Fantasy and science fiction conventions ahead for Salt Lake City

By Ben Tullis

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, June 26 2014 3:50 p.m. MDT

Updated: Monday, June 30 2014 7:12 a.m. MDT

Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) in "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers." Both actors are scheduled to appear at next weekend's FantasyCon in Salt Lake City.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Science fiction authors, musicians, dwarves, hobbits, wizards and a dragon will all occupy the same city next weekend.

Three fan conventions covering the genres of fantasy and science fiction — FantasyCon, Westercon and CONduit — are scheduled at the same time for Salt Lake City between July 3 and 6. They're also collaborating more than competing, giving interested fans the opportunity to experience the different conventions with one purchased admission.

Utah-based FantasyCon will hold its inaugural convention July 3-5 in the Salt Palace Convention Center. The FantasyCon website says the event "is the first convention of its kind to answer the call for an interactive, immersive experience that encompasses all things in the ever-expanding genre of fantasy. In other words, anything outside the realm of reality."

“We are turning the Salt Palace into another world with a giant three-story-tall dragon, an animatronic rock monster, a battle arena and huge set pieces," said Josh Patel, founder and CEO of FantasyCon. "When people come into the Salt Palace … we want them to think that they’ve gone to Universal Studios or Disneyland without leaving the state."

Among the guests scheduled for FantasyCon are Elijah Wood (Frodo Baggins), Sean Astin (Samwise “Sam” Gamgee), Billy Boyd (Peregrin “Pippin” Took) and John Rhys-Davies (Gimli) from The Lord of the Rings trilogy; Simon Pegg, who plays Scotty in the new Star Trek films; Summer Glau of “Firefly” and “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” fame; and many other celebrity guests.

According to the FantasyCon website, the event will feature opportunities for families to "visit with fantasy celebrities, dress up for cosplay and live action role-playing, wield swords, shoot bows, enjoy shows, explore masterworks of art, eat delicious foods and be entertained while creating memories that will last a lifetime."

Two other conventions are sharing the same space at the Marriott Hotel Downtown at City Creek from July 3-6. Westercon, a science fiction and fantasy convention held annually throughout the West since 1948, is combining with CONduit, Utah’s largest and longest-running science fiction, fantasy and horror convention, according to the CONduit Facebook page.

Combining the conventions “gives fans from both outside the state and inside to meet, network and learn from each other,” said David Doering, chairman of Westercon 67. “Since Westercon is a general science fiction and fantasy convention, it appeals to the same audience as CONduit, so it makes good sense to have the two together."

The combined convention will feature Larry Correia, New York Times best-selling author of the “Monster Hunters International” series, and David Farland, best known as the New York Times best-selling author of The Runelords series, as the special guests. Authors Brandon Sanderson (Mistborn series), Dan Wells (I Am Not a Serial Killer trilogy), Mary Robinette Kowal (“Shades of Milk and Honey”) and Cory Doctorow (“Little Brother”); cartoonist Howard Tayler (“Schlock Mercenary” webcomic); and "zombie expert" Bradley Voytek will also attend the convention.

Westercon and CONduit will include “four full days of panel discussions, presentations and social gatherings all about science fiction and fantasy," Doering said. "It is an intimate, participatory event for fans and creators, as attendees will interact with and learn from the top artists, writers and creators in the field during those four days."

The three conventions are being held in the wake of the inaugural Salt Lake Comic Con, which was held September 2013, and the Comic Con FanX convention in April. The two conventions drew a combined attendance of more than 150,000 visitors. The next Salt Lake Comic Con will take place Sept. 4-6.

“We are all excited to see the success of major events like Comic Con here in Utah," Doering said. "It demonstrates the strong following that science fiction and fantasy has in Utah. … We are also excited to share the July 4 holiday with our sister event, FantasyCon, which is a first-of-its-kind celebration of all things fantasy."

The conventions, however, are not all focusing on the same aspects of the fantasy and science fiction genres.

“While these other events give attendees the chance to see and meet celebrities and to enjoy a vast exhibit hall, Westercon is all about diving in to learn about fantasy and science fiction, to create and enjoy it and to join with other fans and clubs in making science fiction and fantasy here in Utah,” Doering said.

According to Patel, "The main thing that sets FantasyCon apart is the experience.

“At most conventions, you have celebrities, booths, vendors and that’s about it," Patel said. "At FantasyCon, we’re aiming for a theme-park style experience. Yes, we have some great celebrity guests, including the largest gathering of actors from The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films ever assembled at a single convention, but we also have aerial dancers, motion-capture trolls, blacksmiths, fire-eaters, artists and much, much more.”

Guests purchasing a membership to one convention can attend the others at no additional charge.

Organizers say the events are family-friendly and have activities for family members of all ages.

Tickets to FantasyCon, which also include admission to Westercon 67 and CONduit 24, cost $60 per person for the three-day event, and $30 for youths ages 11-15. Children 10 and under are free. Day passes can also be purchased. VIP all-access passes, which include preferred seating at panels and admission to the FantasyCon kickoff party with Elijah Wood as DJ, are available for $150. Discounts are available for military personnel, college students and teachers. Visit fantasycon.com for more information.

Tickets to the combined Westercon 67 and CONduit 24 are $60 per person, which also includes admission to FantasyCon, and $30 for children under 17. Daily passes can also be purchased. In addition, a family pass is available for $220 (immediate family members only). Discounts are available for active duty service personnel and veterans. Visit westercon67.org for more information.

Ben Tullis is a Deseret News intern and a freelance writer and copy editor. He graduated from Utah Valley University in April 2014 with a bachelor's degree in English. He lives in Pleasant Grove with his wife and 2-year-old son.

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