My adventures at eastercon: admissions of a convention noob

So, last weekend was the big adventure. I went to Eastercon, held this year at a hotel near Heathrow, which was my first experience of a SF convention. It wasn’t a lone expedition; I went with my sister and our respective partners for moral support. This is one of the larger UK SF conventions (from what I understand), and had about 1250 attendees – just so you get an idea of the scale. It is fan run, which means that the panels and events reflect what the fans are interested in and also what people were able and willing to organise.

If you have read Larisa’s poignant memories of her years of con attendance, you may wonder (as I did) whether she was looking back with rose coloured glasses. And even if she was right in all respects, had the conventions moved on? It took about 2 seconds from walking through the front door of the hotel into the reception area for me to understand that some things will NEVER change.

Two things that caught my eye immediately:

  • Lots of women around! (I’ve been to gaming conventions where the men: women ratio is about 10:1. This was closer to 1:1.)
  • It was all very well organised (again, comparing with gaming conventions). We queued briefly at reception, picked up our delegate badges and goodie bags (free mug! free easter egg! and a couple of books and more assorted useful con information … ) Even in retrospect, every part of the con I saw was very well organised. Panels started on time (give or take the odd 5 minutes), people were where they were supposed to be, sound/lighting was fine.

The whole convention and the other attendees were terrifically friendly. I was impressed at the range and variety of the panels – there were some on hard science, some litcrit type panels on speculative fiction, some about writing and getting published, a couple on games, some on social media,  some fun geek-oriented crafty activities, some family based sessions, film screenings. Plus people wandering around in a wide variety of costumes, cabaret, and a solid set from Mitch Benn.

And a room full of board games too. It shows what the atmosphere was like that when we sat down to play a game, friendly people asked politely if they could join in as they wandered through. (Again, this does not really happen at gaming conventions, oddly enough.)

It’s not often that you are torn between the possibility of watching the first episode of the new Doctor Who in a large screening room with 200+ other fans or going to a panel on ‘The Occult in Modern Urban Fantasy.’ One day, there will be cloning so we can do all of them at once …

Another highlight for me was the video game charades session, where we were wisely advised to form into teams with a variety of age groups represented. I don’t know who had more fun, the under tens who had a ball miming out Lego Star Wars or our husbands acting out Tron. I just know that it was a room full of video game geeks of all ages … and laughter. And it makes me think about how rarely I do get to hang out with mixed age groups. It’s a shame in many ways that it has become so taboo to hang out socially with kids (unless they are relatives) or with older people, because it can be a very positive experience all around.

I thoroughly enjoyed the more serious panels that I attended as well. People were generally well behaved, very engaged, and there were some animated, interesting discussions. As a fan, it’s also a privilege to be able to talk to authors you admire, or hear them discussing their writing and how they work in panels or interviews. I thought Iain Banks was an awesome writer before this weekend, I still think that but I also now think he’s a dude. And Arb did tweet me at least once to let me know that someone we were chatting to in a panel/ event had won a Nebula award (so congrats!)

I get the feeling that the local writer community is very supportive of the con scene – because I don’t really know that you’ll get enough sales from 1250 people to make it worth giving up a weekend otherwise.

It is glaring to me that the con fanbase is very predominantly white in the UK (not sure about the rest of the world), and the programming reflects that. There were panels on feminist issues, disability issues (disability in comic book villains), gay and alternative sexuality issues. But nothing on race.

To Sum Up

We had a brilliant time. The con was a friendly, supportive, fun atmosphere full of fellow geeks who were also having a good time. And some very hard working fans who made the whole thing run so smoothly (so props to you all, and thank you very much.) I do understand now why people say that going to a SF con feels like coming home. Also, if someone offers you some 100% cocoa chocolate, only take a very small piece.

We already booked our spots for 2012!

9 thoughts on “My adventures at eastercon: admissions of a convention noob

  1. OMG! I’m so envious! I need to pick up my fandom activicty. I really do… I never went to Eastercon, but my husband was there and many of my fan friends, year after year. I could have met you there! Hmmmm… Maybe next year. I’m serious. This year I spent Easter skiing and all it gave me was a terrible cold.

    This was very inspiring. Thanks!

  2. I’m glad you enjoyed it! Eastercons vary a lot, of course, since they are run by different people and in different places, this year was one of the most enjoyable I’ve been to. At over 1300 members (I don’t know what the maximum “warm body on site” count was) it was probably one of the largest I’ve attended. (Worldcons are a lot bigger, by an order of magnitude, but we only have those here once every 8-10 years.)

    As to the writers — no, their sales don’t pay for the convention. There is an element of promotion for some of them, but most of them come because they enjoy it (and many, possibly most, were fans before they became published, there were at least two long-term fans there who had their first fiction published last year for instance). Apart from the official guests they pay their own way to conventions. And not a few people who have first attended as guest have then come back regularly at their own cost.

    You have a good point about mixing ages. In fandom there is generally no age distinction (apart from a few items which are ‘adult’ in nature, and those run specifically for younger people), and I often find that I can be talking to someone two generations removed from me (in either direction!) and not even notice until they say something specific (like not being born before personal computers, or going to the “White Horse” meeting before the War).

    Yes, there are women there! In some parts of fandom, especially in ‘media’ (TV and film) fandom, they are even in the majority (at one time almost all of those running Star Trek and Blake’s 7 fanclubs were female).

    We’ve had discussions on race in fandom before, and will undoubtedly again. The answer I’ve had from those non-white people outside fandom (but who are SF readers) is that it’s largely cultural, they just aren’t interested in such a social grouping (they also tend to be more family oriented than most white people, so unless they brought the whole family — which of course happens with many fans — they wouldn’t come).

  3. Really nice report! I like your observations; I’d wondered about the reasons for a predominantly white crowd myself. Maybe someone more experienced in fandom could enlighten us.

  4. Thank you for the lovely write up – I am looking forward to seeing you again in 2012 🙂

    My aims for the convention were simple; Make everyone feel included and don’t leave anyone behind. You are absolutely right about there not being any programme items on race issues and I would like to address that next time. I think I am one of the few Eastercon committee members who is non white and possibly the only chair, which doesn’t come close to representing the demographics of the country as a whole. I’ll ask my programme head to have a think about suitable programme items, but do feel free to write to me with suggestions 🙂

  5. Glad you enjoyed yourself!

    I think we had around 7-800 people (possibly more) watching Doctor Who 🙂 so certainly 200+

    It is entirely true that SF fandom does appear to be very strongly white here (and in the US, Germany and The Netherlands … though in Japan it’s predominantly Japanese 🙂 … those are the countries I’ve been to conventions in … (sorry for the terrible English!))

    We do have some non “white” convention attendees, but I find it worrying that I can name nearly all of them at Eastercon (but then I can probably name 10-20% of the attendees!) … it’s been a discussion item at previous cons, and I’m sure it is something the London Worldcon team are looking at strongly, as Docklands means a large number of minorities live in short commuting distance. Previous convention committees I’ve worked with have produced flyers in other languages to try to be more inclusive …

    I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing … but we do have an outreach programme to try to find new people who will enjoy conventions and fandom.

    If you have a strong feeling about this, and think you’d like to be on an item discussion this concern, then please let us know 🙂

    And thank you for all the lovely things you said about Odyssey! (I doubt you’ll remember, but I’m the one who stood on stage and introduced Doctor Who, the opening and closing ceremonies, and thanked Mitch Benn at the end of his set and got him back for the encore … moments of fame (grin!))

    I’m the vice chair for next year’s Eastercon up near Birmingham, and also our “eAmbassador” so out here on the web answering questions and picking up feedback (like your race question) for next year. We often do have a “why is fandom so white and middle class?” item, but not this year … so probably time to do something again next year.
    (and we’re on Facebook, LiveJournal and Twitter!)

    Chris (The Magician) O’Shea

  6. I rarely attend conventions, but SciFi conventions are usually well worth it. I plan to attend the Perry Rhodan World Convention in 2011, the 50th anniversary of the series. It is a SciFi series mostly known in Germany, though it was a world wide following. I immensely enjoyed the WorldCon 2000 in Mainz. Wow, that was 10 years ago…

    I want to second you that SciFi conventions are usually much more mature and in general just better than gaming conventions.

    I will never ever attend the Games Convention in Leipzig (now Cologne) again. People often told me how amazing it was, I was just standing in long queues and felt like in a booth babe peep show. Worse than a car exhibition.

    Really, I prefer to read the reports of gaming conventions. Going there offered me really nothing.

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