Convention Review

Conclave III

30th March – 2nd April, 2018, Surrey Hotel, Auckland.
Lee Murray (with an assist from Simon Litten) reports on New Zealand's
39th National Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention



Conclave III began with an hour of reunions with colleagues and friends, first at the registration desk and then at the Traders’ Faire. Once again, I assuaged my book addiction by buying a bunch of signed copies. There was still time before lunch to head upstairs for Guest of Honour Steve Wheeler’s Plastic to Prose workshop-presentation. The author of the Fury of Aces hard SF series, he is a knife maker and swordsmith as well as being a model-making ‘junkie’. There was only a few of us attending, so we get an opportunity to handle the model crafts, while Steve told us about how he uses them to inspire and inform his work and ensure the technical authenticity that hard science fiction lovers demand. We discuss using craft as an innovative way to engage student writers. Steve has lots more to say, but Piper and I have to rush away for the launch of SpecFicNZ’s showcase anthology, Te Korero Ahi Ka.

Eight of the book’s contributors have turned up, including editors Grace Bridges and myself, so we discussed the status of the project and its role in engaging our local writing community. Afterwards there was the usual herding sheep situation as we tried to get eight writers to stand still for a photo, followed by a mass signing event and much borrowing of pens.

Then we were on to Norman Cates’ WETA presentation to get the skinny on all the new techniques making our movie viewing epic. As is customary with Norman’s presentation, I could tell you about all the wonderful clips he showed us, but then I’d have to kill you, or Norman would, or WETA’s lawyers would have to engage a hitman. In any case, it was cool.

Next up, was the Other Voices panel, moderated by Stephen Litten, where we were joined by Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body author Simon Petrie and Indiana fantasy writer, Laura VanArendonk Baugh. It’s a lively discussion, with some great insights from my fellow panellists around the definition ‘other’ and the value of including marginalised and foreign-to-us voices on our reading lists. We discussed the vagaries of translation and the layering of culture that occurs when works are translated by a second voice. We touched on appropriation and the discourse surrounding Aboriginal and Maori mythologies. Panellists and audience members raised some seminal works from other cultures, including French, Italian, Japanese titles, which we all felt should be included on our must-read lists.

Daphne Lawless, Fan Guest of Honour and one half of the Cousins of Mercy filking team, gives an insightful and inspiring speech on the value of filking in community building, and the role of youth in perpetuating community. Both provocative and timely, the speech will be reproduced with Daphne’s kind permission on the SpecFicNZ website. Grab a coffee and have a read: I highly recommend it.

I spent the last hour before the meal-break in the bar catching up with a colleague, talking distribution and who to approach for a blurb for his upcoming book project.

On Sunday, we join a presentation by Karen Miller, author of the Godspeaker, Mage and Rogue Agent series as well as numerous tie-in novels in the Star Wars and Stargate universes. Hugely engaging, Karen’s answers to the Q&A were frank and informative. She was a terrific speaker, a born storyteller, and she has us all enthralled.

Immediately afterwards, renowned New Zealand fantasy writer Lyn McConchie gives an excellent talk about the periphery of writing, a primer for new and established authors on dealing with publishers and agents and maximising revenue from your writing.

There was a quick change of rooms, and I join authors Mark Johnson and Simon Petrie for a panel on 'Fools in Science Fiction and Fantasy'. It was good topic for April Fool’s Day, and the session is well attended by convention goers who provide some lively contribution from the floor. Mark and I have done extensive research, we called for ideas on our social media feeds so using our Facebook cheat sheet, there is lots to discuss, including whether fools are forcibly comic, their role in the plot, the wise fool as a moral compass and foil to authority, and the fool-antagonist. The panellists were fortified throughout the hour with chocolate eggs kindly provided by the SFFANZ secretary, Lynelle Howell. Note to future convention chairs: writers will occasionally work for chocolate! Then I rush upstairs to catch a fascinating discussion on tie-ins by experts Karen Miller (Star Wars and Stargate) and Lyn McConchie (Andre Norton’s Beastmaster series and, more recently Sherlock Holmes).

Thank heavens for those chocolate eggs, because I miss lunch, stopping by to help out with the Sir Julius Vogel voting. The committee always welcome help from volunteers, or from anyone interested learning more about the voting process. Naturally, you’re not allowed to invigilate any category where you might have a conflict of interest, and everyone involved is sworn to secrecy regarding the results, but it is a great opportunity to have a look behind the scenes at the work of the SFFANZ and the SJV committee.

There were back-to-back Guest of Honour speeches by Steve Wheeler and Karen Miller. Fabulous speakers both, afterwards my brain was so boggling with information that I skipped the next session in favour of a slump in a comfy armchair, a cup of tea, and a chat with Piper, Lynelle, and local fan personality Lorain Clark.

The last panel session of the day is my favourite of the convention. Featuring Mark Johnson, SpecFicNZ president Grace Bridges, Laura VanArendonk Baugh and Starlight’s Children author, Darian Smith, it was a wonderful discussion on worldbuilding, with insights into how the panellists came up with their own worlds, how to keep the magic/science consistent, using worlds to highlight socio-political themes, the freedom and limitations of the author when writing in a fantasy world, and why it’s even necessary for writers to go to all the trouble when they have a perfectly good contemporary setting to work with. We were still talking world-building forty minutes after the close of the session, leaving ourselves only a few minutes to change for the banquet.

The evening’s entertainment was provided by Guest of Honour Daphne Lawless, who sings some best-loved filks. My favourite was FanFic Writer, sung to the tune of McCartney’s 'Paperback Writer'.

Daphne’s performance was followed by the Sir Julius Vogel Awards, hosted by Norman Cates and Lynelle Howell with the trophies presented by the Guests of Honour. I am astounded when my crime-noir novel Hounds of the Unerworld co-authored with my partner in darkness Dan Rabarts, won the award for the 'Best Novel' category against a field which includes fantastic work by JC Hart, Richard Parry, Lyn McConchie, and Darian Smith. Karen Miller presented my tenth Sir Julius Vogel Award trophy, Dan’s fourth, and our third award won jointly for a collaborative project.

Still in a daze, I was up again to accept Sean Monaghan’s award for Best Short Story, for 'Crimson Birds of Small Miracles', which was published by Asimov's, and then again to present the award for Best New Talent to Gareth Ward, author of YA steampunk The Traitor and the Thief.

It was a wonderful result when six of our Te Korero Ahi Ka contributors come away from the ceremony with pointy prongs in the professional categories.

Lyn McConchie and Laura VanArendonk Baugh took first and second in the Conclave III story competition, and Gareth Ward won the masquerade costume title.

The awards completed, there are last minute photos and hugs and farewells, then we slipped into the night, beginning our late-night road trip home, done for another year.

GeyserCon, the 40th NZ national science fiction fantasy and horror convention will be held from 31 May-3 June, 2019 at the Holiday Inn in Rotorua. Guests of Honour include Jonathan Maberry and Kaaron Warren.

Lee Murray



Friday was fairly quiet. Apart from the opening ceremony and Writers’ stream, there was not much programmed so Jan and I took advantage of the opportunity to investigate the bar and chat with other attendees. Unfortunately, due to a delay in food being served, we missed the opening ceremony. Lee’s covered Saturday and Sunday quite well, apart from the 'Children of the Space Age' panel, of which I was a panellist. It was a discussion of how much our society has changed with the new technologies that have been adopted. And wondering where our flying cars are that SF promised.

Monday brought the usual business meetings, and the presentation of plans for the future. Because nobody proposed a Natcon for 2020, it appears the NZ Worldcon (assuming the bid is accepted and that is mostly a formality) will be the default Natcon. No-one spotted this elephant in the room.

Simon Litten


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