Friday, October 13, 2006

ConQuest in review

As Australian fan-run, "Star Trek" and science fiction media conventions go, ConQuests in Brisbane are certainly predictable, reliable, informative, friendly annual events. The recent ConQuest Silver Jubilee convention filled in all the blanks and coloured by all the numbers. I did have a predictably reliable, informative and friendly time.

Even though the last few weeks of the school term were a blur, I managed to book some air flights online and began to anticipate a relaxed holiday away from Sydney, departing mere hours after farewelling my students for their spring vacation.

I travelled to the first ConQuest 25 years ago, when I was a wide-eyed, naive "Star Trek" newbie - actress Grace Lee Whitney (Yeoman/Transporter Chief Janice Rand) was the last minute special guest of honour, much to my surprise - as I was, erm... "volunteered" to represent New South Wales fans, and the ASTREX "Star Trek" club, at the inaugural meeting of a national committee to establish a consistent set of rules/suggestions for running annual NatCons and organised fan Awards. Grace was a very exciting guest - well, I thought so but she was "too American" for some rather critical fans' tastes. And, according to an interview Ms Whitney did for Starlog magazine years later, meeting Australian fans actually helped her over her disappointment about not being in "Star Trek II", and put her on the road to recovery from many of the turmoils that had dogged her career.

During the next week, a friend and I were able to meet Grace for coffee at Sydney's airport when she flew in from Brisbane on her way home, and escort her to the international terminal. She made me promise to visit her in Los Angeles, and it was a thrill to do so in January 1984, just days after she'd filmed her secret "Star Trek III" cameo.

I raced back for the 1983 ConQuest, anticipating another last-minute guest, but the surprise was... no guest! It was at that con that I became aware of one of ConQuest's most unique and rather quaint attitudes to conventioneering: timetables were made to be broken, at least in Queensland. I've never understood the logic of spending months planning and promoting a full (and often multi-strand) order of events, only to leave each event to ran way overtime, and then have a seated audience waiting interminably for the next speaker to arrive. Only a few ConQuests over the decades have escaped this modus operandi.

My next ConQuest wasn't until 1989, having regretted letting 1988 go by and hearing how great it, George Takei (Mr Sulu) and Expo were! In 1991, I ended up on a panel about "Star Trek" fandom with no less than James Doohan (Scotty), John deLancie (Q), Richard Arnold ("Star Trek" Archivist) and New Zealand's Lana Pennington-Brown (who'd eventually become the namesake of DS9's Pennington School). At 1992's robot-themed convention, I stripped an audience member to his underpants and painted him metallic gold from head to toe!

At 1994's ConQuest, which had Jonathan Del Arco (Hugh the Borg) as guest, and a time-travelling theme, I was Master of Ceremonies. We started with the Closing Ceremony and time ran in reverse all weekend, finished up with the Opening Ceremony. Did I mention that I love running gags at conventions? Ironically, this convention (and Robocon) ran pretty well to time!

After that the next few conventions become a fuzzy haze of distant memories, but with ASTREX imploding back in Sydney, as an Official Australian Star Trek Club was licensed by Paramount, the annual pilgrimage to Brisbane was becoming a most welcome respite, and my only face-to-face contact with other "Star Trek" fans.

Anyway, this year's ConQuest put Gary Lockwood ("2001: A Space Odyssey" and the second "Star Trek" pilot, "Where No Man Has Gone Before") and Keir Dullea ("2001"; "2010") in the international guest spotlight, along with now-regular ConQuest visitors Richard Arnold (former "Star Trek" Archivist) and the wacky Katy Manning (Jo from "Doctor Who").

I guess I enjoyed the "2001" talks, although there was very little "2001" discussed in those sessions because Katy Manning, playing interviewer, keep taking the actors back to their roots. I was only on a day membership this year, so her promises to get back to "2001" the next day were lost on me. I much prefer Katy as a guest, rather than as a guest interviewer. No matter, there was a great room party on the Friday night, the Saturday night had the aforementioned banquet with "Starship Exeter", I was reunited with many old friends - and I snagged an excellent rarity from Richard Arnold (former ST Archivist at Paramount, and "ST Communicator" columnist) in his "Star Trek" auction: a German disco version of the theme from "Star Trek Generations", complete with Patrick Stewart frequently stating "Make it so!".

Interestingly, Richard got to see his first fan film that night! I understand he'd not seen any of the current crop up till now - although he knew about them, of course, and is friends with several people who've been making "New Voyages" episodes. (He spoke about them during his auction.) According to people at his table during the screening, Richard was pleasantly surprised and interested in "Exeter"; especially cool for me since it has no canonical characters in it (except a pre-ST VI Chang) and, had "The Savage Empire" been a licensed "Star Trek" novel or comic proposal, it would never have passed muster under Richard's old vetting rules when he worked at Paramount.

Going to Brisbane for the convention also gave me a great excuse to "do the rounds" of some favourite haunts: books and collectibles shops like Pulp Fiction, Daily Planet, Ace Comics, Egg Records, Comics Etc and the huge Toyworld in the CBD. Alas, Pippin's Old Toys had abandoned their shopfront in Clayfield.

Not to mention the Big Brother house at Dreamworld! But that's a post for another day.

As I said, ConQuests are certainly predictable, reliable, informative, friendly annual events. You get much closer to the celebrity guests of honour at these fan-run conventions than the larger commercial ventures and, if you can adjust to the laissez faire timetabling, you'll have a great experience.

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