This was my third con, and it was a very different experience to either of the previous cons I've been to (Interaction and Concussion). I enjoyed it, but not primarily for the programme (very little of which I actually saw). The big news in the con-running scene in the week or two before Novacon was the cancellation of Convoy (the 2007 Eastercon) and the possibility of there being at least two competing bids for 2009. It was clear that discussion about the future of Eastercon was going to dominate the con. I did enjoy Novacon and will probably be coming again, but I don't think I would recommend it to anybody as a "first con" - I suspect that if you didn't already know anybody and, like me, you aren't good at socialising with strangers, Novacon would be a rather bewildering experience.
Early Friday afternoon, I set off for Walsall (near Birmingham) on public transport. This turned out to be far more complicated and long-winded than driving would have been, but since Fenchurch is currently in bits, driving her down wouldn't have been very practical. The journey went as follows: walk to the nearest bus stop; catch a bus to the local shops; try to get some cash from the broken cash machine; catch another bus to the railway station; catch the train to Preston; wander around looking for a cash machine (there was one but it was shut); catch the train to Crewe; wander around looking for a cash machine; catch the train to Wolverhampton; finally locate a cash machine; catch the bus to Walsall; spend the entire journey peering out of the windows trying to spot the pub I was told to get off at; decide I must have missed the pub and gone too far; walk over a mile in heavy rain back to the hotel.
On the Friday evening I went to a hilarious late-night panel which was a take-off of the BBC series Room 101, featuring a rather "well lubricated" Ken McLeod (the Guest of Honour) describing his pet-hates (including the war on terror, George Orwell, and iPods) to an even more inebriated interviewer. After that I stayed in the bar until about 11:20 talking to friends (something I never did before I got involved with fandom).
On Saturday morning we set up a combined Orbital/Redemption con table and spent a few hours selling memberships and chatting about the Eastercon situation, then we shut the table and virtually the entire con membership packed into the programme room to talk about "the future of cons - what next." To cut a long story short, Chris O'Shea volunteered to run an emergency replacement Eastercon called Contemplation, a show of hands was called, nearly everybody supported his proposal, and nobody opposed it. Harry Payne (the holder of the Eastercon trademark and a member of the Convoy committee) said he would join the Contemplation committee in order to confer some kind of legitimacy on Contemplation as an official replacement for Convoy (as official as you can get in the absence of a formal constitution anyway). This is important, because if Contemplation went ahead but it wasn't officially an Eastercon, it could have sparked an argument over whether it could legitimately hold the bid session for the 2009 Eastercon.
Speaking of 2009, two competing bids have come forward so far: Concordia, chaired by Hayley (quasi_hayley), and LX, co-chaired by James Bacon and Pete Harrow. The name LX comes from 60 in roman numerals, because 2009 is (arguably) the 60th Eastercon. Concordia has a site (the Birmingham Metropole near the NEC) but not many people are involved with it yet (Novacon was Hayley's first opportunity to recruit committee face-to-face), while LX appears to have a committee but no site yet. Various people have suggested that the two team up, but everybody involved in the bids seems to agree that it's a Good Thing in general for there to be two strong opposing bids for the membership to choose from. When there is only one unopposed bid, it can put the membership in the undesirable position of having to choose between a bid they may not be totally happy with or no Eastercon. The bids do have some differences in approach too - Concordia has a big out-of-town hotel with loads of rooms and function space, whereas LX are aiming for a city-centre hotel with easy access to restaurants etc.
On Saturday evening Orbital had a very productive committee meeting, then some of us joined up with Hayley and one or two other people and formed a SF quiz team called "Orbital Decay." Great fun was had by all, and I'm proud to report that we placed 12th out of 14 teams, and the team who came 14th cheated by leaving half-way through! Hopefully this will be sufficient to demonstrate beyond question what calibre of fan you have entrusted with the organisation of the 2007 and 2008 Eastercons :)
After the quiz I stayed in the bar chatting to Hayley and others for hours, finally staggering off to bed at about 2:30. I got up at about 7:30AM the next morning for breakfast (I'm blessed/cursed to be an early-riser), and Hayley appeared not much later and admitted she'd stayed up for another couple of hours after I went to bed, and was still buzzing with the after-effects of too much Vodka and Red Bull.
On Sunday morning Chris managed to get some Contemplation membership forms they'd designed on Saturday night photocopied (apparently the hotel charged them 20p per sheet!), and the Contemplation con desk opened. I spent most of my remaining cash on joining Contemplation and then buying a small pile of books in the Dealers' room. I later went to an interesting panel/slide show about a trip to see Chernobyl. By the time the Contemplation desk closed I think they'd taken over 80 members, which seems pretty good considering they haven't even chosen a hotel yet. I heard in advance that the closing session was going to feature Concordia and LX introducing themselves to the membership (I didn't know Chris and Fran were also going to introduce Contemplation), so I hatched a Cunning Plan to film the introductions on my digicam and post them online from the bar.
The first hitch was that they went on longer than I expected, and I didn't realise how difficult it was going to be to hold a compact camera perfectly steady for the best part of twenty minutes without a tripod/monopod. The second hitch was that the slowness of my old laptop and the hotel's WiFi connection meant that it took over five hours to get it cut, compressed, and uploaded to Youtube. I wrote this report while I was waiting for things to happen - luckily the staff haven't objected to me plugging my laptop charger into the wall. The third and final hitch was that after uploading it all, Youtube rejected the Contemplation introduction video because it was a couple of minutes over their 10 minute per-video limit. Edit: after I got home I put the videos on Google Video instead, which doesn't have a ten minute time limit and appears to have a slightly better video quality too.
Here are Chris and Fran introducing Contemplation.
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There was a scary moment when Fran thought I was being volunteered to run publications!
Here are James, Pete, and Hayley introducing LX and Concordia.
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Yes, that is Dave Langford to my left :)
I hope none of you will discount Concordia out of hand. LX may have more well-known fans involved in it at the moment, but I spent a lot of time talking to Hayley this weekend, and she's smart, she knows her stuff, and she's really enthusiastic about putting on the best Eastercon possible. From what I've heard it sounds like the Birmingham Metropole has a lot going for it as a con venue too. I may well be doing "something" to help out Concordia, but that's as much as I'm prepared to say on that for the moment.
Interesting aside: I was amazed by how many people over the weekend told me they were enthusiastically following the story of Fenchurch's restoration. I was worried that I was boring everybody to death, but it would appear not...