The city of Manchester recently had the honour of playing host to Mancunicon, the 67th British National Science Fiction Convention, more commonly known as Eastercon. STARBURST was there to talk to the fans and join in the fun. The four-day weekend was jam-packed with so many panels, talks, lectures, book launches and parties that covering the entire thing would have been an epic feat, but STARBURST decided to give it a go anyway.
Science fiction literature fandom is a movement so old and established that those who take part in it simply refer to it as ‘The Fandom’. The United Kingdom, especially, has the unique honour of being the first country in the world to have an official science fiction literature convention, all the way back in 1937. Eastercon is the spiritual successor to this tradition, having started in 1948, and as such, enjoys an established following, with attendees stretching out to generations. It’s an event organised for the fans by the fans, eschewing commercial concerns to deliver fannish joy, and 2016’s Eastercon carried on the fine tradition of Bank Holiday-based sci-fi fun.
Event highlights included interviews with the Guest of Honour John W. Campbell Award-winning novelist Aliette de Bodard, Hugo Award-winning author Ian McDonald, British Fantasy Award-winning creator Sarah Pinborough, and noted astrophysicist David L. Clement. Each drew a huge crowd, and coloured the event in their own unique way. Notably, Clement spearheaded a science-heavy approach to many of the panel items, and many of the talks centred on science and Manchester’s iconic research centre, Jodrell Bank. The iconic building, which has inspired many works of science fiction throughout its history, was thoroughly explored in many talks and lectures.
Other things to do included a seemingly endless game of Werewolf and the Art Show, which was filled with witty and interesting art from some of fandom’s most dedicated creatives.
Other topics covered included an examination into the nature of science fiction fandom (and its inclusivity), and a look at Manchester and the way it’s represented in science fiction and fantasy and a look at world fandom. Both the Spanish and African literature panels where especially interesting to this mostly white, mostly middle-class crowd of fans who are always keen to read something new and different. Eastercon’s attendees are fans who have been around a long time and know that they have to adapt to embrace the new rush of interest in science fiction conventions. Panels on the subject of Eastercon’s future provided a framework to ensure that there would be many more events like this to come in the years ahead.
Mancunicon was the fourth time Manchester had hosted an Eastercon, and many locals were curious as to why (of all of Manchester’s many potential venues and hotels) that the Hilton Deansgate was chosen as a venue. Though the site had some excellent main hall style spaces, for the headline talks and panels, many of the panels were in smaller rooms and were quickly over-subscribed. The demand for some panels was also misjudged in more than a few cases, which mostly meant fans swapped room with the sort of goodwill and humour you’d expect. The venue choice was caused by the short notice for Mancunicon. Typically, Eastercon takes at least 2 years to organise, and the brave team behind this event only had 44 weeks; all things considered they did amazingly well.
The room for launch parties was the Presidential Suite on the 22nd floor. This meant a queue for lifts to that room were pretty long, especially when you consider that the bulk of the event happened on the first and second floors. Convention goers quickly learned to plan ahead, though the situation was not ideal. Hospitality, however, was superbly handled, with both hotel staff and volunteers being very happy to go the extra mile to help out attendees.
Mancunicon’s symbol was a stylised bee, broadly based on Manchester's coat of arms, and one of the key themes of the event was the city itself. The volunteers organising the whole affair certainly did their damnedest to embody the hard working spirit of the bee; they were tireless, especially when you consider that the schedule contained well over 300 items over the weekend. Volunteers even produced a regular newsletter (called Waggledance) throughout the event, giving attendees regular updates on programme changes and adding gossip and event news to the mix.
Despite organisational issues, Mancunicon was a credit to the hard-working volunteers behind the event. The venue-related niggles don’t seem to have put the fans off visiting the North of England either; 2018’s Eastercon, known as Follycon, will be in Harrogate. We hope to see you all there.
Photo Credit: Anne Davies.