IF YOU GO
What: Chattacon 38
When: Friday-Sunday, Jan. 25-27
Where: Chattanooga Choo Choo, 1400 Market St.
1. Chattacon Revue: The con's annual opening-night spectacular features local, macabre vaudevillian ensemble Subterranean Cirqus, 9 p.m. Friday, Centennial Theater.
2. Block Bot Battles: Adults and kids alike compete in a free-for-all battle royale featuring remote-controlled vehicles of death and destruction made from Lego blocks, 11 a.m. Saturday, Track 29.
3. Film Festival: See six locally and nationally produced independent films such as "Zombie Socks" and "Harry Potter and The Ten Years Later," 1-6 p.m. Saturday, Centennial Theater.
4. Magic Show: Magical mad scientist Darrell "The Doctor" Osborn presents a show of comedic magic and expert balloon twisting, 7 p.m. Saturday, Centennial Theater.
5. Fire Show: Watch flaming Hula-Hoopers, poi twirlers and fire breathers kick off Saturday evening festivities, 8 p.m. Saturday, outside Centennial Theater.
• Guest of honor Tim Powers is a Philip K. Dick Award- and World Fantasy Award-winning science-fiction and fantasy author whose works include "On Stranger Tides" (1988), which was adapted for the fourth "Pirates of the Caribbean" film.
• Guest of honor Cherie Priest recently returned to Chattanooga after a sojourn to Seattle, where she penned several celebrated works of American steampunk literature. Her most-celebrated work, "Boneshaker," won the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel and was nominated for the Hugo and Nebula awards.
• Artistic guest William Stout is a former Disney Imagineer with artistic credits on 120 films, including both "Conan" films, "Pan's Labyrinth" and "Return of the Living Dead," as well as a much-celebrated body of artwork depicting the age of the dinosaurs.
• Toastmistress Wendy Webb is a globe-trotting adventurer, writer and director born in Florida but based in Georgia when her feet can keep still.
Stormtroopers dancing cheek and jowl with Klingons. Wizards staring down pirates over a game of "Settlers of Catan." Ninjas arguing the merits of "The Chronicles of Narnia" with knights in full armor.
Without access to a warp drive or a portal to another dimension, finding a more eclectic group than the 1,200-1,500 people who attend Chattacon would be a tall order.
This weekend at the Choo Choo, Chattanooga's longest-running multifandom convention will celebrate 38 years of bringing together fans of all things science fiction and fantasy.
While the convention's attendance may be dwarfed by the 50,000-plus who swarm Atlanta for DragonCon every year, spokesperson KC Charland said Chattacon's is far more approachable.
"We're not that craziness; we're a good size," Charland said, laughing. "By the end of the weekend, you hug people goodbye, say you'll see them again next year and mean it."
Unlike the city's other major annual convention, Con Nooga, Chattacon is focused primarily on literature, though it doesn't neglect other media, Charland said. The three days of activities include annual standards such as a remote-controlled robot battle royale, costume contest, art show and a Friday night revue featuring the twisted vaudevillian stylings of Subterranean Cirqus.
Guests also will have access to a dealer room with more than 50 tables of merchandise ranging from leather corsets and witty T-shirts to rare comics and films.
Every year, the myriad activities and open-arms atmosphere attract guests from as far away as Washington, California and Illinois.
Charland said she started attending the convention after moving to Chattanooga 27 years ago. After graduating high school, she joined the event's board as the gaming director, a title she held for 23 years, in addition to serving occasional double duty as convention vice chair and publicist.
Several times over the years, Chattacon has had to roll with the punches, whether changing venue from its original home in the Sheraton Read House or digging out after a snowstorm left guests stranded for two days.
That flexibility -- and the opportunity to meet and engage with like-minded people -- helps keep guests coming back year after year, Charland said.
"I always say that Chattacon is 1,500 of my closest friends," she said. "Once you're in, you're in, and we don't let you go."
Contact staff writer Casey Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.