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08 May 2011 @ 09:15 am
Long (and overdue) Eastercon Post  
As mentioned in my previous post the Eastercon hotel was rather over-priced for what it was. That's not to say think many of the complaints being posted on various Eastercon communities are particularly realistic but I've stayed in a lot of hotels over the years, and I've stayed in a lot of "conference" hotels over the years and the basic standard of the rooms and the food in the Hilton Metropole didn't justify the prices they were charging. They weren't bad, by a long shot, but they weren't £100 per night and £10 per pint good either. The staff, on the other hand, were very good and the actual convention space was excellent.

In the end we skipped "How to Build a Nerf Gun" on Saturday because we figured it was probably primarily aimed at kids and went to Marcus Rowland's talk on War in Victorian Science Fiction. It was a fascinating talk, marred slightly by a few technical matters, in which he looked at the various appearances of military engagements in these early stories and their tendency to present one side as overwhelmingly superior to the other, with relatively few instances of wars being waged between equals. He showcased in particular a fascinatingly batty story in which plucky British anarchists end up running the world and fighting the combined forces of the Tsarist Romanov heirs and the Muslim Caliphate. I'm still mentally grappling with the concept of anarchists running the world and indulging in large infrastructure projects (such as building bunkers to protect the population against meteorite strikes). I'll plug Marcus' web site here. I've not explored it properly but it would appear to be a gold mine if you want to actually read some Victorian SF.

In the afternoon we attended the excellent George Hay Lecture by Dave Clements on the work of the Herschel space telescope. After the disappointments of the Science programme at Eastercon 2010 we were much more impressed with the bits of it we attended here, though I think we also chose our sessions more carefully. This was a very accessible talk on the work of the space telescope, and I even got a free fridge magnet!!!

We then went to a panel session on Infrastructure in SF which was interested in which SF predictions haven't been realised and why. Probably the most interesting thing about this panel, to be honest, was the difference a well-prepared panelist can make. Simon Morden had clearly bothered to do his legwork, prior to the panel, coming up with a list of predicted technology and looking into whether they were possible with current understanding, almost possible, or just scientifically miles away. Pretty much everything someone raised he had an answer for whether the failing was in political will/organisation or science. He was also an entertaining speaker, and kept extolling the benefits of "command economies" (at least if you want big SF-style infrastructure) and pretty much ended up declaring we needed a global dictatorship if we were ever going to have a space elevator.

In the evening B and I headed for the games room. Having extolled the virtues of the layout of the convention rooms, I do have to say that the games room was less well placed this year, being tucked away and reducing the chances that someone might just wander past and join in. B. and I picked, at random, what turned out to be a very entertaining game, in which you had to pile misfortune on your own characters until they met an untimely demise and you could harvest their lack of self-esteem while simultaneously doing nice things to your opponent's characters. The rules encouraged you to tell a story while doing this to explain precisely why the brain in a vat was terrified by topiary. After a couple of games we were joined by several random teenagers for a group game which took about five times as long as the one we'd been playing together. It would seem that age allows you to decide much more rapidly how you intend to play your cards.

On Sunday morning B went off to Tai Chi while I joined lil_shepherd and inamac for the fanfiction panel. This was notionally going to talk about the outsider's view on fanfic but that was clearly never going to happen and the panel was content to happily chat about writing fanfic and interacting with fanfic communities. I felt it was much better than last year's panel, though whether that was through a better choice of panelists, the earlier time slot, or the removal of the emphasis particularly on slash, I couldn't say.

We stuck to the main lecture hall for most of Sunday afternoon with "Space Art v SF Art" which would probably have been more interesting if we were more informed about art, and if the panellists had been interested in treating the topic as a springboard for discussion, rather than simply complaining that they didn't like being set up in opposition. "Through a Gunsight Darkly" was vaguely billed as a discussion on how SF allegorises current conflicts but turned into a more wide-ranging discussion of the nature of various conflicts, the differing perspectives of the military, the politicians and the general population and the extent to which these have been explored in SF. Once again the panel was improved by the presence of one clearly very knowledgeable (or at least opinionated) panellist, in this case novelist David Weber who had some very interesting things to say about politicians' tendencies not to formulate an "end game" in advance and so have no real idea how long a conflict may last, what resources are actually needed or even how they will tell when it's over. Lastly we went to the BSFA lecture on "Prolegomena to a Steampunk Catullus: Classics and SF". I thought this was a fascinating talk by classist Gideon Nisbet though B, sitting next to me, kept muttering about classicists reading from their notes instead of talking freeform. As a talk it wasn't terribly focused but it covered several interesting topics such as how Nisbet's own hobbyist interest in Comics and, broadly speaking, story-telling mixed media and narratives that are not necessarily linear, helped him in interpreting papyri which were fragmentary and combined both pictures and writing. It then drifted into the different perceptions of the presentation of classical topics in the media from hobbyist and professional classicists. Nisbet seemed to feel that professional classicists had a much less rigid notion of what constituted a "correct" presentation that was rooted in an awareness of how few actual facts there were and how rapidly the academic consensus on a topic changed compared to the "lay" consensus as presented through school textbooks and the like. He also mentioned, in passing - and harking back to my previous post about Steampunk - a writer (Lucian, I think) who is generally considered to have been writing speculative fiction in ancient Rome.

We also spent a fair bit of time on Sunday just hanging around in the dealers' room and the fan lounge chatting to people, including John Naylor, one of the founders of Fools and Heroes, who now runs the Victorian Steampunk Society which he combines with professional work providing props to TV companies. He and B. were able to swap war stories on the vagaries of TV production.

In the evening we went to the Admiralty Ball. We were both in costume, mine worked up from a Simplicity pattern and B's purchased from eBay. He got quite a bit of comment on how it was both modern and genuine, though people didn't seem to mind. It's a Warrant Officer uniform and now I've informed him that Benton eventually got promoted to Warrant Officer he's thinking of getting a UNIT beret to go with it. I have a couple of photos. The one of both of us I've snerched from Lil's flickr stream (I hope she doesn't mind!).

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/40743.html.
lukadreaminglukadreaming on May 8th, 2011 10:03 am (UTC)
The costumes are fabulous!

Interesting report. Sounds like you chose your panels well.
louisedennislouisedennis on May 8th, 2011 10:21 am (UTC)
We were much pickier about our panels this year and factored in a lot more than just the topic, we were also a lot more relaxed at just taking a time slot off if there was nothing there that much interested us. I think that lead to a much better overall experience, though I was still struck by how at least two of the panels would have been pretty dull were it not for the presence of one particular panellist.
philmophlegm: Travellerphilmophlegm on May 8th, 2011 10:33 am (UTC)
Marcus Rowland is on LJ:
louisedennislouisedennis on May 8th, 2011 12:22 pm (UTC)
I've noticed he's reccing for calufrax this week and keep meaning to check his LJ out.
athene: abby connor and diictodonsdeinonychus_1 on May 8th, 2011 11:15 am (UTC)
sounds fascinating. I may have to find out more about this Eastercon, it sounds like the sort of thing I'd enjoy.
Susanlil_shepherd on May 8th, 2011 11:42 am (UTC)
Eastercon 2012 is back at Heathrow.

athene: abby connor and diictodonsdeinonychus_1 on May 8th, 2011 12:32 pm (UTC)
thanks, I'll have a look.
louisedennislouisedennis on May 8th, 2011 12:13 pm (UTC)
It's focus is very much on written SF (though TV and films get plenty of look-in) and its guests are all drawn from creators (as it were) rather than actors and so forth, so the emphasis is much more on writing than on celebrity. It is quite a close-knit community however. Everyone was very friendly but B and I did end up feeling we ought to attempt to get a bit more involved on the programme side next year, just so that we were a bit better known, if you see what I mean.
Susanlil_shepherd on May 8th, 2011 12:15 pm (UTC)
B's contact with purplecthulhu should help with that.

However, I've been going to cons since Seacon 79 and, while I know a good many people, there are far, far more that I don't know.
athene: abby connor and diictodonsdeinonychus_1 on May 8th, 2011 12:37 pm (UTC)
okay, sounds sort of like the Alt.fiction event in Derby, but much more in-depth and bigger scale. Although Alt.fiction is very much geared towards the literary/writing side of things, with lots of writing workshops and discussion panels on writing/getting published in the British sci-fi and fantasy market, and talks from a few big name authors.

Either way, Eastercon sounds cool.
Susanlil_shepherd on May 8th, 2011 01:12 pm (UTC)
Eastercon is the con at which every form of fandom (and some that aren't even fandom) gets together; books, comics, filking, costuming, film, TV, fannish fandom, real ale fandom, readers, writers, publishers, booksellers, merchandisers, con runners, scientists and lots of other things I've forgotten. The 'dealers room' is a good example of the mix - there are second hand book dealers like Porcupine Books, big retailers of new books, like Forbidden Planet, mail order dealers of new books like Rog Peyton, the Witchcraft Shop up from Glastonbury manned by at least three different SF & fantasy writers who would also sell you their books (and all on my flist, but that's another story), plus reconstructionist merchanise like the Time Traveller's emporium, T-shirts, waistcoats, jewellery and, at Heathrow at least, filk CDs from the US.

Next year's GoH's are an interesting mixture, with Paul Cornell representing comic book scripting, TV scripting, Dr Who fandom and British fandom, George RR Martin for SF and fantasy writing, with a side note on having his stuff adapted for TV, and US fandom - of which he is a long term member, and Steph Swainson, a British fantasy writer of whom I know nothing except I disliked her first book excessively and haven't gone back since.

This year's Eastercon was an example of an unbalanced programme, and nor was there enough of it. There were a lot of problems (including two changes of organiser) and a lot of influential fans were a bit annoyed...
louisedennislouisedennis on May 8th, 2011 04:07 pm (UTC)
My impression is that eastercon has a very wide-ranging and welcoming attitude to all sorts of fans, but its core is written SF. Compared to, say, the SFX weekender, the absence of actors and TV producers vaguely touting for business is quite marked.
Susanlil_shepherd on May 8th, 2011 06:00 pm (UTC)
Yes, we aren't into actors, unless they're also SF fans.

If you want the same sort of atmosphere, but primarily media, then your best bet is Redemption where there may be the odd actor as well...
Susanlil_shepherd on May 8th, 2011 11:41 am (UTC)
Of course I don't mind. All my photos are under creative commons, anyway.

Incidentally, for those who weren't there, other photos of mine of the ball are available.


Edited at 2011-05-08 11:43 am (UTC)
wellinghallwellinghall on May 8th, 2011 06:33 pm (UTC)
£10 per pint

louisedennislouisedennis on May 10th, 2011 12:13 pm (UTC)
I miscalculated. It was actually £4 per pint - but still a lot for fizzy from a tap.
Pollyjane_somebody on May 23rd, 2011 08:45 pm (UTC)
Ooh, Gideon! (I'd make a 'small world' comment, but Classics just is a pretty small world I suppose.) As a DPhil student he presented a paper at the Classical Association annual conference on BDSM, which was different. You can tell B sorry about the 'reading the talk' thing, but that is just how they train us :-)
louisedennislouisedennis on May 25th, 2011 08:31 am (UTC)
It was interesting to compare the talk styles. I didn't mind the "reading it" approach so much, what it may have lacked in genuine spontaneity, I thought it made up for by having a clearly more polished turn of phrase, I'm not quite sure what irritated B about it so much.

I can imagine that Gideon is a bit different in classical circles. I gather he now teaches modules on the representation of classics in comics and modern media which I would guess is more tolerated than appreciated, even if it does bring in the students.
a_cubeda_cubed on July 13th, 2011 02:00 pm (UTC)
Typical that you started attending Eastercon the year I stopped attending them (not particularly by choice, but it's a long way from Tokyo).
louisedennislouisedennis on July 13th, 2011 03:52 pm (UTC)
We sort of ended up there by chance last year and then decided we should make it a regular event.