Imagine a terrifying future in which our beloved government announces that for excellent security reasons, the Christmas holiday has been cancelled. This was how many British SF fans felt in late 2006 when the bad news broke: "Convoy", the 2007 Easter SF Convention, had been called off. What on earth can a fan do on that dull bank holiday weekend without Eastercon? Read books?
Admittedly the UK Easter tradition isn't quite as old as Christmas, but it goes back many years. The world's first ever SF convention (meaning a pre-organised event on public premises, rather than just a fannish house party) happened in Leeds in January 1937 and attracted twenty-odd eager fans. One young would-be writer there was Arthur C Clarke, and the committee secretary read out inspirational messages sent by Olaf Stapledon and H G Wells. Perhaps the most macabre aspect of 1937, for those of us usually found in the convention bar, is that it wasn't held in a boozy hotel but in the dry, dry Leeds Theosophical Hall.
Even so, everyone wanted to do it again. London conventions followed in 1938 and 1939. Despite a small distraction called World War II, there was a 1943 Easter convention. Our national Eastercon (though admittedly a few early ones were Whitsuncons) has been an annual event since 1951.
The first recorded guest of honour, in 1944, was Professor A M Low, a pop-science author who in 1937 wrote that ripping yarn Adrift in the Stratosphere. Spaceships in those days came with proper instruction manuals: "Death Rays ... How to deal with them. It is likely that the Martians, an older and probably more sinister people than the Earth race, will attempt ... destroy the ship by rays sent out through millions of miles of space." That's Martians for you.
Hordes of other notables have been Eastercon guests over the years, from the literary heights of Brian Aldiss and Kingsley Amis to the literary depths of me. Lovers of SF history, if there are any left in this naughty world, can find the star-studded list and much other information (though not quite up to date) at www.eastercon.org.
What happened to the 2007 event, which would have marked the seventieth anniversary of that first convention? At first no one seemed able to face organising an Eastercon for 2007. Perhaps too many con-runners were burnt out by the 2005 Worldcon in Glasgow. Late in the day, though, a team of fans put in a bid to hold the convention in Liverpool, whose Adelphi Hotel had already housed five Eastercons. "Convoy" – strange names with Con in them are another tradition – got the nod at Easter 2006.
Unfortunately the Adelphi is the hotel that all too many fans love to hate. It looks wonderful, with that famous huge lounge decorated to match the Titanic, but has a tendency to bump into the dread iceberg of security problems. Old-fashioned design makes it hard to exclude the local lowlife, and a few thefts spawned a lot of bad publicity. Some Eastercon regulars decided to stay away in 2007; others nervously booked alternative Liverpool hotels.
To cut a depressing story short, Convoy didn't get enough paid-up members or room bookings to make it viable, and the cancellation was announced on 31 October 2006. Membership refunds followed. The dance band played and the committee stood rigidly to attention on the bridge as the unsinkable Eastercon went down ...
This disaster had no precedent, though past organisers sometimes needed a little fast footwork. Eastercon 1975 was called Seacon because the intended site was Brighton; for tortuous reasons it ended up in Coventry. "Er, South East Area convention?" mumbled the Seacon committee unconvincingly. But handily vacant hotels are harder to find nowadays, and despite frantic searching Convoy couldn't trace an affordable Eastercon-sized alternative.
All the same, tradition-lovers are determined to hold some kind of SF event over Easter 2007 – a smaller "Eastercon Lite" with less formal programme and more improvisation than usual. Maybe a few of Convoy's guests of honour can be retrieved from the lifeboats. As I write, with Christmas looming, the alternative convention name is Contemplation (I suggested Constipation, but in vain) and the master plan is to hold it ... somewhere. To be announced. Real soon now.
They need all the help they can get; see the Contemplation link at www.eastercon.org for further information. Can this rescue flotilla save British fandom from the iceberg of entropy? Stay tuned.
David Langford has a stop-press announcement that Eastercon 2007 will be held in Chester.
[As I'd hoped, the venue news arrived very soon after I'd delivered the column – there was just time to beg my kindly editor to substitute the above for the placeholder tagline, David Langford needs Eastercon to hone his bar-propping-up skills.]