NASFics are strange beasts. It is sometimes said that running a NASFiC is rather like trying to run a Worldcon with half the money and half the attendees. I might also add half the volunteers to that. And, in the case of Pemmi-Con, “half” is probably a massive exaggeration on all counts.
In theory the NASFiC is a big convention that Americans can go to when Worldcon is not in North America. For a whole variety of reasons, very few people from the West are going to Chengdu. But Pemmi-Con is in Canada, that strange country that is technically part of North America but which fills Americans with almost as much existential dread as Europe. Add that to the fact that the dates of Pemmi-Con conflicted with the San Diego Comic-Con, and many SF&F writers are also in the comics business these days, and you get very low attendance.
Also Pemmi-Con was in Winnipeg, which meant a flight and hotel bill for the majority of Canadian fans.
The Sunday newsletter gave the warm body count as 509, with a further 340 supporting members. The convention was trying very hard to be hybrid but, as we should all know by now, hybrid is ferociously expensive in both money and people points.
Winnipeg turned out to be lovely. It does look like a bit of a concrete wasteland downtown, but that’s what happens when your winter temperatures regularly hit -35 C. Life happens inside, not outside. I would have loved to have more time to explore the city, but as it was all I had time for was a trip to Canada’s Human Right’s Museum.
The convention took place in the same venue that was used for the 1994 Worldcon. The Delta hotel has an air bridge attaching it to the convention center so it is all very convenient. Of course ConAdian had a membership of over 3500. The much smaller NASFiC felt like a child in adult clothing.
Talking of ConAdian, its chair, John Mansfield, was selected as the Fan Guest of Honour for Pemmi-Con. Sadly John died early this year, and missed having the honour in person, but he did get to know it would happen. His wife, Linda, was a co-chair of Pemmi-Con.
As I noted earlier, Pemmi-Con was seriously short on both money and volunteers. That made things rather challenging. We only got our program assignments about a week before the con started, and those were not final. I only discovered that I had a third program item when I was given my printed schedule on the Friday. (The con began on Wednesday night.)
Two of my assignments were standard panels which presented few challenges. The third was to give my Prehistory of Robotics talk, which required a room with a laptop, screen and projector. It was obvious on Thursday that the room I had been assigned did not have these things, so I had to pester program ops. That led to my being moved to a different room and time, though still the same day.
So far so good. I went to see the new room. It did have a screen and projector. The laptop was a Mac which did not have PowerPoint. Could I use my own laptop? Yes, but I’d need to log into Zoom using the email that I should have been sent but did not yet have.
Thankfully the Zoom links for Friday programming did get sent out at around 1:00pm. So we did manage to do hybrid. There were a bunch of tech issues, and I gather that the sound for people online was never good. But kudos to Richard the tech guy for trying his best. He’d only got the job a few days ago, and having to get a different laptop set up for hybrid in a 15 minute turnaround time between sessions was seriously stressful. The Eastercon system of allowing half an hour between panels when doing hybrid is seeming more and more sensible.
My Thursday panel had been about diversity in SF&F in “the past”, featuring GoH Nisi Shawl, and TAFF delegate Sandra Bond. I’d been quite keen on this because I’ve met so many young fans who are convinced that there was no diversity at all in SF&F before they got involved in the genre. However, the audience was at least as old as the panel, if not older. For that matter, I suspect I was in the lower 50% of attendees, age-wise, at the convention as a whole. The topic was rather wasted.
My other panel was on Sunday and was about AI. On the panel with me were Helen Umberger, who works for a company that tests AI systems and lobbies for their regulation, plus Shayla Elizabeth, local indigenous writer. I thought AI was bad when we started the panel, but listening to Helen gave me a whole new appreciation of its awfulness. No one really knows whether AI systems work properly, and even if they do when released there’s a strong likelihood that their performance will degrade with time.
All that would be bad enough, but AIs also consume significant amounts of computing resources. That means energy consumption, and a rising demand for resources which, as Shalya pointed out, are often stolen from indigenous people.
One of the good things about Winnipeg is that you do get to meet indigenous folk. And I learned something new. I was familiar with First Nations people and the Inuit. I was not aware of Métis culture, which is important in Manitoba. There’s an explainer here.
I don’t normally attend opening and closing ceremonies because they can be quite dull. I did so here because Kevin had a role in them, and I’m glad I did because they featured an amazing First Nations woman who sang and performed on a tympanum-like drum. She was very good.
The Dealers’ Room was quite small and half fan tables. There was no major book dealer, just a bunch of Canadian small presses. The art show, in contrast, was quite good, though there was no point in my buying anything to try to take home.
I didn’t see a lot of the rest of the con. There seemed to be a lot of readings and kaffeklatches as compared to panels, which I guess makes creating the program easier. However, I did do to the masquerade as it was being run by my friend, Sandy Manning, who I had not seen in years. I’ll do a separate report on that.
Overall I was happy with Pemmi-Con. Then again, I wasn’t expecting a lot except to see a bunch of old friends, and make some new ones. Plus I finally got to see Winnipeg, a place that Kevin is very fond of. I do worry that the attendees seemed so old. I know people have been talking about the “greying of fandom” for decades, but I’m starting to really feel it.
Of course that wasn’t helped by one of the attendees dying at the con. Bill Laubenheimer is a well-known Bay Area fan. He had a heart attack while out to dinner on the Wednesday night, and passed away later in hospital. His wife, Carole Parker, was left dealing with the awful bureaucracy surrounding having to repatriate a dead body. Thankfully she had a lot of good friends at the con. Here’s hoping you are getting on top of it all now, Carole.
On a lighter note, the con raised around CA$1000 for the local pet rescue shelter.