the 68th British Eastercon and National Science Fiction Convention
This was one of the cosiest, finest Eastercons I have attended (having been to more than twenty). The Birmingham Hilton Metropole, though carrying some of the most expensive bar prices outside London, proved to be an exceptionally friendly centre. The Birmingham Metropole was also the venue for the 1987 Eastercon at which SF² Concatenation was launched.
The Guests of Honour were: the artist Judith Clute; the writer Pat Cadigan; and the fan and conrunner Colin Harris. Highlights abounded, from Dr Emma J. King blowing up defenceless Nelly Babies in a very loud series of science experiments we definitely shouldn't attempt at home. As ever many other luminaries were in attendance too, with Adrian Tchaikovsky and Alliete De Bodard among them.
From Steam, Cyber, Diesel and all other prefixes to punk covered, along with a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos with people as the hippos, contrasting with a serious look at the way mental health issues are addressed in SF, it was a very diverse programme stream, nicely spread out, though with inevitable clashes for attendees.
All events, signings, and even just sitting around by the con-bar were idyllic, but one event stood head and shoulders above all others, the classical recital concert by Thomas Bloch and Pauline Haas, that included their music from many films including Bloch's stunning debuting work for the eagerly awaited upcoming Bladerunner 2049.
One notable thing throughout the con, the talks were very precisely timed with a doomsday countdown clock in the corner of each room reminding presenters of exactly ow little time they had left to go and this could be a little disconcerting.
Some events suffered for being in rooms in which fans had already faced poor air conditioning conditions: a few people said they'd have gone to X, Y or Z event had it not meant going back in 'that' room.
There were 193 different programme items, with 197 attendees participating as performers, guests, speakers, panellists, knitting and baking instructors, and more besides. It seemed everyone was there to do as much as to watch and paradoxically many attendees never left the chill out lobbies and bar region. It worked on so many levels.
Lovely moments included the entire convention watching the opening episode of Peter Capaldi's closing season of Dr Who, and all groaning in disappointment when the contestants on the just finishing preceding Pointless quiz show chose to answer questions on a topic other than the alternative science fiction question option offered.
Donna Scott's SF-related stand up poetry slot drew a laughter soaked conclusion to a humour and SF cabaret run by Shoreline of Infinity (Aliette De Bodard and I were also on the bill).
My own closing day talk on pub signs related to SF was not only well attended, but also showed how hard working the con tech and gopher crew proved to be when my computer powerpoint and the con-provided projector decided not to talk to one another. They got me back up and running within minutes.
909 attended the convention, SF² Concatenaton was told after the event, which was slightly down on the figure given in the twice-daily con newsletter reports, though nothing felt over-crowded or cramped.
At many cons, the art room has been quite a static display area with art work pinned up and simply treated as a gallery exhibition until the art auction. This year artists were invited to give talks on their work right by their art enabling them to share inspirations, methods and tips for other artists. Some artists used this as an opportunity to share performance art as well as their paintings and installation pieces.
On the hotel food front, the Metropole eventually realised its food prices were deemed to be rather steep and arbitrarily halved the price of their beef-burgers much to the annoyance of those who had bought them right before the reduction was offered. Given the quality of the con overall and the helpfulness of the hotel staff, this was a minor concern for most of us. The hotel made up for it with the free shuttle bus service between the hotel and the airport / railway station.
Many fans were very generous in buying beers and sharing whiskies, rum, wine, chocolates, and much more besides. Event volunteers were treated to drinks or the now traditional groats (vouchers for bar-drinks and food). Many publishers organised meet-and-greet wine & cheese parties to promote their latest books and authors.
These last two points are perhaps worth noting for future con organisers: it is advised to not only consider the cost of rooms, but also bar and food prices, proximity to other bars, eating places, hostels, camp sites, etc. Many fans like myself just about afford the con accommodation only to spend the rest of the weekend on frugal budgets, not from scrimping but from financial necessity. The less we spend in the hotel, the more we get to spend in the con bar, and in dealer's rooms, art auctions, etc.
The hardest part of a con like this is comes at its end, knowing that it will be a year before the next one (2018's Follycon in Harrogate – a name in the future likely to confuse SF historians due to the 1988 original). But it is something for which to look forward.
See also Peter's take on this convention.