Front Row Reviewers

Feb 20, 2024 | Reviews

The Life, the Universe, and Everything Conference Has the Answer

Front Row Reviewers

Front Row Reviewers

By Alayna Een

Life, The Universe, & Everything: The Marion K. “Doc” Smith Symposium on Science Fiction and Fantasy (LTUE) has been a staple for writers and fans of the sci-fi and fantasy genres for more than thirty years. From its humble beginnings as an offshoot from the local university (Brigham Young University), LTUE has been home to sci-fi legend Orson Scott Card and world-builder extraordinaire Brandon Sanderson, among many others. The name, theme, and function of the conference are lovingly lifted from Douglas Adams’s quintessential sci-fi comedy, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: the title is an initialism of the ultimate question and committee members carry towels to signal their status as galaxy travelers knowledgeable guides. 

In the past several years, the conference has grown into a three-day academic conference with more than 200 hours of programming featuring dozens of panelists and special guests. It also features pre-conference masterclasses, a film festival, art and vendor displays, networking events, creator meet-ups, reimagined folk song jam sessions, and a fully stocked stop-and-play game room. I like to think of it as the perfect mix between a professional conference and a fan convention, a duality especially visible in the lasers-and-blazers dress of attendees. 

But the conference held February 15–17, 2024, is the one that will go down in the captain’s logs of every space-traveling attendee because it contains in its number the ultimate answer to the ultimate question: 42.

LTUE is a nonprofit with the specific aim of keeping registration prices low enough so that any space-enthusiast can attend, and I first attended the conference with a $10 student ticket in hand. I have fond memories of that experience: trekking my way to the Provo Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, standing in the back of an overflowing panel discussion led by an author I admire, purchasing a literary-themed pendant from the lively vendor room, watching an intriguing amateur film about a teen caught in a time jump, and reading on the front page of a newspaper in the lobby that Opportunity (the little Mars rover that could) had finished its mission at last. These poignant and wholesome memories of LTUE 37 stayed with me. I went back to class the following week of my senior year without many plans for the future, but I knew that in five years it would be LTUE 42—and I would be there.

I’m now a professional editor with a side gig writing reviews, and I relished the opportunity to return to LTUE for this ultimate milestone. All of the things that I loved from my first experience were there again but in high definition. The keynote sessions were both informative and effortlessly entertaining. Each panel discussion brought new insights and applicable advice, and I especially admired the gravitas of the all-female panel on space gravity and desert planets. Artists and writers from dozens of niches discussed the intricacies of using AI and the moral stipulations at play as only sci-fi fans who know their way around cyborgs can, and I found those panels and keynotes to be among the most compelling of the conference.

Some of the conference’s new offerings quickly became favorites as well, including the writing prompt scavenger hunt that had me scouring corners for QR codes that linked to clever and quirky embodiments of writing tropes and the hugely popular Arium collaborative world-building event. 

But what this conference has that makes it stand out from similar events I’ve attended is its heart. The first stranger I talked to in the conference offered me a tiny plastic duck because “everyone smiles when they’re given a duck.” A bardic circle of musicians singing parody hits such as “You Bash the Balrog” and “I Would Write 500 Words” welcomed all wanderers—and took requests. And I realized that sometimes networking is as simple as standing in a hallway with a friend who pulls in another friend who pulls in another friend until suddenly you’re having dinner with keynote speaker Kaela Rivera and discussing Hayao Miyazaki over Thai food. 

The triumph of LTUE 42 is due in large part to cochairs Deidre McCleary and Nick Mills and the many volunteers. And whether you think 42 is a surface-level sci-fi joke, a key phrase written alphanumerically, the code behind a keystroke, or whatever you need it to be, LTUE 42 is an honored milestone in the marvelous history of a family-friendly conference celebrating all that is good in life, the universe, and everything.

If you want to get involved with LTUE 43, the first meeting will be on March 2, 2024 at 10 a.m. on the LTUE discord server.

LTUE 43 will be held February 13-15, 2025, with a series of masterclasses on February 12, 2025.
Discord server:

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