For those who don’t know, Eastercon is the annual British National Science Fiction Convention. Now in it’s 68th year, it draws together an eclectic mix of sci-fi, fantasy, comic book and horror fans, creators, writers, illustrators, artists, cosplayers, and booksellers, as well as a whole host of other interesting people. This year it took place in Birmingham, England, under the moniker of Innominate. Its logo was a ( presumably) green alien head. I went along and took part. He’s what happened…
I had two events planned for Innominate. The first was a panel on comic book legend Jack Kirby. Most people know Kirby from his days with Marvel in the Sixties. In fact, Jack “King” Kirby, or Jolly Jack Kirby (whichever you prefer) was an influential comics creator who co-created Thor, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Superman’s nemesis Darkseid and a whole host of other even wilder characters. This was a lot of fun, even though it took place less than an hour after I had arrived and before I’d even booked into my hotel. But bringing my hastily-acquired knowledge of how Kirby actually invented modern superheroes was very enjoyable. My fellow panellists, Stephen Aryan, Ali Baker, Kin Ming-Looi and Adele Terrell all brought their considerable knowledge and talents to bear.
Panel over, it was time to get my bearings and have a breather from the 2 hour drive down a congested M6. There were almost a thousand people in attendance, with sci-fi legend Pat Cadigan, illustrator Judith Clute and art connoisseur Colin HArris all being the guests of honour. I checked in with a few friends I hadn’t seen since… well, the last Eastercon, missed several interesting-looking panels. I then attended the “The Explosive Opening Ceremony”. Thanks to a scientists from the Royal Institute, it was indeed explosive, and I will never forget the impressive sight of a luminous courgette.
Missing panels is something of a hobby of mine at Eastercon. I missed a couple more that night, but managed to attend both the art show reception and a Gollancz launch party. Both were curiously low-key affairs, with guests simply milling about with little or no introduction. I got the impression these were for “people in the know” whoever they were, and felt a little excluded, but even so I managed to chat briefly to some intriguing folks.
I decided to skip the Regency ball (not being a fan of how people were actually treated in the Regency period) and the Blake’s 7 Wobblevision (which I’m sure was good fun) and tried to grab some actual sleep. Car parking was a bit steep in Birmingham. Fortunately, I left my car next to the A-Team’s van ( I never did find out who it belonged to) and saved some cash courtesy of a reduced parking ticket from the con hotel, which was great value for money!
Saturday was a busy day indeed. I lost some time trying to find my way around the NEC (not a good idea when there’s a 24-hour gaming convention on) and ended up driving to Coventry! Thankfully, and against all odds, I managed to arrive in time for my kaffeeklatsch. These were great ways to speak with several fascinating guests at the con, including author Adrian Tchaikovsky and lit agent John Jarrold. After that, I missed a few more panels chatting in the bar, before heading into the panel titled *punk. This was a very entertaining and informative talk on the various “punk” genres, including steampunk, cyberpunk, and even weirdpunk ( which I never knew was a thing) . The discussion was lively with issues of class inevitably being thrown up against steampunk. The panellists were all fantastic, and I left with the feeling that I knew more than when I entered. Which is always a good thing.
I am embarrassed to say that I attended very few other panels that day. Some of these were just fun (Towel-fu, Sofa Racing and Hungry Human Hippos) some were a bit too technical for me (Neurodiversity, 3D printing, and a workshop on a Dremel – something about which I am still unenlightened), and some of which conflicted with lunch. Although this last point sounds trite, when you’re on your feet for 18 hours a day, lunch becomes a necessity. Unfortunately, many of the panels conflicted with the street food that was on sale in the fan lounge, while the hotel food was exorbitantly priced. For someone with certain dietary needs, food became an increasing problem, resulting in nachos for breakfast. Suffice to say, I left the con never wanting to see another baked potato. May I suggest some salad, vegetables and pasta in the future?
But otherwise Saturday night was (as I remember) filled with good conversation around the bar, mainly involving 2000AD, and the world’s most insanely difficult sci-fi pub quiz. So afterwards I headed back to my hotel to get a well-earned 5 hours rest!
Sunday was another busy day. Beginning with a sci-fi criticism masterclass by Manchester University’s Geoff Ryman on Afrofuturism, it continued with a panel on writing scifi with and about disability. This was a terrific discussion which made me realise just how few positive portrayals of people with disability there are. Even heroic disabled characters have to either overcome their disability or are given some great super-power to compensate (I’m thinking of you, Georgie Laforge). A lively talk from Pat Cadigan topped the day off with a session entitled “Pat Cadigan Explains It All”. And she did, with a rather graphic demonstration that I feel I will never forget. The other panels were mostly sci-fi, and I would have liked to see a little more fantasy and horror in the programme. But I guess that’s why it’s called a Sci-Fi convention! Much of the rest of the evening was mainly preoccupied with dinner. Sadly, the Groan-Along showing of Ed Wood’s sci-fi fiasco”Plan 9 From Outer Space” was cancelled due to someone bringing the wrong DVD. The replacement, “Transformers” failed to find an audience. So instead I had a long and lively talk with many people who wandered in and out of the fan lounge until the wee hours, when I realised I still hadn’t decided (due to a variety of reasons) on what I was going to read for my author reading at 10am the following day!
Now, 2am is not a good time to decide what you are going to be reading in less than 8 hours. However, I think I pulled it off. Sadly, my reading conflicted with my friend Arthur Chapell’s fascinating talk on sci-fi pub signs, so I had to miss that, as I couldn’t very well be absent from my own reading! Myself and grimdark author Anna Smith-Spark expected a low-energy crowd, it being the fourth day of the convention at 10am! However, the opposite was true. Many faces that were far too fresh for my liking turned up (probably due to Ms Smith-Spark’s presence, I may add), and I realized I had better be on top of my game. Fortunately, my last-minute preparation prevailed, and the reading seemed to go very well, with a lively Q&A sessions afterwards that involved such diverse subjects such as Dungeons & Dragons and the poetry of William Blake.
The con ended on a high note with the closing ceremony, attended once against by the guests of honour, and the giving of the Doc Weir award. I spent the rest of the day catching up, saying goodbye and generally making a nuisance of myself before heading home up the M6 once more. Maybe it was just that the traffic was less congested, but I felt a new surge of energy and hopefulness. It seems to be a common thing at Eastercon. The experience of being around so many creative and passionate people renews you, and you go forth into the world once more, ready to apply pen to paper, confident that there are other people out there who feel just the same as you!
My thanks to the organisers for letting me participate, and my apologies to anyone I didn’t get to speak to. See you next year!
(P.S. Some of the above may be exaggerated… just a little).