Convention Review

Conjunction 2008
The New Zealand National SF Convention

Conjunction was New Zealand's national SF convention. June Young reports.


Conjunction, the 2008 New Zealand National Science Fiction convention, was held over Easter (March 21-24) at the Copthorne Plimmer Hotel in Wellington's central business district and shopping centre. It was a very busy national convention with 150 attending three streams of events over the Saturday and Sunday. This is a lot for a New Zealand convention, but Wellington-based conventions are seeing an increase in programmed events and this seems to be attracting more to attend. Nonetheless in terms of conrunning it is often simply a case of seeing who is willing to do something at the convention and how good the organizers are at fitting it all in.

The Literary Guest of Honour (GoH), was the Nebula Award-winning US author Elizabeth Moon. Her books have been retailing in mainstream New Zealand shops for some years now, making her a major SF author in this country. Conversely the works of some North American authors just do not make it into New Zealand, or are slow to get here, or are only stocked in local specialized bookshops like Barbara's Books or Unity. While internet stockists like have greatly improved what is available to the New Zealand genre reader, it still makes a difference to be able to hold a new book and browse through the first few pages before deciding to buy.

Ms. Moon was a hard-working GoH and a talented public speaker who was very generous with her time with convention attendees. The small size by North American and European standards of New Zealand (NZ) conventions enables everybody - both guests of honour and convention attendees - to mix and mingle freely. This can be a huge personal advantage, as I found out when up for breakfast rather early on the Saturday of the Convention. Ms. Moon is a morning person and was already eating when I arrived in the dining room. Nonetheless I got invited to join her, which I did, though New Zealand fans would not normally bother a guest at breakfast; we know we would have a chance to speak to GoHs at more public times if we so wanted.

The Conjunction organizers were rather innovative in their approach to events. One prime attraction was the visit to the Karori Native Bird Sanctuary which took all of Saturday morning. This was at extra cost and required advanced booking, and included Elizabeth Moon along for the ride. The idea was to do something outside of the hotel that incorporated the GoH's non-SF interests. The visit was a major success, with Wellington turning on its best early autumn weather for outside activity: it was sunny, warm and close to windless. Warmth is relative, as Ms. Moon told me Wellington in autumn felt like a Texas winter for her.

Ms. Moon was the primary speaker for several of the events, as well as being a panellist for the topic on 'Writing Female Characters'. She attended the convention banquet and helped present the Sir Julius Vogel Awards. One particularly memorable talk she gave was on conservation, entitled 'The Environment', where she talks about restoring the land she owns back to its native prairie condition, as it was before it was used for cattle grazing: Ms. Moon writes about this topic on her web-site.

Another innovation at the convention was the inclusion of a New Zealand Guest of Honour author - Philippa Ballantine. It has only been in recent years that New Zealand has had enough authors who regularly write SFnally to be able to do this, though the country previously has had several mainstream authors who have also done some genre work.

With the rise in numbers of local authors writing in science fiction and fantasy, sub-genres such as alternate history is becoming possible in both Australia and New Zealand. Sean McMullen is an Australian author, and semi-regular visitor to New Zealand SF conventions, who attended Conjunction in a private capacity. He has had an Australian alternate history published locally for young adult readers, entitled Before the Storm. It features the opening of the first Australian parliament in 1901 as the critical turning point in history. Fast-paced, action packed and hilariously funny in some places, it will appeal to both genders. The book's cover art captures it perfectly. Before the Storm inspired me to read up on the real opening of the first Australian federal parliament - now that is an impressive feat.

The convention also saw a book launch. Sally McLennan, a children's author based in the South Island, had her latest launched. This was an evening event affiliated to the convention and all attendees were invited. There was a very good turn-out and the finger food at Juniper restaurant was delicious. The atmosphere was very buoyant and enthusiastic. The book itself, Deputy Dan & the Mysterious Midnight Marauder is a fantasy written entirely in poetry and fully illustrated, with about half the pictures in colour - suitable for under-11s. See her web-site.

The other authors who officially attended Conjunction were Washington DC native Jon Blum and his Australian wife Kate Orman. This is the writing team that produced the 2004 Aurealis winning novel Fallen Gods, a Dr Who story. Jon Blum and Kate Orman were fantastic value at the convention, covering both media and literary science fiction. They know their core topic of Dr Who and engaged the audience's attention. Their presence made a strong contribution to the overall success of the convention.

During their visit, Kate Orman and Jon Blum were interviewed on New Zealand radio about Dr Who and science fiction for a programme entitled 'Einstein's Violin'. This was a radio New Zealand programme about the convergence of art and science (broadcast on the 30th March 2008). Dr Who is very mainstream SF in New Zealand, with many of the older fans having grown up with it. Indeed New Zealand has its own national Dr Who club and their fanzine, Time Space Visualiser, was a finalist in the Best Fanzine category of the 2008 Sir Julius Vogel Awards.

The Sir Julius Vogel Awards are the NZ Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Awards for professional and fan activity in these genres, as voted for by the fans. The full results for this year are can be found within the website. The SJV Awards, as they are known, were presented after the convention banquet which was held on the 20th floor of the Copthorne Hotel. Here the panoramic views of Wellington and the sea made for a very stylish backdrop.

It was a very positive sign that many professional authors attended Conjunction in a private capacity. Russell Kirkpatrick who won the SJV this year for Path of Revenge in the category of Best Novel, has been attending New Zealand SF conventions since 2004, is well-known to local SF fans, and consequently collected his trophy in person. Lucy Sussex was also present to collect her SJV trophy for Best Short Story. Her award tied with that of Kevin Maclean's whose own wining story was published in the Australian Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. (A large proportion of New Zealand genre short stories are published overseas, as New Zealand - being a small country - has extremely limited opportunities when it comes to publishing science fiction and fantasy short stories.)

To sum up, for convention participants there were a lot of events from which to choose. Additionally attendees appreciated the authors who came and contributed, all of whom added fun and occasional scholarly input. The Sunday night after the SJV awards ceremony was particularly social with some of the authors and attendees congregating in the comfort of the public hotel lounge where they indulged in relaxed conversation over drinks and chocolates.

News and links to current New Zealand conventions can be found at website.

June Young

June Young is the SFFANZ press officer and publicist. She can be reached at press ['at'] sffanz ['dot'] sf ['dot'] org ['dot'] nz. The views expressed here are those of the author and are not necessarily the views of SFFANZ as an organization.

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