Convention Review


the 67th British Eastercon and National Science Fiction Convention
Hilton Deansgate Hotel, Manchester 25th - 28th March, 2016.
Peter Tyers reports.


Mancunicon was held at the Hilton Deansgate Hotel, Manchester, which forms the first 23 floors of Beetham Tower. This is Manchester tallest building and has a total of 47 floors, the remainder being mostly private apartments. Also known as Britain's annual Eastercon, Mancunicon ran over the Easter weekend from Friday lunchtime to Monday teatime. For those arriving by train, the hotel was very conveniently situated only a couple of minutes walk from Deansgate Station.

I stayed in a nearby apartment block; although this meant risking Manchester’s frequent rain showers, it was an easy five minute walk door-to-door which proved to be a much quicker commute than many in the hotel enjoyed. The queues for the lifts could be very long as the building has so many floors and only three public lifts. I heard that on the first morning some folks had had to wait in the order of half an hour to descend and consequently missed breakfast; there followed an interesting discussion with the management about extending the breakfast cut-off time! To complicate matters, the staircase could not be used to bypass the lifts as all the doors were alarmed; I understand that the hotel later saw sense and disabled the alarms for the duration of the weekend.

Normally an Eastercon has two years to get its act together following its selection as an upcoming event but problems with Pasgon, which was to have run in Cardiff this year, meant that it got cancelled a little over a year out. A new committee was formed and had to organise everything in something of a rush and all-in-all they did a pretty good job of both finding a hotel and running the event. Any criticism (either here or elsewhere) should be seen in that light. Incidentally, Pasgon had then hoped to bid for the 2017 Eastercon instead but have again had to drop the idea.

The main programme items were held in the Deansgate Suite on the first floor; folding walls make this is configurable as separate rooms 1, 2, and 3, as well as being used in a 2+3 combination. Deansgate 1 was kept separate and used for the Art Show and one of the two dealers areas. Mostly this provided large enough rooms (sometimes too large) but for some items it was disappointingly not possible to get in and it is unfortunate that they did not use the 2+3 configuration for all the events that would have justified it. The remainder of the programme was held in very small rooms on the second floor and these were far too often inadequate, resulting in my (and many others) having to miss a number of items. Indeed, the space restrictions resulted in my attending only a few of the many items in the programme (about 170, some of which were events or activities).

For those willing to wait for the lifts, the Presidential Suite (on the 22nd floor) was used for author events. I attended one of these but the room's shape was not conducive to enjoying a reading, and some authors really cannot read aloud their works that well. However, it did have a great view.

As is becoming the norm, the convention made use of an online programme. This is fine for those that have the equipment, and assuming that they can get a good signal (which is not always the case), but it does act as an impediment for those who, for whatever reason, are without the technology. I am very glad to say, therefore, that there was also a handy, A5, 24-page Read Me and this provided most of the necessary information, including maps, a brief summary of each programme item, and a useful, well laid out programme grid. For a more informative description of items (as the Read Me admitted) you had to have the online version.

The Guests of Honour were Aliette de Bodard, David L. Clements, Ian McDonald, and Sarah Pinsborough.

All the GoHs were interviewed, or 'in conversation with', at some point over the weekend. I enjoyed listening to Ian McDonald, who was both informative and amusing, when in conversation with Peadar Ó Guilín, and Sarah Pinsborough was a hoot when in conversation with Ian Whates (that lady does neither subtle nor low profile!). I missed both David L. Clements and Aliette de Bodard, though I am told that the latter was as quiet as a mouse and apparently appeared not to be enjoying the experience.

A GoH, whilst being honoured by being invited, is also expected to add something to the convention. Some folks are naturally very good in front of a crowd and can keep everyone entertained for hours, others find it more of a challenge. I attended the Kaffeeklatsch with Aliette de Bodard and again she seemed to be very quiet; she left the rest of us almost having our own conversation. Maybe she was a little overwhelmed or unwell but it struck me that she found the 'public facing' particularly challenging and should, perhaps, have declined the offer.

Tanith Lee, who passed away last year, was a real live wire and left many friends, so I was pleased to see a panel in tribute to her. It was full of tales and recollections from her husband John Kaiine plus Storm Constantine, Kari Sperring, Sarah Singleton, Freda Warrington, and Liz Williams. Furthermore, Freda dedicated her Kaffeeklatsch as an opportunity for further tributes; it was, although tinged with sadness, a joyful event with much laughter as, indeed, befitted someone who was so much fun to be with.

Dr. Colin Wright gave the George Hay Memorial Lecture which was 'Juggling: Theory and Practice'. Not only did he put over the maths extremely well, he juggled throughout and ably demonstrated what he was talking about. I have attended many good lectures and I have seen many good jugglers, but combining the two skills was both impressive and educational and, what is more, he was very entertaining.

eira and smuzz (no capitals!) gave a 'humorous' talk on' The Ecology of Doctor Who'. Unfortunately it was self-indulgent, went on far too long, and overran (which blatantly did not bother them). On the other hand, the late night 'funny' panel 'Orrible Things What Conventions Have Done To Me Over The Years' was genuinely funny, though that was only to be expected with a line-up of Ian Sorensen, Mary Burns, Michael (Mike) Cule, Adrian Emery, Colin Fine, Pepper, Marcus Rowland, and Richard Stephenson.

There were a couple of evening events which proved under attended and therefore a little disappointing. These was a sing-along showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show but without much singing along, and Flash Gordon (the Dino De Laurentis film) with added pizza (I gather you were expected to order pizza and all eat together as the film unrolled).

And so we came to the Closing Ceremony and the Dead Dog Party, though most folks preferred to sit or stand round in either the bar or else the restaurant/lounge area downstairs. The programme being over, there was still a lot of general nattering to be done!

For those wanting to venture out, there were several good, reasonably priced restaurants within a few minutes walk. However, you could easily eat in the hotel all the weekend as the hotel did a good job of providing cheaper, simpler meals and over quite wide timeframes. These were available from the restaurant and from an area near the bar. The jacket potatoes were particularly good.

The bar was situated on the first floor, near the Deansgate Suite, and did an excellent job. Full marks (and then some more) go to Martin Hoare who worked hard and tirelessly with the hotel to ensure a good supply of very good beers, all well-kept and served straight from the cask. There were 36 different beers from 15 brewers, with about 8 to 10 being available at any one time. There was a total of 40 casks, or 2,800 pints to put it another way. We drank the lot! By the final evening we were reduced to drinking the American craft beers also provided by the hotel, though they were pretty good as well. There were also 5 ciders and perries, totalling 700 pints; again, none left.

For those wishing for a break from the convention, or something to do afterwards, the Museum of Science and Industry was only a few minutes walk away. It is large and I was impressed by how much it had to show; you could easily spend a few hours in there (indeed, I noticed a few fellow fans doing just so). What is more, admission is free - so excellent value for money!

It was good, as always, to catch up with old friends and I got the opportunity to get to know a few other folks a little better. All in all, it was a very good weekend and I am glad I went. There were a few niggles (such as the room sizes and the lift queues) but the good things far outweighed these and I thought the committee made a good job of the convention.

Peter Tyers

See also SF² Concatenation's brief news summary of Mancunicon.


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