Actually this was not the 63rd World SF Convention in Glasgow but the 2nd; for that matter it was not the 28th Eurocon in that city but the 2nd. Somehow in this space-time continuum there were 61 other annual Worldcons and 26 Eurocons held elsewhere. Convention co-chair Vince Docherty, in the souvenir book, mused that this might well have been a follow-up to the 1938 Glasgow Empirecon, or Commonwealth con as part of the Empire Exhibition as opposed the 1939 Worldcon in conjunction with the World Fair but enough of Vince's musings: the rebel colonist presence was significant.
If you have not heard of, or been to, a science fiction Worldcon before then a quick paragraph of explanation may be appropriate. It is the annual gathering of SF folk - professional, commercial, enthusiast, buff and fan together with the occasional SF-loving scientist. Two out of three Worldcons are held in the USA but roughly three times a decade other countries get to host it with the decision being made by registrant vote. The Worldcon has been held in Britain five times previously, the last of which was Glasgow in 1995 and just seven times previously in all of Europe. Worldcon attendance these days is typically between 4,000 and 6,000 (Interaction had over 5,000 registrants and some 4,100 actually attend), who gather for four or five days to socialise and attend some of a few hundred programme items (panels, film screenings, talks etc.,) run across several parallel programme streams covering book, film, TV and other areas of SF, not to mention drop in on an art exhibition, commercial dealers' hall, and a fan stall and display hall. Much business, socialising, catching up with distant colleagues, past acquaintances and friends, not to mention making new ones, takes place. This in a nutshell is what Worldcons are but which simply does not do justice to the reality which itself is a little surreal (and exhausting)...
Interaction was very successful as a Worldcon once again demonstrating that Europe can run these events at the appropriate scale and efficiently. As such the committee can relax with the knowledge that they have waved the SF flag this side of the Pond despite European fans not having the benefit of a Worldcon on their doorstep most years from which to hone convention-running skills at such a scale.
The venue was the Scottish Exhibition and Convention Centre on the north bank of the Clyde just to the immediate west of down-town Glasgow. The Moat House Hotel and Camponile provided much of the accommodation, as did half a mile away the Hilton, Holiday Inn and Mariot, with the Hilton being the venue for night parties.
The programme was wide-ranging and nearly always very good (well at least on the science front) with a number of special items. The Green Room folk were also very competent but the team running the Moat House half of the operation were by a long chalk very effective, welcoming and tackled problems head on. (Nice one folks.)
The dealers room had a reasonable number of stalls and seemed to be very busy. The book dealers seemed happy with a number reporting brisk trade. Meanwhile the distance between the conference centre and the evening party hotels was not a problem. Taxis were cheapish: Glasgow really has one of the best value taxi fleets in the UK. However even if you did walk it, as I did one night purely for exercise and to see more of the Clyde, it was only 15 minutes. Other than some of our transatlantic cousins who did comment on this (in passing I must stress), nobody else mentioned it, though clearly it had been on the Committee's mind given the distance estimates given in the pre-convention Progress Reports.
Yes, there were a few problems but nearly all of these were beyond the committee's control. On the Guest of Honour front Bob Sheckley's illness was a tragedy almost entirely out of the committee's hands. (Other than you have to expect such when inviting the more mature: but on the other hand it is the elderly SF authors and personalities that have the track record that makes them especially worthwhile inviting so it is a question of taking the rough with the smooth.) However Bob's wife and stepdaughter were there and perfectly charming. Another problem was that hotel accommodation processing in a number of instances could have been smoother but then this can be a regular hassle and those experienced of SF conventions (or scientific symposia) know full well the benefit of carrying a complete set of documentation. (Had I not I could easily paid for an extra day as well as not had my Infotel deposit knocked off my bill - a potential extra £140 (US$240) as they lost the financial record of my Infotel booking so necessitating a call to the agents.) Furthermore I did hear a couple of folk (including a previous Hugo winner about The Moat) complain bitterly about hotel attitude. (Fortunately mine was OK other than the obvious disdain when leaving in asking that they change my unspent room service deposit refund into English notes; of which I can understand but equally of which they should find routine for guests departing to south of the border.) However, for the most part, provided requests made of staff were absolutely mundane, and it was not a time of peak activity (such as early in the evenings in the Moat), the service was good. (A bit too efficient once when I went to see hello to someone at the very next table for literally 30 seconds to find my half full coffee had been cleared away despite the presence of my bag and belongings.) But as I said such problems were largely out of the committee's hands.
The bottom line is that Interaction was the best European-venued Worldcon to date and so (again) raised the bar for future events if this trend is to be continued. This is not to say that there were no problems. Interaction had its share of minor glitches and there was a problem in it realising its sense of vision. These I cover below but should not detract from many of the principal organisers receiving the gratitude of the international SF community for a job for the large part done very well indeed!
A conference centre is a conference centre is a conference centre. Though the UK has many exhibition centres it has few conference centres with sufficient beds to house a convention of 4-5,000. Indeed there are only two such places, Glasgow and Brighton. The problem with the Glasgow venue is that the main Scottish Exhibition and Convention Centre (SECC) does not have a sufficient number of small rooms accommodating a few hundred. In 1995, when the last Glasgow Worldcon was held, one of the main halls had partitions dividing up the science, fantasy, literary and another stream. The problem was that noise from one stream affected another resulting in a detrimental cacophony. This year the problem was surmounted by using the Moat House Hotels function rooms. However this meant a somewhat tedious trek between the two sites. The distance was short enough to be workable, but long enough to be a bit of a pain especially if trying to get to successive programme items in each of the two venues. However this was simply an inconvenience and the exercise did no harm.
Food availability in the Scottish Exhibition & Conference Centre (SECC) was plentiful but expensive. Unfortunately there is nothing the organisers could do about this. As the SECC is one of just two appropriate venues in the UK for a Worldcon, you have to lump it or leave it regarding on-site means of keeping body and soul together. Suffice to say that prices were nearly double those from analogous outlets in central London! I presume that this high cost is so because these outlets have overheads to maintain even on days when the SECC has no function running. Nonetheless if you are not on business expenses (and again I assume that most SECC functions are business-related) this is a pain, but one not unique to European Worldcons.
Can we take it as read that there were some 400 programme items covering the genre's spectrum and fantasy too. Ditto that there is inevitably a curate's egg mix but with so much choice those attending had access to many great items. So taking this as read where were the problems lurking. Let's lift the carpet on an otherwise excellent mix of activities...
Rightly or wrongly (and I do not want to get into a debate here) Worldcons, at least those this side of the Atlantic, give off the vibe that they are all about SF books and writers but that 'there is also other stuff too' (this is actually a quote from a promotional article written by a committee member). Which means that if you are primarily into cinematic, TV SF, comics/graphic novels, gaming and so forth the image presented is that this is 'other stuff' and the Worldcon is not primarily for you. To be fair the Interaction committee must have picked up on this vibe for less than a month before the event its press release no44 stated: ""Fans of film and TV science fiction will not be ignored in the programme of events for Interaction, the 63rd World Science Fiction Convention...." and that: "There is a myth that Worldcon is exclusively about books and authors," he [Vince Docherty] said. "Nothing could be further from the truth. The science fiction family includes fans of all aspects of the genre including film and television, anime, art, comics and gaming, and Interaction will make them all welcome.""
Now of course Worldcon regulars know that this is not so but it is nonetheless the vibe so often given off and Vince obviously discerned such. (Just colour block out the space in Worldcon promotional literature by area of interest and you'll see which dominates and which gets the best positioning.) I mention this because I know of a number of more media and film orientated SF groups who did not attend (or from which only one or two of their members attended) Interaction. OK, so what you need to do is to look beyond the promotional presentations and note those words 'there is also other stuff too' because by rights the sum total of all this other stuff probably balances the sum total of space and time devoted to SF in its written form. Further, because there were up to 16 (yes, 16!) parallel programme streams, even if you only liked film, games, graphic SF, anime, TV or whatever, you could spend your time entirely on these specialisms at least twice over. I stress this because if you were not at Interaction, and are primarily into film and TV SF, you may not want to pass up on the next European Worldcon (though it is unlikely to be in the UK itself for around a decade). There really was the proverbial something for everyone.
The downside was that with so many programme items there were a number of last minute changes which had to be reflected on daily update sheets. Some of these were unavoidable but some were not. For example, those who decided not to come to the convention (high £:$ exchange rate was one reason cited), and who did not withdraw their offer of participating on the programme as soon as they were aware of their not going to attend, should be noted and kept off future programmes as such behaviour puts an unfair and avoidable pressure on the organisers and so is unacceptable. Regarding the committee side, some irriot decided that every miniscule programme change including change of a single panel participant warranted listing on the daily update sheets which made them far longer than really needed: I heard a number of programme participants, green room staff and attendees note this absurdity (and did not hear anyone praise the rigorous detail of the daily change sheets). However this was a problem of execution and not programme design. As said, there was plenty going on with much choice for everyone.
Having said this, while media and film SF dimensions were firmly catered for (despite the big film-makers being reluctant to play ball), their profile in the programme timetable was (as for many a Worldcon) decidedly marginalised. (Again this is one reason why SF media and film fans feel that Worldcons really aren't meant for them. It is a double whammy. Not only is the advance promotional literature largely irrelevant to them but the programme timetable on the day sidelines them.) All that was said about the anime and video programmes, in the 128 page timetable booklet was on half of page 23, was that they were in the Castle Suite in the Moat House Hotel. Details of what was being shown there only appeared on separate daily programme sheets and were not in the programme timetable booklet. This meant it was impossible for those wishing to attend such items to plan ahead comparing what would be shown with the other programme streams, let alone get a feel for whether the stream needed checking out. Now I know that some media programme organisers will say that they only know the final selection of copyright approved screenings a short time in advance of the con, but this argument is decidedly limp. With the years of planning a Worldcon one actually gets permission for screening from a good proportion of items sufficiently in advance to be included in the programme booklet and just a comparative minority too late. Here the thing to do would be to schedule as much as possible and just keep a few blocks of hours a day for the last-minute stuff. Problem largely solved and at least the media and film dimension is included in the daily grids getting the same profile as other items. As it was I heard that one couple into media SF, for whom Interaction was also their first Worldcon, had failed to discover that there was a media programme: they were going by the programme grids in the timetable booklet and had skipped page 23 in the introductory section. Furthermore the film listings were limited to just the title, place and time on just the daily 'major events, readings and autographing' pages of the programme. Indeed that the GamerZ premiere was for a film (as opposed to a role-playing or computer game launch) was not mentioned on this page and only discernable later in the programme booklet from the reception that was cited. Going by the programme booklet's schedule grids, Interaction appeared to be largely devoid of films. There was not even a timetable booklet listing of films to be shown that (as any SF film fest goer would expect) had the basic information of title, year made, director, synopsis paragraph and length! Film buffs and media SF fans had to make an extra effort to elucidate what was happening, assuming that is they had discerned that there was something to elucidate in the first place. The media SF couple mentioned above also happen to be part of a local SF society of a score or so, and have returned to it with a somewhat negative image so that I doubt the next European Worldcon will see attendance from that quarter. Now this problem is not unique to Interaction but has occurred at a number of Worldcons in recent years. I will not dwell on this now but for more see the discussion section.
Meanwhile in addition to an anime stream, there was also a programme stream of media SF. Organiser Dave Lally said that the contents ranged from rags to riches. Items included fan films and independent shorts of varying quality from amateur (but fun) to nearly professional. Calvert films on the fan side and Silverbell on the independent short movie side were two groups that I arranged (as last minute assistant to the programme stream). Then of course there were screenings of the Hugo nominations and, the last day of the convention screenings of the long and short form dramatic presentation Hugo winners. Further to all this there were also unofficial media events run separately from the convention which could only be discovered if you asked the volunteers running these streams.
The lit-crit stream had the theme 'A matter of Britain' which will no doubt be covered by the e-zine Emerald City, so I won't duplicate matters here.
Well, being the Science Fact & Fiction Concatenation where else does one start, or focus, but with the science programme. To sum up, what might the science prog have achieved? Arguably an MBE for one Simon Bradshaw. Simon was the leading light behind the science programme and from the afore comment you may rightly deduce that the science prog was rather on the successful side. Many topics were covered and the vast majority of the programme was very well attended indeed. Not only was the science programme good but most of it was of a high standard (the climate change items notwithstanding). Having said this I suspect that maybe one or two (and only such a minority) of the science items originated elsewhere (i.e. from another wing of the programme team) but the majority clearly came under Simon's ambit and this should be rightly engraved on some black monolith orbiting Jupiter.
The science prog featured science panels, lectures and slide shows on: SF TV scientists; The psychology of spaceflight; The origin of life; The science commons (actually more about the open access or journal subscriber models); Next astronomy missions; Teraforming at home (a sort of can we sort out global warming type panel (which I missed... rats)); Copyright my DNA (which had the potential to be brilliant but I also missed it) ; Pseudo-hard SF (more of which later); Blogging science; SF and social science (well, this was almost science); Moving in time and space; What's new in astronomy; The XCOR rocket company; Clones children or long-lives; Character vs. science (in SF (but strangely none of the panellists appeared to be scientists so maybe this came from one of the other programme streams?)); Science of aliens (which was actually a (Kensington) Science Museum exhibition preview); Just how different are the arts and sciences research? (Another panel I regretfully missed, but I bet that Dave Clements (astrophyscist (from Imperial no less)) and Liz Williams (who apart from being an interesting science fantasy writer actually has a post grad dungaree in the philosophy of science) gave folk a run for their money, Farah Mendelson I suspect would present the arts 'research' view (she being into SF studies whose academic activities to date, as far as I know, have developed firmly along the arts line), while Tony Keen being a Roman History researcher could hold the middle ground other than I understand history is largely an evidence-based discipline, unlike the arts); Exploring the planets; Huygens on Titan (with David Southwood of whom more later); Tall technical tales (real life lab anecdotes); Climate change (more of which later); Space science sacrificed? (is NASA turning away from science towards flagship manned missions?); The medical hazards of space; The end of the space age; and last but not least - Science denial (again of which more later).
The centrepiece of the science programme had to be securing of Prof. David Southwood of the European Space Agency (ESA) as one of Interaction's special guests. I suspect that in terms of size of budget responsibility, David Southwood is probably the most senior scientist to have attended a Worldcon, certainly a European one. Even though he could only attend for a day and a half he none the less managed to participate in four or five programme items: primarily those concerned with planetary exploration. Not only did his contribution to Interaction fit in with one of the genre's most common tropes - space exploration - but was also of contemporary interest given ESA's recent Huygens probe landing on Saturn's moon Titan. But David Southwood's talk was not restricted to science (though that would have been fine enough) but also included references to SF. Simon Bradshaw told Concat' that David Southwood, "enjoyed himself enormously (as did his wife) and regretted only being able to stay for a day and a half. He was very impressed at the level and depth of interest he experienced and I think we may well not have seen the last of him." This sentiment is one I am sure that many attending the science programme will share.
was restricted to a couple of panels and one and a half talks. (Yes, half a talk, all will be revealed shortly.) The first panel was entitled 'Pseudo-Hard SF'. Ellen Asher, John Douglas, Ian McDonald, Geoff Ryman and myself were given the brief: 'Fiction that looks superficially like science-oriented SF, but on closer examination is little more than a hackneyed rehash of Frankenstein or some such. Michael Crichton has a lot to answer for!' This was a little unfortunate because 'science fiction' is after all 'fiction' and so fictional science is allowed. However I did point out that some scientists do unwarrantedly limit science's potential. For example, following the release of the film Jurassic Park several scientists pointed out that DNA could not survive scores of millions of years even in amber (including on a Channel 4 documentary) and so I was delighted when shortly after Nature published a paper on weevil DNA that had largely survived in amber that long. No, my bug bear is not with pseudo science, as that is allowed if you are to have FTL drive or time travel or whatever, but when the science or pseudoscience is inconsistent even within the framework of the story. Then the author is being sloppy. However the largest chunk of the panel's time was spent with author Geoff Ryman discussing the 'new' debate that calls itself 'Mundane SF' in which only scientifically plausible science (even if futuristic) can be used. So there is no FTL or time travel as such, and space colonization is not galaxy-wide but within the solar system. It was an interesting debate (more so than I can convey in my summary). For what it is worth I guess I am not entirely convinced at the necessity with 'Mundane SF' for such strictures especially as science is developing so fast that virtually anything is possible. After all the so-called recent 'teleportation' of photon experiments could lead to the creation of an ansible. Anyway, the bottom line is that nobody walked out and the panel room quickly filled up to standing room only.
My other panel, also well attended, was entitled 'Science Denial' for which we were given the brief: 'From creationism to rejection of global warming, there is a rising tide of world-views that deprecate or explicitly reject the scientific consensus. Why the rise of such beliefs, and is it appropriate for SF to engage with them?' With me on the panel were Guy Consolmagno SJ, Paul McAuley (moderator), and Petrea Mitchell. My contributions included global warming (naturally), AIDS not being caused by HIV (as some have erroneously alleged), and the UK government's handling a few years ago of genetically modified crop separation distances (it's a long-story not widely known). However I was positively delighted by Guy Consolmagno's contribution. For those who do not know of him he is a scientist from the Vatican but who frequently views himself as a missionary for science to the Church. He called for scientists who are church-goers to explain evolution and other issues to their non-science congregation fellows as they may be listened to where as a visiting non-religious scientist, no matter their expertise, would not. I recommend future Worldcons and Eurocons securing Guy as a special guest. He would be well worth paying the travel expenses. Finally, we also had a useful contribution from the audience which pointed out that with regards to issues such as animal lab work that scientists tend to view the matter objectively weighing up costs and benefits using logic, whereas animal rights objectors use a different scale of good and evil determined by the heart. No wonder that dialogue between the two camps is fraught.
Now we come to my saga of my one and a half talks. I recount this as I know that many Worldcon programme participants (not just those at Interaction) will probably have had similar experiences at one time or another so perhaps any conrunners reading this might care to take note. Also it demonstrates that Interaction had its hiccoughs but that, like this instance, they were not major. To cut to the chase, when I first responded to the call (about a year ago) to contribute to the programme I included one of my audio-visual (AV) talks as these in the past have gone down rather well (indeed I have given one at every UK venued Eurocon to date). I pointed out that I would need two screens, an overhead projector and a slide projector. Then, with just a month to the convention, I was told that my climate change talk would only be half an hour (or 20 minutes allowing for 5 minute change-over beginning and end or 10 minutes allowing for another 10 minutes question and answer). Now it does not take a genius to realise that it is very difficult to squeeze an audiovisual feast into such a short time frame let alone one on a complex topic such as climate change. I pointed this out and, to be fair the scheduling committee, the organisers quickly grasped the line of reasoning. Then a week or two before the event they said that an hour had become free and did I want to swap slots the downside being that this would not be reflected in the programme booklet but on the daily update sheets. An hour slot (or 50 minutes allowing 5 minutes turnaround at either end or 40 minutes with 10 mins Q & A) was perfectly workable, and so I agreed to give the talk a day early...
Naturally, being an audiovisual talk I wanted to check that the audiovisual equipment was there, especially so because at the previous 1995 Intersection Worldcon they forgot and the AV equipment turned up halfway through. So I turned up to the Green Room an hour early to enquire and they sent me to ops. Ops was quite quiet at the time so I soon was able to explain the situation but to a seemingly disinterested lady who brusquely pointed out that the AV requirements were clearly on her list and so not to worry. (Dateline: Friday 11.15 to protect the innocent.) I have to say I was not particularly satisfied with this but one has to accept such and so off I went to sort out my slides. Now for once for one of my talks the room was not packed but just reasonably full. My concerns though were with the absence of the second screen and overhead projector. Yes, you guessed it, they had not turned up! Using the wall as a screen was not an option because, unlike the same-sized room next door, the audience was facing the window that had a loose (folding) blue curtain. The tech ops guy arrived to say that he could not find an OHP and wished that he had been notified earlier (cf. the lady in ops). The tech guy was genuinely doing his best to be helpful and the OHP duly turned up half an hour later but without a screen. Meanwhile I had long-since started to wing my talk but half the audience immediately started to walk out... Now, I know that my talks are famous for their AVs, and that without them some of the extra magic goes, but I have never had that reaction. (Usually the reverse, people drift in and stay.) Actually it transpired that half the audience were expecting a talk on SF and feminism. Why they thought a bloke would be giving such a talk who knows: perhaps at last we have equality between the sexes? Anyway, depleted audience and AV problems aside, I did the best I could and naturally I ran out of time... So perhaps there are some lessons to learn from all of this. First, do allocate time appropriately to programme item format. Talks with multiple AVs last longer than talks with single AVs which in turn last longer than talks without any AVs. Second, last minute programme shifting is not a good idea. Third, don't expect anything more than basic equipment at a UK Worldcon. I for one certainly will not, being hit twice is quite enough thank you; though I have never had this problem at smaller conventions or even at those in Eastern Europe. But the story does not end there...
Later the tech guy comes up to me and says that he has found that the SECC next door was awash with OHPs. Coincidently this encounter took place the next day at the time when I would have given the original half -hour presentation. There was a crowd in the corridor and someone must have recognised me because suddenly I was being asked when the climate talk would begin? I pointed out that it had been shifted to the previous day, but many in their disappointment were insistent. As it happened I was having a two hour break between commitments (I was only planning to check out the art show) and, though I did not have any AVs or even notes, we found a space on the balcony and so I gave a very short presentation followed by a lengthy Q & A session to a score or so. Bless them, the Moat Green Room staff cottoned on to what was happening and surprised me with a real ale - nice one. An hour later and I wound up and was then further surprised by being separately asked to consider going to give science programme items at two future-bid Worldcons in North America. If either win I will have to consider my carbon budget.
Without dwelling further I felt it worth recounting this tale (especially for conrunners' benefit) as such problems were a) avoidable at the prog planning stage, and b) rectifiable had the ops room lady bothered to pass on the concern. All she needed to have done was to ask the technical people had they actually physically got the equipment to hand? The techs would have realised that they had not and could have sorted it all out in good time. So there you go.
Interaction was not just a Worldcon but a Eurocon too. It was here from my partisan perspective that Interaction on one hand, and ESFS on the other, really missed an opportunity. However do not think that I am pointing the finger at Interaction's organising committee what happened was the result of the Eurocon dimension to the event being minimally co-ordinated and part of this is clearly down to the European SF Society (ESFS) not being as organised as it might. This last in turn is due to ESFS failing to have evolved over the past couple of decades even though its circumstances have changed as Eurocons have: the Eurocon these days is annual (not biennial), there is now regular competition to hold these events, and indeed the European landscape has changed (for a start it is not so divided east-west). Anyway, as far as attending Interaction was concerned, one knew that it was meant to be both a Worldcon and a Eurocon but the Eurocon dimension was minimal and swamped by the Worldcon dimension. Consequently while at a Eurocon and a Worldcon the Eurocon and Hugo Awards are arguably the respective convention's climax, at Interaction the Eurocon Awards were tucked away. Further, there was no official announcement of the Eurocon Award winners to the World at large from Interaction per se (as I found out after the event when the science journal Nature got in touch regarding whether their win was genuine or not).
The Eurocon Awards themselves were voted on by blind ballot. Nominations should have been received in the two months prior to the convention. Indeed one was, but the ESFS officer concerned had an erratic e-mail system and so that was lost (even though the other officers were copied they thought the matter was in hand). The business meeting was divided into three daily sessions with the nominations taking place during one and the pitch and blind vote in the second. The way ESFS has done this to date is that there are two official delegates per nation who vote. The reason for this is to sure that there is a balance of view across Europe even though the local Eurocon and neighbouring countries have more people, and so could dominate, that year's event. The problem with this is that as Eurocons have grown, so Europe has also evolved. Some countries (like Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia) have fragmented while others (such as East and West) Germany have amalgamated. Further, this ESFS system does not demographically reflect either national population let alone the size of a country's SF fan base. Here the UK, with its large population and con-going community, misses out unless one separates out England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, which some Eurocons have done in the past and others not. And what of semi-autonomous states like Aosta? This last admittedly is not usually a problem but can be if the Eurocon takes place in one (such as it did with Jersey in 1993). ESFS national representation is something that urgently needs to be addressed by the officers if the Eurocon Award is to increase its validity and standing. However at Interaction while the UK had two votes, it had three delegates in that in addition to Jim Walker, Ian Watson and I shared the decision making for one vote. (As it happened we agreed on everything apart from one category of which I had inadequate knowledge to make an informed decision, so Ian led on that.)
The good news in terms of this year's awards was that there were a number of healthy nominations in each category but when it came to the vote the winner won by a healthy margin. The results can be found on the autumnal 2005 news page. As indicated there were plenty of nominations but it is worth pointing out (especially for those putting forward future nominations) that the Award tends to go to those whose work or activities have touched more than one European country: the Award is after all a European one.
Awards aside, let's return to the question of how much Interaction was a Eurocon? Well, apart from a couple of items, such as a panel on non-Anglophone SF, the ESFS business meetings, and the designation 'Eurocon' on the cover of the programme schedule booklet, a list of past Eurocons in the souvenir booklet, there was little to signal that Interaction was a Eurocon. Maybe I missed a lot, but that was the impression I got, and a few others independently raised this point in conversation so I know that I was not alone. Indeed on at least three separate occasions I heard genuine (if unresolved) debate as to whether a future Worldcon should also be a Eurocon? On the plus side the Worldcon provides an opportunity to showcase European SF and fandom to the international SF community. Further, some Europeans might not have the time, or alternatively the money, to attend two international events in the same year (though 1987 and 1990 did see separate European events to the European-venued Worldcons those years). On the downside it may perhaps be inevitable that a joint Eurocon would be almost totally swamped by the Worldcon dimension and so it might be better to use that focussing solely on ESFS promotion rather than have it as an actual Eurocon. As indicated, my sense of these conversations was that most Eurocon regulars had a sense of the pros and cons but indecision ruled. This was probably in no small part due to Interaction being such a successful event in its own right; nobody wants to separate the Eurocon (even ones that have low profile) from successful events. Nonetheless, this is yet another nettle the ESFS officers need to grasp if there is to be maximal synergy between combined Euro-Worldcons.
Meanwhile back at the ESFS business meeting. Prior to the event Dave Lally (ESFS Treasurer and Interaction ESFS liaison) had worked on the constitution, indeed he and I met up in London (was nominally assisting him/Interaction to secure fan and independent films) and, among other ESFS things, discussed the constitution. A couple of days later Dave, well in advance of the convention, circulated the ESFS officers and one or two of us ESFS groupies outlining his proposals. This was all, it turned out, a waste of time as another ESFS officer announced at the business meeting that the version of the constitution we were working from, and which was on the ESFS website(!), was out of date..! (Again it was the ESFS officer with the erratic e-mail system...) It was all a bit of a farce and this housekeeping will have to wait until next year's Kiev Eurocon. However it is one of a number of things indicative that ESFS is not currently firing all cylinders. To give another example: one of the ESFS officer posts is that of Treasurer, yet ESFS has not had any funds for at least a decade! Meanwhile Interaction designating as its ESFS liaison person someone distracted with running a complete programme stream, and who additionally had their own internal ESFS commitments, places simply too many demands on one individual. Even if ESFS was geared up to the task such a liaison link was virtually bound to fail... In short ESFS was not in a position to make a proper pitch to the Interaction committee as to what was required. Let's move on.
Well, as I mentioned, these days there is inevitably competition to hold future Eurocons. So let's start with the markers placed for 2008. While there was no vote on Eurocon's 2008 venue at Interaction, potential bids putting down markers for future years was welcome and, if they are serious, if they don't win they can then marker the following year and are almost certainly to get that unless there is something really flawed with their bid or if the competition is really fierce. Those putting down markers for 2008 included Italy (Milan) and the Russians (Moscow). Then there was the contest for 2007. See the previous link for details. This was the big decision. At the end of the day, despite a reasonably firm bid from the Irish, the Dane's won. (The Irish had most of the nuts and bolts in place, such as the venue, but had not grasped the Eurocon philosophy and vision. This really showed.) Denmark will be an expensive Eurocon to attend so sorting the venue and accommodation out will be important. Translation will also be required. They are considering a university city so their adopting the Timisoara model (where local foreign language students are attached to groups of three or four convention visitors and so get a free weekend of conversing in the language they are studying) should be possible. Alternatively there is the Dortmund model whereby a third of the items are in the language of the Eurocon venue, a third in English and a third bilingual of solo lectures/talks/slide shows where a translator is provided. To date Eurocons have been either/or, tending to adopt either mainly the Timisoara or mainly the Dortmund model. No Eurocon to date, as far as I know has adopted both whole-heartedly. Could Denmark in 2007 be the first?
Then there was news of next year's Eurocon in Kiev. Some progress has been made and the picture of the venue building and surroundings is impressive. Yet at this stage (with just half a year to the event) there should have been more news. Yet am I worried? No, and neither should you. This is why. One, the organisers are understandably behind because they had to deal with Robert Sheckley's pneumonia following the Eurocon dry run. Secondly, they have organised a number of SF events and have, I understand, semi-commercial backing. Third, Boris (the convention Chairman) seems to have his head screwed on. So if you have any doubts then please put them aside and consider the Kiev Eurocon in March. (Also check out our news column for the autumn news column. Remember the Concat' news col regularly covers Eurocon news with a Eurocon short-cut on the news index page.)
They wanted to pitch for a Eurocon. Alas Israel is not in Europe (even if it does participate in the Eurovision song contest). It was not clear exactly what was their motivation. It could be that they want to link in with fandom in nearby countries. Fair enough. It could be that they can use such an event to get local sponsorship. Equally fair enough. There may be some political motive. This would be a decided no no. Yet whatever it is that drove the Israelis to approach ESFS they need to be open and up-front with the ESFS officers. If so they may get somewhere, though not endorsement to run a full-blown Eurocon. What may be possible is a possibility afforded by the ESFS constitution for an ESFS Euroconference (such as the 2003 2nd International Week of SF in Timisoara, Romania). What the Israelis need to do is to float some ideas with ESFS great and the good and then, once honed, pitch them at next year's Eurocon in Kiev. That meeting could well be interesting.
that following the three ESFS business meetings it was possible to chat not only to other European fans and professionals whom one only sees at rare Euro-gatherings, but to meet those who hardly ever make it to events outside there own country due to international socio-economic disparity. For example, some central Europeans one may only encounter two or three times a decade and mostly when one is in their, or their neighbouring, country. Hungarians are typical in this respect and I was pleased not only to renew a Hungarian acquaintance made at the 2nd International Week but briefly meet one of the editorial staff of the newly resurrected Hungarian magazine Galaktika [Galaxy] which won a Eurocon Award. The publication is full colour with SF short stories, and not just from Hungarian writers but those from the British Isles and North America too. In addition it also features short science and technology items. Then there was the publisher of Mir Fantastiki [The Fantastic World]. That publication reflects the comparative strength of the Russian SF market which itself is something largely unrecognised by its Anglophone counterpart. SF is big business in Russia and many make a very comfortable living from the genre thank you very much, but with the small snag that the Rouble has little value outside of Russia and its immediate neighbours: and this is just a small snag if you are a native to that part of the World. Many Russian authors have book print runs that their North American and Brit counterparts only find in their wet dreams. Mir Fantastiki is different from Galaktika in that it has carried one fiction story, but instead is effectively a review magazine showcasing both Russian and Anglophone SF, fantasy and horror, in written, cinematic, televisual and computer game forms. The issue I picked up even had a non-fiction articles about Leonardo Da Vinci's fantastical blueprint inventions, rocketry and artificial (electronic) replacement human eyes. The closest we have in the West is SFX magazine which is itself a good-across-the-genre review but perhaps a little too dominated by televisual SF for my tastes: Mir Fantastiki seems to have a better balance. The magazine has only been going since 2003 but if it hangs in there and makes its 10th anniversary then, such is its quality and contribution to the genre, I'm sure it would be an extremely strong candidate for a Eurocon Award. Anyway, such encounters offer a window into an alternate appreciation of SF, a kind of parallel universe, and it is this kind of thing that, for me, make Eurocons so special.
World SF Business
The World SF Society's business meetings I failed to attend but you can see a summary within Concatenation's2005 autumn news.
The dealers room had a reasonable number of stalls and seemed to be very busy. The book dealers seemed happy with a number reporting brisk trade. Indeed both Porcupine and Beccon Publications carried our Essential SF and shifted a couple of score of copies - the surprising thing was that the trade between the two was different with the stall without the A2 promotional poster with review quotes selling far more: odd that. Other specialist small press books doing well included the afore mentioned Beccon's Soundings: Reviews 1992-1996 - by (Locus reviewer) Gary K Wolfe (ISBN 1-870824-50-4). Other book dealers included Rog Peyton (formerly of Birmingham's Andromeda), the Fantasy Centre (Holloway Rd, London) and 'At The Sign of the Dragon's' Richard and Marion van der Voort (formerly from East Sheen and now relocated to west Scotland).
Half the dealers' hall was devoted to the art exhibition and young adult activities. Alas I made two attempts to see the art show but did not secure an island of time sufficiently big to check my bag in and out and see the show. So unfortunately for the first time out of the half dozen or so Worldcons I have attended I missed the show, but hear that it featured many works that were well up to the usual high standard.
However the dealers hall was not exactly big. The largest category of dealers seemed to be book related, but there were others there too probably equally as many. There was a stall selling nifty cyborg models, another (Dragon Site) models of dragons, fairies etc., and another specialising in T-shirts (Off World Designs). There were also a few specialist publication stalls including for Albedo 1 Ireland's specialist written SF publication. In one real sense one has to thank these dealers for in the main they were very much tied to their stalls and so missed much of the convention. True, they were there for business or at least to promote their semi-comercial fanac, but they did work hard without getting the benefit of the rest of the convention as the average attendee could. However I had expected more dealers. Where were SFX, Starburst or 2000AD? Perhaps I missed them? (Though former 2000AD editor Alan Grant did appear on some panels.)
The exhibition hall saw more stalls and, naturally, exhibitions. These included those for some conventions including future Worldcons and Worldcon bid. It was also home to the Eurocon display that I produced with colour reproductions of programme book cover, photos, and 20 pt mini-reviews or the programme timetable. I have to say that I supplied this to Dave Lally with several gaps. (I created the core of the display very late in the day when I found out that a) that Interaction had no material for a Eurocon display, and b) that Dave Lally was unaware that he was down in Interaction's Progress Report 4 as being responsible for ESFS liaison and the Eurocon exhibit!) As it was I had been seconded to assist him on the appropriate Interaction sub-committee the month before Interaction (nearly a year after I originally volunteered) to help with independent films for the video programme. As there was little I could do so late on the film front, I thought it best to help him with this other dimension. (Conrunners note: Although I am pleased to report that all of the few independent movie makes I contacted in the short time available were very positive about screening their work free in exchange for distributing leaflets and PR). Dave gamely filled most of the Eurocon display voids I left with copies of material mined from Pat McMurray's convention archive, and some handwritten information. Nonetheless, Interaction very nearly did not have a Eurocon display.
The exhibition hall's really eye-catching displays in the exhibition hall were undeniably the original Tardis (or is it TARDIS?) control console together with a full-sized police box. This display raised money for Macmillan Cancer Relief. There was also a near-full-sized 'stargate' complete with a fairly 'realistic' (can anything 'unreal' be 'realistic'?) looking dimensional watery effect. Both exhibits saw people posing by them. And again demonstrated that there were things for media SF fans, though it has to be said that these two were the most visible draws for TV fans. Which brings me on to the low visibility of stalls for some specialist groups. Maybe I missed them but I would have thought that well-organised groups like the Dr Who Appreciation Society, Fanderson, Six of One (The Prisoner society (is this an oxymoron?)), would have each had a stall to showcase their activities, wave the flag and maybe pick up a few members. Ditto where were the fantastic film folk from Bradford, Leicester, Manchester, and London? They could have combined to have a stall or ensured that their leaflets were distributed - Filthy Pierre (marvellously), as usual for Worldcons, brought his collapsible display holder that accommodated literally a hundred or so leaflets, so the opportunity was there. Don't get me wrong, the Worldcon was a huge success but it was far from a showcase of British and European SF and more of a large hotchpotch, but still a delightful one, to explore. Of course had it been more rounded then maybe there would not have been the space, but it seemed that the facilities could have accommodated a little more had there been the demand and an extra 1,000 attending would not have swamped matters. Besides, I understand that 'space' is the final frontier.
For those who have only been to conventions just one-side of the Pond, there is a difference in how SF convention partying is conducted between North American, British Isles and western continental European convention. With Angle and Celt conventions much of the socialising takes place in the bar and so such conventions tend to have a good central bar and lounge area. In North America there are room parties. These are held in large rooms or suites very often hired for the purpose, and the groups putting them on tend to do so to promote some aspect of fandom, SF interest or a forthcoming convention or con-bid. Brit Isles conventions do have room parties but these are usually in people's hotel rooms and so are smaller and usually more private affairs. Western continental European cons also have small room parties but often these are more serious affairs with book readings and such, as opposed to out-and-out partying. Of course there are no hard and fast rules and the afore is only a generalization.
Anyway, at Interaction, it being a Worldcon and as two out of three Worldcons are North American, the American style room parties took place each night. I have to say that until recently I was not a huge devotee of these and the four European Worldcons I previously attended saw a group of a dozen or more of us go out to a restaurant for a leisurely meal before hitting the fan bar late at night. However partly being the only member of the Concat core team attending Interaction, and partly because I found the parties at Torcon 3 a useful way of mining information before settling down with folk and friends, I am a bit of a convert. Interaction had many parties in Glasgow's Hilton and brilliantly these were listed with a map in the programme timetable booklet.
In addition to the usual parties for the forthcoming Worldcon for Japan in 2007 there were also bid parties for 2008 and 2009 together with a more tentative bid party for Australia in 2010. It was positively a delight to see a range of European national parties including: the Germans 50th anniversary (where a number talked fondly of Brit fan and book-dealer Ken Slater whose fannish 'Operation Fantast' helped start German fandom shortly after the war), friendly Norwegians', Swedish and Finnish fandoms. And of course there were European fans around including reporters for European websites (such as Spain's Silente Ciencia ficcion [Silent SF www.silente.net]). There were also the ZZ9 Hitch-hiker lot who asked that you bring your towel and Sproutlore - Robert Rankin fandom. Now this was the only author-based party scheduled other than a book launch but Rankin's work stand out on their own being a sort of cross between Doug Adams/Stanslaw Lem and a certain Britishness (that probably was not explored in Interaction's lit-crit stream theme 'the matter of Britain'). Strangely though I heard that one (Irish) Dave Lally almost did not make it in as apparently the party was for the Irish only, but I suspect (indeed hope) that his leg was being pulled. Unfortunately Robert could not make the convention as he had fallen ill during the PR tour of the UK for his new book The Brightonomicon. I understand he recovered in August.
British real ale was also available in the foyer outside three of the larger party rooms in the form of Houston brews. Yes, British real ale for Houston as you know is the home of Glasgow's aerospace, being located as it is not far from the city's international airport. (Attention at the back: were some of you muttering about Texas?) A few of Houston's brews were on offer including some of their prize-winning beers which brave Americans tried. (The less venturous ones apparently stuck to some sort of lemonade called 'Bud'.)
Of course the parties had their humorous moments and many of these will be personal and to be appreciated experience in context. So I will skip over the serenading, jelly, and leather episodes and simply cite Ian Watson's orgasmachine incident. Now you see our Ian has written this book, Orgasmachine (or Orgasmatron (depending on translation)). You may not have heard of it as it has not appeared in English, but is a big hit in Japan (and France). Indeed such a hit that three Japanese ladies dressed up as characters from the book, with one having a huge clockwork key stuck out of her back, were at the Japanese party. The ladies were busy promoting Japan's forthcoming 2007 Worldcon and letting people have their photo taken with them. So when this smartly dressed, thin, guy in his early-60s poses with them they politely giggle and a few snaps are taken. Then one of them checks out his name badge and shrieks. This infects the other two and hysterical minutes pass, as the man's identity is Ian Watson is revealed, before an embryonic semblance of calm is restored. By now other Japanese around want to take pictures and much merriment and flashing ensued. Oh, how we laughed. (We did. Really, we did! OK, maybe you had to be there.)
Then there were the commercial parties. These were promotional affairs largely held away from the Convention Centre and the convention parties, mostly in the town centre. I only went to a couple of these and they were great for networking. Fortunately one I went to was deemed by those who did that circuit as the best in terms of setting and spirit which was the HarperCollins party celebrating their Voyager imprint which was having its 10th anniversary (and at which its editorial director kindly agreed to subsequently give Concat' a short interview. Voyager has a new fantasy coming out, Temerairewhich is set in an alternate eighteenth/nineteenth century with the war against the French. A French ship is captured and a dragon's egg found, about to hatch... Anyway with this book in mind the Voyager folk held their party on The Tall Ship, a sailing cum steam hybrid in Glasgow harbour. We each got a shoulder bag with a Temeraire sample chapter (which was quite good really considering I am not a huge fan of fantasy), and a pirate bandana and eye-patch. All Jolly Roger fun (without of course any Roger being jollied). However, according to others, the party with the best food, and lets face it sometimes nourishment not alcohol goes down well, was the Gollancz bash in the city centre.
To round off this section a mention has to be given to the 5-timer party hosted by Pete Weston. Pete ran my first Worldcon, in Brighton 1979 (just a few weeks before I first helped run a con, Shoestringcon 1: Google it you wish as 1979 saw much fanac in Britain). Anyway the idea behind the 5-timer party was that to attend you must have been to at least four of the four previous European Worldcons with Interaction being the fifth. A few of us chatted about successive Worldcons and the conclusion was that they all have got better and better as the years went on. Pity then those to come who will organise the next British Worldcon for the standard is now quite high. Consequently it was most appropriate that Paul Oldroyd was presented with a replica Hugo for his services as Chairman of the 1987 Brighton Worldcon.
The climax, if you can call it that (and some did), came when Pete gathered the faithful around for a 'hum and sway' that he learnt at the knee of Ted Tubb and Ken Bulmer (to this day only a few know that they only had one patella between them). Pete sat the assembled cross-legged in a circle before invoking the most sacred spirits of fandom so that all present could walk tall at the convention the next day. The gathering then took a deep sup of whatever drink was in front of them before linking arms and the hum-sway began. The proceedings were rounded off with a blessing for the organization of Worldcons and the productions of fanzines.
The Hugo Award ceremony is something I have never attended at any of the Worldcon's I've been to, largely because it usually is a long-winded affair lasting two or three hours. However this year only two hours were allocated for the ceremony, which to some appeared wishful thinking. Paul McAuley and Kim Newman were the masters of ceremonies and, did, by all accounts a great job moving things briskly along with much humour. This I can sort of testify as they finalised their routine on the train I was on to Glasgow. Things ran so smoothly that it was all over in around an hour and a half. This has to be somewhat of a Worldcon record, certainly for recent times. Indeed the coaches to take people to the Hilton for the parties arrived (on schedule) half an hour later. So score another hit for Interaction organisation. As for the winners the results are listed on our Autumnal 2005 news page. The Hugo losers and winners party itself was held in the Exhibition Centre's 'Armadillo' and run by next year's Los Angeles Worldcon team.
Let me make it absolutely clear that Interaction was hugely successful but let's not be complacent. Let's not hide from some of the problems that may well resonate beyond the convention, even if they will hardly affect Worldcon regulars and so might be thought to be irrelevant. If thinking strategically, beyond 'book fandom' who largely drive Worldcon, and there is a sincere desire to attract young blood (or even share with young blood some of the excitement SF book reading brings), then you have to engage the interests the young blood have. While I cannot speak for the US I can say that outside of book fandom, SF fans in the UK that are interested in film and TV SF are markedly younger. Further, in terms of market size (consumers) and business (money) rightly or wrongly film and TV SF is far bigger than that for SF books. So the question is how does one involve the SF film and TV communities? (Assuming that is this is what European Worldconrunners want?)
Then there is the question of Worldcon's internationality. Worldcons are rightly or wrongly dominated by the US. Fine if you are happy with this but some might argue that for a variety of reasons (including diversity, fostering growth, interest, and living up to the name) the Worldcon could be more international than it appears to be at present. So what sort of Worldcon did Interaction's organisers want and what did we get. Well again let me say that for the vast majority (that went) we got a really great time so thank you committee..., but beyond our own selfish enjoyment what were its possible failings? Now I'm sure the committee are all grown up and can stand a little scrutiny, but again I reassure them and all the folk who contributed to Interaction (myself in a small way included) that the following discussion is not in anyway meant to be derogatory of any single soul or grouping. Equally it is useful to be aware of and discuss the reasons why the refrain 'this is a really great convention but pity that...' could be heard in a number of quite different and disparate guises. So what sort of a convention was wanted?
Now the aforementioned problems Eurocon, media, and film fans had are not entirely trivial. Yes, arguably Worldcons are for many about meeting and seeing people active within the SF community (professional and fan) from all over the World. However for others it is for a specialist interest and others still as a showcase of SF in its various forms and a chance to sample the spectrum of the genre's formats. In short it is a number of things to different people. Worldcon committees therefore need to decide what sort of convention they wish to run for what sort of person? If it is to be mainly SF in its written form then fine, we know where we stand. If it's a gathering of the clans to socialise, then fine we know where we stand. If it's to be an SF show case, then fine... Have (as European venued Worldcons are concerned) a strong Eurocon thread... Ditto, ditto. I hasten to affirm I am not personally canvassing for any one particular type of Worldcon against another. I am, though, stating that each Worldcon needs to have a clear vision as to what it seeks to do, and promote this vision in advance in a co-ordinated way, and try to realise this vision on the day.
This is a three-legged stool. Without the vision any individual Worldcon is just like any other Worldcon that runs on considerable momentum: x thousand get together have a good time and we dish out the Hugos. There is nothing wrong with this and there is no need for the vision promotion and realisation legs. Equally you can't realise a vision if there is no vision in the first place. Ditto having a vision and attempting to realise it without the promotional leg. For my money there was a sort of a vision but its promotion was piecemeal and so it was not (fully?) realised.
It was apparent in the years before the event that Co-Chair Vince Docherty did have a European vision. The pitch he made to the 2003 Finnish Eurocon bid session for 2005 was that Interaction should not be solely a Scottish Worldcon or even a UK one, but be European. He echoed this, later that year, in his Fan Guest of Honour speech at the 2nd International Week of SF. Indeed, as stated above with regards to Interaction's press release 44, he equally recognised that the media folk felt disenfranchised. So he did his bit to raise concerns in good time. The thing is that 'vision', its 'promotion' and 'execution' form a three-legged stool necessitating all three for it to work. The Co-Chairs cannot be expected to deliver on all these fronts. Now, having had several conversations with Eurocon great and good as well as (individually) a dozen members of a media SF group, some thematic points did begin to emerge. I am not going to specify all the solutions but there are several things that might be done. I have just musings, initial thoughts only and as such not appropriate to this convention review. However they might be useful so I have appended them in a separate page in what, for want of a term, I call the 'Armadillo proposals'. (Had this been the 1980s I'd have submitted these points to Ian Sorensen's Conrunner.)
As I said at the beginning of this review, Interaction was very successful as a Worldcon once again demonstrating that Europe can run these events at the appropriate scale and reasonably efficiently. As such the committee can relax with the knowledge that they have waved the SF flag this side of the Pond despite European fans not having the benefit of a Worldcon on their doorstep most years from which to hone convention-running skills at such a scale. The committee can therefore sit back knowing that they have acquitted themselves more than duty necessitated. Pity then the European Worldcon organisers that follow as once more standards have been raised.
Finally, a quote from the convention newsletter overheard from a taxi driver: "I've just seen a Klingon in a kilt. You don't see that very often. Not even in Glasgow."
Thanks. Additional information and comment provided, among others, by: Brian Ameringen, Eric Arthur, Tim & Corinne Atkinson, Simon Bradshaw, Anthony Heathcote, Dave Lally, LOTNA members, Roberto Quaglia, Roger Robinson, David Stewart, and Jim Walker. However the views expressed above should only be attributable to the reviewer.