Fans at the Confluence Science Fiction Conference.
Dealers' room at Confluence. Photo courtesy of Karen Yun-Lutz.

The Confluence science fiction conference began way back in 1988 when many things we take for granted today (including the internet) existed mostly in the imagination of science fiction writers such as Williams Gibson (“Neuromancer,” 1984) and Orson Scott Card (“Ender’s Game,” 1985).

If you’re guessing that a science fiction convention would be popular here in Pittsburgh — with its density of scientists and engineers — you’d be correct. Confluence, however, is rebuilding after the dystopian sci-fi-like weirdness of the pandemic, including a virtual conference and one that was canceled outright.

So this year’s in-person Confluence, which runs from Friday, July 29, through Sunday, July 31, at the Sheraton Pittsburgh Airport Hotel, is on the small side.

“We’re not a focused convention. It’s a general con,” says Kevin Hayes, who has helped to organize Confluence from nearly the beginning. “I mean, if somebody showed up as a furry, they would be absolutely welcomed, but it’s not Anthrocon. They could walk around the hall and have a great time. We don’t have a lot of accommodations for cosplay or costuming, but it’s fine if you want to do that.”

Confluence has a Code of Conduct that promises harassment will not be tolerated and any complaints will be addressed.

The focus remains on the craft of science fiction/fantasy and Confluence 2022’s guest list includes writers, editors and artists.

“One of the neatest things was the kinds of panels we could put together,” says Hayes. “We can have a writer from Singapore and a writer from Paris, a writer from Philadelphia, and an editor from Seattle all on the same panel talking about science fiction.”

One highlight is a pitch session with Claire Eddy, executive editor at Tor Books, where you can pitch your novel to one of the most influential science fiction publishers. The guest of honor is Neil Clarke from New Jersey, editor of the Hugo- and World Fantasy Award-winning Clarkesworld Magazine.

Artist Don Jones at Confluence. Photo courtesy of Karen Yun-Lutz.

Trends of course come and go in science fiction. Right now, there are a few that seem to have momentum, including “hopepunk” (as seen in DreamForge Magazine), which conveys a more optimistic look at the future. That contrasts with a trend called “grimdark,” which edges into horror. There’s currently a lot of science fiction being written about climate change, which clearly weighs on a lot of people’s minds.

And the genre is becoming more diverse, with LGBTQ writers and Black sci-fi/fantasy “Afrofuturism,” often inspired by the late, legendary Octavia E. Butler.

Confluence is run by Parsec, a nonprofit that also runs a short story contest for youth writers (under the age of 18), and meets regularly at the Squirrel Hill Library to host special guests.

Michael Machosky is a writer and journalist with 18 years of experience writing about everything from development news, food and film to art, travel, books and music. He lives in Greenfield with his wife, Shaunna, and 10-year old son.