For anyone who has to ask what a Mancunicon is, you’ve missed it.
Every year since the 1930s, fans of Science Fiction have gathered somewhere in Britain to exchange ideas and talk about books. Well, for those who have been to many Eastercons, this is a very simplistic view. Mostly, we turn up year after year to meet friends and chat over a pint, be it real ale or Adam’s ale. The venue varies depending who has volunteered to organise the event.
In initially, Cardiff was mooted as the meeting place but a bigger event meant that a suitable hotel would be priced out of our price bracket (the committee are aware that we want value for money). So instead of the two year organisational period, this time there was only one. This was an important factor in finding a suitable hotel. The one chosen was the Hilton in Manchester. It’s a good quality hotel with staff that were doing their best to make our stay enjoyable, but as an Eastercon venue, the best thing about it were the views. At 23 floors high, these are spectacular. There is even a fast lift that will take ordinary visitors to the city up to the 23rd just to appreciate it. It is well worth the trip.
The conference facilities were a different matter. Mostly they were situated on the 1st and 2nd floors, with stairs between, with readings and launch parties on the 22nd. There were only three lifts, one of which got bored with taking fans up and down so decided to take a rest on Saturday. To add to the aggravation, there were no stairs available except in an emergency. Most fans are willing to walk down several flights, even if they balk at the distance up. The stairwells were alarmed and there was, so we were told, no way out at the bottom.
In the main areas, there was plenty of space but little seating available to gather, sit and chat. The main conference hall was a reasonable size but cons these days have a number of strands and the venues for these were on the whole, too small to accommodate the numbers wanting to attend. This is a penalty of having panels that sound interesting. People missed things, not for the usual reason of losing track of time while talking to friends but because they couldn’t get into the appropriate room.
The other issue I had was that, other than at breakfast, there wasn’t much in the way of food that was worth eating. Fortunately, there were other eating places close by.
It is important to remember that events like this are run entirely by volunteers, people who give their time, put their lives on hold in order to make the event the best they can. Pat McMurray had done his best with the facilities available.
Two important features of any Eastercon are the Art Show and the Dealers Room. There was some superb work on show in the Art Show expressing the avenues that some of the artists, both professional and non-professional are exploring. Fangorn (Chris Baker), whose 2D artwork is exquisitely detailed is producing cute 3D baby dragons. David A. Hardy always likes to experiment with new techniques and media. This time he produced framed 3D works which give extra depth to the created image. Most agreed that the monochrome lunar surface demonstrated the effect beautifully, though all his wall sculptures sold at the auction. The most beautifully detailed and subtle water colours were produced by Margaret Walty. If you don’t know her work, look it up, especially her sunflower dragon and sea dragon. A number of the exhibitors are producing unique jewellery which sells for far less than it should considering the amount of work that has gone into making each piece. There was a lot of other excellent art including from people like Anne Sudworth, Jim Burns and Jackie Burns (no relation). Much of the art was for sale at the traditional auction and with over 90 pieces with bids on, the auctioneers, Chris Morgan and Andy England had their work cut out to conduct it in the two hours allotted.
The Dealers Room was divided. There wasn’t a room big enough to put it all in the same space. One area was in the anteroom to the art show, the other, twice the size was two corridors away. There were several people selling jewellery and two stalls of second hand books, Brian Ameringam’s Porcupine Books, and Andy England who is downsizing his collection. While there were several tables used by small press or self-published books, there was no new, commercially available books from the main publishers or big bookstores.
Many of the small/self-published books were available at launch parties on the 22nd floor. The views were spectacular but the space was inadequate for the number of people who wanted to attend. if they could get a lift to take them up there.
I didn’t actually get to see much of the programme, though I am told that four guests of honour were value for money. Ian McDonald was the SF representative and Sarah Pinborough is best known for her horror. David L. Clements is a scientist but his collection of stories was published by Newcon Press for the convention. Aliette de Bodard I know nothing about but she did manage to win both the BSFA awards for novel and short story this year. This suggests that she is a name to watch out for in the future.
Of the panel items I did attend, the poetry one was subverted by the panel. The programmer had billed it as four poets reading their work and discussing them. Instead, all the poets in the audience had an opportunity to showcase their work.
There were a range of programme items and a number of workshops run by exhibitors in the art show and a fair sprinkling of sessions discussing self-publishing.
Yes, I have gripes about the convention but other than the issues with the hotel, the committee did a good job and any convention is what you make it. I caught up with old friends and found some new ones. A marker of whether or not I enjoyed myself must be the fact that I’ve registered for the next two Eastercons – Birmingham NEC in 2017 and Harrogate in 2018.