Convention Review

Context 2011: The New Zealand national convention

June Young attended the 32nd NZ natcon at the
Barrycourt Motor Inn & Conference Centre, Parnell, Auckland, 3rd - 6th July.


I am very glad I went. I really enjoyed myself. I almost was not able to make it. Context was an out of town science fiction and fantasy convention for me, and as such I always need to factor in travelling time, extra expenses and catching up with friends who live locally. Plus convention attendance is a wonderful excuse to explore the delights of another city.

Context's organisers picked an excellent convention venue – the Barrycourt Motor Inn & Conference Centre in Parnell, Auckland. It had clean, functional, decent-sized hotel rooms with good TV reception, meaning I could watch Dr Who with pristine digital TV reception. The hotel restaurant also offered very good food. I ate breakfast and dinner there, and con attendees were able to pre-order lunch. The bonus was that the hotel restaurant offered an all-day coffee shop and café service complete with café food. This meant that stylish kaffeeklatsch sessions with the guests was available, an option that I have come to appreciate. I also heard that the hotel has a 24-hour liquor licence and did stay open serving snack food and drinks for as long as any con attendees wanted a service. The convention banquet was also one of the better ones that I had been to in recent years. I think it was the pumpernickel bread they served for starters and the pavlova for dessert; but regardless, a good food and drink service goes a long way in making a convention successful.

When I finally confirmed my attendance, the first thing that was asked of me was “can you do Registration Desk duties?” One of the more practical reasons I get to a convention early is to help out if required, and sitting on the Registration Desk for Opening Day is a worthwhile contribution of one’s time and energy. I staffed the desk with the convention treasurer from after 5pm to just after 8pm. We opted to keep the Registration Desk opened during the Opening Ceremony. Having been a convention attending fan for over 20 years, I can afford to miss the occasional opening ceremony. It was quite an experience to see the troupe of belly dancers in full costume come and go, and come back during the course of the evening as they were the main entertainment for the opening ceremony. New Zealand conventions do not necessarily stick to SF themed opening ceremonies, and take the more practical approach of what can be achieved that will work, and belly dancing did work!

New Zealand conventions are small, Context saw around 90 attending, so small that one can end up having breakfast with the guests; in my case, it was with Helen Lowe, author of The Heir of Night (EOS, HarperCollins USA or Little Brown, Great Britain). I enjoyed reading this book very much and felt quite privileged to be able to sit in on the first ever public reading of the sequel that is going by the working title The Gathering of the Lost. I will definitely be getting it in early 2012 when it comes out.

Helen Lowe is a resident of Christchurch, a major city in New Zealand that recently experienced several major earthquakes and aftershocks resulting in long-term damage. Helen's blog includes a section on the earthquakes (easily found as the blog can be sorted by topic) and the blog is linked to from her Helen Lowe website.

I attended many of Ms. Lowe’s events and found her to be a good speaker as well as a very good moderator and panellist – someone who does one’s home work and comes prepared. I was also able to fit in a kaffeeklatsch session with Ms. Lowe where I indulged in a latté and muffin.

I say 'fit in' because this convention had three streams of events to pick and choose from. There was board-gaming, heaps of literary themed panels, music events, and fan-related sessions to attend. I was even in an event as a presenter.

I was asked some months back to do a session on Sir Julius Vogel (SJV) Award Voting by the Chief Vote Scrutineer of the Awards. The SJVs are a fan-based science fiction, fantasy and horror award for New Zealanders either resident in New Zealand or living abroad, and use a preferential voting system. It is pretty much a local NZ version of the Hugo awards and uses a similar voting system. Then it spiralled into a 'How to source New Zealand genre works', and 'how to make nominations' was thrown in for good measure to ensure we had enough material to fill up a 50-minute session. The important points to remember are:-
i.   Anyone can make a nomination (local to New Zealand or overseas) and it is free.
ii. Remember to sign your voting form (It is only to ensure eligibility to vote and avoid voting irregularities).
iii. Libraries and bookshops are a good source of genre works by New Zealanders. (Many of our local authors are published by major northern hemisphere publishers and their works are available internationally)
iv. You can vote to support all the works of your favourite author, even if they have more than one work in a given category. You just mark your first preference by the author with a '1' and your second preference by the same author as a '2'. This will help ensure that one of the two works by the same author in the given category has a chance of winning. Voting for both works is not making the works by the same author compete against each other.
v.   Nominations open at the end of the year for the calendar year just gone.

See elsewhere for details of this year's Sir Julius Vogel winners.

The board-gaming was popular and was dominated by Dominion, a game I play, enjoy and sometimes win. I enjoyed the SF quiz, something I rarely go to. A lot of work went into this, as it was formed with questions and pictures. It was a nice, even mix of books, comics and media SF, some obscure, some mainstream. Not a particularly high scoring quiz but very well done. The quiz made me realise just how much of the detail I had forgotten over the years. I did favour the literary panels so cannot give an on-site account of the convention as far as the other streams went.

American author Catherine Asaro was Context's Literary Guest of Honour. I have not read any of her books but one lady who was attending the convention had sixteen of hers in hardback, and was wondering if she should get all of them signed or just settle for half of them being signed. If you are a fan, going to conventions is such a good way to pick up an autograph for your books. Usually there is no limit at New Zealand conventions. I enjoyed Ms Asaro’s (Dr Asaro’s) talk on romance in science fiction. Her books are principally genre but have a very strong element of romance. She has two works available at the Baen Free Library here, if anyone wants to read before they buy.

The other guest, Lyn McConchie, is always an interesting down-to-earth speaker. Her novel The Questing Road (Tor, USA) tied with The Heir of Night by Helen Lowe to win Best Novel in the SJVs. I totally enjoyed her talk about the 'pitfalls to watch out for when getting published'. I had a stack of her books that required an autograph, for which she was most obliging. These were mainly her non-genre very humorous farming stories collated and published as books, but I also had a hardback copy of “The Questing Road”, which I enjoyed reading.

The big highlight of Context for me was that Ms. McConchie, over breakfast, informed me that she had an Andre Norton autograph on a book plate which she was donating to the convention auction as a fund-raiser. Andre Norton was my favourite author when I was a YA reader. I am pretty sure I read science fiction and fantasy because of Ms Norton’s works. Ms. McConchie had co-written several Witch World books with Ms. Norton, some of which I personally own and enjoyed reading very much. Having worked together, Ms McConchie was able to get a few signed book plates. I never ever thought it possible that one day I would own a book that carried an 'Andre Norton' signature, but I now do, and it was obtained at the Context auction via bidding.

Auckland put on some wonderful weather over the five days of the con. One particular day was almost like early autumn and no wind. Going to Auckland is almost like going to a foreign country, the further north you go, the milder the weather gets. The calm weather enabled some socialising to be done outside the convention, such as dining away from the convention hotel. The Barrycourt is located within a five minute walk to Parnell Road, where some upmarket clothing shops and lots of good quality restaurants have their premises. One convention attendee raved about La Bocca and I certainly enjoyed Di Mare: both are established Italian-styled restaurants. There are also some shops and restaurants in the back and side streets off Parnell Road; one needs to walk at a leisurely pace, stop and look. That’s how I found the gelato shop in a side street, and the Japanese restaurant which was in a back section and upstairs.

Despite the upmarket location, the Barrycourt Motor Inn was a very affordable, comfortable convention hotel with free parking for the guests. I suspect some of the established fans attend conventions to socialise with each other, so any convention that facilitates this by having good on-site amenities in the hotel as well as being close to outside options is always going to be looked upon very favourably.

One new thing that is being done in New Zealand, is having a Safety and Harassment Policy for the convention. This practice was started by Au Contraire, the 31st national New Zealand convention, which had their policy in their convention book. Context had a policy on their website and the policy was included in the convention packet on a separate piece of paper. Under New Zealand law organisers of events are liable, so even if it is only a precaution, it is important to have one. The policy sets standards, and if the standards are ignored, something can be done about it. Nothing 'new' has happened; the issues have been around for as long as I have been attending conventions. It is just that people are more willing to discuss safety and harassment issues out in the open and be proactive in addressing them. These are international issues and are being talked about, as I found out when I attended Aussiecon 4, the 68th World Science Fiction Convention that was held in Melbourne, Australia in 2010.

June Young

2012 New Zealand national science fiction, fantasy and horror convention : UnCONventional -

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