cathyr19355: Stock photo of myself (Default)
posted by [personal profile] cathyr19355 at 07:57pm on 20/08/2006 under , ,
Okay, it's been three weeks, and I'm about to head off to this year's WorldCon, in California, so that naturally makes it time to write about the last SF con I've been to--Confluence!

Confluence is the Pittsburgh area's annual science fiction convention. I originally went there in the hopes of seeing those of my friends who now live in the greater Pittsburgh area, including [ profile] landley and [ profile] fadethecat. That didn't work out so well; because they were not staying at the con hotel I saw little of [ profile] landley and nothing at all of [ profile] fadethecat. In fact, because the hotel was full *we* weren't staying at the con hotel, either; we ended up at the Pittsburgh Airport Marriott, up the road a few miles from the con. But despite these problems we had a fine time at Confluence.

Don't be misled. The fact that the hotel was full two weeks before the con doesn't mean that the convention itself was all that large. Confluence had maybe 300 attendees this year, which though record-breaking for the convention, is a small convention by many people's standards.

Because the convention is so small, you wouldn't expect there to be a large amount of programming, and you'd be right. There were a number of panels (mostly about SF and about how to write it) but the entire program grid fit nicely on a sheet of 8 1/2" by 11" paper, without the use of miniscule fonts. Although the dealer's room was generously sized for such a small event, the art show was tiny, the video room closed early and showed mostly old horror movies, and there was no official gaming at all.

These particular limitations are no accident. Confluence sees itself as an SF literary convention, dedicated to hardcore people who "read the stuff" because they love it. However, unlike Boskone, which has a similar mission, Confluence isn't pretentious and dull. Part of the difference is that Confluence has a solid filk track, featuring live concerts by well-known filkers and an all-night, or nearly all-night, filk room. Confluence takes advantage of well-known authors who live in and about Greater Pittsburgh, and those authors circulate with and hang out freely with the fen. Authors like Wen Spencer and William Tenn (real name Phil Klass). I didn't manage to run into Wen Spencer, but [ profile] esrblog and I listened to Mr. Klass and his stories of learning to write during the Golden Age of SF at great length; despite his age and physical condition he was sharp and witty in a dry, observant style. And it wasn't as though the con was *opposed* to gaming. Those of us who had brought our own games (thank you again, Zev Sero!) were perfectly welcome to sit down in the front lobby and play them, and we did so more than once.

One of the high points of the convention schedule was a parody musical produced and performed by local fen called "Guards and Dragons". What was it about? Well, imagine that someone had asked Terry Pratchett to write a parody of a Damon Runyon musical. Now imagine that the project gets brutally ripped away from Terry and given to a bunch of fen, locked up for weeks in a small room with bags of junk food, copies of the entire Discworld canon, and a copy of the libretto from the Broadway musical Guys and Dolls". That gets you pretty close to the feel of "Guards and Dragons." It's kind of a filk musical of Pratchett's "Guards Guards," using the songs from the original "Guys and Dolls" musical as a jumping off point. If you know anything about the original "Guys and Dolls," the following excerpt from the finale (if you know "Guys and Dolls" you already will know the tune) gives you the best example of the flavor of the entire production:

When you see a knight
Reach for octarine light,
You can bet that he's doing it for some dame,
When you see a swain sitting in a pew bench
Despite barnyardish stench
He might be a-swoon, that swain for a wench,
When you meet a serf running hoes through his turf,
For a crop coming cropper to reaper's blade,
Make your bet that it's when he's
Out and spending his last ha'pennies
That the man's only doing it to get maid!

(By the way, in case you were wondering, yes, all the fen engaged in the production could sing. Some sang quite well. And the acting wasn't bad either--the fen playing Dibbler, Carrot, Vimes and Vetinari were particular standouts).

We ended up viewing this production from the seats in the front row at the far left side of the house, largely because those were the last seats in the house when we got back from our dinner expedition. In the interests of getting [ profile] esrblog some protein before the evening's events, we'd persuaded a local fan to take us to a nearby restaurant called Quaker State and Lube. QS&L is a kind of classic-car theme park, installed in a quonset hut intended to look like a garage with antique gas pumps and sections of classic automobiles everywhere. The food is your standard burgers and fries, with a side menu consisting of over a dozen variants of buffalo wings, including their "nuclear" wings, which are so hot they make you sign a waiver before they'll serve them. (They were not, however, very tasty--there was no real flavor, merely a direct assault of capsaicin on the mucous membranes. Ugh.) Though their clam chowder was pretty good, I thought I would have liked them better if, like Rudy's in Austin, they actually sold gasoline instead of simply trading on automotive nostalgia.

After the con, before we left for the airport, we followed the rest of the local fen to the nearby home of some area fen for a cookout and more fannish conversation.

Thus, Confluence. I really enjoyed the convention, though I've been wondering why I enjoyed it so much, since I had hated Boskone, haven't filked in years and don't generally enjoy talk about Science Fiction as Literature. After thinking about it, I've identified two factors that I believe are significant:

The first is a refreshing lack of pretensions. Like Boskone, Confluence believes in SF as Literature, but unlike Boskone (IMHO) the structure of the con doesn't tend to shut out anyone who thinks differently. Because the con is so small it's easy to mingle with the authors themselves on free and equal terms, and there are enough other fun activities (horror movies, filk concerts, fannish shopping) to keep less literary fen amused.

Second, and just as important, was the friendly atmosphere. To my surprise, I found a number of my East Coast fannish friends at Confluence. But it wouldn't have mattered if I hadn't. All of the local fen, including those we didn't know, treated us as friends (for example, letting us attend the con at the two-day price because we showed up after Registration closed on Friday--even though we spent a good deal of time in the con suite on Friday night after we'd arrived).

Will I go to Confluence next year? Probably. If I do, though, I'll bring a bunch of my games from home, just in case. :-)
location: Home, why do you ask?
Mood:: 'tired' tired


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