EasterCon 2024 – ‘Levitation’ certainly raised my spirits!: con report by Rosie Oliver.

Levitation was the 75th EasterCon, the annual British Science Fiction that has been held ever since 1948 with a few breaks and two totally online. For me, it was only my second EasterCon, the first being nothing more than a tired blur due to my recovery from shingles. So this was the first one I could really fully relax, enjoy, and participate in.

Did it live up to the hype of being the annual UK science fiction convention to go to and be seen at? Unfortunately, not this year, for two reasons. The first, some people stayed away for fear of catching COVID and who could blame them after what happened in the previous two. The second is that WorldCon is coming to Glasgow this year, and some people cannot afford to go to both, so, of course, WorldCon would be the go-to preference. Therefore, the number of in-person or virtual attendees would likely be lower than in a normal year.

Levitation also has the distinction of being the first EasterCon to be held in a convention centre rather than a hotel. The variety of sizes for rooms and halls suited EasterCon’s working mode well. It allowed for five streams of panels, lectures, workshops, interviews, and group activities, as well as two halls for dealers’ tables and an art show, not to mention the green room and games room. Then there was the spacious area where food and drink could be served to con-goers, with plenty of tables to sit at. It was a good place to have EasterCon, with the bonus of the site being run by the centre’s staff. I would certainly give it an enormous thumbs up if EasterCon were to return there in the future.

The art room was fully booked, and there were many gorgeous exhibits put up for sale. The disappointment for me came with the realisation of the heavy bias towards fantasy themes. The notable exception was the Guest of Honour, Jackie Burns’ paintings. These included artistic interpretations of Thunderbirds 1, 2, and 3, old space vehicles such as the space shuttle, and planetscapes. I was not surprised to see a lot of her work being sold. It was excellent.

The dealers’ room was also full of booksellers, presses, craft sellers, fan tables, and, of course, the BSFA table. Many old favourites there, such as Roy Grey’s ‘Interzone’ and ‘Black Static’ table, were present, but there was the welcome occasional newcomer as well. Comments suggested trade was not as good as it had been in some normal pre-Covid years, but some tables saw a noticeable decline in goods on offer over the course of the weekend, which meant sales were being made.

All five main streams were available for in-person and online attendees. The technology was, according to some, a step up in capacity since last year. One interesting thing that stood out in the audience was the increased number of people doing quiet handicrafts while listening to the speakers. Crochet, knitting, tapestry, and all things that did not require intense concentration. Is this an upcoming trend for science fiction conventions?

There is no way I could get to see all five in person, though I can catch up on them later via the Internet. For paid-up members to see the recorded panels: https://members.eastercon2024.co.uk/ only until May 1, 2024. As fantasy does not interest me, I stuck to attending or participating in science fiction items, with one exception.

The first session I attended was a talk about the local area called ‘Scones and Steam: Ironbridge and Industry’ by Coralie Acheson. The construction of Telford, a post-war new town, provided a pleasant living environment for Birmingham residents. It is surrounded by places linked to the industrial revolution, such as Ironbridge with its famous iron bridge and Coalbrookdale, where Abraham Darby set up his foundry to make iron pots using coke instead of charcoal to smelt the iron. It turns out that we would not know much about the pioneering ways of the Darby family were it not for the copious notes of a Swedish industrial spy. It made it sound like the industrial revolution was a science fiction story ahead of its time.

On a personal note, I was happy to be part of Cybersalon’s book launch of their anthology, ‘All Tomorrows Futures: Fictions That Disrupt’ , because they kindly accepted a story of mine for publication. This was no traditional launch, but a simultaneous one in an internet café, Cyberia. The future at a science fiction convention! Even the anthology is unusual, as its stories were commented on by scientific experts and their implications brought out in far more interesting detail.

The two talks I attended were an interesting summary of the state of play with cancer and quantum physics.

Called ‘Battling Cancer In 2024, the cancer speaker James Flanagan emphasised that the best way to deal with the disease was through preventative methods rather than waiting until a cure was needed. What I had not realised was that each cancer type requires a different treatment. Survival rates are improving, but a few types of cancer remain stubbornly nearly incurable.

The quantum physics talk ‘The Particle Physics Frontier’ by Dr. Clara Cellist was mainly about the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and what it was currently experimenting on. The links to science fiction, such as being used in stories or films, were well highlighted. I would have liked to have heard or seen more about the cutting-edge science discoveries they had made and were hoping to make, such as what prospects they had for discovering hexaquarks. They mentioned the quadra- and penta-quarks, but not the hexa-quarks.

This highlights the main issue I had with the panels and talks. They were good, informative summaries of where science fiction has been in the past and what is going on today. What was missing were the likely breakthroughs in the genre for the near and long term in both the genre itself and the science it could use. In fact, the frustration got me so annoyed that I mentally ripped up my’safe prep’ for the two panels I was part of on Sunday to talk about what I saw were possible ways ahead for the future. To my surprise, people came to chat with me afterwards rather than the other more famous guests on the panels. This showed me that I was not the only person frustrated with the lack of science fiction going from here assessments.

The one panel I attended on writing did not tell me anything new about short stories, and I nearly fell asleep as a result. Judging by what I saw in the audience reaction, I was not the only one to feel this way. Indeed, there were occasions when a panel failed to inspire the audience. It may be the fault of the attendee for picking the wrong panel to attend, but I felt the panel members should prepare the event to have something new or interestingly obscure to say.

I was happy to see a good variety of science fiction subjects covered by the EasterCon programme. Subjects covered included things like ‘Bodymods and Cybernetism’, ‘Machines Learn, Humans Thrive’, ‘Pets in Space’, ‘Doctor Who and the Industrial Revolution’, and a fun entertainment item, ‘Return to the Moon’. There were a total of 157 items on the programme. While some were business items and the like, 113 were of deep interest to speculative genre lovers.

In summary, this was a lovely EasterCon, leaving many people with dreamy eyes and smiling faces. It was well run, and the organisers are to be congratulated for putting together such a varied and exciting event. The only downsides were that I could not get to all the items I wanted to, though there is an online catch-up service for paid-up members, and the lack of cutting-edge discussion that I would have expected to see on at least some panels.

Check out the website: https://eastercon2024.co.uk/

Rosie Oliver

April 2024

No one was illegally or intentionally photographed at this convention.

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