Eastercon, despite my anxiety beforehand, turned out to be a qualified success. This was good because I'd feared a disaster. The 'History of SF' theme seems to have been replaced at the last moment by 'Women in SF', something that I am very interested in and the only one of the 'themes' that I went to. As someone pointed out, in the History of SF, apart from Mary Shelley there would have been few women until Monday, assuming chronological items. The other programme items I attended were, as always, items with friends on.
What went right? Many, though not all, of my friends were there. June & Nick, Christina & Doug, Sue & Roo, Tim & Clarrie MacGuire, Julian Headlong, Tony Berry, Lilian and, for half a day only, Meredith MacArdle who I met at my first Eastercon. All the Sheffield crew were there too of course, the reason I moved to Sheffield. Swimming with Julia was one of my highlights.
As Eastercon many years ago stopped being, for me, an event to learn about SF and became a place to meet and party with friends, this immediately made it a good Eastercon. On these grounds this makes the Heathrow Eastercons the best because the lazy, good-for-nothing London fans turn up (this means you Joseph & Judith) but I prefer not to trek down to Heathrow at Easter if I can avoid it, unless Neil Gaiman is a Guest. Other than geographical considerations, to make a good con there has to be a good enough programme to move people around the hotel. Toucon is an example of this not working. The movement, even if you are not a big programme attender, means that you meet other people and often have something to discuss or argue about. Without this the whole con stagnates.
The programme, seemingly cobbled together at the last moment, was good enough for this. As I noted, the Women in SF theme gave me the opportunity to always find June and Christina and was interesting, although slightly superficial and over reliant on the same panellists. The Diana Wynne Jones memorial was lovely and reminded me of how wonderful her work is, and that I must check that I've got all of her books whilst the getting is good. It also reminded me that I like panels that talk about books, which were noticeably lacking. I missed 'Not the Clarkes' and 'Read this Novel' was cancelled. There were a series of items called 'Best Books & Lego' but I assumed they were not aimed at me.
Other than these I went to the audio books panel, the only place I saw David Weber who seemed to be a fine guest, the mirror universe panel which was fun but had been secretly set up so that all Ian's preparation (a full quarter of an hour) was useless, and Never Mind the Buzz Aldrins which was even more fun even if all the movie themes sound the same to me. Oh yes, and the permanent Fan Lounge/Real Ale bar with an excellent and changing range of beers was the programme item I frequented most enthusiastically.
The book room seemed to be suffering from Julian having bought a Kindle but was still humming although, due to miscalculation of this month's budget, I could only find the money to buy two books, a new Guy Gavriel Kaye and Engineman which I suspect I have already but Rog insisted.
The hotel was great. The staff were universally friendly and helpful, the bedrooms were comfortable (once the windows were opened), the swimming pool and jacuzzi were light & airy and just right, and the breakfasts were excellent, I mean, really excellent. Vast choice and omelettes cooked for you while you waited. The toast queue provided another opportunity to meet large numbers of fans you were not acquainted with.
So what was not good? The hotel mainly. The bedrooms were over hot, the room rates were horribly high with no option to find a sharer from the convention, the coffee came from the Hitchhiker universe, and the cost of the cheapest bottle of wine was over £26. Two large glasses of wine would set you back enough to buy three, maybe four, bottles of drinkable wine from the Spar at the airport if you fancied a ten minute walk. The con food was unexciting to say the least. Cheese and tomato baguette twice in a weekend is more than enough. If motorway service stations can produce a better selection for vegetarians surely a decent hotel can. We didn't find the actual cheap con food area until the Monday. My baked potato was barely edible but the pizzas would have made unattractively glazed bathroom tiles. For this type of operation to work there must be a fairly fast turn over of food and there obviously wasn't. Perhaps we were not the only ones to fail to find it.
The setting of the hotel was surprisingly nice, in the Birmingham International/NEC park, but that meant that there was nowhere worth eating within walking distance and the taxis, like at Heathrow, are decidedly expesive. Still, pack enough people into the taxi and you can get a very nice meal and reasonably priced wine to go with it at The Bull at Meriden, cheaper than the hotel even with the taxi fares included.
So overall, I enjoyed it far more than I expected to. If the programme was a little skimpy it worked well enough and perhaps the best thing they did was to allow hour and a half time slots for the programme. This meant that interesting items could overrun slightly, that people had time for a comfort break or to buy a beer between items, and that we did not repeat the embarrassment and audience annoyance caused by bundling Ben Goldacre off stage midflight. Well done Illustrious!