A Subaru parked last Saturday outside the Clarion Hotel west of downtown bore two bumper stickers that spoke to the zeal of dozens of people clustered inside.
"Republicans for Voldemort" read one, referring to the cloaked villain of the Harry Potter books. The other simply asked two questions: "Where are we going? And why am I in this handbasket?"
Inside the hotel, COSine, the fourth annual Colorado Springs Science Fiction convention, was well underway, with authors and fans from across the state celebrating the genre that so often circles back to the "handbasket" query.
"Science fiction is not about science," said guest of honor and Greeley-based author Connie Willis at one panel discussion. "It's about humans interacting and interfacing with science. Sometimes they make devil's bargains with technology and end up in a society they don't like." Several audience members nodded and gestured feverishly in agreement.
For all the forces working against science fiction in Colorado including, says Willis, a robust evangelical movement that has worked to ban the books in public schools the genre and its dedicated cadre of fans are thriving. Willis counts at least 100 published authors in the state in contrast to fewer than a dozen in, say, Illinois.
"I think that's because we have had so much Air Force involvement and a lot of high technology stuff that comes along with it," says Eric Schwartz, who organized this year's COSine and is also a member of First Friday Fandom, a local science fiction fan group that meets monthly to discuss literature.
Indeed, Colorado Springs is home to Cheyenne Mountain, where the popular SciFi Channel series "Stargate SG-1" is set (though the show is actually filmed in Vancouver). Inside the mountain, which is featured briefly during the show's opening credits, sits the Stargate, a silver ring that activates a wormhole to outer space. The characters, who lead otherwise normal lives in Colorado Springs, travel back and forth between planets to defend Earth from alien conquest.
Now in its last of 10 seasons (which makes it the longest continually running science fiction show in history), "Stargate" has fixated people such as Tillie Fong, who was one of the only people in costume at COSine. Wearing a dark T-shirt, dog tags and military-style khakis, she stood behind a table mounted with plastic dolls of the TV actors, still in their original wrapping. Behind her, a replica of the Stargate a hula hoop-sized grey and amber portal sat royally on a chair.
"I've heard that in Cheyenne Mountain there is a closet door that says "SG-1 Access Only'," she said. A fan at a nearby table giggled.
In an adjacent room, art vendors sold prints of pink and orange fairies, ceramic vases with Celtic designs and tiny carved bridges. A floor rug with a picture of seagulls flanking an offshore rocket hung on a wooden display frame. A sign that said "Gargoyle horns $1.00 each" sat next to a pile of twisted clay pendants hung on black twine necklaces.
Back in the hallway, convention-goer Alan Tegen walked into a room of book vendors with a cup of coffee in hand. His shirt, which featured Uncle Sam in a spacesuit, was from the Boston 2004 World Science Fiction convention. Next year, Denver will host the event, dubbed "Denvention 3"; upstairs, a handful of volunteers stuffed notices into envelopes in anticipation of the event that will attract thousands.
"Most of us have been to college," Tegen said. "I got tired of reading. In school, you end up with the "Book-of-the-Week Club.' My wife got me reading old science fiction. Star Wars is like a better, modern space opera."
As fantastical as sci-fi may seem, several Colorado writers at COSine said real-world oddities fuel their fiction, which ranges from the typical "cautionary tale" about technology to feminist literature with a "what if?" spin. At a workshop called "Headlines to Plotlines," Willis, who has won the Hugo and Nebula the two top science fiction literature awards expounded on her muses.
"I have to have a visceral reaction to something to write about it. I'd been reading about global warming and the radical extremes in the weather the idea that global warming could cause freezing," she said. "I thought, "What if the day before Christmas, it starts snowing and doesn't stop?'"
Panelist Alan Lickiss, whose wife Rebecca also writes science fiction, mentioned a brainchild based on the mundane.
"I had an idea that the stoplights are controlled by aliens."
"They are! They are! If I need to put my lipstick on, I will hit every light green," replied Willis. "Next time you hit a red light that doesn't end you can think, "Are the aliens invading?'"