Reconvene: Eastercon '99

[Programme Book]

The 50th British Easter Science Fiction Convention
2--5 April 1999, Adelphi Hotel, Liverpool

GoHs: Peter S. Beagle , Jeff Noon, John Clute , Tom Holt, (artist) Ron Tiner.

The artwork on this year's Programme Book's cover is much improved over the previous two Eastercons. But that improvement is counteracted by the low quality of the printing inside it, where the height of each line wanders all over the place.

The format was changed slightly from usual, and I think it worked. Rather than timetabling the one-hour item every hour, they were timetabled every 90 minutes, allowing items a full hour, and to overrun slightly if needed (they rarely did), and giving a more relaxed transit between parallel items. (I also found it easier to eat at sensible times.) When I first saw the programme listing, I was concerned that it seemed a little sparse, but in the end, I went to as many good items as usual. Although the quantity was down, the quality was up: mostly new items, with fewer repeat items, and better-focussed panels. (However, maybe not enough use was made of non-GoH attending authors, possibly to their own relief.)

Of a particularly impenetrable piece of technobabble:
This book was not written in English. Although it did use only English words.

There was a good strong filk programme. (I don't sing myself, because I can't carry a tune in a bucket. I also discovered, whilst trying to clap along to one of the songs, that I can't carry a rhythm in any sort of vessel, either. But I do enjoy listening.) Phoenix did their usual set-piece, and there was a lot of time given to more informal concerts. A new generation of 70s based-filk was noticeable, mainly Abba: "Gimme Gimme Gimme (a Ranger at Midnight)" a B5 filk (where the next line -- "Won't somebody help me chase these Shadows away?" -- requires only a change in capitalisation!), and "Ring, Ring", a LotR filk. Some songs will never be the same again: "Walk on the Wild Side" metamorphosed into "Another Trek Movie", and "I'm Going to Barbados" become "We're off to Fight the Klingons" (where 'Klingons' was imaginatively rhymed with 'villains', or 'villons', and the subsequent groan from the audience formed the next line of the song!) There were some good serious songs too, mainly about spaceflight -- Jordin Kare seems to be inventing a history and culture for a profession that doesn't even exist yet!

Of a filker's four guitars:
And he laughs at me for having too many harps !

Once again, I tried to buy David Hardy's brilliant Neighbours at the Art Auction; once again I was rapidly outbid.

Programme highlights

Yoda : My dog has no nose. B : So how does he smell? Yoda : The force he uses.

Yoda : Why no aspirin in the jungle there are? B : I don't know. Why are there no aspirin in the jungle? Yoda : Because the parrots all them eat.

-- William Shatner Sisters revue

Panel -- The Campaign for Real Fantasy

Authors don't always get it right. The panel points up some glaring mistakes.

Panel -- The Weapon Shoppers' Guide

War in the new millennium.

Panel -- Secret Histories of the 20th Century

Being a Committee of Enquiry into Certain Events

A cross between a panel and a play, as the participants pretended to be at the end-of-century committee meeting investigating the SF of the 20th century -- which is in fact all true. History is just what we are allowed to know by the BSFA.

Jordin Kare -- Actually, I Am a Rocket Scientist

Weird and non-traditional propulsion methods

Julian Headlong -- And Here's One I Prepared Earlier

A Headlong dive into the past

Retrospectives, introductions and highlights from previous convention talks.

John Clute -- GoH speech

Criticism and fantasy in relation to the film Groundhog Day

Panel -- Second Endings

With one bound he was free? How the panel would have continued the story differently.

The moderator read out a short synopsis of a plot up to a key point, then asked the panel to finish it off. I think this would have been a lot better if the panelists were instead encouraged to write their story on the fly (maybe a few sentences each around the table) rather than getting into deep serious psychological plotting of motivations. As it was, it went too slowly, and only two plots were discussed.

[I don't know whether to be more embarrassed that I didn't recognise the Poul Anderson story from the synopsis, or that I did recognise the DS9 one!]



Peter Beagle -- GoH interview

Jack Cohen -- The Science of Discworld, the Magic of Roundworld

(There were some new slides!)

"I've only got 10 years left!" -- [But that's what he said at Evolution , 3 years ago!]

[I think a careful distinction needs to be made about kinds of explanation: there is explaining what a thing does, which is a kind of magic -- "the light switch turns on the light" -- and explaining how it does it, at a certain level of detail, which can require a degree of understanding (if the explanation is correct, of course). This seems to link in with Dennett 's use of " the intentional stance " -- explaining what things do as if they were agents with beliefs, desires and goals -- "the thermostat wants to keep the room at constant temperature".

And here I suspect might be the difference between magic and science. Magic must be repeatable : if you cast the same spell, it must have the same effect: if you push the same button, it should do the same thing. Science must also allow prediction in different circumstances: if you do something a bit different, you must be able to work out what will happen. And that's why computers are magic. You have very little confidence that you know what will happen if you push a button under new circumstances, or push a different button.]

David B. Wake -- Captain Tartan Saves the World -- Again!

The Mysterons are back after a 20 year hiatus, and the discredited "plain clothes" division of Spectrum makes way for the "patterned division", and Captain Tartan, the only puppet left in Cloudbase after the Blue Fairy made the rest human. An hilarious 90 minute play, with wonderfully imaginative "special effect" (like Colonel Mustard's rotating polystyrene desk), knee deep in TV SFnal references, including:

I loved the way the jokes were nested and carefully set up. For example, as well as the careful Cyrano de Bergerac set up, there was a lovely "rock-scissors-paper" gag, where both the moon rock (seaside rock with MOON all the way through) and the giant scissors had already been used in earlier gags of their own.

And then there were the chats between the Mysteron circles in high squeaky voices, before they remembered to use "the scary voice" to talk to the humans. And then...

I guess you had to be there.

Panel -- Careering into Space

How to design your academic career for a job in space

Panel -- Latex Abuse in Babylon 5

Jack Cohen , Morag Kerr, Jane Killick and Kathy Taylor discuss the aliens' physiology