Convention Review

New Zealand's 2012 National Science Fiction and Fantasy convention

June Young reports Auckland venued convention,
event held 1st to the 4th June 2012.

unCONventional, the 33rd National Science Fiction Convention of New Zealand was held in Auckland, New Zealand, over Queen’s Birthday weekend – 1st to the 4th June 2012.   unCONventional, as a New Zealand national science fiction and fantasy convention, was a success in that people enjoyed themselves, and the convention itself had a 'cosy warm fuzzy' atmosphere around it throughout the 4 days. To translate, it was a friendly convention, very social, had new faces attending and held in a hotel that looked like a lovely old English pub, the Surrey Hotel, in Grey Lynn, Auckland.

The hotel served good hearty pub food, the staff were very friendly and obliging, and there was food and drink service for most of the day and well into the late evening. It also had decent guest parking, and was about 5 minutes drive from Ponsonby Road where some very good restaurants were to be found, including the French styled 'Sunday Painters' restaurant we tried one evening during the convention.

The convention was very pleased to have Australian author Trudi Canavan as the International Literary Guest of Honour, and so were some of the attendees, especially the ones that got to the convention early enough to attend her kaffeeklatsch; Ms. Canavan does good kaffeeklatsch sessions and if you are a fan of her work it is worth the effort to get to one. I got my copy of The Ambassador’s Mission signed by Ms. Canavan at it, and so felt like I had achieved my primary goal for this convention early on. (By the way, Trudi Canavan wrote about unCONventional on her website on 18th June 2012).

The convention properly started at the Opening ceremony on the Friday evening. Terri Doyle, the convention Chair Being spoke, introduced the guests and served a delicious chocolate cake made by the Surrey Hotel staff and iced with the convention logo as part of the Opening Mixer. This worked very well as a convention starter and I think set the friendly social atmosphere into motion for the rest of the convention.

The item I was co-presenting was on the Saturday morning. Entitled 'NZ Literary SF' it was held in the medium-sized convention room with overhead projector facilities. We spoke about New Zealand authors who have been published overseas and screened their book covers from all the different countries in which they are published. When my co-presenter and I started doing the research we realised we had way too much material for a 50 minute presentation, so we had to edit it and selectively pick one book per author to showcase as published in various countries: New Zealand genre authors are out there internationally and being published, both in English and in translated editions.

After the event I could relax and just attend other people’s programme items. One I attended was 'Astronomy' by Keith Smith. Keith is a long-time fan, avid photographer and amateur astronomer. Of late, he has taken to hiring time on the Slooh website and taking astronomical photos. He writes about his activities in Novazine, the magazine of the Auckland science fiction and fantasy club known as 'Stella-Nova' under the section 'Sky at Night', complete with pictures.

With programme 3 streams of events going on at unCONventional there was a lot to choose from. I attended as many of Trudi Canavan’s panels as possible as she is a very good speaker as well as an experienced author with plenty of convention experiences to share. She does have a soft voice so at a larger convention, she needs a microphone but as unCONventional had about 100 full members a microphone was not necessary. Panels included 'Women in Fantasy and Science Fiction', 'World Building', 'Promoting Your Book', and of course the 'Guest of Honour' speech, where Ms. Canavan talked very enthusiastically about her recent European book tour.

Helen Lowe, the author of The Heir of Night for which she won the David Gemmell Morningstar Award for Best Fantasy Newcomer soon after this convention, was attending unCONventional in a private capacity, but she was still busy doing panels, readings and signings for the convention. I spotted her in the bar of the Surrey Hotel signing her latest book The Gathering of the Lost, Book 2 of 'The Wall of Night' sequence. I started reading this book while travelling up to Auckland and was hard-pressed to put it down when it came to doing other things. A very well written fantasy, it makes for very compelling reading. I was reading it in-between attending panels, and yes - it has been signed by the author.

New Zealand author Russell Kirkpatrick who is a professional cartographer, part-time university lecturer, as well as a genre author, ran a very good panel on 'Geography in Science Fiction'. It was noted that most fans like maps with their books, but there were sometimes publishing issues beyond the author’s control regarding maps. Overall, a very educational session, especially if you have ever wondered why 'there’s no map' or 'the map doesn’t match the story' in your book.

The Sunday high-light for me was when Trudi Canavan offered to do an impromptu event. She offered to make her hot chocolate drink at the bar for any attendee that was interested. It started with about 5 who were very interested and who got there early so as not to miss out but the number grew to over 12 when it ended. I was there from the start and got to try the plain hot chocolate and worked my way up to the mild chilli hot chocolate. Whittaker’s Chocolate (a New Zealand company) is one of the official sponsors of unCONventional, and they supplied the very large bag of 72% Dark Ghana chocolate, which is a regular eating chocolate. This got used to make the hot chocolate drink, which was just so delicious, with and without chilli. Chocolate and Trudi Canavan was just such a fantastic combination! (Editor's note: Interesting that New Zealand fans seem to be as into chocolate as Britain's Eastercon-goers when in Jersey.)

The hotel staff were very helpful in facilitating the hot chocolate event, bringing out more cups as interest grew. The event lasted about 50 minutes and Ms. Canavan answered questions and talked about her books as she was making the drink. Afterwards Ms. Canavan brought out a bag of badges that represented each of her books for anyone who wanted a badge or two, and book plates as well. I had purchased The Rogue, the second book in the Traitor Spy trilogy by Trudi Canavan from a dealer at unCONventional , so took the opportunity to get this signed. I also got a book plate signed for The Traitor Queen that was to come out in August 2012. There were a good selection of dealers selling different kinds of genre books at unCONventional, which always helps when your convention is literary-based.

The Sir Julius Vogel Awards ceremony for best science fiction, fantasy and horror in New Zealand was another very social event. More Whittaker’s dark chocolate was served, along with bowls of potato chips. The Surrey Hotel really participated in this convention, and did a very good job. For example, they did SF themed cocktails for the awards ceremony.

New Zealand-based author Mary Victoria deservedly won in the SJV category of Best Novel for Samiha’s Song (Voyager, an imprint of HarperCollins), and then in her acceptance speech announced that she was emigrating the next month. Mary Victoria had attended local conventions before this, so the announcement was greeted with a tinge of sadness.

From my own perspective, unCONventional was a very good convention with many positives going for it – good location, great guests, friendly atmosphere, plenty of fans who volunteered and ran panels, and a health and safety policy. Most attendees were very appreciative of all the attending authors who generously gave their time to make this convention a success. There were plenty of opportunities for very relaxed mingling in the bar between authors, attendees and publishers. The one big difference this year was the abundance of local small presses attending, the most prominent being Steam Press, which has just had its first publication sold in Germany. It appears small press publishing is emerging in New Zealand, and producing quality genre work.

June Young

June Young is a New Zealand fan.


For other con reviews see our science fiction convention reviews index.


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