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CONvergence 2014

Q: What do you get if you put together 6000+ SFF fans, a bunch of outstanding organisers and a great venue? A: CONvergence, a regional convention that’s been running in Minnesota for the past 16 years (and hopefully will continue for many more).

I first heard about CONvergence back in 2012 from then-Angry Robot editor Lee Harris, and as I have a number of writer friends in the Midwest it seemed like the perfect choice for my next US convention. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to go in 2013, but I was determined to make it this year – and I’m very glad I did.

CONvergence reminds me a lot of Nine Worlds Geekfest, only on a much larger scale. It has the same broad age range (no “greying of fandom” here!), loads of cosplay, and a friendly, inclusive atmosphere. OK, so some of the latter was helped by ubiquitous posters pointing out that “Costume Is Not Consent” for the benefit of the socially inept/clueless, but it’s good to see a convention tackling our subculture’s issues head-on instead of hoping they’ll go away of their own accord (or even pretending they don’t exist).

Doug Hulick answers fans’ questions at his reading
Doug Hulick answers fans’ questions at his reading

It soon became obvious that CONvergence is run with younger (teens/twenties) fans in mind: there were rooms dispensing free coffee and toast, whilst others (often decked out in geeky themes) handed out various alcoholic beverages – as long as you were carrying suitable ID (I soon learned to bring my passport!). All this took place in the cabanas along two storeys of corridors around the hotel swimming pool, giving the event the atmosphere of the world’s biggest dorm-party.

I’m glad I arrived early (Wednesday night), and that my friend and local podcaster Paul Weimer was around to take me to the convention hotel, as it ensured we were registered ahead of the official opening day and also helped me get my bearings before things got really hectic. [Pro tip: if you have panels or other scheduled events, it’s best to scout out the venue in advance so you don’t get lost in the crowds – or stuck in queues for the loo!]. That night I hung out in the bar with Paul, Lee, Irene Gallo from Tor and a few other bookish folk, and from then on it was an increasing social whirl that left me giddy but wanting more!

Other highlights of the convention for me included:

  • an impromptu interview with Paul Weimer and Shaun Duke for the Skiffy and Fanty podcast
  • listening to Doug Hulick reading a deleted scene from his new novel Sworn in Steel (above)
  • attending a fascinating and occasionally hilarious panel in which Elizabeth Bear, Scott Lynch and C Robert Cargill held forth on the topic of Storytelling 101 (below)
  • watching Paul Cornell teaching a bunch of bemused Americans how to play cricket
  • My first encounter with a proper, i.e. alcoholic, US cider – Angry Orchard – which was not at all bad
  • the Dead Dogs Party, which started with a game of Once Upon a Time with Paul Weimer, Shaun Duke, Mike Underwood, Tex Thompson, Carrie Patel and her husband Hiren, and ended in the wee hours of the morning drinking scotch and playing Cards Against Humanity with Scott, Bear, Cargill, Steve Brust (and both cases, a bunch of other cool people whose names have melted into a haze of jetlag – sorry, guys!)
  • Signing loads of books at the Angry Robot stall in the dealers’ room – well, loads compared to most of my signings!
(left to right) C Robert Cargill, Elizabeth Bear and Scott Lynch talk “Storytelling 101”
(left to right) C Robert Cargill, Elizabeth Bear and Scott Lynch talk “Storytelling 101”

Signings apart, the dealers’ room was still pretty cool. As might be expected from a cosplay-oriented convention, there were plenty of stalls selling steampunk and leather gear; I picked up a nice pair of studded vambraces – because a girl needs a bit of armour to go with her weaponry! – and a pendant and pair of earrings made out of old typewriter keys. I also bought a couple of t-shirts (one with a Mudder’s Milk logo) as well as a large hank of gorgeously soft alpaca yarn (yay for knitting being a geeky craft!) and a set of DIY Once Upon A Time cards. I have the 2nd edition of this card game, but having played a few games at CONvergence the basic set seems a little tame, so I want to add some cards with a slightly more grimdark/Tough Guide to Fantasyland flavour for our next bout at WorldCon.

Convention swag!
Convention swag!

My panels were…interesting. The first one, Loki Can Rule Me Any Day, was a lot of fun, and unsurprisingly focused on Loki fandom more than on the ostensible topic of secondary characters. There were a passel of Loki cosplayers attending, including one female fan who totally rocked a movie-Loki costume complete with glowing tesseract. The second panel, The Science of Sex, was less satisfying (pun intended!), at least from my perspective; the other biologist failed to show, so the discussion veered more towards the sex/relationship therapists on the panel, leaving me feeling somewhat out of my depth.

More Lokis than you can shake a sceptre at!
More Lokis than you can shake a sceptre at!

I was also somewhat frustrated at not having been assigned a place on any of the Shakespeare panels, given my obvious qualifications, but word is that the schedule organisers were new this year, which might also explain why some panels were not only all-male but inexplicably so – like the one about Joss Whedon’s Agents of SHIELD. It was the one blot on an otherwise amazingly inclusive convention, and I hope that the organisers improve this aspect next year.

So will I be going back to Minnesota’s big summer geekfest? You betcha!