It’s the end of the world as we know it at this year’s Albuquerque science fiction convention, and sci-fi fans feel fine.

Bubonicon 44 is a three-day science fiction and fantasy convention, featuring discussions, panels, book signings and readings from Brandon Sanderson, George R. R. Martin and 40 other published authors. With nearly 800 people expected to attend the Mayan-calendar-themed event, writer and convention co-founder Robert Vardeman said science fiction’s steady rise in popularity is due to the genre’s speculative nature.

“The science fiction question we ask is ‘What if?’ and just go in with all sorts of questions,” Vardeman said. “I think most people enjoy science fiction because of that speculation — what is tomorrow going to be? This is, in an odd way, like going to a fortune teller, except maybe we’re a little more involved than someone holding a crystal ball.”

Vardeman created Bubonicon in 1969 as an attempt to gather other like-minded sci-fi writers from the Southwest. When searching for an eye-catching name for his convention, Vardeman said he turned to a recent news story for inspiration. At the time, New Mexicans were denied entry into Egypt due to reported cases of bubonic plague in New Mexico. Vardeman said he embraced the odd local case, adding “con” at the end of the disease to complete the name of his convention.

Vardeman said he and co-founder Roy Tackett have enjoyed watching the event grow over the past 40 years.

“In an odd way, it was sort of like a small child when it started,” Vardeman said. “I’ve loved watching it change from year to year. We can look over at three to four generations who have come to the convention.”

Writer and editor Joan Spicci Saberhagen said she has attended Bubonicon for the past 20 years.

“I entered the community by marriage,” Saberhagen said. “It opened me up to a new kind of literature; I was more of a classics person.”

Saberhagen married science fiction writer Fred Saberhagen in 1968, and met Vardeman and countless other writers at every Bubonicon since. After Fred passed away five years ago, Saberhagen opened a publication company dedicated to republishing her husband’s earlier work. Most recently, Saberhagen published “Golden Reflections,” an anthology that includes her husband’s original story, “Mask of the Sun,” and seven other novellas by current writers based on the fictional 16th-century Peruvian universe Fred created.

First-time presenter and writer T. Jackson King said science fiction has helped him look at situations from different perspectives.

“When you get into your character’s mind and into the world of your characters, it’s kind of like voluntary schizophrenia,” King said. “There’s part of you that kind of watches from the background; that is the writer part that types out the dialogue, the story and the conflict. But there’s another part of you that’s living the story right along with the characters.”

King said his writing career sparked while he was working as an archaeologist in Colorado. He said what initially started as a faint idea soon grew into a science fiction epic about a group of aliens discovering Earth by the planet’s echoing radio waves. King said after weeks of contemplation, he finally sat down, wrote his story from start to finish and then mailed it to a publisher.

It was rejected.

King is more successful now and has had seven books published, six of which are science fiction, but he said he writes to tell a story, not to make money.

“Most authors I know write as storytellers to share adventures with other readers,” he said. “If we get lucky and make a little bit of money, that’s nice, but no professional writer I know ever expects to get rich or have a Hollywood movie made.”

Avid sci-fi reader and event volunteer Caci Gallop said she attended the science fiction convention for 10 years before finally volunteering at the event. Gallop said the annual convention helps authors create and sustain relationships with their fans.

“Musicians get to go on tours and play their music one-on-one with their fans … it’s the same kind of concept when you get to hear an author read their book, what they’re going to publish next year,” Gallop said. “Just like any other art form — painting, music — exposure to the fans or fans’ exposure to the artist is absolutely critical.”