Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Eastercon - Illustrious - Duckcon!

I spent the past weekend at Eastercon, held at the Hilton Metropole next to the NEC at Birmingham. This was my fifth convention, in stark contrast to last year's Eastercon, which was my first. Despite this fact, I was distinctly nervous upon arrival, hoping to meet up with people who would consent to hang out with me. I really needn't have worried! As is usual, the genre community are amazing, outstanding, and welcoming in the extreme. I was able to worm my way into other conversations, join debates, have company to the few panels I wanted to attend, and generally felt awesomely looked-after. The people make these sorts of events, and Eastercon this year felt very special, which should tell you what sort of people were in attendance.

I arrived on the Friday afternoon, and one of the first brilliant things to happen was meeting Lou Morgan and Ro Smith in actual, real life person. These are two of my Genre for Japan compadres and, up until now, we'd just communicated via Twitter and email. Lou and Ro are truly lovely women - a brilliant example of the type of women making the genre community an exciting and intelligent place to be. We did some mutual back-patting about our achievement - even boasted a little about it - and generally got to know each other. I would love to spend more time with Lou and Ro, and hope to meet them at an event soon.

I also caught up with Adrian Faulkner, Mark Chitty and Steve Aryan - we three had not been together and chatting in person since Alt:Fiction last year, so it was nice to have dinner together and catch up. So much talking about books and writing and blogging! Was excellent.

On the Friday night a ceilidh was put on - an excellent idea, in my opinion! I danced frequently, skipping like a crazy skipping thing - and, thanks to how these things worked, ended up meeting various folk who I chatted to over the course of the weekend. Ceilidhs should be at every convention, especially involving the head chap of the band, who managed to communicate the steps effectively to seriously inebriated people.

Also, I want to make known my views on the convention bar which served the real ale and cider. Despite some properly bemused staff, the service was efficient, there was plenty of choice and decent prices (in comparison to the rest of the hotel anyway!) Whoever picked the real ales available knew what they were doing, because there were some delicious options - of which I partook frequently and often *blush*

Since I have touched on prices, I will just say that I snuck out of the hotel as often as possible to eat at more reasonably priced locations - until I realised that the snack menu in the bar served decent portions for almost normal prices. Yes, the Hilton was massively expensive. I've stayed in Hiltons for business, and I knew that they were pricey (something you don't mind when work is paying), but this one seems to actively take advantage of the fact that they have a captive audience - even more captive on an Easter weekend when the NEC is barely open. (Anyone else creeped out walking through an echoing and practically empty NEC??) In most cases, a convention the size of Eastercon should have at least a little leverage when it comes to prices - offering a happy hour in the bar, say, or having a guest drink each evening which is cheaper than the others - but either the convention committee did not try to arrange this or the Hilton was being super greedy and obstructive.

I also want to talk about the panels. I'm sure the feminists among those who attended will make clear their views on the fact that "Women Invisible" was scheduled at the same time as David Weber's guest interview, and that Women in SF was scheduled at the same time as Peter F Hamilton's guest interview... I don't know about other ladies, but I, quite frankly, cannot be in two places at the same time - and I do have interest in both, yannow? Not cool, Eastercon committee.

The titles of the panels were, in the most part, insipid and unclear about what would be discussed, which made it very hard for me to get enthused about them. There were some truly bizarre combinations - I sat in on a reading with Suzanne McLeod (urban fantasy with a sexy side) and...... Dan Abnett (military science fiction author extraordinaire). The mind boggles, honestly. Both did fantastic readings, and luckily the particular fans of each were polite and attentive to the other reading - but did the organisers not consider that possibly James Swallow would have combined well with Dan Abnett? And how about Mike Shevdon with Suzanne McLeod? Those combinations are just off the top of my head, but I think they would have worked far better.

My final point about scheduling, I promise, is that NOTHING should be scheduled at the same point as the BSFA Awards - show some respect for the people nominated and awarded with prizes.

Negatives, negatives, negatives... I don't want to be negative, because I had such a fantastic convention in the end, but hopefully these come across as more constructive than not.

I attended just two panels - one of them was the Gemmell Award panel and the other Warhammer 40K: There Is Only War. The former was interesting, albeit with some flawed ideas (rather like the award itself - I might have further comments about this in a future post) and the latter was entertaining thanks to James Swallow's genuine enthusiasm for what he does, but very very unfocused, with a whole diatribe concerning Eve and World of Warcraft, which was dull dull dull for anyone wanting to talk about 40K and the Horus Heresy.

As I said towards the beginning of this post, the people make the convention. I had some wonderful encounters and talks. I loved sitting in the sunshine on Saturday with Chris Wooding, Adrian Faulker and Steve Aryan, knocking around thoughts on various recent controversies, including the matter of subgenres.

It was great spending time with Saxon and Emma - and their friend (and now definitely mine!) Tom. Alongside these three, and Andrew Reid and Charlotte and Sam, I had possibly the most funny time EVAR! All thanks to the duck, of course. It's definitely a 'pimp my duck' situation, people. Oh, and the giggle hats! Aren't in-jokes awful to read about? I'll stop immediately!

Great to see Cara Murphy again, especially since we both attended Eastercon as our first convention last year - and, yes, Kev, you are actually a nice person.... *winks*

I thoroughly enjoyed meeting various Angry Robot people, and I'm afraid I might have gushed a little at Lauren about how brilliant Zoo City is. It was cool seeing Adam Christopher on the other side of the fence, but I missed him as a proper con companion. Looking forward to reading your book, Anne!

And I had a REALLY fun time freaking out various folks who had forgotten they were wearing a name badge by greeting them by name *grins* Oh, on that point, well done convention organisers - having the name in large font on both sides of the badge was genius.

Anyway, this has become LONG and RAMBLING, so I shall quit while I am ahead and possibly still have your interest.

Thanks to everyone - all those I have mentioned and all those I haven't (kick me in the comments!) - you made this my best convention so far. Let's get together again soon.

P.S. There should be a heap more photographs HERE!


  1. Thanks for the ace write-up, especially the reassurance that these conventions are good even for people scared of real world socialising (like me). It's on my list of Things to Do in 2012, along with Alt Fiction (cousin marrying during this years event).

  2. Yes, I was at the invisible women panel and argued with Fran about the scheduling. Fran is lovely, and she has a reason why that was done. I don't think it's a good reason, but they did think about it.

  3. There were serious attempts to negotiate better prices on both sides, in fact, but these were hampered by a problematic national policy that the hotel is subject to.

  4. That sounds like you had a blast. I also looked at the facebook pictures. Awesome time. I'm jealous that you got to go. I was going to go to a con this year, but I'll be too damn pregnant by the time any of the ones I want to go to are doing their thing. Oh well. I guess I'll just indoctrinate my baby into the nerd culture in utero by reading endless books to her... haha.