Event Review: Conjecture 2014/ConChord 26

By Breeann Kirby

sue dawe conjecture
art by Sue Dawe

The Town and Country Convention Center in San Diego, doesn’t feel as if it sits in the corner of the merge between I8 and I163. Rather, in an aging grandeur you don’t see in steel and stone modern hotels, it provided a surprising oasis of calm and greenery. While walking between potted ferns and stone lions, over floral carpets and under crystal chandeliers, I felt transported to a place where a steampunk pirate captain or corseted vampire may appear any moment. And, in fact, they did. It was the perfect setting for Conjecture 2014/ConChord 26.

Conjecture, a San Diego science fiction/fantasy convention, is in its twelfth year and is run by SanSFiS, a nonprofit whose purpose is to organize and host science fiction and fantasy conferences, connecting fans of speculative fiction in all forms. Next year, 4 July 2015, will be Conjecture’s last year and will be running concurrently with Westercon 68 and ConChord. SanSFiS has decided to shift its focus from specifically Conjecture to facilitating traveling science fiction and fantasy conventions’ coming to San Diego. “It didn’t make sense,” said Kate Evans, Vice President of SanSFis, “There are so many good conventions; we can just combine them rather than competing.” Evans is quite excited about next year’s lineup: Steven Brust, Vixy and Tony, Spider Robinson, and John Picacio to name a few. She was also very excited about this year’s lineup, particularly that Bill “the Grim” Roper was the filk guest of honor.

photo 3
Star Wars Origami author Chris Alexander poses with characters from a galaxy far far away.

Anastasia Hunter, President of SanSFiS, put together the programing for Conjecture 2014, assembling a variety of panels with broad ranges of interest from corset wearing 101 and Star Wars Origami to academic discussions of what explicit violence in horror movies does to viewers’ psyches and why do some stories so fully capture the public interest over decades. “We have responsibilities as authors,” said David Agranoff, writer of social commentary in horror fiction, “to address the big issues but also tell the story.” There was bound to be something that would pique the interest of any fan.

The atmosphere at Conjecture 2014/ConChord 26 is one of camaraderie; the panelists and the attendees were so obviously there because they enjoy the worlds they create and they wanted to share this joy with others.

Speculative fiction is known for its appropriation of all aspects of culture, so it is no surprise that Conjecture 2014 would be diverse in its offerings as well as in its guests of honor. Artists, writers, crafters, and musicians all came together, demonstrating the wonder of the broad genre and the creativity in many avenues it sparks. The guests of honor, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Sue Dawe, and Bill Roper all are natural storytellers and creators of worlds in print, image, or music. They see wonder everywhere and seem to delight in sharing this wonder with others.

photo 1
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro mediates fierce discussion between the Kollin Brothers.

Author guest of honor, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, presented a formidable presence at her various paneling tables. Her perspective on the genre of historical horror as well as her masterful command of craft was fascinating. “I don’t believe in the supernatural,” Yarbro told listeners, “anything that happens in natural.”

Artist guest of honor, Sue Dawe, laughed and joked during her many panels, transmitting an infectious exuberance for her art and the genre. “I’ve been creating my own world since I was very young,” she told avid listeners. During her personal panel, she eschewed sitting formally behind a table and stood next to her listeners while discussing her journey as an artist and various elements and techniques of her work.

photo 2
Wenches give encouraging massages. Bid higher! Do it for Filk!

Listening to Bill Roper and Matt Leger and Mary Mulholland perform was my first experience with filk. Filk is an eclectic style of music that has a science fiction/fantasy focus—though even that definition may be too simplistic. Ostensibly part of ConChord 26—which founded in 1983 is “the second longest running filk convention on Earth”—these performers sang songs that touch the hearts of fandom, many times with the audience singing along. Between the sets, Interfilk, a fan fund that raises money to fund cultural exchange through filk music, had an auction to raise money for future events. This auction was everything that science fiction and fantasy conventions stand for: fun and friendship. People “battled” over such prizes as a mini vuvuzela, rights to an original filk song, or a finely beaded dragon pendant. Throughout, the “wenches” offered encouragement and head massages. But it was the music that really stood out. At points clever, poignant, cheesy, and funny, the filkers allowed us all to find that part of us that truly believes that magic happens.

The atmosphere at Conjecture 2014/ConChord 26 was one of camaraderie; the panelists and the attendees were so obviously there because they enjoy the worlds they create and they wanted to share this joy with others. Panelist Walter G. Meyer, co-creator of Gam3rCon, author, publisher, and speaker against bullying paired with Sue Dawe on a panel about storytelling craft. Like Dawe, Meyer was easygoing and personable. “Start with the story first; know the questions you want to ask before you begin researching,” he advised us on how to research for a story.

Start with the story first. Everything about Conjecture and ConChord was about the story first. How we fall into story and how that makes us better able to engage with our world. As Kate Evans noted, “Science fiction is good at examining issues. It’s been doing that for a long time while hiding in adventure stories.”

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