Tomorrow is the first day of LTUE, short for “Life, the Universe, and Everything,” a yearly academic symposium about science fiction and fantasy literature. LTUE is now in it’s 29th year, and it’s kind of an amazing story: it was started by BYU students because they wanted an SF convention, and there weren’t any locally, and it proved so overwhelmingly popular that it’s grown from a small club activity to a huge conference featuring hundreds of attendees and big-name guests from all over the industry. When I was in college, wondering if there was anyone else on campus who liked all the nerdy things I liked, my roommate and I stumbled onto LTUE and thought we were in heaven: they had Tracy Hickman, a world-renowned multi-bestselling fantasy author; they had Gordon Van Gelder, Hugo-winning editor of The Magazione of Fantasy and Science Fiction; they had geology professors teaching classes about how to create alien planets; they had linguistics professors talking about how to create new languages and cultures. In one hour I was listening to a special effects creator from ILM, and in the next hour I was helping Steve Jackson playtest what would eventually become Chaos Chess. Every aspect of fantasy and science fiction, every nook and cranny of the hobby I loved so much, was right there. It was awesome.
LTUE was the first SF/F convention I ever went to, and helped foster my already intense love of reading and writing. Today I’m a full-time author with an urban fantasy series in print and a science fiction series under contract, happily doing what I love and actually getting paid for it, and I do not hesitate to credit a lot of that to the support I had through LTUE. (A lot of credit should go to two other BYU programs: a creative writing class taught by bestseller Dave Wolverton, and the absolutely stellar student magazine The Leading Edge.) And here’s the thing: even though I now go to conventions professionally—five or six in a year, including some of the very biggest in the world—LTUE is still one of my favorites. LTUE is different than the other conventions because it is a “symposium”—it is an academic conference presented at a university, and that changes the feel, the flavor, and everything else. I go to WorldCon to see my favorite authors talk about Doctor Who, and I go to DragonCon to see people dressed as cats who are dressed as ghostbusters; I go to LTUE to hear authors and academics talk about what they write, and how, and why.
It’s the “why” that really gets me. You don’t get that anywhere else. A few years ago Orson Scott Card gave a keynote address at LTUE about why science fiction was the last great bastion of religious writing—not because it is doctrinal or dogmatic, but because it concerns itself with the questions behind the face of the world. How does consciousness work? What is life, and how is it defined and created and experienced? What lies beyond the limits of our perception, and how can we expand that perception to discover it? With so much of our culture buried in the minutae of who is cool and who is famous and who is doing what to whom, it’s refreshing and downright inspiring to pick up a book that asks more meaningful questions. In another year, in an LTUE panel I had the privilege to be on, a professor spoke in reverent, nearly gut-wrenching tones about a string of devastating illnesses and other personal trials that dragged him into the depths of despair and depression, and how it was horror literature, of all things, that helped him crawl back out of it. No matter how bad his own life became, the characters in the books he read were even worse; they faced their demons (sometimes literally), they plowed ahead, and at the end of the book they had survived, and even when they didn’t the reader did, and that victory kept him going for another day.
In the last few years, following the explosion of Utah writers both nationally and internationally published, LTUE has tended closer and closer to a writing conference, and last year was the biggest I can ever remember it being. Utah has an unbelievable wealth of science fiction and fantasy authors, wildly out of proportion with other parts of the country. We have so many authors that even the publishers have noticed and wondered why; so many authors that I don’t dare to list them, because I’d forget half of them long before I ran out of room. LTUE has helped foster this community, and is now reaping the benefits with one of the most impressive (and ridiculously cheap) writing conferences I’ve ever seen.
LTUE is not a specifically Mormon conference. It is not a specifically BYU conference, though BYU has been an important sponsor. It is a unique and incredible conference full of passionate artists and academics, coming together to talk and study and ponder about the things they love the most. If you can possibly attend, I highly recommend it:
February 17-19, 2011
$25 for the weekend, $10 a day, or free with any student ID