31st May – 2nd June 2019, Holiday Inn, Rotorua.
Rotorua is a thermally active area and the smell of rotten eggs and the boiling clouds of steam leaking from the grounds around the convention hotel added a surrealistic and very science fictional air to New Zealand’s 40th national SF and Fantasy convention:-
An SF convention was held,
The convention hotel itself was on the outskirts of the city and outside of it there were almost no bars, restaurants or cafes in the area. On the other hand, the food and drink offered by the hotel was absolutely first class, though perhaps a trifle expensive, and consequently I gorged myself. The hotel also runs a regular shuttle bus into the city and on several occasions we took advantage of that to explore Eat Street which, as the name implies, is a street in the centre of Rotorua that contains nothing but bars and restaurants of every description: it is a gourmet’s (and a glutton’s) paradise...
The programme offered by the convention ran in up to five parallel streams that started 9.00am and continued until 6.00pm. There were formal presentations, panel discussions and wokshops of various kinds. The guests of honour were Kaaron Warren, Alena and Laura Van Arendonk, and Alan Baxter.
The convention was organised by writers and so there was a big emphasis on writing in the programme. That doesn’t mean that other aspects of SF were ignored, it just means that writers and writing had a much larger place in the programme than is usually the case. I found this very refreshing. Furthermore, a lot of “traditional” items had completely vanished from the programme – there was no quiz, for example. This too I strongly applaud: such programming ideas are old and well past their prime. They are long overdue for retirement. Just because something has always been done in the past is not a reason for continuing to do it in the future. I think it was very insightful of the organisers to recognise this.
It wasn’t only the programme that demonstrated the organisers' determination to do away with tired old ideas. The floating market was gone and in its place we had a permanently open market in the hotel foyer. I always hated the floating market at other conventions – there was never time to browse properly and, because of time constraints, I always felt under great pressure to buy. The permanent market at GeyserCon addressed both these issues and had the added advantage that, because it was in the hotel foyer, it also attracted customers who weren’t part of GeyserCon but who did have other business at the hotel. Everybody wins!
The panel discussions and presentations that I attended were (with one exception which I’ll come to later) very well organised. Clearly a lot of preparation had gone into these programme items. The participants were full of interesting and well thought out ideas. In many cases they had far too much material to present and there was seldom time for the audience to have their say!&nbp; This too I regard as a strength rather than a weakness. All too often at previous conventions I have seen badly prepared panellists and presenters struggle and flounder as they run out of things to say because they hadn’t thought the topic through before they sat down in front of their audience. Full marks to the organisers – they did brilliantly well with their programming.
I was particularly impressed with Kaaron Warren’s Guest of Honour spot. Lee Murray presented a very insightful question and answer session with Kaaron. Lee had clearly done her homework, and she asked interesting and insightful questions that shone a searching light on both Kaaron’s life and her writing.
Another highlight for me was a presentation by Gerry Huntman from IFWG (an Australian publisher) about the business of publishing books. It was quite an eye-opener. Gerry began the presentation by telling us about all the things he had done wrong when he first started the business and how, over time, he managed to address the problems that his mistakes had created. I was surprised at just how long it took before his business actually started to make money. I also hadn’t realised just how much the business depended on its relationships with other, ancillary businesses such as distributors. Anyone who seriously wants to get into the business of publishing books, either as a proper business or for the purpose of self-publishing, would have found this presentation invaluable.
The one exception to the generally flawless presentations was a panel about the history of New Zealand science fiction fandom. One of the panellists told me beforehand that the panel members had been exchanging a lot of emails between themselves as they refined their ideas about what to say to their audience. All these emails had been copied to the panel moderator, but he hadn’t replied to any of them, which was a bit worrying… On the day of the panel, the moderator introduced the panel members and then started a rambling, badly structured and extraordinarily dull presentation of some ideas that had nothing whatsoever to do with the actual topic of the panel. He was quickly interrupted and told that the panel was not about that subject. Hadn’t he read the definition of what the panel was about on the website or in the programme booklet? He admitted that he had not. Hadn’t he read the emails that the panellists had sent him about the things they felt needed to be discussed? He admitted that he had not.
The moderator, having covered himself in glory, retired behind a bottle of wine from where he took no further part in the proceedings. The remaining panellists then went on to present the usual interesting, thoughtful, well researched and well prepared discussion that was the norm for GeyserCon. Who needs moderators, particularly ones who have no idea what their panel is supposed to be about? Clearly as long as the panellists are well prepared and self-disciplined, moderators are not required.
The opening and closing ceremonies were, unusually for this convention, rather badly presented. The Master of Ceremonies was very under-rehearsed. He had not prepared his introductions of the Guests of Honour – he just read their details directly from the programme booklet and, presumably because the material was new to him, he stumbled quite badly over the words. I also felt that he misjudged his audience. The songs he sang and the jokes he told were old and over-familiar.
I’ll draw a veil over the embarrassments of the audience participation events… The whole thing reminded me of a Butlins Holiday Camp welcome from the 1950s. The only thing missing was a knobbly-knees contest. But since Norman Cates was wearing a kilt, the result of that would have been a foregone conclusion! (If this reference is lost on you, hunt out the BBC sitcom Hi-de-Hi!).
SFFANZ, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand, did its usual superb job of administering the voting for New Zealand's national SF Awards: the Sir Julius Vogel Awards.
I greatly enjoyed GeyserCon – it’s probably the best organised convention I have ever attended. Well done everybody.