Behind a nondescript wall of papered glass that once housed a Somerville dry cleaner, a barbershop, and a bookbinder, a team of science fiction lovers is working behind the scenes on the upcoming Boskone, New England’s longest-running science fiction and fantasy convention.
The door sticks slightly upon entering this “clubhouse” of the New England Science Fiction Association. Friendly faces soon come to the rescue, pushing it open to welcome in members, newcomers, and sometimes people off the street lured in by Mike Rasnick, who until recently served as the clubhouse committee chairperson. He often lassoes passersby to tell them all about the lending library, their media days, and the group’s volunteer newsletter.
The main part of the clubhouse is covered in media, with a lending library that loops around the circumference and disappears into a blue room off to the left. “We have every console gaming system except pong,” Rasnick says. He estimates that we’re surrounded by about 15,000 titles of sci-fi, fantasy and fiction, books and Blu-rays, DVDs and magazines, board games and anthologies. With all these distractions, it’s hard to imagine how the members find time to prepare for the weekend festivities.
This year’s annual NESFA convention, Boskone 55, promises a seriously eclectic mix. There will be Star Wars Mad Libs. There will be a Regency-era dance class, with costumes encouraged. There will be panel discussions and readings by the likes of famed young adult fantasy fiction author Tamora Pierce, while astronaut Cady Coleman will be there to talk about what it feels like to be in space.
Founded in 1967, NESFA is a nonprofit entity, run entirely off membership dues and ticket sales from the annual Boskone and Arisia conventions. Volunteers create the NESFA newsletter, paint the clubhouse walls, screen-print large event posters, and donate their own sci-fi and fantasy collections for various purposes. Rasnick describes his role as “one part building manager, one part cat herder.”
“There’s not a single paid position,” he adds. “Everyone gives whatever they can.”
Rasnick holds up a thick paperback book, pointing out a shelf of advance review copies of new science fiction books. Members can just sit inside the clubhouse reading, munching on one or both kinds of available popcorn. He wraps up the tour down a short set of stairs in the back, where NESFA’s small publishing arm operates.
“We’re kind of an archivist press,” says Rasnick, who notes that they also work with “some authors who are alive and still kicking.”
A longtime NESFA member who has donated many of his own things, including his computer, to the club, Rasnick is moving to Tennessee, but he says he will continue his involvement in spite of the distance. Meanwhile, Erin Underwood, the head of program for Boskone, is planning this year’s convention with a simple idea in mind: to create events that she would want to attend. To that end, she’s organized some 200 participants, among them popular New England horror authors like Paul Tremblay. In a genre that is often lacking diversity, she says she’s especially excited to hear from the likes of Christine Taylor-Butler, Gerald Coleman, and Clarence Young aka Zig Zag Claybourne.
In a special addition to the program, Boskone 55 will feature a memorial for Ursula K. Le Guin, a groundbreaking sci-fi and fantasy author who passed away in January. Underwood said that Boskone fans clamored for an acknowledgement of the writer’s life and work.
“It’s very much a community,” Underwood said. “The people really love each other, they love their authors, they love their stories … When a science fiction legend like Ursula K. Le Guin passes away, it’s something that touches everybody.”
In addition to creating a fulfilling experience for longtime sci-fi aficionados, the NESFA team is reaching out to new recruits as well. On Friday, Feb 16, they’ve arranged for all activities to be free and open to the public between 2 and 6 pm.
For Underwood, the hope is that they will attract the kind of “kids reading science fiction or fantasy stories [who] don’t even know [they’re] fans, but are fans” nonetheless.
“There’s just this wonderful quiet connection between everybody,” she says.
BOSKONE 55. FRI 2.16–SUN 2.18. WESTIN WATERFRONT HOTEL, BOSTON. $65 FULL WEEKEND (COMES W/ YEAR-LONG MEMBERSHIP AND MORE). DAY RATES AVAIL. BOSKONE.ORG