First Socorro Science Fiction Convention Features Nichelle Nichols, Sept. 16, 2008

Vulcan ears by Kathy Hedges

Right: just another con guest. Credit: all photos in this article are courtesy of William D. "Schlake" Colburn.

SOCORRO, N.M., September 16, 2008 – When Nichelle Nichols walked into Socorro’s Capitol Bar on Friday night (Sept. 12), she thought she was back on the Starship Enterprise.

The bartenders were all in Starfleet uniforms. So were half the customers.

Some of them sported Vulcan ears. Then a troupe of belly dancers with green skin jangled past.

It’s either the 23rd century, or Socorro, New Mexico, during a science fiction convention.

Nichols and fans

Left: Nichelle Nichols poses with fans.

New Mexico Tech held its first science fiction convention on Sept. 12 and 13, 2008, to resounding success. Some 310 people – not a bad headcount for a first-time event – heard science fiction writers speak, got a signed photo of Nichols, toured the VLA and Tech’s new Magdalena Ridge Observatory (MRO), dressed up in space costumes, sang the theme from Star Trek, had a book or three autographed, and yes, even got to dance with Nichols in person at the Capitol Bar.

[Next year’s convention has already been set: Sept. 11-13, 2009, with special guest Stephen R. Donaldson. Donaldson is a best-selling writer of fantasy, science fiction, and mysteries, including the Thomas Covenant cycle; the Gap cycle; and a series of mysteries called “The Man Who.”]

Nichelle Nichols

Right: Nichelle Nichols gracefully makes a point during her keynote speech.

The highlight of the convention was the participation of Nichelle Nichols, who portrayed Lt. Uhura on the original Star Trek. Nichols was gracious and graceful as she autographed books and photos, gyrated with the belly dancers, and, in a keynote speech at an elegant dinner at Macey Center on Saturday night, urged upon the audience the importance of recruiting more women and minorities into STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). She concluded by singing her speech, gospel-style, with the audience clapping in time to the music.


Left: Panelists interact with the audience. From left, Prof. Penny Boston and writers Walter Jon Williams and Jane Lindskold.

The convention boasted a pretty interesting series of events. Two Tech professors who teach a class in astrobiology – Penny Boston and Michelle Creech-Eakman – gave a talk on exo-planets, the many new planets that have been discovered outside of our solar system. Writing professors gave mini-workshops. The director of MRO’s optical telescope – Eileen Ryan – described how it is used to hunt down near-Earth asteroids before they become killer asteroids. Special guest writers Walter Jon Williams, Jane Lindskold, S.M. Stirling, and David Lee Summers gave tips on writing and signed books for fans.

Julie Johnson

Tech alumni were active participants in the event.

  1. Julie Johnson (right) (77, MS, physics) led a troupe of belly dancers who painted themselves green and billed themselves as “Slave Girls of Orion.”
  2. David Lee Summers (88, BS, physics) described his transition from Tech student to writer. Dave was accompanied by his wife, Kumie Wise (87, BS, math) and their daughters Myranda and Verity. Myranda won a writing award.
  3. Richie Spangler (88, BS, geophysics; 89, MS, hydrology) came from Albuquerque with his wife RayeAnn and his daughter Lindy, who participated in the costume contest.
  4. Warren Marts (90, BS, computer science) won a silent auction, buying a copy of SPORE, which Walter Jon Williams kindly autographed for him (Williams wrote dialog for the popular game).

Winners of the various contests were:


Uber Geek Award, Jeff Bogzevitz (left, facing off with Andrew Murtland)

Costume Contest

  • Jason Kooi, Most Authentic
  • Jeff Bogzevitz, Best Overall
  • Andrew Murtland, Best Cheapskate
  • Paul Padilla, Best use of available materials

Imitation Contest (in which contestants portrayed a known science fictional character, either accurately or comically.)

  • 1st place, John Russell
  • 2nd place, Alaric Sessions
  • 3rd place, Jeff Bogzevitz

Timed Writing Contest

  • 1st place, Ralph Buttner
  • 2nd place, tied between Jason Kooi and Myranda Summers
  • 3rd place, Jeff Bogzevitz

The convention was organized by Miners’ Ink, New Mexico Tech’s literary and art journal. Karen Balch was convention chair, with Glenda Stewart-Langley serving as faculty advisor. Many members of Miners’ Ink participated and helped in the event, including Tracy Baker, Noah Shepard, Jayson Barr, Jake Hopkins, Matthew Scholfied, Siona Curtis-Briley, Charles Brock, Christina Forbes, and Sara Corman.

The entire team reportedly survived and is enthusiastically planning next year’s con. Information, as it develops, will be posted at www.nmt.edu/~ink.