Satellite 4 – The 2014 British Eastercon
Ian Hunter reports on Satellite 4, the 65th Eastercon
As a member of the michty Glasgow SF Writers Circle for several years now, I have always been envious when Easter is approaching and some of the post-group craic (in the pub, of course) turns to all things Eastercon with several of us heading down south, usually to London, but sometimes other places. Now I havve been to World Science Fiction Conventions, World Fantasy Conventions, World Horror Conventions, and many, many Fantasycons, but never an Eastercon and with this year’s taking place in Glasgow, there was really no excuse for not going, was there? Especially when it was all taking place at the Crowne Plaza hotel on the banks of the Clyde, next to BBC Scotland, the SECC, the Armadillo, the Science Centre and the new Hydro. Goodies galore, besides my train actually stops at the SECC, which means that the Plaza was only a ten minute walk away, so there was no need for an hotel and no excuse for not going, no choice, no escape.
This year’s guests of honour were SF writer John Meaney, who had an article written about him in the programme book by Juliet McKenna; and the other author guest of honour was fantasy author Juliet McKenna who had an article written about her in the programme book by – you guessed it – John Meaney. The artist guest of honour was the titan that is Jim Burns; the fan guests of honour were Alice and Steve Lawson; and the final 'scientific' guest of honour was the current Visiting Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Oxford, Dame Jocelyn Nell Burnell. About 740 attended.
A nice touch in the main foyer where you registered were the tables of freebies – badges, flyers, special offers, etc, etc, and a table full of free books which occasionally got topped up from time to time and I managed to grab a Geoff Ryman title and unbelievably a signed George R. R. Martin book, and another nice – but potentially lethal - touch was a long table that sat in front of barrels of Kelburn beer and cider, some of which had been specially brewed for the convention.
Apart from a Loncon business meeting, the next event on the programme for the first day was a moderators meeting for those new to moderating, and guess what? Yours truly had someone ended up as a moderator on one of the poetry panels so I felt duty bound to attend that session and gather all the help I could get.
What followed that first day was a varied mix of events about things like alternative reality, anime, board games, the Voyager programme, artificial intelligence, dragons, digital art, Sherlock Holmes, as well as – I kid you not –workshops on knitting and crochet, ceilidh dancing (in preparation of a ceilidh that night) and mask decorating.
Such an eclectic mix continued on the Saturday with various strands happening at the same time and attendees could go to a session on Iain M Banks, followed by a session on mankind possibly following Voyager out into the stars one day, then you could attend a Kaffeklatch with John Meaney then on to a session on astronomy and poetry and another about steampunk and on and on things continued until the evening sessions where there were music, beer-tasting and a Ball attended by earthlings and things that looked like they came from other worlds, and maybe they did.
Easter Sunday was the day when I was actually involved in a couple of things on the programme. The first was moderating the poetry panel called 'Poetic Licence' – 'does poetry allow exploration of challenging issues concerning gender, race and identity in ways that prose cannot?' Fortunately I knew some of my fellow panellist, namely sometime Glasgow SF Writers Circle member Amal El-Mohtar (who also co-edits Goblin Fruit), fantasy writer and poet, Susan Bartholomew, and performance poet, Donna Scott, who graced us with a performance of one her poems. I think it was a fun, entertaining panel and we didn’t overrun too much - we didn’t dare! Later that night I took part in the 'Planet Scotland' reading event, moderated by Andrew J. Wilson and Neil Williamson, representing Writers Bloc, from Edinburgh, and WordDogs, from Glasgow, so it was an East verses West performance-off (whatever that means), but as Harry Hill often says, “there’s only one way to sort this out - fight!” Although no blood was spilled. Potential writers were asked to submit work in advance and I submitted mainly poems and a grim short story, and ended up reading three poems – 'Professional Murder Music', 'More Tea or I’ll Appear' (which got a laugh) and '10 Things You Didn’t Know About Staple Removers' (which got a lot of laughs.) Shock, entertain or make the audience laugh is my motto, and not just with my writing. 'Planet Scotland' was an excellent event especially with contributions from the two moderators and many others, including Phil Raines, a writer we don’t hear enough of, and a brilliant tongue-in-cheek story by Mark Harding, as well as offerings from Elsie Donald, Stuart Wallace, Halstad Bernard, Elaine Gallagher, Amal El Mohtar and a chiller from Tracy Berg. After we ran out of time, we decanted to a room upstairs where Hal Duncan brought the proceedings to an end with one of his 'scruffian' tales, 'The Unfortunate Rake' with a musical contribution from Ruth Booth.
I shouldn’t forget that the art show was also running which contained works by guest of honour, Jim Burns, as well as Anne Sudworth and Chris Moore and many others, a lot of which was Doctor Who inspired and I almost managed to outbid everyone else for a 'K9 meets Dougal' print but was pipped at the post. Some of the Doctor Who prints and the like, I found to be a little bit tricksy and whimsical and not very good, but they certainly did sell – note to self: become an artist and produce some Doctor Who 'stuff' for next year’s art show – beer mats, bars of soap that look like daleks and TARDIS candles should do the trick. Ker-ching!
All in all, I found Eastercon a welcomingly chilled out affair, and any event which has a slot about bee-keeping gets my vote. However, I have found that in recent years you can attend a World Fantasy Convention or Fantasycon and spend the entire time going to wall to wall book launches, buying a supposed bargain, getting it signed, maybe getting a free drink and then finding yourself with just enough money to post two weighty boxes of books home because they won’t go on the plane. What that means is that you attend book launch after book launch and miss all the panels or guest of honour interviews or discussions and any other strand that is going on, but that wasn’t the case at Eastercon. The dealer’s room was refreshingly small with only a few booksellers, like Angry Robot and PS Publishing and NewCon among them, as well as the TTA Press table, and no, I didn’t get 'Roy-ed' because my subscriptions to Interzone and Black Static were still running, and there were some other tables selling loads of second hand books, but there were also comics, and clothes and bags and jewellery and waistcoats and steampunkery stuff for sale, even things made from duct tape! Apart from the odd book that I purchased, I also bought a pottery black dog that had a passing resemblance to 'the Grim' from the Harry Potter books. Likewise there were only two sets of book launches going on, from two of the aforementioned publishers, so my convention budget did not take too much of a hammering. On the strength of all this, I will be back at Eastercon next year, down in London where Jim Butcher, author of the Harry Dresden books, will be one of the guests of honour, and given that my son is a huge fan of those books, I suspect I will have some company.