Thursday, 9 April 2015

Eastercon 2015

I have a soft spot for the Three Magpies pub at Heathrow.  Their food is good, their prices are reasonable, their staff are awfully nice and friendly.  In fact it's rare that I've gone in and there hasn't been some sort of wacky high jinx occurring, whether it be the bar staff shrink-wrapping the chef's car or everyone loudly explaining how the dishwasher has just exploded.  What impresses me most, I think, is that, as the only pub just outside the busiest airport in the country, they could get away without doing any of these things; they could overcharge and be rude to people just like the hotel bars do and no one would ever bat an eyelid.

I mention this for two reasons.  Firstly because I ended up passing quite a large proportion of the weekend I was supposed to be spending at Eastercon in the Three Magpies, and - a not unrelated fact - secondly because everything I've just said is so great about the Three Magpies was not the slightest bit great about this year's Eastercon.

I've got to admit, my expectations were at rock bottom before I even walked through the doors.  I'd volunteered a couple of times to be part of the programming by then, and been ignored on both occasions; no polite "sorry, we just have so many potential panelists this year," just plain old-fashioned ignored.  In fact, I'd had no communication whatsoever: no news updates, no reminder of the dates, not even anything to say that the programme was out.  As I talked to other writers, it became apparent that none of these experiences were unique to me.  More people, it seemed, were being cold-shouldered than weren't, and some of them were very big names indeed.  Ignoring people who offered up their time for free was, it seemed, not a logistical error but an actual policy decision.

Then the programme came out.  And oh boy but did the programme explain a lot.

Panel topics assigned apparently at random.  Panels that were a mix of the endlessly overdone and the willfully obscure, with very little middle ground indeed.  Far too many events that were a showcase for a group or individual and not much else.  One small press author with a talent for self promotion appearing a staggering eight times.  Religious ceremonies.*  An overwhelming sense that the entire thing had been thrown together at the absolute last minute, whilst watching children's TV, drunk.**

Now at this point I would normally admit that I was wrong after all and the whole thing turned out to be unexpectedly brilliant.  Only this time, I wasn't and it didn't.  It looked like a mess from a distance and it looked like a mess up close.  It was, in fact, a mess.  And quite an angry-making mess in the grander scheme of things, because it cost me a heck of a lot of money, money I could have spent on something else - attending Nine Worlds, say - and not sitting in a pub in Heathrow.

But, in that old spirit of fairness, here are some things about this year's Eastercon that were actually pretty good.  The art dealer's room was solid, though apparently a step down from previous years.  I heard nothing but positive things about the Newcon Press mini-programme strand.  A few excellent films were shown, and in particular a pre-release copy of one of my absolutely favourite anime, the magnificent Wings of Honneamise***, not to mention the recently released and nearly as marvelous Patema InvertedAdrian Faulkner's talk on hurricanes and the chasing thereof was entertaining enough that it made me wonder if I shouldn't have gone to some of the other talks, dull though the programme made many of them sound.  And there was the ever-reliable Barcon, in which I hung out with friends old and new, and probably took about five years off the life of my liver, but still managed to have a hell of a good time.  Say what you like about Eastercon - and I have! - but it attracts a fine crowd.  It's only a shame that this year its organisers chose to trap that crowd in a Heathrow hotel with barely a thing to do worth doing.

Hey ho.  Sorry to rant, people.  Unsatisfactory science-fiction convention programmes may very well be the epitome of first world problems.  Then again, this thing could so easily have been so much better, and there's an argument to say that shoddiness should always be called out, in the dim hope that maybe things will not be quite so shoddy again.  I don't want next year's Eastercon to be like this one.  I want it to be awesome.  And so do a great many other people, I suspect.

Positive note to end on?  Um.  Next year it's in Manchester, and Manchester's only an hour's drive away from me, as opposed to the six hours it takes me to get to Heathrow.  Yay to that!

* I'm not saying that religious gatherings have no place at a science-fiction convention.  Although, yeah, I kind of am.  But even if I wasn't, might it not make sense to make it multidenominational, and so avoid pissing your inclusivity policy right up the wall?

** I heard talk that it had in fact been finalized way back in December,which would actually explain the problems every bit as well.

*** Although, if there's one circumstance when I would absolutely argue for a trigger warning beforehand, it's when showing a film that includes a scene of attempted rape.


  1. I'm glad I gave it a miss. Instead I'm doing Archipelacon. You have permission to be jealous :-) Incidentally, who was the small press author?

  2. That you were in the pub the whole con explains why we didn't see each other! That and I spent half of it in my bed with flu....

  3. Interesting, my FB feed was full of folk who really enjoyed themselves at EasterCon. Although many of them seemed to spend a lot of time at the Newcon bits, perhaps that explains things. I'm also semi-glad I missed it - sad not to catch up with folks but glad not to have to similarly rant!

    Hey Ian I'm also doing Archipelacon - see you there!

    (also wondering who the small press author was)

  4. Ian, I don't want to name names, my criticism isn't of the individual but of the organisers for encouraging them / letting them get away with it. But if you can be bothered to download the programme it will become pretty obvious from a brief scan.

    Francis, we did see each other! Couple of times in fact, but they were both very late and there had been much drinking. As evidence I offer the fact that I now know your real name. (Well, I did, I suspect I've forgotten it. Because, you know, drinking.)

    Pete, I wouldn't say I didn't enjoy it, exactly, and everyone else seemed to be having a good time too. But being there on my own, I was heavily reliant on the programme, and that left me with far too much of the days to fill.

  5. Ack -- now you say it, yes we did. I was trying to recall you pre-beard...and the flu didn't help my cognition much either! I was trying to kill it with alcohol

  6. The beard confused everyone! Hope you're all well now.