The 69th British Eastercon and National Science Fiction Convention
A well-organised convention that managed to pack a lot in without feeling over-programmed. There was plenty of opportunity to chat with fans as well as moving from panel to panel, or book signing to craft-workshop.
Inevitably there were programme clashes where choosing to go to one panel meant sacrificing something else. In compensation, there was one of the best convention real ale bars yet seen, though fans drained it dry by the Sunday night.
Some events assigned to small rooms proved unexpectedly popular and fans were left out when there was no more room, and the convention felt as much Fringe and mainstream festival throughout. The really interesting stuff was going on in the corners and wings, often overshadowing the main showcase centre stage set pieces. Hearing from others what programmes they went to inevitably drew regrets from everyone wishing they had gone to that too. This was a con for being able to appear in two or more places at once. We really were spoilt for choice.
Guests of Honour included Kim Stanley Robinson, looking remarkably young for such a prolific output, and the wonderful Nnedi Okorafor, recently commissioned to Marvel to write Black Panther comics. Both Authors were announced as nominees for 2018 Hugo Awards during the convention. Okorafor for her novella Binti: Home, and Robinson for his novel New York 2140 which I have reviewed for the SF² Concatenation. The other Guests of Honour were graphic novel writer Kieron Gillen (amusingly mistaken for Dr Who & Guardians of the Galaxy actress Karen Gillen) and fan extraordinaire Christina Lake, who kindly gave all attendees a nicely bound collection of her zine writings.
Other writers were also present and actively participating in many panels including SF author Charlie Stross and horror writer and longstanding President of the Festival of Fantastic Films Ramsey Campbell.
Poetry, croquet (ruined by the weather), book launches; the diversity of the programme ensured that there was something for all. The venue was well chosen for easy access for disabled attendees, and only the weather outside stopped the con attaining perfection, with many fans looking out through the revolving doors, seeing the heavy rain and returning to the bar for a few more beers in the hope that the elements might lighten up later, while simultaneously hoping the rain continued.
Unexpected highlights included a live concert by Jon Boden, formerly of folk-rock group, Bellowhead, presenting track from his post-apocalyptic concept album work. All con-attendees received a free copy of a CD of his music in the registration packs too.
There was much nostalgia for Eastercons of yesteryear, including panels celebrating the original Eastercon named Follycon, which took place in Liverpool thirty years ago. (Editor's note: SF² Concatenation itself began as a print zine at Eastercon 31 years ago.) So this year's gathering was as much a school reunion as a forward looking platform of the future of the genre.
A panel on event at the Villa Diodate, where Mary Shelley first dreamt up Frankenstein (arguably the first modern SF novel) 200 years ago and John Polidori gave us The Vampyre, was among my favourites. The panel was refreshingly irreverent rather than dry or academic. Roz Kaveney argued that, given the number of women’s lives he destroyed, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s early death by drowning was a blessing rather than a loss to history.
With so much emphasis on dystopian nightmare visions of future totalitarianist politics, a look at the rarer utopian visions offered by the genre made for a fascinating panel on in the closing hours of the weekend.
Jess Meats offered a light, frothy PowerPoint presentation on 'Atheism and the Representation of Religion in Science' with reference to a great deal of media SFF, especially Dr Who, Farscape and Babylon Five.
The usual gubbins were on offer as ever, a chance to listen to The Archers for those who wished to, Filk music, (which Jon Boden was eager to participate in personally), and lots of events just for the children.
There was poetry, and much comedy, including a brilliant sketch at the 'Fast Forward' end of the pier style show, with Adrian Tchaikovsky rendered (intentionally) speechless as three lady SF writers lambasted male SF author obsessions such as naming spaceships and swords and not letting him get a word in edgeways. (10-minute sketch here.)
Other 'Follycon Fast Forward' set pieces included poetry by Richard Stephenson, wearing a hard hat for his word and world building, a savagely accurate recreation of how British workers take their tea breaks, and a ten minute re-enactment of The Empire Strikes Back, complete with cardboard At-At’ and one cast member playing both Luke and Leila.
Another comedy high-spot was ‘Defending The indefensible’ where unfortunate panellists were assigned such brutal sixty second tasks as asserting why Bonnie Langford, as Mel, was the best Dr Who companion of all time. (Short Langford/Mel reunion with the new Doctor video here.) There were moving tribute panels throughout the weekend to writers and other heroes who have died since the last Eastercon, including Brian Aldiss, Ursula K. Le Guin and Prof. Stephen Hawking.
As always there was a big art show, and dealers' room area, which were busy without being over-crowded, much like the convention in general.
Fans generously shared beer and chocolate and the fan bar area was so pleasant that tearing away from it to go to programme events was difficult. Even fans who stayed in the little communal utopia all weekend are likely to have left feeling fully satisfied by how well everything went.
A twice daily newsletter kept fans up to date on events and allowed us to recommend the best places to eat and drink beyond the Majestic. Harrogate itself proved to be such a heart-winning setting that it seems surprising that this was Eastercon’s first visit there since 1962. I hope they don’t leave it 56 years before returning again.
As always, the convention was the work of many volunteers, from the organising committee to the gophers and tech crews, panellists, guests and fans in general. One panel I attended, on utopian SF, made me realise that I had been living in a little utopian oasis for the four days at Follycon. A huge thank you to everyone involved.
Details of the forthcoming Eastercon and this year's other natcons can be found on SF² Concatenation's convention diary page.
Because Follycon 2018 made reference to the original Follycon (1998) 30 years ago, we thought that some old-timers might like a reminder of the second edition of the Science Fact & Science Fiction Concatenation circulated at that convention. Meanwhile some newcomers who were at Follycon 2018 might be interested to see how the content stands up nearly a third of a century on. This edition, being only our second, was a little shorter than the 36 page standard count we adopted for all subsequent print editions. The table of contents follow below...
Cover art by Steve Trodd