Partying in an alternate universe

Feb 2, 2005 at 12:00 am

Alternate universes. A polished microcosm. A pale man in a black hat and a black trench coat smiles at me, revealing long ivory teeth. He makes a remark I can barely understand, something about drinking blood. There’s a pulse in the dance hall, causing rhythmic reverberations. On the dance floor, a guy in a black skirt thrashes his head in abandon to the techno beat. There are a few women here dressed as men; sex becomes irrelevant, it’s all about having a good time.

No, it’s not City Club, Detroit’s resident underground goth club — it’s ConFusion 2005.

One of Michigan’s many sci-fi conventions, there’s really no particular theme here for the convention, which aims to entertain fans of science fiction, fantasy, horror, anime comics and gaming. The only consistent theme is “Come as you are.”

A roving pirate party decked in eyepatches coasts by, reveling in all their geekiness with a united call of “Arrr!” A man named Chuck Firment is my tour guide for this gathering at the Troy Marriott during the recent blizzard. An articulate, slightly built guy, Firment is inexplicably dressed like a member of a barbershop quartet — but I don’t think he’s a baritone. He knows where all the cool room parties are: the scotch-tasting parties, the smoking parties, the neon shrines to old forgotten science fiction pulp magazines, rooms within rooms within rooms. Everyone knows him; as the master of ceremonies, he leads a procession of characters into the banquet hall for a masquerade. They include a full-figured fairy in purple wings, a bearded vampire with a top hat and a silver goblet in his hand, a shirtless man in a Mexican wrestling mask and boxing gloves (he was dressed as the cartoon character Strong Bad) and a lass covered in red body paint, looking like the devil’s stepdaughter. Someone dressed as Jedi Master Qui Gon Jin (there’s always a Jedi or two at these conventions) gazes at the procession languidly, like he’s lost a padawan learner.

ConFusion, now in its 31st year, is the longest-running science fiction and fantasy convention in Michigan, and for good reason, says Anne Murphy, Con chair.

“I think it has a consistently brilliant, diverse program. Science, art, costuming, writing, reading, Filk music and, of course, gaming,” Murphy says.

(Geek speak: Filk is folk music with a sci-fi or fantasy theme, but can also be about politics, movies, TV shows, etc.)

Like other cons, the event features “celebrity” guests. This year’s lineup includes fantasy writers Will Shetterly and Emma Bull, and visual effects master Derek Grime, who’s worked on such movies as Fight Club, Bride of Chucky and Bulletproof Monk.

Diane Frkan, the event’s publicity coordinator, is a veteran; for the past four years she’s attended conventions like ConVocation (a pagan spiritual con in February, not sci-fi related), ConClave (a sci-fi fantasy con in East Lansing in October) and Penguicon (a blending of sci-fi and computer geekdom, in April).

As far as Frkan is concerned, ConFusion is light years above the other cons. “What sets us apart from Penguicon or ConClave is our diversity. We are able to draw guests of honor that have distinguished backgrounds. It’s a place to learn, a place to network with likeminded individuals,” Frkan says.

Past guests have included Bruce Sterling, Joan D. Vinge, George R.R. Martin, Kate Wilhelm and many others. These names may not ring a bell to you, but within this community, they are luminaries.

But this year’s convention wasn’t just about sci-fi and good times; it was also about coming together for a good cause. Frkan explains that a former chair of the event, Tracy Worcester, is fighting thyroid cancer.

“She just had surgery, and to help with her medical bills, several organizations were holding fundraisers,” Frkan says. “All the proceeds went to Tracy. It’s sort of like an extended family.”

As of this writing, more than $3,000 has been raised.

Outsiders may smirk, and although science fiction conventions are quirky and often strange, the community of participants always has fun; it’s about creating an escape for fans and professionals alike.

Doubtless the vampires, fairies and bare-chested guys in Mexican wrestling masks all returned to their normal jobs on Monday, tucking away their secret identities for another year, and beginning the planning for next year’s event.

Penguicon 3.0, which I attended last year, was about connectivity. Laptops and science fiction, geeks and nerds sharing the same stratosphere. ConFusion, on the other hand, invited Brother Guy Consolmagno, native Detroiter and astronomer to the Vatican, to hang out for a weekend (yes, he really is a consultant to the Vatican and, yes, he really did show up). Perhaps this makes ConFusion more intellectual. Perhaps not.

Second-time attendee Annamarie Dietz of Westland took part in the Kiss-a-thon fundraiser, where $5 entitles you to the kiss of your dreams, every sexual orientation covered. She sums up the con:

“It gives you the opportunity to see people you don’t see very much. There are some people you only see at Cons.”

After all, how often can one expect to bump into Strong Bad at the grocery store?


For more information on ConFusion and the AASFA (The Ann Arbor Science Fiction Association) visit their Web site at

Cornelius A. Fortune is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected].