Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Eastercon 2018

The more Conventions I attend, the less it seems I have to say; after all, these things mostly offer much the same brand of entertainment, and the differences come down to ever-more-subtle gradations of content and quality.  This is particularly true of Eastercon, which has evolved a great deal in the few years I've been attending, from something quite specific (and specifically SF-oriented) to a more general, jack-of-all-trades role that places it somewhere between the sprawling excess of Nine Worlds and the homelier comforts of the average Fantasycon.  If the negative there is a certain lack of character, the positive is definitely that, when an Eastercon succeeds in its goal of being all things to all people - or at least comes as close as is reasonably achievable for a low-cost Con - the results can be pretty marvelous.  And so it went this year, which was clearly the result of a great many good decisions being made.

Like Harrogate; Harrogate is such a nice place, and such a perfect choice of location.  The Majestic had its ups and downs as a venue: it was seriously spacious and lived up to its name in terms of sheer grandeur, but the bar service was horrific and having the bar area itself split was frustrating; I feel like I missed an awful lot of people I wanted to say hi to simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong times.  Yet the minor deficiencies of the hotel never seemed to matter much because Harrogate town centre was all of about five minutes away, and it was brilliant to be able to nip out to a fantastic restaurant or do a bit of shopping or just get some fresh air.  This is something that goes wrong too often - I'm looking at you, next year's Eastercon that's back at bloody Heathrow! - and it's crucial: force people to spend every minute in your convention hotel and they'll notice its flaws a good deal more than if you give them somewhere enticing to rove around.

And yes, I realise I'm biased because it's on my doorstep, but still.

Really, the only other vital thing I ask for is varied programming, and this year's Eastercon got that right, too.  There wasn't actually a ton of stuff I wanted to attend, but that's me being a grump, not the convention being rubbish.  Had I wanted to dip into the content more, there was hardly ever a point where I'd have been stuck with nothing besides that most overused of programming items, the panel.  There were talks, there was live music, there was a disco that actually wasn't too horrible, there was croquet (which got rained off, but hey) and there was a board games room, though I failed to persuade anyone to go there and play Galaxy Trucker with me.  Again, though, not the organisers' fault; and the point is, they'd gone to a heck of a lot of trouble to make sure that, whoever you were, there was something to keep you amused.  There was a ton of programming for kids, a lot going on for the old-school Eastercon SF crowd, and no end of more general options, but it never felt like ticking boxes, as Nine Worlds sometimes has to me.

This is all very general, isn't it?  Truthfully, that's because my personal experiences are a bit of a haze; with three novel deadlines converging and a few not-so-pleasant personal bits and bobs going down, the truth is that I wasn't altogether in the right head space for conventioneering.  And I guess drinking enough wine to drown a small whale may not have helped, though it certainly seemed to be helping at the time!  But both of my panels went really well; the one on gaming was a ton of fun, because who wouldn't want to talk about gaming for an hour?  And moderating on the topic of The Boundaries of Horror to a large and quite crowded room was a good deal less intimidating than it might have been thanks to some excellent panelists.  (I know it's wrong to single anyone out when everyone was so good, but Ramsey Campell's awesome knowledge of the genre and sheer enthusiasm were a real pleasure to be around.)  That aside, my highlight was probably a delightfully nerdy hour and a bit watching Matt "D'Israeli" Brooker get terribly excited about Ray Harryhausen and the subject of physical special effects in general - a subject ridiculously close to my heart, and especially appropriate because I capped off the weekend by going to see Isle of Dogs.  Which is pretty much a masterpiece, by the way, and likely to be one of the absolute highlights of the year, so you might want to go see it too.

To close ... well, like I said, I was a bit strung out, so it meant all the more that I got to hang out with some really wonderful people, including old friends, new acquaintances, and a few in-betweeners.  Like so many of us, I suppose - and at the risk of straying into Sean Penn-levels of alliteration - it's the conversations and company that keep me coming back to conventions.  I won't list everyone, because that would require a lot of remembering and I'd never get it right anyway, but thanks to everybody who hung out with me and kept me amused.  And thanks to the organisers of what was one of the very best Eastercons, not to mention one of the better conventions, I've been to.

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