...was the first Eurocon (or indeed a Worldcon) to have a head of state welcome. Having a cosmonaut present too was a bonus. Not to mention film premieres, authors from both eastern and western Europe and beyond. Jim Walker reports.
This year the Eurocon caravan rested in Plovdiv, Bulgaria from the 5th to the 8th of August. Plovdiv is the second largest city in Bulgaria and has a very long history. Unfortunately, because of earthquakes and various wars, apart from the fine Roman amphitheatre there is only a limited amount of historic interest to see. There is one small area of old cobbled streets and houses which is being preserved and is filling up with restaurants and souvenir shops: it isn't Haworth yet but it's getting there. (Click for more Bulgaria background from our news column.)
The Con was held in the City House of Culture in the centre of Plovdiv, a rather tired Communist period building, but with two excellent pavement cafes right outside, one selling local Kamnitsa beer at 80p (Ł0.8, US$1.3) per bottle. Most of the art exhibition was some way away in a commercial art gallery, there was also an impressive literary exhibition '155 years of Bulgarian Science Fiction' in the National Library ten minutes walk away. The Con Hotel was a forty minute walk, but with a taxi ride costing 75p this didn't cause any problems.
The Con had three simultaneous streams, Eurocon (all items in English and Bulgarian), Bulgacon and Gamecon (in Bulgarian only) and thanks to generous sponsorship there was no admission charge for the Con items. Somewhat unexpectedly the Opening Ceremony featured a letter from the President of Bulgaria (yes, really!) and a short concert of classical piano, opera and folk singing. Filking has not yet arrived in Bulgaria.
Another highlight was the Bulgarian cinema premiere of I, Robot (with Bulgarian sub-titles), on the Saturday night, timed to coincide with the Con. The film has its moments, but it would probably help if you hadn't read Asimov. The Russian SF film Night Watch was pre-premiered as part of the Con but unfortunately I missed it. This was a pity because the scriptwriters later won a Eurocon Award for their work on it (See below for full list of Awards.)
The Eurocon guests of honour included the indestructible Robert Sheckley and the inimitable Roberto Quaglia from Italy, both veterans of the First and Second International Weeks of SF in Timisoara, Romania, as well as Ian Watson (another Second International Week veteran), who was on good form, the prolific Andrzej Saprowski from Poland, and Erik Simon, a German who specialises in alternative histories. There was also the French illustrator, Gilles Francescano, and Patrick Gyger the curator from the Swiss SF museum, La Maison d'Ailleurs. The Serb Professor Nedeljkovich gave a talk on 'Should Ursula Le Guin get the Nobel prize for literature'. He thought yes, Ian Watson disagreed, Erik Simon walked out. Science was represented by the Bulgarian cosmonaut Georgi Ivanov and by the Deputy Director of the Bulgarian Space Research Institute, Dr Luchezar Filipov, talking on 'Space research prospects', For Tolkien fans Lyubmir Nicolov gave a talk on 'Tolkien and Logan - parallel between two escapes.' This sounded intriguing but I was on a panel and could not go. Grigor Gachev gave an interesting talk on the 'Evolution of cyberpunk', i.e. why is it losing it's edge? (Basically because the plots are becoming all too true and it's not speculative fiction any more!).
The 800-900 attendees included around 10% foreign visitors from many European countries and the US. The Eurocon business meeting had representatives from Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, Ireland, Latvia, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the Ukraine and the UK which was very impressive. Thankfully all business was conducted in English only. Next year the Eurocon is of course in Glasgow with the Worldcon; for 2006 we chose Kiev, 13th to 16th of April. The Ukrainians won (over Moscow in February!) by an apparently serious offer of free beer to be provided by one of their sponsors. Although the Russians missed out on the 2006 Eurocon they did well with the Awards, as did Denmark and Ukraine, not forgetting Britain's own Science Fact & Fiction Concatenation which won the Honorary Award!
The Bulgarian organisers, the Fantastika Foundation, plus the Central European Initiative and many government and fan bodies did a great job. (Special thanks to Rositsa Decheva and Ivan Krumov for looking after the foreigners). Fans arriving at Sofia airport on Thursday were met by Bulgarians wearing red Eurocon tee-shirts and given a car ride (140 km) directly to the door of their hotel in Plovdiv. Bulgaria is a small country of eight million people and people tend to know each other. The organisers had successfully plugged in to the Bulgarian establishment as the patronage of the Vice-Premiere, the letter from the President, the presence of Bulgarian scientists, the well prepared exhibition in the National Library, and the items on Radio Bulgaria, etc. all showed. In eight Eurocons this is the most official support I have ever seen, it all helped to make the event a success. Most of the usual international crowd were there, sadly neither Bridget Wilkinson nor Martin Hoare could make it, both due to health problems. The prize for dedication must go to Oleg Hnilica of the Czech Republic who, despite having long hair, hitchhiked across four countries to get to Plovdiv.
After the Con Dave Lally and I spent a couple of days in Sofia. My favourite moment was Dave Lally's cry, on seeing the beautiful Russian St Nicholas Church, "Look at the domes on that!" Pure Benny Hill!
See here for more European sci fi articles.
The 2004 Eurocon Awards went to:-
The Encouragement Awards (for young/new authors) went to:-
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