A quiet, wintry November morning enveloped me before I strolled into the Ramada Hotel lobby to scope out a location for setup. Eventually my girlfriend Debbie and my friend Glen LaValley joined me, Glen bringing his 10-foot tall beauty of a rock-em-sock-em balloon robot puppet. I’m not entirely sure what order those adjectives go in, but they definitely all belong there.
I slipped right into my black morph suit, adopting the form of the robot’s shadow, and stood as Glen worked his magic to strap the lumbering form to my torso and legs. He gave me tent poles that were attached to the hands. I could push, pull and rotate the massive geo-balloon hands, move the hilariously tiny legs, and make the head bob by flexing my stomach. Children nearby stood transfixed, mesmerized by how far the bar could be raised beyond simple balloon animals.
Everything was ready, and Debbie guided me through the hotel and into the merchant’s room of the Pure Speculation festival. You could practically hear the sound of jaws dropping, and Guest of Honor David Gerrold would later say, “That is the best costume I have seen at any con ever. You have won the Internet today.”
Eventually I had to take off the costume and prop it up next to the water cooler in preparation for the Character Deathmatch. The balloon was a precursor that perfectly set the tone for what was to come.
I donned my chicken lucha libre mask and introduced the history of conflict through the ages: God using it to maintain his interest in humanity’s story, the Mayans using hip-volleyball Pitz games as preludes to human sacrifice, and finally the lucha libre in modern times. The lucha libro evolved from this form of wrestling, and pitted Peruvian writers against each other onstage in five-minute sessions where the audience cheered at their projected stories before choosing a winner at the end. The winner progressed for a chance at an ultimate prize of a published novel, while the losers–I assume–were beheaded.
This all inspired the creation of the character deathmatch, where authors go up in pairs to have their creations duel one another. Each author reads a selection, answers a death-defying question and briefly outlines why he/she would defeat the other. Banter and jeering is customary and expected, and all the talk in the world is ultimately mute next to the power of the audience’s vote. Winners progress and losers are eliminated and sacrificed in the refreshments room.
The 2014 Pure Speculation Deathmatch opened with the Celtic Warrior-chief of the Suetonii ARIENNE against my hyperminded boy genius VOLTAN. The brilliance of having a boy who could kill with his mind was apparently naught next to the sheer brutality of a Celt armed with a sturdy head-smashing rock. Despite the fact that defeating the event organizer would have DIRE CONSEQUENCES, Barb Galler Smith’s ARIENNE won the round.
The next dramatic tangle pitted Greg McKitrick‘s truculent retired cop SAM WATSON against the haunted secretary MARIE JENNER from Eileen Bell‘s newest mystery series. The two characters were very down-to-earth and likeable, but only one of them could make it out, and MARIE seemed to have more cards stacked in her favour (OK, she literally had more voting cards lifted in her favour, plus she had the entire spiritual world to tap into if she needed to).
The next heavyweight match raised the temperature of the room by several degrees as Minister Faust prepared to throw TAHARQA (or HARQ) into the ring. Wayne Arthurson interrupted the start of the reading by placing a large prominent placard of his book “Fall From Grace” which featured HARQ‘s competitor, the gambling-addict with a titanic pain threshold: LEO DESROCHES. Leading up to the match the two “friends” bantered over text, and neither would cede until they’d given it everything they had.
Minister Faust made the audience’s mouth water with a vivid description of a chicken/turkey-like meal preparation with HARQ and his son. Wayne Arthurson left hearts pounding describing LEO‘s desperate situation at gunpoint in the middle of nowhere. The gloves came off as each outlined the other’s weaknesses: the fact that Wayne tried to denounce the legitimacy of sci-fi, the fact that HARQ was too impractical compared to the no-nonsense LEO, and even the fact that mystery writers had been guests of CBC’s Q. These guys had to be torn off each other before they started biting ears.
The final match of the day featured no slouches — Karen Dudley‘s awesomely dude-ical gorgon slayer and Kraken Killer PERSEUS stepped up to Rhonda Parrish‘s half-incubus mercenary with a sentient sword BAYNE. Rhonda gave an excellent reading after the difficult position of being right after Minister Faust, and a side character’s awe-inspiring description of BAYNE left us holding our breaths. Karen Dudley‘s PERSEUS seemed too cool for cool, and seemed almost ready to seduce BAYNE with “something in his back pocket” (which I later discovered was a medusa head that could still turn you to stone. These authors don’t mess around). The medusa head was probably the sole reason why BAYNE got stoned and started affirming “Duuuuude” to PERSEUS by the end. Another close battle between two fantastic characters left the audience in eager anticipation for the following day’s finals.
Because Barb beat the event organizer (me), she was pitted against Saturday’s toughest competitor: Minister Faust. It seemed Minister Faust’s impeccable reasoning and debate skills would trump Barb’s “kill people with rocks” Celtic warrior, but Minister seemed to keep his gloves in check this round, and held back on a few opportunities to deliver haymakers (apologies to anyone who knows what these terms actually mean). This second day was marked by a certain respect and kindness between competitors, and this match set the tone. ARIENNE begrudgingly defeated HARQ with her trademark stones to raise HARQ‘s child as her own. As Minister Faust said, “How charming.”
The Kraken-killer PERSEUS returned to face MARIE JENNER, and though Eileen Bell made some compelling arguments for how MARIE could be likened to a meat tenderizer (after being asked what kind of utensil MARIE would be), ultimately the son of Zeus stumbled his way into another victory (much like he apparently did with the Kraken and the Gorgon).
The finals had arrived, and the last two standing were Barb Galler-Smith’s ARIENNE and Karen Dudley‘s PERSEUS. Both from bygone eras, ARIENNE‘s stones multiplied as Barb revealed hordes of angry children wielding rocks. The sticks and stones seemed to pale in comparison to PERSEUS who could whip out the medusa head and turn THEM into stones. The two ladies joked, congratulated, and had to be reminded “This is a Deathmatch!” by an audience member. ARIENNE in the end seemed the only one unrelenting in her quest for brutality. After a riveting and hilarious bout of banter, ARIENNE defeated PERSEUS by a small margin, only after both creators admitted the two characters would probably get it on.
A huge thank you to all the contestants who bravely took the stage to have their characters ribbed; to the Pure Speculation convention organizers who helped give the event a great venue, time, and opportunity; to the incredible Glen LaValley for making such a unique and memorable balloon costume; to the wonderful Debbie Ha for designing the cards, and to the audience who made the voting such a close and exciting race.