Convention Review

Au Contraire 3

the 37th New Zealand National SF convention
was held 3rd-5th June, 2016, in Wellington.


Au Contraire, the third of that name to be held as New Zealand’s National Convention was held on our Queen’s Birthday Weekend 3-5 June, 2016, at the CQ Hotel in Cuba Street, Wellington.

Au Contraire 2016 was the 37th National Science Fiction & Fantasy Convention for New Zealand (NatCon for short) and the third Au Contraire, the first Au Contraire was in 2010. It was run by a committee of 7 volunteers - 6 of whom lived in another city 8 hours from the venue in Wellington – Au Contraire enjoyed the support of SFFANZ and SpecFicNZ, New Zealand's bodies for SF fans and professionals respectively.

Guests of Honour: Martin Wallace (of Treefrog Games - New Zealand board game designer extraordinaire); Juliet Marillier (New Zealand-born fantasy author) and A. J' Fitzwater (an award winning local writer).

This year saw 150+ people attended the convention, with a further 90 teenagers attending the YA Writers Workshop held before the con. This was a full-day workshop aimed at intermediate (middle grade) and college (high school) students, and a lot more successful than first anticipated. It was first planned for 40 students but the uptake by schools exceeded expectations and the workshop number was pushed out from 40 to 60, then to 80, finally closing registrations at a little over 90 students. This was the maximum that could be comfortably managed in the convention space available, and a further 50 students were on a wait list. There were 3 streams running concurrently, with experienced YA writers running sessions such as 'Ideas – Where Do The Come From' and 'Plotting – Keeping Your Storylines In Time'.

There was a fairly well-balanced selection of topics and workshops, with something to suit everyone. As well as the coverage of literary topics, the convention also boasted filking, cosplay, and art – with an art contest judged by WETA’s Paul Tobin. Mythology, gender, punks, making a space mission, podcasting, horror, fan funds, and community building were some of the panel discussions, while Star Wars origami guru Martin Hunt hosted a panel that built a life-sized BB8 droid.

During the convention a 2 hour Writing Workshop was held that focused on looking at veracity and creating credible and compelling characters and worlds. The convenor was Anna Mackenzie, who is one of New Zealand’s leading YA writers.

New Zealand is planning a bid to host the 78th World Science Fiction Convention, or Worldcon, in 2020. There was the usual panel outlining progress and plotting the next moves held at 9am. It was packed so that gives an indication of how committed fans are to making this happen! At the moment we are comparing venues (Auckland vs Wellington) and our crew are adding to our skills and knowledge base by attending Worldcons and promoting NZ in 2020 at these intervening conventions while busily working in the background on job descriptions, marketing and logistics. We are in contact with a number of SF clubs around New Zealand and have been overwhelmed with the positive response from both here and overseas.

It will not happen overnight…but it will happen!*

I really enjoyed going to Au Contraire 3. Since I was just doing a panel on 'My first Con' and organising and running the Auction, I think I had just right mix of doing stuff and being a 'passenger'.

So what else was there to see and do? The bar and lounge at the CQ Hotel was a great place to hang out with friends and the staff were very good with getting food out to hungry fans at all hours.

Friday was mostly for the young writers and so it was cruisy start to the con. I applaud the hard work that has gone into organising the young writers group and workshop and since they had such a response that they had to turn people away; I should think they will be running their own convention sooner rather than later. Start looking at scout camps, and boarding schools you can hire over the holidays, folks, you are on your way!

Martin Wallace turned out to be an excellent speaker and even through I am not a regular gamer I was entertained. Likewise Juliet Marillier who is fascinating in her own right.

I didn’t attend the panels for writers, I have attended dozens over the years and it just reinforces that writing is not a spectator sport. Which gave me lots of time to hang with old and new friends and rehearse the radio show.

Written by Paul Mannering Death Star Noir tells the story of a hard baked private eye, a femme fatale and various characters in a story taking place on a certain well known planet-in-drag. Paul was generous enough to allow his cast to tweak the dialogue and did we respond? Like rocketing pheasants!

I had had the pleasure of working with most of the cast before and we knew our timing and quickly cobbled together bits of business and props that gave the radio show a visual aspect for the audience. It’s lovely to work with people who know what they are doing (great death scene Dylan!) and the audience laughed in the right places which is a win.

Well done guys, you kept it all running with no visible disasters. High praise, believe me! Roll on Au Contraire 4!

Next year’s convention, Lexicon, the 38th national science fiction and fantasy conference, will be held at Taupo’s Suncourt Hotel over Queen’s Birthday Weekend, 2-4 June, 2017. The Guest of Honour is Seanan McGuire – not to be missed!

For the rest of you from beyond New Zealand's shore, start saving the airfare to come downunder for the 2020 Worldcon and see Middle Earth!!!

Maree Pavletich

With some additional material by Jan Butterworth.

* slogan from a 1980s shampoo commercial with Rachel Hunter that is famous in New Zealand.


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