June 2-4, 2017, Suncourt Hotel, Taupo, New Zealand.
Lee Murray: So, Dan, Darian, LexiCon: it was great, wasnít it?
Darian Smith: So great. So, so great.
LM [elbows her way to the front]: Letís talk about it, shall we? Iíll start because my con experience started a day earlier, on the Friday, when I helped to present a one-day Youth Workshop for intermediate and secondary school students. Itís the second time a workshop like this has been run in conjunction with our national convention, and given the success of the event, with ninety students and their teachers participating, I suspect the trend is likely to continue. There were two streams operating. In the first, Jan Goldie and Paul Mannering and I were tossed like Brer Rabbit into a briar patch, teaching 35 high school students about plotting, character, and world-building on a superhero theme. Meanwhile, Jean Gilbert, Lewis Morgan and Grace Bridges facilitated a stream for younger students in the next room. It was great fun with one student in our stream pitching Pixarís Finding Nemo as a horror thriller, and another outlining a story in which legendary demi-god Maui plays crime-buster in a Taupo DVD store. An afternoon session involved a Q&A panel on our writing processes, Paul Mannering horrifying the room with his childhood tale of seven years without TV and Jan Goldie telling of a writing epiphany she had at the tender age of 12. In the wrap up session, we swapped streams and were joined by IFWG publisher Gerry Huntman and Aussie speculative fiction queen, Kaaron Warron (one of the loveliest human beings on the planet), where we read from our work, answered questions, and gave away book prizes. It was a wonderful day. Hilarious. Inspiring. Exhausting. But if the talent and enthusiasm of those students is anything to go by, then Iím convinced the future of New Zealandís SF/F/H is in safe hands.
Dan Rabarts: As a minion of the ConCom, I can say with some degree of authority that LexiCon was indeed the best Science Fiction event to hit Taupo this century. Two yearsí worth of thought and planning went into the Con, from a dedicated and highly motivated team, and a lot of attention was paid to covering all our bases as regards content diversity and audience participation, and I think the general feeling is that we pulled off a quite excellent convention that people enjoyed. Which is what we were hoping for. Andi and Cassie and Darusha and Kelly and the rest of the committee deserve another round of applause.
DS: Opening ceremony for me was an exciting, sparkly kind of thing. Not only did we get the introductions and a sense of how the weekend will go, but we got our first glimpses of the guests of honour and there was an effervescent buzz as people who rarely get to see each other face to face met up again. There was a real sense of community and joy in seeing so many people I admire and respect but usually only communicate with via social media. I may be an introvert, but I do like seeing friends face-to-face on special occasions. And the Con was definitely one of those.
LM: First up for me panel-wise was moderating a session on the language of science fiction and fantasy, with Swedish writer Emma Lindhagen, Cloud Ink Pressí Mark Johnsonand local personality Jack Newhouse sharing the front table. One of the first panels of the con, it was too soon for convention goers to have succumbed to con crud, so the room was packed and it was a lively discussion covering topics such as conlanging, conlinging, inclusiveness, and Klingon. I also moderated a panel on Introducing new readers to SFF, but because the session was scheduled against Paul Mannering in conversation with Guest of Honour Seanan McGuire, there were only seventeen of the con's attendees present. So we decided to pull the chairs into a circle and invite everyone to join in, which turned out to be a great idea as the input from the audience was terrific. I think thatís one of the advantages of our New Zealand conventions: because we are small and most of us know each other, we can be flexible and no one throws a hissy fit. The DUFF delegate, Paul Weimer from Minneapolis, made a comment to that effect in the 'Australia and Us' panel, saying he hadnít realised before he came, just how close-knit our SF/F/H community is here, an aspect he felt might be unique to New Zealand.
DR: In the way of all good cons, a good portion of the Con should have seen the bar buzzing with people rubbing shoulders and chinking glasses, and from time to time it was. Surprisingly, there was less of this than expected, mainly because so many of the attendees were going to panels, which in some cases came as a surprise even to them. So while there was less action in the bar than we are used to, the panels were humming and people were networking and fan fund delegates were hanging out and talking community-building while peddling raffle tickets and auction lots. I am not quite sure the Suncourt knew what they were letting themselves in for when they agreed to our booking the place out for a convention, but they were amazing hosts as well, and everything went off about as smoothly as we could have hoped.
DS: The panels were fantastic. And, I must admit, I didnít spend a lot of time networking at the bar, but just making it through the foyer was often a dizzying around of connecting with people. The atmosphere was very friendly and welcoming.
LM: Six of my writing mentees turned up to the convention, all of them attending for the first time. Iíd never had that happen before. It was terrific to catch up with their progress, and to see them getting involved with the community. And speaking of getting involved, there was Word of the Things, the radio play spoof by Paul Mannering, which was announced at the opening of the convention, and performed by convention members at the closing ceremony.
DR: And oh how we laughed. So very relevant, so very witty.
LM: I loved it: an irreverent mash up of current events, Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings. As sharp as aged cheddar. But it was also community building activity disguised as a radio play. So cunning you could put a tail on it and call it a weasel. Not the first time itís been attempted, of course ? Manneringís Death Star Noir, was performed at Au Contraire 3 ? but I can see something like this becoming a regular event on the programme.
DS: I was fortunate enough to be a part of two panel discussions. The first was on the state of genre publishing in NZ, which was an early panel and, in my case, fuelled by caffeine. The other was a panel I was moderating on works that cross genres, which included guest of honour Seanan McGuire and some lively debate about what crossing genres really is. I also attended several others and was always impressed by the calibre of the discussions.
DR: Well, as the sort of unofficial hash tag junkie of the con, I managed to pop my head into just about every panel to grab photos and blitz social media, so I got to see a little bit of just about everything even if I didnít get to see all of pretty much anything. I was that annoying guy who walked in halfway through with his iPad, took photos of the speakers and the crowd and then left again ten minutes later. Picked up lots of snippets of great talks going on, and wished I couldíve spent more time in many of them. Highlights for me included interviewing filmmaker Christian Nicholson about his awesome little movie This Giant Papier Mache Boulder (is Actually Really Heavy), and sitting on a panel about diversity of background and how that is reflected in the art we as creatives produce. But the panel I walked into and couldnít leave because it was so fascinating was the 'Future of a Spacewoman' panel, which was just brilliant.
DS: Yes, Dan, I saw you snapping away while I was helpless to point out my good side. Where was the make-up team and the soft focus lighting? Ah, Photoshop, how you have abandoned me!
LM: Dan and I whipped out for lunch and could only stop briefly in the dealersí room, but Darian, you had books for sale there. How did it go? Do you sell a squizillion copies of Kalanonís Rising?
DS: It was a great floating market actually. I had a fantastic time meeting people and talking about books. Sadly, I didnít have a full squizillion copies with me, but I definitely sold enough to be worthwhile. And I spotted some books by other authors that Iím keen to look into further.
DR: That was one of the busiest floating markets Iíve seen at a con. It was absolutely packed. I hope that the dealers had a blast and sold heaps of books.
LM: I know we all attended the AGM of SpecFicNZ, our professional group for writers SFFH, because we got ourselves elected to the core committee yet again. I havenít dared tell my husband that Iíve signed myself up for another year, but what was I supposed to do? Those thumbscrews really hurt!
DS: Yes, I feel your pain, Lee! Somehow I too managed to find myself on the SpecFicNZ core committee without having intended it! But, I have to say, itís a truly worthy organisation and there are already some great things in the pipeline. Iím extremely pleased to be a member and taking a turn on the committee is a good way to give back.
DR: But it was a good time to go over what SpecFicNZ has been up to over the past twelve months, including dishing out publication and travel grants, kicking off a review programme and manuscript sample assessment programme, and working hard to engage the membership and community and get good info out there about whatís going on. SpecFicNZ continues to work closely with SFFANZ on growing links within the NZ Science Fiction community, such as funding the prize money for the LexiCon Short Fiction competition, which was won by Robinne Weiss, for the second year running!
LM: I was elected back onto the SFFANZ committee, too. Hey, something I did this convention, which Iíve never done before, was help collate and verify the Sir Julius Vogel voting, all of which took place on the spare bed of SFFANZ Chair Norman Catesí hotel room. Of course, they made me wait outside on the landing for any categories where I might have had a conflict of interest, and for all the others they had me swear to confidentiality on pain of having all my fingernails removed and my tongue shaved with a ham slicer, but overall I found the process highly transparent and rigorous. Votes are graded from 1-5 and there are Ďno awardí and Ďno voteí options, so it isnít as straightforward as it might seem. Iím glad I went along for a look-see behind the scenes ? although, no one got their tongue shaved, which was disappointing. Of course, the Sir Julius Vogel Awards celebrating excellence in SFFH were announced on Sunday evening. The results are listed here.
DR: As I said, I got to see little bits of most stuff. There were Elizabethís rats, and John Toonís speech, and there were games of all sorts being played in all sorts of places, and fan films being screened, and there was the cosplay masquerade and the funky cocktails and serious discussions of super-serious topics and stuff that was fun and full of laughs, and plans being made in the bar, deals of all kinds being struck in shady corners, a whole bubbling boiling brew of inspiration and ideas and information. It was everything a Con should be. And the best part is, enough money was raised that LexiCon has been able to make a significant donation to the charity of choice, Rainbow Youth.
DS: Very worthy causes to raise money for. And some pretty excellent raffle prizes too! All in all, I had a fantastic weekend and Iím looking forward to more. My sincere thanks to the organisers and to everyone involved. Itís a huge achievement to run an event like this and to do it so well.
DR: So many good times, so many good people.
LM: Absolutely. Thanks for chatting. Catch you both next time.
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Much thanks for this article also goes to Jan Butterworth for her commissioning it in New Zealand.
Currently (2017) New Zealand is bidding to host the Worldcon in 2020. News of this bid has been reported in our (northern-hemisphere-defined) seasonal SF & Science Fiction news page.:-
Also relevant elsewhere on this site is June's article on Wellington - for visiting SF folk and the (pre-2010 Worldcon) National New Zealand SF Convention.