Convention Review


The 15th North American Science Fiction Convention
20th – 23rd July 2023, RBC Convention Center, Winnipeg, Canada.
Sue Burke reports.


Science fiction conventions are always friendly, but Pemmi-Con dialled it up to eleven. I’m from the United States’ Midwest, where “Midwest nice” is a thing, but Canadians are nicer, saying “sorry” where we’d say “ope” or “excuse me”.  Canada also has its own accent, a culture with a greater emphasis on nature, and its own political and social trajectory, food, and historic heroes.  Pemmi-Con also stressed a presence of First Nations and Métis peoples. Pemmi-Con billed itself as a “Journey to the Center of the Continent,” and it is in the middle of North America, surrounded by yellow canola fields in bloom, but some of the continent was on heatwave-induced fire, so the air quality ranged from smoky to very smoky.

Most of the convention's events were in Delta Hotels Winnipeg and the RBC Convention Center, connected by skyway pedestrian bridges. The convention centre's south building Hall D held the Dealers, Art Show, autographing, exhibits, fan tables, site selection voting for next year’s North American Science Fiction Convention (NASFiC), along with some meeting rooms. They were all spacious and comfortable, but a full block away from the hotel. “I’m getting my daily steps in,” one con-goer remarked cheerfully.

With 509 members on site and 849 members total as of Saturday, the convention drew relatively few people for a North American alternative to the Worldcon. Many of those attending were experienced con-goers. That experience and friendly, nice, cheerfulness helped as the convention struggled at the last minute. As we ate and chatted in the hotel bar the day before the convention began, the schedule on the phone app Grenadine was literally changing before our eyes. Throughout the convention, it kept changing, but experienced con-goers knew how to cope. “We’re here for fun,” one of them explained…

A stand in the dealers hall.

The Opening Ceremony began with native singing and drumming by Heather Bjorklund of Turtle Drum workshops calling the ancestors as part of Pemmi-Con’s land acknowledgment. First Fandom Awards were presented by Vincent Docherty to authors Michael Moorcock and Will Murray for the First Fandom Hall of Fame; and artist Ken Kelly and fan and printer Conrad H. Ruppert for the Posthumous Hall of Fame. David Ritter presented the Sam Moskowitz Archive Award to John L. Coker III.

From the left: Philip John Currie, George Freeman, Heather Bjorklund, Julie E. Czerneda,
Tanya Huff, Nisi Shawl, Linda Ross-Mansfield, Robbie Bourget.

Programming offered a wide variety choices and kept its guests of honour busy. Philip John Currie, a Canadian palaeontologist and museum curator, spoke about all things dinosaur; Tyrannosaurs were feathered, especially juveniles, to keep warm, and you could not outrun one, especially the agile juveniles. Julie E. Czerneda, a Canadian biologist and SF author, added cheer to every panel she was on. George Freeman, a Canadian comic book creator, described how to create comic books. Tanya Huff, a Canadian author, provided lively toastmastering. John Mansfield, the fan guest of honour, died in April 2023 but was still honoured as the fan guest. Waubgeshig Rice, an author from the Wasauksing First Nation, explained Canadian mythology. Nisi Shawl, a US author, spoke on writing. Lorna Toolis, a Canadian fan, was Ghost of Honour. Katherena Vermette of the Red River Métis had to withdraw due to a work conflict.

Beyond the Guests of Honour, more than 100 people participated in the programming, with topics on writing, science, current events like social media or human rights, and fan favourites like Star Trek or Doctor Who. A virtual track was available starting Friday.

Although there was no media track, the schedule offered other entertainment: gaming, which included a New Zealand game called Kaupapa to learn the Maori language; a pinball room; cosplay; and lots of filk as performances, panels, and workshops. Kaffeklatsches and spotlight sessions encouraged friendly exchanges. Parties were limited due to hotel constraints, and the lobby bar became a busy social location.

Ten entries participated in the fancy dress Masquerade, including myself as a first-timer. Best in show for performance and for workmanship went to the dancing Hut of Baba Yaga (see picture left) which was a house on golden chicken legs.  I won a novice-class honourable mention for the story of my Doctor Who scarf.

In the Art Show, Robert Pasternak won Best in Show for “Breatharian”.

A NASFiC is held when the World Science Fiction Convention takes place outside of North America. This year (2023) Worldcon will be in Chengdu, China, and next year (2024) in Glasgow, Scotland.  More people at Pemmi-Con seemed interested in going to Glasgow than Chengdu. What little discussion of Chengdu that I heard involved concerns about cost and possible Chinese governmental intrusion, as well as doubts about the convention committee’s organising skills.

Because the 2024 Worldcon will be held outside of N. America, in Glasgow, a NASFic will take place, but where? Voting to select the site of the 2024 NASFiC was needed and the meeting for that was held in Hall D: it was the first-ever WSFS business meeting at a NASFiC and it was held on the convention's Saturday morning. It lasted fifteen minutes, and most of that time was spent explaining the rules. Buffalo, which was unopposed, won with 129 of 139 votes cast.

Pemmi-Con ended on Sunday afternoon with a procession led by a bagpiper, songs and drumming from Heather Bjorklund to release the ancestors, and a ceremonial passing of the gavel to Buffalo. In a reflection of Canadian culture, the evening’s Dead Dog party was renamed the Dazed Moose.

Sue Burke


Sue Burke is an author and fan who lives in Chicago, USA. Her novels include Semiosis, Interference and Immunity Index and Dual Memory. More information is at


Left: Sue in her masquerade debut with
Doctor Who scarf.

All pictures © Pemmi-con, 2023, courtesy press liaison and also the convention website's photo gallery.


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