EasterCon 2012 Convention Report
Incredibly, 2012 was EasterCon’s 63rd year (it is run by the British National Science Fiction Convention) and having sold out for the first time in 30 years – surely one of their most successful conventions to date. There is no doubt that much of this was thanks to their guest of honour. When you hear George R. R. Martin will be attending a conference there is only one thing running through your mind, “I’ll be there!” However, although that may have been the reason that upwards of 1400 people purchased their tickets – there was far more on offer for fans than catching the odd glimpse of Mr Martin.
On the contrary, I think Eastercon tried very, very hard to shift the focus away from George R. R. Martin once the event had started. This certainly wasn’t an event that revolved around Mr Martin’s attendance. Rather, it was an event that celebrated geek culture. From readers to writers, Doctor Who fans to Star Trek fans, actors to script-writers, video gamers to LARPers – there was literally something set up for everyone.
The panels were very, very well run. In fact, having been to every UK based convention now; I’d say that the energy and the production value of the panels was, at Eastercon, the very highest I have seen. Certain panels had large screens to the side of the panels so that people at the back didn’t have to squint the hundred or so metres to the front, the lighting and the audio equipment was also perfect – so you could always see and hear, no matter where you were in the room.
The content of the panels was just as impressive. The highlight for me was the “There’s a Hole in My Plot” panel featuring Jenni Hill, Joe Abercrombie, Elspeth Cooper and Gavin G. Smith. Jenni Hill is a highly regarded editor and all round lovely lady. So, it seemed a very good idea to have her moderate a panel. There was a problem though; Gavin G Smith and Joe Abercrombie decided that they were in the mood to play about a bit, mess with our lovely moderator and even, at times, the audience. So, once the topic of filling holes in plots had been quickly debated, Joe and Gavin began warmly throwing abuse at one another; Gavin calling Joe Abercrombie ‘George R.R. Martin Lite’ for example. And quickly we had Sarah Pinborough (author) and Gillian Redfearn (Gollancz editor) adding further comments to wind up Joe and Gavin who it was revealed both had minor holes in their plots of already published novels.
Things like this really make a convention. Listening to intelligent panels is always interesting and really enhances the reading/writing experience – but when a panel has you leaving with your ribs hurting because you’ve been laughing so hard – you forget all about the ticket prices.
The panels that were there in order to inform though, were invaluable. Listening to George R. R. Martin, Anne Lyle, Jacey Bedford and Juliet E McKenna discuss “How pseudo do you like your medieval?” was just fascinating. Mr Martin spoke in great detail about how he chose to build Westeros and how close to historical fact he based his novel. Juliet, Jacey and Anne spoke in great length about how in depth they researched events in history in order to create intriguing plots. Anne and Jacey who both write in alternative history settings really gave good emphasis on how important it was to make your world feel real by doing more than checking just Wikipedia. For example, picking up old guide books, reading accounts from people of the times, thinking about more medieval figurative language and phrases that would have/could have been used at the time. The moderator for that panel, Anne C Perry, did a really fantastic job. The other half of our friend, Pornokitsch – she showed herself to be one of the most organised and well spoken moderators at the convention – so a huge well done to her.
In fact, if there was one down fall to the scheduling at Eastercon – it was that there was pretty much too much to do and that inevitably led to difficult choices. Every hour there were between six and eleven panels, workshops, readings, talks, launches, parties, film showings, lectures, LARPing sessions, tastings and more besides going on in the various rooms. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I mean, should I honestly be complaining about having to choose between attending “How not to suppress women’s writing”, “The war on terror (How ten years of conflict has shaped SF)”, or “Wild Cards with George R. R. Martin” all at 5:00pm on a Saturday evening? Probably not…and yet I am.
As well as the program, there was a bar and that of course meant there was tons of drinking, tons of parting and tons of chatting, socialising and networking. Something that has been really remarked upon in the press is that Eastercon was almost a 50/50 gender split and you really felt this when you were there. Fantasy and sci-fi conventions have a really bad stereotype hanging over them. People think they are full of strange middle-aged men all dressed in costume. Now, there are strange middle-aged men dressed in costume (sorry strange middle-aged men dressed in costume), but there are also plenty of younger men, younger women, middle-aged men and women, older men and women, attractive people, less attractive people, it really wasn’t a place for stereotypes. And if one convention makes The Guardian this year – I’m glad it is Eastercon because it gives a good showing of the diversity of people who enjoy speculative fiction and the media that surrounds it.
Sorry, back to partying and drinking. I don’t drink myself, but those who did certainly drank. That’s what you do at cons. You wake up, do the panels, head to the bar, drink and chat with friends, stumble back to your hotel room and wake up knackered, ill and ready to do the same again that next day. You can deny it, reader, but it’s true. To accompany your drinking and socialising there were some great discos, quizzes (which we actually came last in…out of about 20 teams. Yes, we are ashamed.), later night movie showings and even some filking (don’t ask). So, your first question is probably, “how the hell did Fantasy-Faction lose the speculative fiction quiz?”
Right, I want to make this clear. I do not suck at quizzes. I’m a knowledgeable guy. BUT – this was a hardcore quiz. You know when you see on TV those jokes about a quiz being like “What episode of Star Trek does x appear?” that was actually a question!!! Not only that though, there were tables that took this quiz seriously. So seriously in fact that when they were down to two tables it got pretty intense. There were stares flickering from table to table and everything. Then, when this table was announced at winners there was a roar (not a cheer) a literal roar that went up. Someone cried, “We remain our title – ROAR!” It was kind of scary, and I am almost glad I lost – because the intensity in that woman’s eyes told me she had worked hard for this quiz. She had studied for a year and had anyone beat her, she may have sought out a Klingon Bat’leth and decapitated them right there.
Sorry, slightly deviation there, so where was I…
I guess I should comment on the whole “awards” debate briefly. Well, in recent weeks Christopher Priest has really tried and tested the ‘any publicity is good publicity’ theory. When the Arthur C. Clarke nominations were announced with his name absent from the short list, he made a no holds barred blog post, which had a number of people livid that he felt he could put himself above other books that were nominated. And others questioning how the Arthur C. Clarke award comes up with the shortlist. In fact, that could even be considered an understatement. Priest’s exact words were that it was “a dreadful shortlist put together by a set of judges who were not fit for purpose” and he suggested that those judging at that point should resign their posts and that the award be cancelled until 2013.
It is understandable then that there was a lot of apprehension surrounding the number of awards ceremonies and related panels going on. Maybe some comments were made on panels that upset a few people, but once Christopher Priest ended up taking home the BSFA Award for Best Science Fiction novel of the year, it seemed to be forgotten about and the whole issue seemed to be forgotten about. Having the Hugo Award shortlist announced, The BFSA results announced and a lengthy discussion and justification by the Arthur C. Clarke Awards all over the course of the four days meant that people left really knowing what the big books of 2011/2012 were and I think this is important for people who attended Eastercon not as veteran readers.
Another highlight for me was the launch of a book called Irenicon. It is by an author named Aidan Hart. I’ve read the book in proof form and therefore decided to head up to the launch, meet Aidan, Jo Fletcher and everyone involved in the creation of that book. It was pretty damned fantastic. The cover of the book was just beautiful, which seems to be Jo Fletcher’s trademark, and the speech from Aidan and Jo Fletcher about how the book was discovered and eventually brought to print was fascinating and inspirational for myself.
As well as that, there was an UNBELIEVABLE dealers room, where there was everything from ancient anthologies from the 1940s – 1960s to second hand novels to first edition signed hardbacks to stalls run by Gollancz and Forbidden Planet. It really was incredible for book shoppers. But, even if you weren’t simply in the market for books, there was some amazing art, merchandise, clothing, just about everything speculative fiction related you can image. And to finish my lusting back over that dealers room and wishing it was a shop, a friend of mine purchased for me, as a gift, a signed copy of The Art of A Song of Ice & Fire that I even now, a week later, must stop drooling over.
George R. R. Martin has now sold over 9,000,000 books worldwide. And therefore, it was inevitable that before the convention started it was going to be all about him. Eastercon needed to sell tickets and therefore authors such as Joe Abercrombie, Elspeth Cooper, Paul Cornell, Juliet McKenna, Anne Lyle, Gavin Smith, and many more besides were barely advertised. The fact that there was such a wealth of things to do at this convention was barely advertised. And therefore when you arrived, took a proper look at the program and saw just how many fantastic authors were sitting on intriguing panels, strolling around talking to admiring fans and sharing drinks with those in this wonderful, wonderful community you couldn’t help but be thoroughly impressed.
There is no other genre or industry in the world where it is as easy to meet your heroes as it is within speculative fiction. EasterCon has proven itself, once again, as one of the very best locations to do this and have a damned good time as well.