Eastercon 2012: Here’s what it’s really like at a Sci-fi ‘con’ – and this is why you should give it a try

If you possess any interest in sci-fi - and have money you desperately need to get rid of, Mariel Hurd can think of far worse ways to fritter it than a convention.

Eastercon

I have cocooned myself in a miasma of blankets and sweat, wheezing like an elderly basset hound. My muscles have seized up from chest to sternum. Each breath is an exercise in masochism.

Every two years I sell a kidney and pay for a weekend at Eastercon, and every two years it thanks me with this. What can I say? I’m a glutton for punishment. But this…

This…

Olympus 2012 has killed me, dear readers, more surely than if I tried to scale that mythical mountain from which it takes its name. I am a shell of what I once was, a slightly sticky shroud cradling sleep deprivation and obscene amounts of caffeine.

Was it worth it? Popular consensus says: fuck yeah.

For those not in the know – and possibly attributing this to the ramblings of a feverish drunkard – Eastercon is the UK’s largest sci-fi convention. It consists of four days of discussion panels, playing boardgames, and pursuing lofty, intellectual entertainments like operating a remote control Dalek under the influence of alcohol. Being around since 1948 means it showcases some serious star power for the  Guests of Honour: this year saw George RR Martin, (fantasy author, most famous for the A Song of Ice and Fire series, owner of a sweet hat), Cory Doctorow (science-fiction author, co-editor of Boing Boing), Paul Cornell (writer for the BBC, DC Comics, Marvel, and maaaaany other places), and Tricia Sullivan (author: fantasy and science-fiction). All in all, what you’d call a pretty serviceable line-up, provided your day job involves brunch with Harrison Ford.

(Which I’ve never done, but Adrian Tchaikovsky did watch me eat hashbrowns on the last day. Charming man, somehow lacked the thousand-mile stare everyone else had by that point in the convention. You should buy his books.)

So what’s the point of all this? Fun and frivolity, mostly. Sci-fi conventions are where you go to meet new people, catch up with the folks you haven’t seen since last year, and get thoroughly soused with all of them. As you may have guessed from all the references to booze: geeks drink. We drink a lot, and the congoer’s favoured beverage tends to be real ale. I’m not entirely certain what the mainstream stereotype is for sci-fi obsessives, but if it doesn’t involve beer and leather something has gone horribly wrong.

There are at least five panels running simultaneously from ten in the morning till eleven at night – two AM if you count films and discos. They cover everything from ‘How to Knit a Dalek’ to ‘The War on Terror (How Ten Years of Conflict has Shaped Sci-Fi)’. ‘Multicultural Steampunk’, ‘The Physics of TV Space Flight’, ‘You Got Your Robot Elf Sex in my Sci-Fi’… If you can imagine it, there’s probably a panel about it. I had to imagine it, as I spent most of my time either volunteering on the Olympus t-shirt stall or playing cards, but some of the programme titles looked jolly interesting. One delightfully silly panel I did manage to see was entitled ‘Wench! Fetch Yon Tankard Here’, which began as laughing at terrible dialogue in fantasy novels, but quickly morphed into the panel of professional authors taking the piss out of their own work. I won’t name names, but really, a melodramatic waterfall bathing scene? You should be ashamed.

The one sour cherry on the fruit stand was that the panels seemed rather constrained this year; more a moderator presenting questions than the usual smooth dialogue, and I think the panels suffered for it. Christ knows no-one wants some berk in the audience to drivel on for five minutes, but the rigid structure prevented the panellists from even talking to each other, let alone the audience. Half an hour of carefully regulated Q&A followed by twenty minutes of audience questions works fine for the author-staffed panels, because it keeps them from being mobbed by fans, but it’s a pain in the arse everywhere else. If the panellists are just regular ol’ congoers, let the poor sods talk to each other and let them talk to us. When people can put their hands up to speak at any time it creates a fluid, dynamic conversation, and the most interesting points come up when audience members answer each other.

But like I said: one sour cherry on an awfully big fruit stand. I can move on to the satsumas.

While there’s plenty of stuff to go and do (discussions, dancing, dice-rolling, dramatising…), the big draw of conventions is always the people. Back at Odyssey 2010 I spent a few hours in the bar with a woman who described Eastercon as ‘like being in a bar with eight hundred of your best friends’, and she was right. Often you’d only just met them, but semantics, schemantics. Everybody’s here to have fun, everyone’s generous, everyone’s looking for the best in everyone else. It’s not an environment meant for the day-to-day – even the most gregarious sunflower will fancy a bit of a lie-down in the shade – but while it lasts, it’s glorious. I don’t drink, but I spend conventions drunk on happiness.

The hangover’s a bitch, though.

If you possess any interest in sci-fi and/or have money you desperately need to get rid of, I can think of far worse ways to fritter it than a convention. Redemption 2013 is in April next year, and it’s a friendly little con. If you’re nervous about meeting people, hang out and play in the Games Room or volunteer to help out – you’ll do some odd jobs, but you’ll meet some pleasantly odd people. If you’re really nervous, hit me up and I’ll show you round

We don’t bite, but we do have panels on the biological plausibility of zombies.