MOSF Escape Velocity 2019
Escape Velocity 2019, May 24 – 26
Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center
201 Waterfront Street, National Harbor, MD 20745
While Amazing Stories editor Steve Davidson was holding down a booth at Balticon, the Capital Region’s largest sci-fi convention, I was an hour away at the Museum of Science Fiction’s annual convention: Escape Velocity 2019.
Escape Velocity is a different sort of con than anything else in sci-fi. Visually it looks like a media con, with lots of large-scale movie props and cosplayers, but behind the closed panel doors, there’s a serious attempt to create a fusion of pop-sci-fi culture, accessible science, resources for educators, and even a few policy wonks talking about the future of space conflict.
Now in its fourth year, the con’s home is at the Gaylord Convention center at National Harbor in Maryland, across the river from Alexandria, Virginia. You can get to the con by car, public transit, water taxi or even bike across the Woodrow Wilson Memorial bridge as I did. Parking is $30 a day, which can’t help attendance. Neither can being scheduled opposite Balticon or just being held on the Memorial Day weekend. I was there both Friday and Saturday and attendance seemed light, though on Friday it was a Mecca for school groups, which has to be the world’s best field trip.
The eye-popping action is on the exhibit floor, which features prop replicas, including a 1966 Batmobile and an R2 unit that’s happy to chase you around the floor. There’s a gaming area, which was pretty well attended Saturday, and demonstrations and workshops of everything from science to martial arts going on all the time. The convention featured a collection of electric cars and technology, but in reality, all I saw were a Tesla sedan and a Chevy Volt used by the Hyattsville, Maryland police. Cars are popular props for the con, as there was a faithful TV series Batmobile, a Dodge Charger decked out in Cylon-Toaster trim, and a new Ghostbusters SUV to carry the Ghostbusters Tri-State Division crew around. There were robots and many green screen photo ops, including a pretty nice ST: TOS Enterprise bridge simulation where you could (for a price) sit in the big chair. Some displays were not back this year, including the remarkable Millenium Falcon cockpit, which I saw last year. All in all, I found the Exhibit Hall down a notch from last year, but still full of sci-fi eye-candy.
A museum is nothing without its own gallery, and the good news for fans and MOSF alike is that they’ve significantly upped their game here, thanks in large part to Kurt Kuhn, founder and owner of Modeler’s Miniatures & Magic, who is in the process of donating his extensive model collection, beginning with a full scale replica of the USS Enterprise from Star Trek: The Motion Picture which measures over 8 feet and has an advanced lighting system, as well as detailed interiors for a number of areas visible through windows. Whimsically, In the aft officer’s lounge on the saucer section, you can make out Decker watching a movie: Star Wars. On the hour, the entire ship goes through a recreation of the “beauty pass” scene in the movie, going from dark and quiet to warp effects with the swelling music from the film behind it. It wasn’t unusual to see someone walk into the room and stop dead in their tracks, mouth agape. It’s a beautiful model of a ship that’s wired into sci-fi fans brains like no other. 2001’s Discovery and Star Wars’ Millennium Falcon evoke their own wonder, and maybe someday the museum will have them, but there’s a sense of wonder that only NCC-1701 can provide, and this model, built by master modeler Dan Grumeretz, was a terrific centerpiece for EV2019. The gallery also features a large scale 2001 Monolith, suits from Alien, and an increasing number of high-quality props from sci-fi film, but for the moment, the Enterprise steals the show.
It would be easy to think that the con is just about props, but there’s actually a tremendous amount of serious programming. Unlike fan-run cons, the panelists are experts in their fields, whether it’s about teaching science fiction at the university level, new research in quantum physics (explained so we get it), or how sci-fi anime changed the world. Great topics and great presenters, but unfortunately you can only go to one panel at a time. There were a host of evening activities I wasn’t able to get to, which is a shame since MOSF maven (and legal counsel) Charles Hildebrandt tells me that they’d increased those activities this year.
I’m a fan of the idea of a Museum of Science Fiction and wish these folks well. They’re still trying to find a place for a physical site, but keeping the flame alive with regular events and Escape Velocity. Sadly, with the exception of the gallery, largely thanks to Kurt Kuhn’s generous contributions, I’m not seeing an upward arc with the con. Between competition with Balticon, the difficulty of access, and a lack of awareness on the part of fans, Escape Velocity still seems to be struggling to maintain orbit, let alone boldly go where no con has gone before.
Links / References
- MOSF Escape Velocity 2019: https://escapevelocity.events/
- Event Programming: https://escapevelocity.events/programs/
- MOSF Kuhn Collection Donation: https://www.museumofsciencefiction.org/kuhn-collection