Friday, 1 November 2019

Fantasycon 2019: A non-Review

So I won't be reviewing Fantasycon this year.  Its virtues were the same as always - good company, the marvelous efforts of the red coats to keep no end of plates spinning - and its flaws were, well, just about everything else.  I suspect my own experiences are a fairly good summary: for my first panel, the moderator didn't know they were moderating until we began; for my second, we were a person short and the moderator also didn't know they were moderating; for my third, the panel topic was so incomprehensible that we wandered from it and never went back; my reading saw three of us rushed into a thirty minute slot, which the room supervisor who'd been interrupting us throughout saw fit to cancel five minutes early so that a nonexistent crowd could come in; and the glorious silliness that is Dungeons and Disorderly played to a tiny audience compared with last year thanks to a bizarrely late time slot.

At least Dungeons and Disorderly always makes for weird fun.
But, no, I'm straying into reviewing, and that I said I wouldn't do!  The thing is, for me there was one outstanding problem that eclipsed everything else, which after all was largely patched up by good improvisation on the ground.  Really, so long as there's a decent bar at a Fantasycon, it's always possible to muddle through.  Though, that said, the bar closed at one o'clock even on the Saturday ... damn it, this finding positives business is tough!

Look, here's the one issue that's not so easy to ignore: international events aside, I've never been to a conference where so many people flew to be there, and in 2019, the year when just about everyone woke up to the fact that we're in the midst of a catastrophic environmental crisis, that's not a thing that ought to be happening.  Flying is environmentally horrific; flying domestically is a fundamentally horrible idea and ought to be avoided at all reasonable costs.  But the location of this year's Fantasycon made it really hard to avoid for a great many people.  I discussed this a lot, and not one person who'd flown felt comfortable with doing so, but their reasons were invariably the same: getting there by any other means was prohibitive, either because of absurd rail costs or impossible travel times.  And let's not forget that, for many, Fantasycon very much counts as work: if you're a writer, editor, or publisher, it's a major date on the calendar.  A great many people felt they had to be there and that the only way they could do so was to fly domestically, and that's not okay.

Am I saying that national conferences shouldn't be held in Scotland?  Well, it's important to note that had the venue actually been in Glasgow, rather than its remote outskirts, that alone would have shaved an hour and more off the journey time for many, me included.  But that aside ... yeah, I guess I am.  But that's nothing against Scotland!  Do you remember when Fantasycon always seemed to be in Brighton?  That was an equally lousy location from a travel point of view.  And Heathrow?  Nearly as bad.  Surely it's common sense to favour locations that are as accessible as possible from both north and south, but that accessibility can't mean "there's an airport nearby," because that attitude is well past its sell-by date.

I feel bad using Fantasycon as a whipping post for this issue.  Yet, at the same time, I feel it's justified, because the location was misjudged, and you only need to look at the drop in attendance to see that.  But that aside, this is something I fully intend to raise more in future, and Fantasycon just happens to be first in the line of fire.  If conference organisers give the impression that they haven't considered the environmental impact of their events, that's something I believe we as an industry need to be discussing, as those in all lines of work should be.  Indeed, it's long past time that every conference had an environmental policy to go along with its harassment and other policies, one that was clearly published and treated it as a benchmark by which to judge every decision that gets made, but location most of all.  Because let's face it, if there's one thing that's bound to really bugger up the conference scene, it's not having a planet to hold them on.


  1. Interesting...
    So really an event like this should be held somewhere with excellent road and rail links but also in a location that hotel costs aren't too frightening either... 🤔
    Like, Sheffield!! 😁

  2. Sheffield has it next year doesn't it?
    Good article Dave and good points raised. Just because we like to read stories set in a ruined Earth doesn't mean we have to be the cause of it

  3. Good job you're writing on the moon, Dave! But seriously, a good thought :)

  4. I confess I flew up to Glasgow this year. And no, I wasn't comfortable doing it. (I went to the last Glasgow Eastercon by train.) The thing that tipped the decision was the distance out of town and the fact that I was returning home on the Sunday - and rail cancellations and re-routing are rife on Sundays. Plus the flight was hardly more expensive than the train ticket. I'm looking forward to Sheffield next year - it's only a few miles down the road.