BURLINGTON -- Readercon is a science fiction conference that lacks much of the visual panache of a typical science fiction fair.
In its 17th year, the conference, which was held last weekend at the Boston Marriott Burlington , had no Han Solo or Captain Kirk look-alikes roaming the hotel's corridors. Film and video game booths and events were absent except for a panel discussion on the TV series ``Battlestar Galactica."
The event, which has gathered a literary mystique among the faithful over the years, doesn't confine itself to science fiction but includes all forms of imaginative literature, including fantasy.
For the most part, the 400 people who attended the conference and the authors they came to see dressed plainly and talked about heady issues, such as the existence of God, quantum physics, and the interplay of science fiction and fantasy genres.
As Readercon program chairman Eric Van put it, the event is the premier conference in the country that caters ``to a whole subset of science fiction which is taken seriously." It draws authors from around the globe, including those from Britain and Australia, and managed in 1994 to draw Ursula LeGuin , the author of the `` Earthsea" novels, as its guest of honor, he said.
``Everyone here is trying to write something that you've never read before," said Van.
For the first time this year, the convention gave out an award, the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award, which honors a posthumous author who has made a meaningful impact in the past but more recently fallen out of vogue. The award went to William Hope Hodgson, whose most famous book is ``The Nightland: A Love Tale," said Van.
Of course, the conference's panel discussions and workshops were a big draw.
One panel, titled ``I Never Metafiction I Didn't Like," featured authors Barry Malzberg, John Crowley, Ron Drummond, Rachel Pollack, and Scott Edelman, who parried words for an hour over metafiction, a device an author uses to draw the reader into a meditation of how fiction and reality interrelate by creating a ``fiction about fiction," according to Crowley. The panel agreed that the movie ``The Truman Show," in which Jim Carrey's character lives out his life in a fictitious suburban environment, was a classic example of a metafiction.
Readercon also offered a mix of lighter, less cerebral panels, such as a workshop about how to write sex scenes skillfully or how to use Tarot cards to help figure out how to create interesting turns in a plot.
For many who attended, the convention offered an opportunity to meet authors they admire. For others, it was a different style of convention, one that stimulates the mind more than the senses.
Chris Davis, a Cambridge resident who was browsing books at the convention's book fair, said he is interested more in science-based novels, those about biology or technology.
And Yeugenia Khodor of Somerville said she also attends Boskone, an annual science fiction convention in Boston, but Readercon has a much different appeal.
``It's just way more literary here," she said.