This is the archived site for Au Contraire 2010. Check out the home page for current news!
Au Contraire was the New Zealand National Science Fiction Convention for 2010. Not sure what a science fiction convention is? See About. The convention took place in Wellington over 27-29 August 2010 - the weekend before the WorldCon in Australia. This was to allow fen [Fen is the fannish plural of fan, or more precisely, of "member of the science fiction fandom subculture". SF fans do weird things like that sometimes. ("SF fen" would be a tautology)] travelling from overseas to attend both conventions while in Australasia.
They said it couldn't be done. They were wrong. They said it shouldn't be done. Only history will be the judge of that.
The genesis of Au Contraire came in 2008, when it became clear to us that New Zealand NatCon [National Science Fiction & Fantasy Convention - a title awarded by popular vote of the members of a previous NatCon, usually two years in advance.] fandom was steadily becoming an affair of “the same old faces” doing the same old thing, losing interest and participation of young people to internet fandom and commercial ventures such as Armageddon. We put our initial proposal at Conjunction on the basis of three principles:
- Cheap and cheerful – keeping membership fees to an absolute minimum, with an option for the unwaged, and eliminating unnecessary costs.
- Fan creativity – the original idea was that “The Guest of Honour is YOU!”, i.e. the fans whose enthusiasm makes organised fandom something more than consumers of pre-packaged entertainment. We wanted in particular to honour cosplaying, writing, and filking.
- “Bridging the gap” between existing NatCon culture and the burgeoning new fan cultures of the Internet era, by offering something for everyone.
“Is NatCon fandom doomed to slowly age and fizzle out?” we asked. “Au contraire!” Our novel vision was greeted with some amount of skepticism, and our bid – even in the absence of any competition – gained only a bare majority acceptance. If you're going to come at the King, you'd better not miss, and if you've promised to do everything different, you'd better do everything different and better.
Our concom reflected this determination. Only one of us had had any prior involvement in organising a NatCon. We were all female, and with an average age of under 30. We included filkers, fanficcers, at least one serious specfic writer, and none of us had gotten used to how New Zealand NatCons were “supposed” to go. This could have turned into what I believe the navy calls an “epic clusterf*ck”.
We had one trump card up our sleeve, and that was timing. It so happened that we had scheduled our NatCon for the week before WorldCon, due to happen “just across the pond” in Melbourne. We figured that some leading lights of world fandom would see fit to drop into “the Middle of Middle Earth” to possibly have coffee at one of the cafés where Peter Jackson once took a toilet break. So, we went in with a vision of showing off the best that New Zealand “number-8 wire style” low-budget creativity could do, in the realm of con organising.
Inexperience is the best teacher, and along the way we avoided several disasters of bad organisation and mismanagement. Luckily, the hotel organisers were without exception friendly and helpful – and this, of course, is why we went back to them for Au Contraire 2013. But we were very lucky that our guests and members from around the world, were so understanding and accommodating of – for example – wireless internet which only covered about half the hotel, and videos screened on the same cheap and nasty laptop that I'm writing this on right now.
It's difficult for me to remember much of the convention, as I decided that as the face of the con the only way to conquer exhaustion and nerves in one shot was a hellish concoction composed in equal parts of isotonic energy drink and cheap tequila. But from the video evidence, that level of barely-suppressed hypomania went well with a total refusal to let any minor hiccup ruin the fun. Meanwhile, the rest of the concom ran around making sure everything to do with the con actually kept running. We considered that a good division of labour.
So instead of my personal recollections, let's quote some of the more flattering reviews:
“The con was fantastic, and I had a blast. The panels, the guests, the workshops, the atmosphere, and the late-night conversations about writing were all terrific, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the ConCom (Convention Committee) for all the work they did in bringing us this great weekend.”
“I may have said this before, but it deserves to be said again. Au Contraire absolutely kicked ass. One of the best, and best-run, cons I have ever been to. Well done and thank you!”– (via email)
“When I was in Auckland last year a certain amount of concern was expressed by some older Kiwi fans. Who were these young women from Wellington with their grandiose plans? What experience did they have? Would it all turn out to be a dreadful disaster? I’m pleased to say that nothing of the sort transpired. Au Contraire ran pretty much flawlessly. There were a few minor hiccups, as there always are, but the program ran to time without any seeming effort. They even managed to get the little signs outside the program rooms saying what the next panel would be updated on time. I never saw anyone doing it. I think it may have been fairies.”
“What a lovely con. And I adored the cheap price of it all! Just shows how it can be done. Thank you.”– (via email)
“I had traveled from the central USA to visit your country and your con on my way to WorldCon and I must take this time to thank you for a wonderful weekend. I have been to quite a few SF conventions in my life and your little Wellington con I can count as one of the best!”– (via email)
With over 250 members, including about 70 from overseas, we were very happy with the turnout, and it was gratifying to see the My First Con session packed to capacity - we obviously had some success in reaching out to a new audience. The convention was also a financial success, thanks in no small part to a grant from Creative New Zealand. We were able to donate $1172.32 to the Wellington Cats Protection League, a token of allegiance to our furry overlords, and another $600 to SFFANZ towards the future development of fandom.
The number of people who contributed to the running of the convention is far too large to name them all, but they have earned our heartfelt gratitude. Everyone who participated on a panel or gave a presentation or ran a workshop or other event, sat behind the registration desk or stuffed con bags, spread the word about the con, entered our competitions, or otherwise helped out - THANKS! And a particular thanks to our named Guests of Honour, who didn't get as much actual honouring from an overworked concom as they deserved and made a massive contribution to the con. So take a bow, Sean Williams (DJ-extraordinaire and all round great guy, who worked so hard for us he made himself sick), Elizabeth Knox (genre writer with literary credibility! - sorry about the communications failure before the con), and Fan GoH Paul Mannering (check out Death Star Noir (17MB mp3), the product of his radio play workshop). Also special thanks to Asni for the harp music at the cocktail party, and Vashti Morningstar for the bellydancing during the Masquerade judging.
So about a year later, when the hangovers had worn off and the post-traumatic distress had subsided a bit, we all got drunk enough to think we could do it again. And so we have Au Contraire 2013 (or, as I call it, Au Contraire 2: Electric Boogaloo). Some different cast members but the same principle – fannish creativity, producing rather than consuming, cost no barrier to participation, a bunch of crazy fans having a great time over a weekend in Wellington. And – hopefully – drumming up a bunch of overseas support for the New Zealand in 2020 WorldCon bid.
May I extend a hand to all who came to the first Au Contraire, to ask whether you can find it in your hearts to join us once again?
- Convention Review by SF2 Concatenation (see also here)
- Novazine Oct 2010 (1.5MB pdf), the Stella Nova clubzine, features a review and photos
- Joffre Horlor's review with photos
- Cheryl Morgan's review
- Science Fiction/San Francisco 109 (3.6MB pdf) features a long review and photos
- Nicole Murphy's review
- Tim Jones made several blog posts relating the the con
- Pickled Think Con Report
- How the NZ in 2020 bid came about
- The launch of SpecFicNZ
If you've written something you'd like added to the list, let us know!
The Closing Ceremony Filk
With apologies to Frank Sinatra (did anyone record this?)
And now, the end is near
And so we face the Comatose Cat Party
It'll be another year
Till I again am so foolhardy
This NatCon thing we've done
We've had some fun, beyond all compare
And thanks to everyone
Who made Au Contraire
Mistakes? We've made a few,
But at least the cops have not been summoned
Our Guests of Honour knew
Just what to do and kept things hummin'
Our panellists, all smiles
Don't even know what they did in there
But I'm sure we all got points for style
Here at Au Contraire
We had our quiz, room parties too
And all those fannish things we do
The Masquerade, our fandom's pride
The winning dress three metres wide!
And no-one burned the hotel down -
Yet – at Au Contraire.
So now, I have no voice
I made the choice, I ain't complaining
I saved my party ways
For a rainy day – and now it's raining
Dear cheap tequila, my true friend
It has to end, and that's so unfair
So I face the drive back home
To detox from Au Contraire
For what is a con? It's just you fans
Who make it great, despite all our plans
And when you go to AussieCon
You tell them what the Kiwis done
And say: damn straight, we had some fun
Here at Au Contraire.
Yes, at Au Contraire!