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BristolCon 2019 Report (convention report)

November 6, 2019 | By | Reply More

BristolCon was a one-day Science Fiction and fantasy convention held on Saturday 26th October 2019 at the Doubletree Hilton Hotel, five minutes walk from Bristol Temple Meads railway station. Well, it would have been five minutes were it not for the roadworks and, of course, they closed some railway lines into the station for engineering works that meant some people had to travel in replacement buses. This has apparently been the situation for a few years but, judging by the numbers attending, has not put off convention-goers. Something must be attracting them.

The convention comprised two main programme streams of panels, Guest of Honour slots and a lecture on science by an expert, two small group session streams of workshops and kaffeeklatsches, an Art Room where artists exhibited with its own small area for a few art related activities and a Dealer’s Room. If that was not enough, there was the warm-up act of an Open Mic session on the Friday evening, a book launch and book signings in Saturday’s lunch break and entertainment in the bar on Saturday evening.

BristolCon has come a long way since 2009 when it comprised just three panels, two Guest of Honour talks and pub quiz, yes, BristolCon keeps a history log on its website. In fact, this was its tenth anniversary celebration, which was duly acknowledged with a celebratory cake baked by Lee Lee for all to partake and thanks to him for the photo below.

The Open Mic session on the Friday evening had quite a few readers and even more attendees from as far away places such as London and Manchester. The relaxed atmosphere willing readers on with their five-minute excerpts in front of that scary microphone made for an assortment ranging from hard Science Fiction to pure fantasy by readers. Some readers were well-known, others niche and some on their way to being published.

There was no way I could cover all the items in the four programme streams without time travel, using magic or having clones. I concentrated on where my interest lies, which is Science Fiction.

The science talk by Patrick Mahon from the Initiative For Interstellar Studies was on the Lyra Mission to send a scientific probe to the interstellar asteroid Oumuamua. He cantered through why they wanted to do interstellar studies, options of how to travel to interstellar space, what interstellar objects are visiting our Solar System and finally suggested that manned flight to the stars was currently unlikely but may become possible in a hundred years. Although I had heard many of the points he made before, his talk was told as a simple story of the start of our interstellar spaceflight that kept the audience’s full attention.

Of the three panels I attended, I found ‘Which Way AI?’ the most fascinating and so did the packed audience judging by their reaction. The panel ranged from how much AI would take over our lives to the problems of its legal status. There is a thirst for understanding what this technology will do to us and a need for Science Fiction to help explain its impact. Having experts in the technology and Science Fiction writers, such as the Guest of Honour Gareth L Powell, who have extensively explored the interaction of AI with humans started to give the answers. As one person volunteered to me, this panel could have gone on for three hours much longer than the forty-five minutes it was allotted.

The ‘SF Is Harder To Write Than Fantasy’ panel left with the answer ‘yes and no’. While Science Fiction is restricted to the follow the laws of science, we do not yet know everything about science. When does the fantasy of today become the science and technology tomorrow?

The ‘With Great Power…’ panel talked about why so much fantasy was about people who had been given super-powers. They thought the media was moving away from straightforward super-heroes to super-heroes with character flaws.

Of course there were the usual minor organisational glitches that happen at every convention, eg the convention photographer being unavoidably called away that has led to lack of people photos here. But the convention organisers and helpers moved quickly to smooth over the cracks.

The book they launched in the lunchtime slot was ‘Airship Shape And Bristol Fashion II, Planes, Train And Automatons’ a steampunk anthology by the local Wizard’s Tower Press. A lot of the authors in there are from Bristol and the South-West or have strong associations with Bristol. This long anticipated anthology comes five years after the successful first anthology and it is nice to see local speculative fiction projects like this come to fruition and celebrated at a local Science Fiction and fantasy convention. The gorgeous cover is courtesy of Cheryl Morgan at Wizard’s Tower Press.

The spacious Art Room had a variety of Science Fiction and fantasy art and models. The Artist Guest of Honour, Andy Bigwood, had some gorgeous 3-D printed artwork on display. Could this be the new artist medium that is about to become in vogue? I especially liked the six-legged cat, a model of the treecat in the ‘Honor Harrington’ series by David Webber, but then I’m a cat-lover! Seriously, there was something in there to interest all but the most choosey of Science Fiction and fantasy fans.

Dealers ranged from the likes of Foyles and Oxfam to authors selling their own independently published works. I only got there towards the end of the day when there were not many customers around, but judging by smiles on many dealers’ faces, they had a successful day. I suspect the members when registering being given a specially printed ‘Bag Of Holding’ with BristolCon motif helped trade.

For those that lingered on into the evening to attend what has now become known as BarCon, there was a special treat. A string quartet, ZHL Strings played various classical and science fiction related tunes to an appreciative audience. The finale was playing and dancing the Can Can at the same time!

BristolCon has a reputation for being a friendly convention and it certainly lived up to that reputation in 2019. It can now add another feather to its cap, the variety of programme items to cover most tastes in Science Fiction and fantasy.

A lot of people went home happily tired saying they would return next year. That is endorsement enough of a successful convention.

Date of next BristolCon: 31st October 2020. Guests of Honour: Adrian Tchaikovsky and Anna Smith Spark. Science lecture if BBC schedules allow: Chris Lintott (‘Sky At Night’ presenter).

Rosie Oliver

November 2019

Category: Cons

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