Sunday, 28 October 2018

Fantasycon 2018

The British Fantasy Awards
It's much harder to say anything useful about conventions you've enjoyed than ones you spent seething in rage at the dreadful inadequacy and incompetence of everything and anything, which leaves me with little to say indeed.  I had a brilliant time at this year's Fantasycon, as good as any I can remember.  And while you can put a lot of that down to a marvelous hotel with genuinely helpful staff and a reasonably big bar space all contained within a rather nice city with a bunch of good restaurants, that's obviously unfair on the organisers.  I've seen enough conventions to realise that these things don't run themselves, let alone run themselves smoothly, and I've learned to appreciate the extent to which those that appear to do so are precisely the ones receiving the most massaging behind the scenes.*  Also, let's face it, great venues in nice cities don't simply choose themselves.

Befriending the hotel cat
With all of that said, I have a little-known medical condition that means if I don't grumble in a blog post about at least something then I'll burst into flames, so I suppose there's going to have to be a dash of negativity.  The past complaints I've had about panels were all pretty much true here, and if this absolutely has to be the main form of programming at conventions then I strongly believe that a lot more thought should be going into it.  We had a great time on the Griminal Criminals panel, for example, my panelists did sterling work and it seemed like the audience were enjoying themselves, but I still don't really have the faintest notion of what it was meant to be about.  Elsewhere, I heard complaints about the Women in Genre Fiction panel - along the lines of, "a Women in Genre Fiction panel in 2018, what the holy hell?"- and agreed that was certainly one of the more cringe-worthy examples.  But there were a lot of topics that were either done to death or hopelessly vague or ghettoising or just not very interesting, and not many at all that were genuinely new or fresh.

Also, frankly, I'm coming to think that the issues run a little deeper than a lack of inspiration.  I don't altogether get the widespread refusal to acknowledge that conventions, and therefore panel debates, are a form of entertainment that people are paying good money for.  For me, appearing on panels, and especially moderating them, has always felt like an exciting privilege and a responsibility rather than any sort of a right.  But others appear to view things differently, and I'm coming to wonder why they're allowed, year after year, to get away with it.  Naming no names because I can't be bothered to get into a public row, but the person on one of my panels who refused to use the microphone even after a member of the audience pointed out that they couldn't hear, and indeed make a point of leaning back as far as they could and mumbling into their shirt collar, does not in my opinion deserve to be invited back for more.

But it feels meaner than ever to moan at a Fantasycon for getting the things wrong that damn near every Fantasycon, and the bulk of conventions, tend to get wrong, and especially so when so much went very right indeed.  More than that, it was more evident than ever that the convention has grown in real and meaningful ways in recent years.  What when I first started going was famously cliquey and insular and blatantly a horror convention despite its name is much less of any of those things these days, and there were even odd moments when the bar's shifting currents randomly threw up what felt to me like a genuinely varied mix of human beings.  Funnily enough, those moments were also when all the most interesting conversations happened.  It would be amazing if this was a glimpse of the future and Fantasycon could grow into something truly inclusive and broad and forward-looking - and putting more thought into panels would be, I think, a major step toward that.  In the meantime, what we got this year seemed to me a positive lunge in a number of right directions.

Lastly, I won't try and remember everyone I spoke to because a week's gone by and my memory sucks at the best of times, but huge thanks to everyone who kept me amused, even when that meant staying up long after the bar had kicked us out.  And thanks too to everyone who was part of the events I was in on, with an extra special mention to David Thomas Moore for whatever the heck that Dungeons & Dragons thing was.  After that and last year's one-minute flash insanity, the bar is set awfully high for whatever terrifying weirdness I manage to talk myself into in 2019...

* Although the lack of programmes, lanyards, and goodie bags on the first day was, it has to be said, something that could have done with a bit more massaging!

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