Sunday, April 11, 2010

Eastercon 2010, the verbals

‘I could have emailed you,’ David Langford said, coming over to say hello after we’d spent some time working online at different tables in a bar. But even the science-fiction community hasn’t yet reached the point of total online immersion, which is why some 1200 people had gathered for the UK national sf convention, Eastercon. Last year, it was in the post-industrial fairyland of Bradford; this year it was back in Heathrow, in a massive hotel that looked like a cut-price brutalist version of the Baths of Caracalla, set on a dual carriageway that was cheek-by-jowl with a howling runway and lined with the kind of office buildings that get blown up in the Die Hard franchise. An exurbia for people in transit. A transport corridor where CCTV cameras outnumbered pedestrians. But while the setting may have been a hardcore Ballardian dystopia, it meant that, for a convention reasonably close to London, costs were kept down to an affordable level, and besides, few of us were there for the architecture or local ambience.

Eastercons have to cater for the multitudinous interests of a wide variety of fans -- and if enough of them are interested in (say) campanology, then a talk or workshop in campanology becomes, by syllogy, sf. Writers (like me) might grumble about the lack of programming about actual books, but they’re always reminded, when they arrive at the convention, that it’s run by fans for fans. And some of them, shock horror, don’t even care all that much about written sf (fortunately, an awful lot of them do). Suck it up, get with the programme.

This year, there was a definite etsy/steampunk vibe, but there was also a very strong and well-attended science stream, with panels and some excellent talks, quite a few by people outside the sf world -- always a good sign. I wasn’t there for the whole convention, so managed to go to only one item I wasn’t involved in, a barnstormer of a talk by The Economist's Oliver Morton on geoengineering. It followed hard on the heels of a talk by Ben Goldacre, who writes the Bad Science column for the Guardian. I would have liked to have gone to both, but had just done a 9.00 am panel and was still suffering from caffeine deficiency. So it goes.

What else? The book room was admirably full of stalls selling books, and there was a considerable small press presence, with signings and launches. I scored a reasonable copy of the original Penguin edition of Nigel Kneale’s The Quatermass Experiment (‘D’you think it could be my cactus that’s upsetting him’), a cheap paperback edition of Gertrude Friedberg’s The Revolving Boy (her first and only sf novel), and a copy of John Clute’s latest collection of criticism, Canary Fever. And there were, of course, plenty of random encounters and late-night conversations, which is, in the end, kind of the point of going. That, and Heathrow’s famous chicken-rat garden. I’d tell you about that, but really, you had to be there.
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