Balticon 54: a real world sci-fi convention using Second Life

Balticon Station, Second Life

As we’re all aware, the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has caused a suspension of many events around the world, with some seeking alternative means of going ahead with their programmes.

In April I reported on MuseWeb, a global organisation offering members a range of professional learning opportunities, using Second Life to support its 2020 conference (see: MuseWeb: utilising Second Life in support of a global conference).

Now, this coming weekend – Memorial Weekend in the United States – the Baltimore Science Fiction Society (BSFS) will be hosting their annual Balticon science fiction convention on-line, and will be using Second Life for a range of social events and activities in support of the convention.

Balticon Station Transfer Station

Running between Friday, May 22nd through Monday, May 25th 2020 inclusive, the convention is free to attendees, although support for it is requested through a Gofundme page, the money from which will go towards the primary work of BSFS – see About the BSFS, below). It will include panels, presentations, and readings hosted as webinars across several platforms, together with guest speaker talks, filk singing (folk singing with a science fiction or fantasy theme), film presentations, etc.

The Second Life element of the convention will be centred on Balticon Station, a multi-level environment centred on one of the Lab’s turnkey region solutions for business use – specifically, the “futuristic” island. At the ground level, this provides a landing point and short-form tutorial on some of the Second Life basics – walking, chatting, using voice, and so on.

Balticon Station – tutorial area

From here, visitors are offered a social lounge, a bar, and a portal hall (together with information boards on using in-world media). A ramp alongside the portal hall provides the way to a seabed facility where visitors can again socialise or, if they wish, go scuba diving (a short tutorial on SL swimming and basic inventory management is also provided).

The portal hall offers a series of experience-based walk-through portals. Several of these will deliver people to spaces is the sky over the island, and other are intended to link the region with other sci-fi related destinations within Second Life – although at the time of my visit, these were still awaiting final configuration.

The Balticon Station underwater facilities

The spaces over the region comprise:

  • A speedway platform, where visitors can participate in slug or segway races.
  • A elven forest, with walks and a hall.
  • An art exhibition hall, featuring physical world art (also connected by a ramp with the speedway).
  • A space “transfer station”.

To help promote the use of Second Life, the convention’s website includes a dedicated page on the platform, which includes an outline of how to obtain the SL viewer and create a account, as well as the SLurl to Balticon Station.

Attendance in-world – or via the other on-line services offered by the convention – is open to any science fiction fan (or anyone curious) within Second Life, and as noted, attendance is entirely free of charge this year.

Balticon Station – Elven Forest

Full details on the convention, its special guests, its programme, virtual dealer spaces, etc., can be found on the the convention’s website.

About Balticon Science Fiction Society

BSFS is a 100% volunteer-run organisation that depends upon Balticon as its main source of revenue. This funding supports efforts to develop new writers and foster literacy among Baltimore City’s disadvantaged youth, and helps pay for the maintenance of the BSFS East Baltimore building, which houses a free lending library of more than 12,000 volumes.

The loss of direct fees (registration, etc)., resulting from the cancellation of Balticon would mean:

  • No 2021 funding to support awards for writers (BSFS normally seed awards for new writers to the tune of US $7,000 a year).
  • No funding for the BSFS Books for Kids programme, which is traditionally supported by fund raised through the convention’s annual auction. Books for Kids provides as much as $1,800 in grants to Baltimore City neighbourhood organisations and schools to help support youth literacy.
  • Funds for the upkeep of the Society’s East Baltimore building.

To help overcome this, BSFS hopes that attendees of the 2020 Virtual Convention, both on-line and in-world in Second Life will consider donations to their GoFundMe campaign. so if you do attend the convention, please consider supporting the work of BSFS through GoFundMe.

Related Links

Cybele’s Spaces Between in Second Life

Kultivate Signature Gallery: CybeleMoon

CybeleMoon (aka Hana Hoobinoo) is an artist oft featured in these pages. Her mixed media art is renowned for its fabulous richness of tone, balance of light and shade, depth of symbolism and – most poignantly – its wonderful framing of narrative that makes any exhibition of her work in Second Life utterly unmissable.

There are many ways to explore Cybele’s work, some of which I’ve touched upon in writing about it. However, there is one aspect that I’ve not really explored in words thus far; one that Cybele herself examines in her latest solo exhibition The Spaces Between Heaven and Time, which is currently on display the the Kultivate Signature Gallery.

I often use doorways, windows, bridges and solitude in my images as a way of conveying my impression of stopping the world and perceiving my own reality in the shifting tapestry of time.

– CybeleMoon

Kultivate Signature Gallery: CybeleMoon

Through this series of images Cybele explores her relationship with her art and the idea of liminality – that as an artist (and indeed we, as observers of her art) – she stands on a threshold between two states: the reality she experiences rooted in the physical world, and the worlds presented through her images.

In the strictest sense, liminality is used to define the state of ambiguity that is said to exist within a rite of passage, in which participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the rite is complete. With Cybele’s art, however, I would suggest ambiguity or disorientation have but a small role to play (if any at all). Rather, that in facing her art, we are more in a state of enticement or longing; what we see in each piece offers us a glimpse of a world that calls softly to us to enter – a place we desire.

Kultivate Signature Gallery: CybeleMoon

There is more here as well; a nuance that is both subtle and yet entirely fitting given the state of the world as it stands in May 2020 and in the midst of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. It’s a careful, unobtrusive reminder that solitude and / or being alone is not necessarily the a contrary state of being (as some seem to believe). Rather, it allows one to give time to self – to appreciate, to learn, to relax, to enjoy, to reflect – to create. In these times of social distancing.

The manner in which the images reflect the themes within this exhibition offers an further nuanced layer to it. Take Dr. Chandra, Will I Dream for example. Through it, we can witness the beauty of solitude as reflected in the single outstretched arm and the simple, delicate pleasure offered by passing a hand lightly over the flowers in a field, while the idea of liminality sits within the title of its title, which comes as a quote from the climax of the film 2010: The Year We Make Contact, in which HAL 9000 sits on the threshold between two realities, whilst the words themselves reflect our very questioning of the nature of life.

Kultivate Signature Gallery: CybeleMoon

The Spaces Between Heaven and Time is a beautifully nuanced exploration of ideas through art – one that absolutely not be missed.

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