Over the long Easter weekend of 30th March to 2nd April 2018, the Majestic Hotel in Harrogate played host to around 1,000 science fiction and fantasy fans for the 69th EasterCon, the annual British National Science Fiction Convention, named this year, in honour of the date, FollyCon (a previous EasterCon, held in Liverpool 1988, which again fell over the April Fool’s weekend, was also called FollyCon, and folk who had attended both were awarded a special badge.
As always, the programme included far more items of interest than I could possibly manage to attend, especially given my need to sleep, eat, and catch up with people I don’t generally run into except at conventions.
Since I live within 40 miles of Harrogate, I made my way over there on the Friday morning, by which time the hotel was already teeming with convention members. The Majestic is a glorious Victorian building, but a combination of not-at-all-spring-like weather, and various renovation works taking place means that I’ve had to rely on Wikipedia for a decent photo of its exterior. Being a historic building, the lifts left a little to be desired, and the convention committee were encouraging use of the stairs with the aid of signs pointing out how many extra calories could be burned that way (with the implication that more beer might be drunk as a consequence). Fortunately, I was able to snare an early check-in, along with a helpful friend, and so had all my luggage transported from the car to the fourth floor (but not the haunted Room 407) well in advance of the Opening Ceremony.
Panels I attended on Friday included The Future of Cities: “In the 21st Century, cities face new challenges from social, technological and climate change: how can they adapt?” (I helpfully suggested that if the rich were going to isolate themselves in gated enclaves away from the rest of us, we should regard them as high-welfare farmed protein); Transgressive Sexuality: “SF and F can explore sexuality in ways that other fiction can’t, and has long challenged societal norms and prejudices. What are the opportunities and challenges of this?”; Law and the Multiverse: “Our panel of legal experts discusses how the law can cope with mutant abilities, uploaded humans, evil clones and giant robots” I also found time to sample a couple of pints from the Real Ale Bar (showcasing cask beers, and ciders, from a range of local breweries, including Navigator from Great Heck).
Saturday morning saw me awake not quite so bright and early as I’d planned, and so I missed the 09:00 Ecology panel. I did however attend a whole bunch of others, on a variety of topics, including Putting Science in Your Story: “When you’re writing science fiction, is science your servant or your boss?”; “To Be Reborn, One Must Die”: Trans Readings of Tropes in SFF: “On the Trans Day of Visibility, our panel discusses how SFF can engage with the trans experience, either directly or through metaphor”; Victorian Fantasy: “So many of the forms of fantasy were first created over a hundred years ago. Our panel discusses the early growth of the genre”; The Revolution in Star Wars: “The reinvigorated Star Wars franchise moves on with The Last Jedi, which reconsiders many of the traditions of Star Wars. Our panel compares the new direction with the old and tries to foresee the future”; Serious Scientific Talk: The Science of Toffee: “The underlying chemistry of toffee production is rich and complex, with a variety of textures and tastes available in the finished product” (there were samples!).
I skipped the announcement for this year’s Hugo Awards shortlist, but attended the discussion afterwards. This year’s line-up seems a lot more balanced than it has been of late. Apparently certain disruptive elements have gone away to try and play in someone else’s sandbox. That was my last panel of the evening, although I also took part in the latest ’Blakes 7’ Wobblevision installment (in which fans attempt to recreate the salient points of an episode via the medium of still photography – with casting conducted by the drawing of lots). I also gatecrashed the Ops Room Party twice, and drank some rather interesting alcoholic beverages (in my defence, quite a few of my friends were on the Ops Team and at the party).
My Sunday kicked off with Communicating Science: “Science is an important part of the world around us, but often it’s regarded as a specialist’s area only. In different ways, all our panel try to break down that barrier. They talk about the how and why”, after which I rushed upstairs for Tony Keen and Juliet McKenna’s Critical Masterclass discussing ‘The Moon Over Red Trees’ by Aliette de Bodard (available online here). I was glad of the opportunity to discuss a story that had been on my reading list for far too long prior to FollyCon, and would certainly consider attending one of the annual three-day master classes this one-hour session was a taster for.
Other panels and talks I attended on Sunday included Culture Clash: ”A look at what happens in SFF when two or more cultures meet: whether they can communicate, how they relate, and what stories can be told”; Magnifying the Distant Universe: ”How do you use massive clumps of dark matter and the properties of spacetime as a gigantic natural telescope?” (a talk by a friend of a friend, which turned out to be far more fascinating than I anticipated); The James Webb Space Telescope: ”Steve Wilkins, one of the scientists working on the next orbital visual telescope, talks about its construction and what it will do” (a last minute change of plan inspired by the previously mentioned talk); Bap to the Future: How Betty’s Tearooms Took Over the Galaxy: ”In 2318, Betty’s will be looking back on 300 years of galactic dominance. It’s scone-to-be amazing, but only if Agent Bunty can uncurl the sandwiches of time and reveal the dreadful truth about the cake/biscuit divide” (it’s a Yorkshire thing). In the bar, topics of conversation included the atmospheric re-entry of Tiangong-1 (as suggested by one of my regular drinking buddies, who had sloped off to get some sleep).
I should possibly have turned in at a sensible time too, since I was woken far too early by a text message from my mother telling me it was snowing at their end of the world. My recovery from that surprise was aided by extra coffee provided by my lovely friends at the Gopher Hole (rest and recuperation room for volunteers) and I was in fine form by the time my scheduled panel rolled around in the afternoon: Generations: Media and Fandom: “How have our responses to SFF in TV and film changed over time, how have our consumer habits changed, and how has that affected fandom?”. I was the token steampunk on the panel, and also the youngest panellist, and was entranced by the others’ tales of past conventions they had attended.
Other panels and talks I attended included Aliens Ate My Baby: ”Evolution has come up with myriad ways for creatures to raise offspring here on Earth, so it’s safe to assume that aliens will have an equally diverse set of strategies. Plus learn what sort of aliens you should never ask to babysit”; Genre Economics: ”Medieval empires with no agriculture, amazing inventions that no-one ever mass produces, and planet-wide cities with no obvious form of support: our panel discusses economics in fiction and where it can go wrong”.
Although the last panel I attended took place after the closing ceremony, I still managed to help out with the tech take-down before heading over to the Dead Dog Party. We’d cleared out the Real Ale Bar the previous night, but the hotel had Black Sheep Best Bitter on tap, which I’m always happy to drink.
Next year’s EasterCon is Ytterbium in London. I don’t always go in odd-numbered years, due to other commitments, but I may make an exception for that one.
And finally, a link to the recording of a skit that I’m very sorry to have missed seeing live: the Men in Science Fiction and Fantasy Panel.