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Sci-Fi Fans Gather at the Con

Klingons patrol the halls, a spider lady sparkles in her magnificent hand-beaded web, and Vulcans and Betazoids mingle with 16th-century gentles and commoners. It's an eclectic blend possible only at a science-fiction/fantasy convention like the MileHiCon's 30th here last week.

Cons, as they are called, happen all over the country, some are movie- and TV-oriented, others book-centered. The MileHiCon is a literary festival, so the notables in evidence here are writers.

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Cons offer contests, guest author readings, movies, panels, and art exhibitions, for regional writers and fans. Here they get to rub elbows with and ask advice of favorite authors like Kevin Anderson and Lawrence Watt-Evans. Humor and gamesmanship are part of the fun, too, with events like the "Critter Crunch," in which small robots wrestle for dominance, and the Masquerade with its costume contest.

But cons are meant to inspire the unpublished writer, so there's plenty of advice panels addressing topics such as common beginner errors, building believable characters, and approaching editors.

Speculative fiction, which includes science fiction, fantasy, magic realism, and horror, has its shining literary lights like C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Gabriel Garca Mrquez, and Edgar Allen Poe. But the real boom in speculative fiction came with 20th-century developments in science and technology.

And hard science is always an important theme. Panels this year included one on space exploration on Mars and another on using Sci-Fi to teach science to high school kids.

Panelists included people like Kenn Amdahl, who writes science books for kids such as "There Are No Electrons" and "Algebra Unplugged," rocket scientist Will McCarthy, who now engineers robots and writes Sci-Fi novels, and Steve Lee, a planetary scientist for the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics.

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