Convention Review


the 68th British Eastercon and National Science Fiction Convention
Birmingham Hilton Metropole, Birmingham Exhibition Centre & Airport,
14th - 17th April, 2017.  Peter Tyers reports.


Innominate was held at the Hilton Birmingham Metropole Hotel. Situated almost next door to the NEC (the National Exhibition Centre) on the southern outskirts of Birmingham, it was easy to get to by train (with a station only a few minutes walk away), road (just off the M42), and air (Birmingham airport being only a hop and a skip away). Also known as the annual Eastercon, Innominate ran over the Easter weekend from late Friday morning to Monday teatime.

It was the first time I had visited the hotel for thirty years, having last been there for BECCON ’87 (as one of the organising committee), and I was interested to see how it compared to my memories. Although the outside looked the same, the place has been extensively extended and remodelled over the years so I confess to recognising none of the interior. However, it was all very nice and the staff were very pleasant and helpful. My room turned out to be as far from the convention as one can get without sleeping in the car park and this made it very pleasantly quiet; it was a comfortable room and, as I was getting over a touch of the lurgi, I enjoyed being able to go back there at times and relax over a coffee and a good book (of which there were many in the Dealers’ Room).

Because of other events using the hotel during the week, the con could not get its hands on any of the facilities until the Thursday evening so there was a lot of work going on and a number of very busy-looking people (“hi, can’t stop - catch you in the bar tomorrow”). My thanks to all those volunteers - they did a good job! Indeed, the whole convention had been run in a bit of a hurry, the bid having been cobbled together at the last moment, just before last year’s Eastercon, when it became apparent that Pasgon, which had been bidding to run in Cardiff, would not be happening. Just as Pat McMurry had lead a good 'last minute team last year, so did Steve Cooper this year. Despite the rush, it was a good con.

The programme started lightly on the Friday morning and I greatly enjoyed Cristina Macia’s illustrated talk on 'Geek Gadgets In The Kitchen'. She has clearly tried many, many such devices herself and with obviously varied results - a humorous lesson to us all. Also very light, 'Pointless' (coincidentally looking very much like the BBC quiz show) tested our combined knowledge of Science Fictional matters; some of us were quite lacking but others really do have far too much time on their hands (and very good memories).

The Opening Ceremony was in the afternoon and were introduced to the Guests of Honour: author Pat Cadigan, artist Judith Clute, and fan (and now fan writer/editor) Colin Harris. The ceremony was thankfully brief and lead straight into a talk by Dr. Emma King (an educator from the Royal Institution); she covered a few basics of science and managed a few bangs on the way (I can only assume they had turned off the room’s smoke and percussion detectors!).

The main programme was spread over seven rooms, with additional rooms set aside for the dealers and the art show (both of which hosted small items like art talks and book signings), as well as a room for gaming and another as a quiet space. As usual, there were a lot of programme items and the inevitable decisions as to which to attend. The Programme Book was a handy 48-page, soft-covered, A5 booklet and it was accompanied by a very useful 20-page Programme Grid of the same size; together they were informative, helpful, and easy to read and carry round - sometimes simple is best!

The George Hay Memorial Lecture was on '3D Printing, Biology, and Materials Futures' and given by Dr. Debbie Chachra (Associate Professor of Materials Science at Olin College of Engineering). I am sure it was interesting but I found it difficult to understand her (and I overheard other audience members commenting likewise) as she really could do with some lessons in public speaking. She spoke very fast and with an interesting (American) take on diction, and she was equally difficult to understand on panels. Also suffering from audibility problems was a panel on 'Biohacking'; due to bad microphone use, room acoustics, and sound bleeding through the insufficient walls, it was sometimes drowned out by the next-door panel on 'Mental Health and Superheroes' - I moved to the latter and it suffered from the sound bleeding through from the former … sometimes you just cannot win!

There was the predictable panel on Brexit and Science and it certainly did not suffer from excessive optimism and, for the European minded, there was a presentation on this year’s upcoming Worldcon in Helsinki. Next year’s Eastercon (Follycon) had a Q&A session to find out what we wanted of an Eastercon though I was a touch disturbed to find that they intended to make great use of the Internet (which is a problem for those without good access and can therefore disadvantage such fellow fans) and expected the membership to do preparatory work in advance for some of the programme - whatever that meant.

There was a touching memorial to Peter Weston (fan, Worldcon chair, etc.) where those who knew him could exchange stories and reminiscences; a chance to pay tribute and remember a friend and really nice guy. Also tackling mortality, the panel on 'Caring For Our Collections' looked at what we could or should do if we want our collections of books, films, memorabilia, and so on to survive after we have gone; there was some sobering food for thought. Much lighter was an illustrated talk on 'Science Fictional Pub Signs'; some people obviously do a lot of drinking, er sorry, research. The highlight of Saturday evening was the opening episode of the new series of Doctor Who - Peter Capaldi’s last season - and the audience was large and enthusiastic.

You cannot go to everything and a couple of items I regretted missing were the Sofa Racing (run round an obstacle course with an inflatable(!) sofa - lots of fun I was assured) and barrister Simon Bradshaw comparing cases under the fictional law of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Barrayar as compared to the real law of England. Thomas Bloch and Pauline Hass presented a recital of avant-garde music which was rather unusual and left many of us taking an interest in the very strange instruments they had created but wondering about the music itself. In addition there were a number of workshops and a good list of kaffeeklatschs (chat to your favourite author over a coffee) and literary beers (substitute beer for coffee). There were also book launches from NewCon Press and Gollancz.

In addition to the programme there was, of course, a lot of hanging round in the hotel bar and the next-door fan lounge; the latter offered a small bar and fan-priced (i.e. cheaper) food and it was both good and good value. The hotel bar also offered a menu (good but pricier) and the breakfast buffet provided a good start to the day. A real ale bar had been set up next to the hotel bar but it was uninspired; at £5 (&Euro;5.50, US$6.50 a pint it was too expensive and the small selection of beers (from a local brewery) were all disappointing (though good news - Martin Hoare, who did such a good job last year, will be organising it again for next year… of course, you could ask why he was not asked to this year … ).

All in all, I had a most enjoyable weekend. The hotel’s layout meant that everything was fairly close to everything else, I only once found a programme item to be oversubscribed and unable to get into, the fan lounge and hotel lounge provided enough space for sitting and socialising, and the food was reasonable though the beer (from all the bars) was uninspired and a bit too pricey for what it was. The programme was varied and interesting and I got to spend lots of time with friends. Like I said, it was most enjoyable and I think the committee put together a good convention.

Peter Tyers

See also Arthur's take on this convention.


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