As part of Spec-Fic Month, Elizabeth Heritage reports back from LexiCon, the 38th New Zealand National Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention. LexiCon, which had 165 members, was held in Taupō over Queen’s Birthday weekend.
Keeping it geek
Chances are that, even if you read a lot of speculative fiction, you’ve never heard of NatCon, as the annual national sci-fi and fantasy conventions here in Aotearoa New Zealand are known. This may be at least partly because each NatCon has a different name, and they’re each run by a different group of volunteers. You may also never have heard of SFFANZ (the Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand), SpecFicNZ (the writers’ association) or the SJVs (Sir Julius Vogel Awards for excellence in New Zealand spec-fic).
On the other hand, you probably have heard of Comic-Con and Armageddon. This is symptomatic of a major change that’s taken place over the past couple of decades or so, whereby parts of geek culture have become mainstream and highly commercialised (exhibit A: the eleventy-million high-budget Marvel superhero movies currently in production).
The NatCons represent a different part of Kiwi geek culture: fandom. The cons are run by and for fans. There’s always an international Guest of Honour, but most of the panellists and speakers are local fans who happen to be particularly interested in cultural appropriation in urban fantasy, or the genetic implications of human-alien babies (how exactly did Spock come to be?), or space feminism. Or, in my case, rats in hobbit movies.
Orville the movie star rat (deceased)
There are not many rooms you can walk into with a cage full of live rats and be greeted with warm smiles and cooing noises. Vet surgeries are one; turns out NatCons are another.
One of the things I really like about the Kiwi fan community is its enthusiasm for whimsy. In that spirit (so to speak), my dear departed pet rat Orville was made the LexiCon Ghost of Honour, largely due to his work on the Hobbit movies.
As Orville’s mortal representative on the corporeal plane, I was invited to give a memorial address in his honour. I gave a short presentation on his stellar but short-lived film career, including the Marmageddon controversy, fan mail from John Rhys-Davies, and my #spotOrville campaign. I also invited a local rat-lover to bring in her pets as ratty ambassadors to the people. Some people were so touched by Orville’s story that they were moved to tears (from laughing a lot – I’m pretty sure with me). It was an odd but very wonderful hour.
One of the advantages of a small fan-run convention – unlike, say, Armageddon or Auckland Writers Festival – is that there are no barriers between you and the people on stage speaking. There are no green rooms, or signing queues, or gatekeepers: you just rock up to someone and start chatting. It was great to hang out with friends and some of my favourite Kiwi spec fic authors.
It was in this way that I ended up going out for dinner with Seanan McGuire, LexiCon Guest of Honour and author of the very popular October Daye urban fantasy series, amongst many other things.
Seanan endeared herself to me immediately by expressing great regret at never having had a chance to meet Orville, and telling me stories of her own dearly departed pet rat. Naturally I immediately invited her round to meet my six current pet rats: Zingiber, Magnus, Will Pufflington, Batty, Hobbes, and Old Lady Waves. I was delighted when, a day or so after the con, Seanan made time to pop round and instructed me to cover her with rats; thus earning herself an unassailable place in my heart. Geeks really are the best.
My hair is currently blue, purple and green. I always notice other people with brightly coloured hair in a crowd, and I was very pleased to see lots of folk at LexiCon with wonderful haircuts in all kinds of shades. Generally, if I spotted someone out and about in Taupō that weekend with brightly coloured hair, I could be reasonably certain they were also a member of LexiCon.
As well as being a generally fun thing to do, dyeing your hair bright colours often has a political significance. For me, it’s part of my feminism, and often when I get chatting to other women with pink or purple hair, they turn out to be feminists as well. NatCons always have a nominated charity, and this year LexiCon chose Rainbow Youth, a Kiwi charitable organisation dedicated to helping queer and gender diverse young people. They do excellent work and I’m proud of having contributed to an event that raised money for them. I think it’s safe to say Orville would have been proud too.