Last weekend, the University Hilton morphed into a fantasy world populated with elves, Klingons and at least one 7-foot-tall Wookiee.
ConCarolinas 2014, Charlotte’s annual gathering for devotees of science fiction and fantasy, invaded the usually buttoned-down hotel May 30-June 1.
Attracted by guest of honor George R.R. Martin, whose novels form the basis of HBO’s hit series “Game of Thrones,” more than 2,000 people squeezed into the Hilton, many wearing imaginative costumes portraying favorite characters.
A startled group of engineering students near UNC Charlotte’s Motorsports Engineering complex just across U.S. 29 tweeted that they had spotted Yoda walking across campus.
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Time magazine has compared Martin favorably to J.R.R. Tolkien, author of the fantasy classic “Lord of the Rings.”
Martin is famous for his ambiguous heroes and villains. His fascinating, flawed and true-to-life characters, more than occasionally, come to abrupt and unexpected ends. David Benioff jokingly called HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” based on Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” novels, “ ‘The Sopranos’ in Middle-Earth.”
Martin, an amiable badger of a man with a bushy white beard and Greek sailor’s cap pulled low over his eyes, ambled in and out of question-and-answer sessions and readings. He dutifully signed books for long lines of fans.
A born storyteller, Martin boasts a seemingly limitless knowledge of science fiction and fantasy writers and publishers, the creative process and the multitudes of characters who reside in his head.
There were no overt signs of fan annoyance with Martin’s reportedly unpredictable writing schedule and disregard for external deadlines.
Martin said he keeps his thousands of characters and complex plots in his head: “Maybe there is something wrong with me. … In the synapses where most people keep track of real people in their brains, I keep track of imaginary people.”
Martin does not shy away from realistic description, even in troubling scenes of violence or rape. He believes such scenes have always been part of the world, for better or worse, including during earlier historical periods we may tend to idealize, and inevitably during times of war.
Martin’s quest for realism also includes creating onomatopoeic interpretations of everything from blasts on brazen horns to deep human sighs.
Martin acknowledges a debt to comic books, which he read avidly as a kid growing up in New Jersey, especially Marvel Comics and famed artist Stan Lee. He dismisses the science in comics, however, as a “hodgepodge.”
“I try to make sense scientifically.” Martin says. “I don’t have any lightning bolts set to ‘stun.’ ”
His dedication to realism touches plot as well. In his “Wild Card” series, the world is transformed by an alien virus that kills or disfigures many, but also allows a few everyday human beings to develop superpowers. Martin launched the series and serves as its editor-in-chief.
“You develop a superpower; let’s say you can fly. So, what do you do?” Martin asked. “You probably don’t buy a spandex costume and go fight crime.”
Martin explores more likely human reactions to having superpowers, some good and some not so good, knowing that “absolute powers corrupt.”
Martin respects history but takes creative liberties. In “Wild Card,” an alternative timeline turns Cuban dictator Fidel Castro into a successful major league baseball player.
For the “Game of Thrones” series, Martin draws on the history of the War of the Roses, the 15th-century struggle for the English throne between the rival houses of Lancaster and York. But he creates his own distinct alternative history set in the fictional continents Westeros and Essos.
Martin is writing the final books in the “Song of Ice and Fire” saga, and is also working on adapting the “Wild Card” series into a film.
“Every so often – it’s the way Hollywood works – somebody shows up with a dump truck full of money, and the work goes on. …”
Besides Martin’s presence, ConCarolinas offered a vast array of events, vendors, contests and the unlikely scenes Con is famous for.
Actor Anthony Montgomery, who played Federation Starship Ensign Travis Mayweather on the “Star Trek: Enterprise” TV series, was marched through the Hilton by a group of Klingon warriors on the way to his surprise birthday party.
Queen’s Capers Morris performed dances dating from medieval times. Con chairwoman Jada Diaz kept the event organized, assisted by a throng of volunteers, including a Charizard from the “Pokémon” world wearing a pair of old red tennis shoes.
This is the last year the Con will be at the University Hilton, organizers announced. In 2015, the event will beam up to the Embassy Suites in Concord, allowing more space for the ever-growing number of participants.