Last weekend I attended my seventh Eastercon. Olympus 2012 was the third in a trilogy of Eastercons held in the Radisson Edwardian hotel at London Heathrow. I was heavily involved with the organisation of the first two (Orbital 2008 and Odyssey 2010), but my pre-con involvement in Olympus was mainly limited to improving the ConText programme printing software that I developed when I was doing Publications for Odyssey. At-con, I ran the Beyond Cyberdrome workshop again.
From my perspective Olympus was an excellent convention. EightSquaredCon and Satellite 4 are going to have to work hard to match the very high standards set by Illustrious and Olympus.
It was certainly a very large con by Eastercon standards. The committee was forced to close membership a few days before the con because the number of attending members had reached the hotel's fire limit, which led to a little criticism due to the short warning (luckily I had booked well in advance). The large membership had its minuses - at times the con felt a bit too big and the hotel too cramped, and it could be hard to pick your friends out from the sea of faces. One corridor in particular often got jammed with people queuing to enter a programme room. On the other hand, several items (including Beyond Cyberdrome) benefited significantly from increased participant numbers.
Despite my reduced pre-con involvement, I still contrived to spend several days leading up to the con working until the early hours of the morning on various newly-requested ConText features (the last one, which I finished at 3AM on Thursday morning, arrived too late to be of use to the person who wanted it). As a result, on Thursday I was so knackered by the time I'd packed the car with BC stuff and driven a couple of hundred miles down to London that I went straight to my hotel (a Travelodge near Terminal 5) and stayed there.
On Friday morning I drove over to the main hotel and went to a panel called Damn Fine Cons - what is fandom and why should we care? where I met the TAFF and GUFF delegates and ate free doughnuts. After lunch I went to an interesting talk/slide show about movie posters. I had never realised that film posters feature so much orange and blue. The first BC workshop went OK; lots of kids turned up and built entries from K'Nex and junk. The opening ceremony was unusually short. I ate dinner in the McDonalds next door; something that I was to repeat on the following three evenings (I was rather sick of Chicken McNuggets by Monday evening!).
After dinner I arrived part way through Just a Minute. I found it less entertaining than previous ones I've been to, possibly because the only participant I recognised was Paul Cornell, who was presenting the game rather than taking part. Next was a panel called Do Swedes have more fun?; the conclusion seemed to be 'yes'. My final panel of the day was Doctor Who: The importance of scheduling, which was enlivened by SMS turning up fifteen minutes late and announcing, "I'm supposed to be on this panel but I think it's a pointless discussion and I don't have anything to contribute, so I'm going to go away again."
The last item on Friday was the event that has become the highlight of the convention for me: the Ceilidh. Liam Robinson returned as the caller with music provided by his excellent folk dance band. Dances were tightly spaced with a relatively short intermission. A large number of fans turned up, paid attention to the caller, and danced enthusiastically for three hours. In what is probably a first for me I didn't have to sit out a single dance due to lack of a partner. A marvellous time was had by all.
On Saturday morning I poked my nose into the feedback session out of curiosity, to find that the only complaints were to do with the hotel staff running the breakfast room (this seems to have been an area where the hotel got things a bit wrong). I went to a panel about other non-sf fannish activities; lostcarpark talked interestingly about Lego fandom and exhibitions, and I was reminded of past conversations I have had about parallels with Morris Minor fandom and rallies. Next was a panel about past London SF conventions (with a little discussion about the 2014 Worldcon). At noon I missed two very interesting-sounding panels and watervole's first Morris Dancing workshop because I was running the second BC workshop. Later was sugoll's talk on progdb, which I had a particular interest in because of ConText; present were representatives from three(?) conventions who are interested in using ProgDB, and one of the fan guests of honour, Martin Easterbrook, who is working on a similar system called Convention Planner that was developed for a recent Worldcon. Afterwards I went to Nicholas Jackson's talk on insolvable problems in mathematics; the room was packed, and what I understood of the talk was quite interesting, but sadly most of the actual mathematics went over my head.
At 6PM was the first of the two Beyond Cyberdrome Titanics events, which attracted a reasonably sized audience and more participants than I had expected. One participant got into the spirit of the joke and announced a major sponsorship deal. The winning discus-throwing robot was a remarkably life-like android (less gullible and easily-bribed judges might have thought that it was Pog wearing a tinfoil-covered helmet).
The masquerade and cabaret went well. There were several great entries in the masquerade. The highlight of the cabaret was a morris dance organised by watervole (see her write-up for more). The lowlights were a not-very-funny sketch that went on for what felt like ten minutes, and an adult stand-up comedy routine involving religion and dick jokes delivered to a rather stunned audience that included many parents with kids.
I honestly can't remember what I did on Saturday evening after the cabaret. I must have done something because I didn't get back to my hotel until midnight, but it wasn't any of the items on the programme.
On Sunday morning I built a pair of chariots in the final Beyond Cyberdrome workshop in the hope that people would adapt their sprinting robots to tow the chariots in the chariot race (nobody did). I ducked out at 11 to go to the bid session and arrived to a completely packed room. The bids went well; I particularly enjoyed EightSquared's slide about the 19th century German travel writer who wrote about Bradford being the worst dump in all England, rife with crime and brothels. Later on I went to Cory and Charlie's talk on their collaborative process when writing The Rapture of the Nerds; much interesting discussion on the differences between their working methods. After that was Martin Easterbrook and Margaret Austin's GoH interview; I didn't know them before Olympus but I think they both did an excellent job as guests and it was great to hear their stories from the conventions they were involved in before I discovered fandom.
At 6PM was the second of the Titanics events, which again went well apart from one major glitch (somebody who built a robot at the first workshop turned up to find that it had been accidentally broken up for parts to build somebody else's entry). Eira and SMS did a great job as always presenting the event. The item before us finished at 6:10 (20 minutes after it was supposed to finish), so by the time we'd got all our stuff into the room and some of the chairs moved out of the way, we didn't have as much time as we'd expected for the event. I think we finished putting the room back in order at 7:02, just as the audience for the next item was arriving.
At 8PM was another of Ian Sorenson's hilarious bad-pun-filled musical comedy plays. Oliver! (With a Twist) - A DickensIan Tale is the story of a young fan working at a fictional Eastercon that bears a remarkable resemblance to the world of Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist. She is abandoned at a young age in the creche, works stuffing con packs in Ops, escapes to the Gopher Hole, overhears a dastardly plan to hold the next London Worldcon in Wandsworth Prison, narrowly escapes being drawn into a Filk session, talks with drunk fan-fund delegates in the fan lounge, and finds out who her real parents are (the Twist). One of the jokes involved flooding the main hall for Row Boat Wars.
Later on was the traditional Blake's 7 Wobblevision, directed by steverogerson. We have run out of real episodes to Wobble (apart from a few radio plays) so we did a Fanfic written by Josh. It was set before the first episode and told the story of a raid on the galactic central bank. I was lucky enough to be cast in the lead role of Bayban the Butcher. I borrowed a studded leather jacket from Eira for my costume. Unusually we had twice as many cast as main characters (several of whom had never Wobbled before), so quite a few people played bank guards. Everyone had a brilliant time and I can't wait to see the results.
Last thing on Sunday I got drawn into taking part in the disco. I don't normally 'do' discos, but I popped in to watch the Bohemian Rhapsody (the one where several rows of people sit on chairs and keep jumping up and pointing at the row behind them). After that had finished, a couple of friends dragged me up to do a dance that involved linking hands and running around in two contra-rotating concentric circles while somebody sat on a chair in the centre (what was that all about?). I stayed on for several more dances including what I think the DJ said was a Madison (though the description on that page doesn't match what we did). I got to bed at about 2AM.
First thing on Monday morning I went to a fascinating talk in the main hall by a NASA scientist about his work on their Mars rover program.
Afterwards I went to Judith's last morris dancing workshop and had great fun learning a Yorkshire Longsword dance. This needs sides of six people, so it was lucky that exactly a dozen participants turned up. The dance has a lot of figures that involve moving in a circle while you hold the sword of the person in front of you and the person behind you holds your sword (ooh-err). When we first started out, both sides struggled until Judith sorted us into a 'tall people' side and a 'not quite as tall' side! The final figure causes the six swords to be woven into a star; a shape I was very familiar with.
The panel called the Imaginary Gripe Session went a bit off-topic but was good fun anyway. The data deluge and the end of science was another item that was too big for the room it was in. There was some interesting discussion but it felt a bit directionless to me. Training horses for film work was a talk that I went to on the spur of the moment and found unexpectedly entertaining and informative. In the closing ceremony I was pleased to be thanked along with sugoll for our efforts to make it easier to plan and publish a large programme.
I went to one final programme item before the dead dog party: Whatever happened to the 80s? which was a somewhat poorly attended but fascinating discussion about the history of British SF cons in the 1980s - how waves of new con-runners came in from outside the traditional fanzine-based SF community and caused a stir both by running their own specialised cons and by bidding for and (shock!) winning the right to run Eastercons.
The dead dog party was surprisingly quiet for such a large convention; there were supposedly about 300 people staying in the main hotel but it didn't feel like there was anywhere near that many still around at the party.
Olympus was notable not just for its size but because there was more stuff going on online in parallel to the real con than at previous Eastercons - in particular the discussion on the Twitter feed, and the streaming of video from items in the main hall. I don't have a smartphone (given the way I treat them, after I killed the touchscreen on my last smartphone I thought it was a better plan to get a ruggedised phone instead). As a result I felt at times like I was missing out on a part of the convention experience, as people around me spent half their time tapping away at their phones and tablets and talking about what so-and-so had just Tweeted about the BSFA Awards or the Gender Parity issue. I wonder whether I would be better off getting a suitable mobile Internet device and joining the Twitter crowd, or going the other route of shaking my cane at those damn kids (many of whom are older than me!) who would rather play with their phone than talk to the real people around them.
On the long drive home I listened repeatedly to the CD I bought from the ceilidh band, Welcome Here Again. It's a brilliant collection of happy upbeat songs and really helped me to stave off the Post-Con Blues.