Octocon 1996

Dave Lalley makes an SF pilgrimage to his homeland

David Lalley: Just as Concatenation is one of science’s ambassadors to SF, so David is one of television science fiction’s promoters to the literary SF community. His contacts within the TV world are as numerous as his contributions to convention programming which have included video presentations of western European SF at the 1994 Romanian hosted Eurocon (EuRoCon). As David is of Irish descent, we will no doubt see him at the 1997 Eurocon, EuroOctocon.

Irish fandom’s sixth national convention -- always held in October (hence its name) kicked off on Friday 11th and lasted through to Sunday evening. Its venue, as for the previous five Octocons, was the Eugant Royal Marine Hotel in Dun Laoghaire (a suburb of Dublin). The hotel overlooked not only a fine sailing harbour, but also the frequent comings and goings of the latest technological wonder ploughing the Irish Sea -- Stena Lines ultra modern high speed catamarans that are each the size of two football fields and capable of delivering hundreds of cars daily between Ireland and Holyhead (North Wales). (See how in paragraph one travel information has been interwoven for your use next year.)

Irish SF has been growing and diversifying in the last few years (remember that over half Ireland’s population is under 30 years of age), so although Octocon’s officially have Saturday and Sunday events only, the Friday evening rendezvous in the Royal Marine’s bar this year was by far the biggest ever. Increasingly over the last couple of years, a reputation has developed that Octocons are relaxed, trouble-free affairs and each year the number of overseas attendees grows. This year almost half the 1996 Octocon were from abroad -- mainly England (but with the usual Northern Ireland fans attending plus a small number of Scots).

Octocon’s past Guests of Honour (GoHs) have always been eminent in our genre (from the first Octocon that hosted Terry Pratchett, to this year’s Brian Stableford). Indeed some past GoHs (such as Storm Constantine and Kim Newman) now return each year -- they just cannot keep away!

Irish fandom has been lucky in that due to Irish taxes on royalties (publishers’ annual sales-related payments to authors), rather the lack of them, a number of overseas authors(such as Anne McCaffrey, Diane Duane, Peter Morwood and Maggie Fury) now live in Ireland and can be regularly seen at ISFA (Irish SF Association) meetings in Dublin, and of course attend Octocon each year.

Octocon’s programme tends to comprise one main stream (of mainly seminars and talks) and one alternate stream (for workshops), the dealers’ room, masquerade, and (usually at least two) video rooms. I myself (being Irish) provided the first Octocon in 1990 with its only video programme. Since then I have been joined by others running a second video stream which is usually Trek and Babylon 5, whilst mine remains firmly in the older traditional vein of Star Cops, Twilight Zone, Prisoner etc.).

As Octocon has grown -- this year over 250 were in attendance -- it has evolved and diversified. So Octocon 1996 saw for the second time a daily convention zine (called Confusion) ably edited by Deidre Ruane and James Sheilds, and containing all the usual gossip, scandal and last minute programme changes.

Saturday morning saw the Octocon Chair, Maura McHugh, formally open the proceedings. There were seminars and panels on such topics as ‘Sign of the Fortean Times’ and (an Octocon regular) the author Robert Rankin on ‘Shape-shifters in fantasy’. Meanwhile popular workshops such as ‘Just what do SF authors do’ (yes, what do they do?) vied with my own video Irish premiere of BBC2’s 1990 (as seen at the 1996 UK national Eastercon). Meanwhile those naughty boys from the then forth coming 1997 Eastercon, Intervention, plaster every wall and notice board in the hotel with their propaganda (a sign of desperation?) and, as fast, they put down more discrete Eastercon beer mats while the hotel staff take them up again!

By evening, (UK publisher) Gollancz’s Jo Fletcher (with whom I had the pleasure of meeting and briefly discussing next year’s London-based World Fantasy Convention) hosts a reception and author’s signing.

Sunday’s programme included such gems as a radio play, Real life horror stories, designing a belief system in epic fantasy, and a Bewley’s famous chocolates tasting with coffee.

Because of management changes at the Royal Marine, the 1996 Octocon was the last to be held there (yes, they do not want us anymore) so as soon as Sunday’s 6.00pm closing ceremony was over the hotel effectively closed Octocon down (including my usually late-running video stream), so all adjourned to the bar.

Although last year’s was the last Royal Marine Hotel based Octocon, this year’s (if you are reading this at a Romanian summer convention, the UK Festival of Fantastic Films or on the InterNet prior to October 1997) Octocon is of course the 1997 European SF convention (EuroOctocon), which will be held in the prestigious government-owned Dublin Castle (seat of British rule in Ireland for 800 years until independence in 1921) and recently refurbished for the current last half of the Irish European Union Presidency. Of course if you are reading this at EuroOctocon then you already know this but equally might like to sign up for a future Octocon?.

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