Monday, 25 April 2011


Sandy Auden being stalked by Harvey

 Nell and I attended EasterCon over the Easter weekend and I have to say I was disappointed.

Now as a newbie to this whole SF/Fantasy convention lark I suppose it’s a bit cheeky of me to criticise but having in recent years gone through similar experiences with the jazz fraternity I’m starting to see a lot of eerie and quite disturbing similarities.

Let’s get back to first principles. What are the objectives of conventions like EasterCon? To my mind these are threefold:

• To provide a time and a place where like-minded people with similar interests can get together, have a good time, exchange gossip, get pissed and generally hangout;

• To provide a platform where those – especially the young – who have an interest, albeit possibly nascent, in SF/Fantasy can be inculcated into the brother/sisterhood;

• To give an event where new ideas/developments can be aired and tested.

The queue for the cash machine
 Now EasterCon certainly achieved the first objective. In many ways it was like wandering into a family reunion which can be a little intimidating to newbies but as everybody was very accommodating and friendly this wasn’t much of a problem. The real problem with family reunions is that they are comfortable affairs and this is where the parallels with the jazz fraternity come to mind. The jazzers LOVED moaning that they weren’t understood/appreciated/valued (delete as applicable) but actually LOVED it that they were misunderstood/under appreciated/undervalued. They loved being a minority, a little esoteric community, with its own patois and the complacent belief that the mainstream didn’t have the nous to dig what they were digging. Maybe it’s an age thing. It isn’t just attitude where the SF community apes the jazzers: its demographics are weirdly similar too. I guess the average age at EasterCon was 45 and probably the organisers should be aiming to shave at least 10 years off that if they want to avoid a pipe and slippers image.

Authors debate
the extinction of the species
 Which brings me on to the second objective: attracting young people. Young people are the life blood of any organisation and they have to be encouraged, so I was thinking what my two teenage daughters would make of EasterCon and the answer is not much. It was held in a too inaccessible venue; it was too expensive (£32 for two sandwiches and a couple of coffees is taking the piss); there was nowhere to go outside the venue; and, the biggest deterrent, the content was, to say the least, retro (more on that below). The jazzers were always yakking about ‘encouraging the young’ but they didn’t really like them at their conventions because they changed things. Maybe that’s why jazz is such a niche art form. I’d hate for SF/Fantasy to fall into the same trap.

Jo Fletcher and Peter Coleborn discuss
how they could have spent
£450 on one round of drinks
 The final objective: the testing of new ideas/developments. For a conference celebrating those who like to think the unthinkable and envisage strange new futures I was struck by how traditional the programme was and how insular. I was half expecting some events to be sponsored by the electronic/internet companies exploring emerging technologies or maybe talks under the auspices of the New Scientist or even the major games companies describing how they come up with their story platforms. These, I guess, would be some of the things that would attract and hold Kit and Ellie, because today talking heads just don’t cut it. And whilst on the subject of talking heads: the occasional dissenting voice (maybe from outside the SF community) would be nice to stir things up otherwise we don’t have panel discussions, we have cosy chats.

Maybe I’m missing the point and maybe EasterCon has a purpose I just don’t get. But having been once, I’m not sure I’ll go again. EasterCon is the same age as me and I think we’re both a little too set in our ways to change.


  1. To be fair, that £450 did include some nachos . . .

    Rod, some good points here, but I still hope you might try Eastercon again at some point. When they're based in city centres you do get a different mix, and many more drop-ins - no airport hotel is going to be condusive to that sort of thing, after all, and such venues make it almost impossible for the less well-off to attend (I'm sure there are those of us who remember with fondness the suitcase of pork pies . . . but that's another story - indeed, another time!). I've run out of space for the second part of my comment, which follows!

  2. Here's my second point: people go to cons to meet people who can help them get into (or on in) the industry. Wanna-be authors meet editors and publishers (and vice versa) - Jaine Fenn's published on the Gollancz list because we shared an Eastercon panel absurdly early and we got talking. I always check out the art show to find likely new cover artists - Anne Sudworth and Dominic Harman are just two artists who got a professional leg-up that way. Agents meet potential clients - and sell same to editors. And panels telling authors how *not* to present their work are invaluable for those of us sifting those mountains of submissions. Dealers are always happy to tell me who's working and who's not (and why, in their opinion - and it's not always the covers :-)So the panels might not be earthshattering - but the amount of work done in the bar? That's the fascinating side of events like Eastercon.

  3. I accept that the 'trade' aspect of the convention is important but surely it can't be the MAIN aim. To survive and flourish EasterCon must attract new blood and persuade the casual enthusiast to beccme more committed. If it doesn't then there is a real danger of it becoming an incestuous love-in (now there's an image to play with!). Maybe just a touch more raz-a-ma-taz?