Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Continuum X

Continuum is an annual Melbourne speculative fiction and pop culture fan convention. It’s an incredibly diverse convention with lovers of hard-edge science fiction, swords and sorcery fantasy, space opera, comic books, anime – you name it, you’ll find it at Continuum! It’s run on a not-for-profit basis with all revenue put towards venue and equipment hire, transport and accommodation for guest speakers, and other convention specific expenses.

It’s definitely value for money in terms of conventions/conferences – the early bird booking which is available on the last day of the convention allows you to attend four packed days of panel sessions, readings and book launches as well as the masked ball for a paltry $150.00. If you miss the early bird, the cost goes up ($250.00 this year) but on both Saturday and Sunday the panel sessions begin at 9.00 and go on until 9.00 or 10.00 at night.

There are always two guest writers – an overseas writer and an Australian writer – and a fan guest of honour. This year the guests of honour were American writer, Jim C. Hines and indigenous Australia writer for young adults, Ambelin Kwaymullina. This year, too, Continuum 10 was the host convention for the 53rd Australian National Science Fiction Convention for 2014.

It’s a vibrant, geeky, oddball and incredibly erudite community of fans and writers. Panel sessions covered a huge range of topics including small press publishing, medieval diversity, speculative poetry and fans and faith. Often the lines between fans and writers are blurred – fans, after all, produce fanfiction and anyone attending the convention has a chance to vote in the Chronos Awards. These annual awards honour excellence in Victorian SF, Fantasy and Horror in the year preceding the Continuum convention. Any member of Natcon – which was held at Continuum this year – was eligible to vote for the Ditmar Awards, the national science fiction, fantasy and horror awards. (I’ve put up a link to this in case anyone wants to see the shortlisting.)  It’s a community that prides itself on inclusivity and encourages active participation on the committee.  However, like all communities, it can be intimidating – many hard-core fans attend as many conventions as they can, have an in-depth knowledge base and can discuss the subtle points of their area of expertise passionately.

I started going to Continuum way back when I was writing my first speculative fiction novel, The Airdancer of Glass. I regarded my attendance as professional development. In the same way that, a couple of years before, I’d attended my first Reading Matters, the annual conference for young adult literature, prior to having my first verse novel for young adults published.

It was intimidating! I had no idea what a Dyson sphere was, had only watched Dr Who sporadically and had never read a space opera. I was used to attending poetry events where I knew everyone and in this community, I knew no one. Well, actually, it turned out I knew one person – a fellow poet.(Thank you, Earl Livings!)

Since that first Continuum, I’ve attended as many as I’ve been able. It’s not that I consider myself a fan of any particular area of science fiction or fantasy. My reading is diverse and eclectic. It’s not even that I’m necessarily writing in the area – although I have produced other speculative fiction since that first novel, most particularly in the form of speculative poetry. It’s more that I find the community optimistic, innovative and exciting. When publishing is in the doldrums, it seems that the speculative fiction community finds interesting ways to keep enthusiastically producing publications at both the professional and the amateur level. There is still, I found out, a handwritten fanmag produced in England! Handwritten. There are also an increasing number of small presses dedicated to producing professional (and quite lovely) publications – often short story anthologies, despite the commercial publishing wisdom that claims these don’t sell. I come away from Continuum re-energised by the passion of the community.

I’ve never co-written a book, so my own writing is done in isolation. Writing can be a lonely profession. Even your own family may have little idea what it is you are hoping to achieve, locked away in a study for hours at a time, trying to occupy a corner of the kitchen table or escaping to cafes or the library with your notebook and pen or laptop. It can be hard justifying time or expense on something which may or may not succeed. I never really know whether or not the novel on which I am currently working will be saleable, a poem or poem sequence will find its way into the world, or a piece of short fiction or memoir will be accepted by an anthology. This uncertainty can look crazy to an outsider! Why work so hard for potentially so little?

But it doesn’t look crazy to my fellow writers and readers. Every time I venture out into the wider writing world, I’m rewarded and can return to my own work knowing that I’m part of an ongoing shared conversation. So, I had a great weekend - thanks to the hard work of a lot of behind-the-scenes people who donate their time and energy into making Continuum continue!

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