

Conventions like Vericon, says Ahmed, are what have always drawn him to fantasy and science fiction. “You get two things,” he says. “A fantasy world to explore that is, in some ways, more interesting or comforting or exciting and less depressing than our own. And then you come back, and you start to look at the world a little differently.”

Among the Vericon performers this weekend is Matthew Ebel, who only plays at conventions. He focused his love of sci-fi, fantasy, animation, and steam punk into a live music stage show that is more sci-fi experience than rock. “I am a geek,” he says proudly, explaining that his performance offers attendees “a vacation from reality. It’s a chance to escape into a parallel world for 90 minutes.”

All of this escape is right over at Harvard, and for an affordable price– $25, versus the $100+ for the mega conventions, the Vericon experience is a steal and cheaper than most other reality vacations you could take.

Kevin Gold, Harvard alum and Google employee, has attended every Vericon since it started in 2001. This year, he is reading from, and debuting, the choose-your-own-adventure game he’s developed: Choice of Robots. It’s a game, he says, was inspired by these conventions.

Gold took a moment to explain the difference between a geek and a nerd, for those curious or concerned about the word’s usage or hipster co-option. “A nerd is somebody who tends to be good at something that is monetarily rewarding,” says Gold, such as computer programming or chemistry. “A geek is, you’re really passionate about something that you won’t get monetary or social status out of. [You’re a geek] precisely because these things aren’t monetarily rewarding.”  He also referenced this cartoon.

In addition to all of the great geek revelry, Vericon is hosting its third annual charity auction. “Vericon is a very small convention usually with only about 250 people attending, yet out of that we raised more than $6,000 in our first year and more than $12,000 the second,” says Ada Palmer, a Harvard alum helping out with this year’s auction. “To give you a comparison, the 2013 Anime Boston convention was attended by more than 20,000 people and it raised $14,600 at its charity auction, so us raising $12,000 from only 250 people is a staggering success.” Part of the fun, she says, “is getting awesome, rare, and custom stuff, but a lot of it is just the playfulness of the people and a celebration of supporting a good cause.” In years past, the auctioneer was the Norse God Loki, teams Good and Evil battled over who could raise the most money, and Doctors Without Borders benefitted. This year, Heifer International is the charity, chosen by this year’s Vericon Guest of Honor, Patrick Rothfuss.

Vericon was founded in 2001 by Thomas Lotze and the Harvard Radcliff Science Fiction Association (HRSFA), the umbrella group covering all things geeky at Harvard for decades.

[Photo credit: Sassafrass]