With Poland set to run the European SF convention in 2000 -- a look at their usual National SF convention provides insights as to what we might expect.
Polcon (the Polish national SF convention) was held in Katowice, from the 11 to the 14 of September, 1997, in buildings belonging to the university. Guests were Orson Scott Card, Kiril Bulychov (from Russia), and Rafal Ziemkiewicz (from Poland).
Programme items included panels, speeches, a masquerade, and the Polish premiere of Men in Black at a huge cinema in the centre. Accommodation was in student rooms, with a student lunch at the college canteen, there was also a cafe on site which served good rolls and hot food, coffee, soft drinks, etc.
By British standards there were few dealers, considering the number of people at the convention, but many more than there would have been a few years ago. The publisher Proszynski i sKA had a table selling their new books by the registration desk, a couple of tables a little further down this corridor had second hand book dealers selling a mixture of 'remaindered' books and pamphlets, old samizdat editions, some rather scruffy second hand British and American material, and Polish SF classics including Stanislaw Lem first editions. The Gdanski Club Fantastyki (GKF) had a stall selling their publications (small press books and fanzines) by the cafe, and a small room further up the corridor contained a dealer in new books from various publishers, and a fantasy role playing games dealer.
The labyrinthine nature of the buildings, and the large number of medium sized rooms, meant that the roleplayers took over a large number of rooms - to the point where the only sign of them at times were the player booking sheets on the main notice board by the cafe. The good quality art show was up one such limb of the the maze.
Upstairs, by one of the main convention rooms, was the Ops-Room-cum-Green-Room, complete with little green men, where Orson Scott Card held court for several hours one day - having said he was too tired to do anything but rest. This second main convention room was much smaller than the main hall - and Kiril Bulychov's GoH speech should have been held in the main hall, it felt like an attempt on the largest game of sardines ever. Rafal Ziemkiewicz's speech was similarly overcrowded. I was amused to see many Polish fans at Bulychov's speech who had sworn to me in the past that they knew not a word of Russian - in which language his speech was given. They certainly understood much better than I did - I had the disturbing experience several times of understanding every word of a joke whose meaning I could not discern at all. I was told later that a number of these jokes were given in a spoof communist-speak with which I am hardly familiar - it wasn't the standard propaganda-speak.
Evening activities included screening The Men in Black, the Masquerade, and a GKF room party in the convention building. The party was up and running within two minutes of the room's having been relinquished by its previous occupants, cans of beer in seried ranks on student desks. I got cornered by Krysztof Papierkowski and Al Bert asking about the feasibility of a Gdansk Eurocon in 2000, and the major pitfalls to avoid. The conversation drifted onto other things as people entered and left the circle. Shortly after the beer ran out the party was cleared up, and the evidence stashed in black plastic sacks, with the same military speed and precision with which it had been set up. The party venue looking again like a seminar room, we drifted off to find another place to drink.
A short walk away - no further than lunch - a local Internet provider was giving free access to fans from the con. I ended up there with a couple of friends for an hour of so, demonstrating the reason for the nickname World Wide Wait... Both agreed that e-mail was useful, but wondered about the rest.
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