Sunday, 3 April 2016

Eastercon 2016

The good news?  This year's Eastercon was better than last year's.  The bad news?  It was still just okay.

This time around, at least there was only the one huge problem, but it was a pretty big huge problem.  The venue chosen was hopelessly unsuitable.  You know the one thing you need for a conference?  Big rooms.  And, judging by what was on offer, the Hilton Manchester Deansgate had nothing that came even close.  It was sheer dumb luck on my part, though, that the only events I was really interested in on the program were relegated to one of the tiniest, which had seating for an entire twenty one people.  I know.  I counted.  Even the dealer's room had to be split into two parts - one of which got lumped in with the noticeably shrunken art show.  Oh, and the green room was a corridor.

Speaking of corridors ... now that I think, a conference venue actually needs two things: you need a bar area where people can sit down, too.  Because if people can't get into your events because the rooms are all too small, they need to have somewhere to go and chill that isn't basically a big hallway with a bar at one end.  And maybe I'd be feeling a lot more positively towards this year's Eastercon if I hadn't spent most of the Saturday suffering with back problems and not being able to get a seat to relieve them.

It's a shame, and I almost feel bad for pointing it out, because everything else was at the very least not bad.  The Hilton was a crummy venue on many levels - I didn't try the food, but I watched enough people turning green to know I'd made the right call - but the staff were absolutely brilliant, friendly and chatty and just generally really nice.  Same goes for the organisers; they seemed like splendid people and were trying hard to make things work.  The program wasn't exactly pushing any envelopes, but there was some solid stuff on there, and I can see how, if there'd been space for more than a fraction of the attendees, that could have worked out well.  There was a good range of events, too, with most slots offering at least something.  Even the bar prices weren't crazy, at least compared to London events.

Still, I don't altogether understand how anyone could have looked at the Hilton Deansgate and thought it would make a good venue.  I mean, I get that this was a rescue bid and all, but surely those two points up there - decent-sized rooms for panels, space to sit - are pretty obvious?  I don't want to diminish how hard it must be to arrange a conference on this scale, let alone at late notice, but looking at this solely as a punter, the fact remains that that shouldn't be my problem.  Eastercon isn't the cheapest of con's; it needs to be better than it's been over the last three years if people are going to keep attending.

Next year sees another rescue bid and another big city venue.  There's not much reason to think it will be an improvement.  2018, on the other hand, takes us to Harrogate and an event that already seems much better planned than anything we've come to expect of late, so that at least feels hopeful.  Still, the fact remains that Eastercon isn't in the best of shape.  To my mind, the best thing that's happened to Fantasycon recently is the fact that it had to take a year out to accommodate World Fantasy.  When it returned it did so bigger and much better.  From an outsider's perspective, Eastercon seems to be in a state of permanent crisis, and once you reach that point, the absolutely best thing is to back away and take stock.  To my mind, that would be the thing to do now: step back, take a deep breath, listen to some of the criticisms you're getting year after year and return stronger.  Eastercon definitely has a meaningful place in the Con scene, it has its own vibe and it's a good one.  There was plenty to like this year, and given room to breath it might have been great.  Here's hoping, then, for better to come.


  1. Having said all that, the Hilton Deansgate is a really good location - plenty of local restaurants and shops. From what I remember, the Hilton Metropole at the NEC is a good hotel facility-wise, but it's also a train-ride away from the nearest eaterie.

  2. True, it was good and central. I enjoyed seeing a bit of Manchester.