What's an SF convention really like? My favourites are the small, eccentric, untypical events. Last year saw Cytricon in Kettering, with much wallowing in arcane nostalgia on the 50th anniversary of the last UK Eastercon held in that same town and hotel. No, I didn't attend in 1958, but both Cytricon guests of honour did. That event was... strange. But fun.
The same goes for my favourite so far this year, Plokta.con 4.0. This was masterminded by the dread UK cabal behind the fanzine Plokta ("Press Lots Of Keys To Abort"), a regular Hugo nominee which – thanks no doubt to the editors' famous Orbital Mind Control Lasers – bagged the award in 2005 and 2006. They marked their first win by Photoshopping the Hugo rocket into an old Missile Command screenshot to form part of a spoof videogames-magazine cover. As one does.
Plokta.con happened in Sunningdale Park, which to the terror of many was once the Civil Service College but has been rehabilitated. It reminded me vaguely of Portmeirion and The Prisoner: Mini-Mokes (or modern equivalent) offering thirty-second rides between buildings to save you a tiring thirty-second walk, rhododendrons everywhere, a giant lawn chess set, and random outdoor weirdness like antique agricultural machinery or an old-style red phone box containing a table with a dinner-place setting for one.
However, Sunningdale Park is not obsessed with moose. That's one of Plokta's mysterious foibles, explaining the Moose On Road warning triangle (probably nicked from Canada) and the giant black pirate flag with a Moose and Crossbones design that might conceivably relate to International Talk Like a Moose Day. ("Aaaaaarrrrrrrrrrr!")
The honoured guests were Diana Wynne Jones of Howl's Moving Castle fame, who was ill and sadly couldn't make it, and Paul Cornell of Doctor Who script fame, who terrified slower performers by improvising his speech on the spot. The Cabal wheedled new stories from both of them for the souvenir book, cunningly disguised as the fortieth issue of Plokta. This may already be a collector's item.
What actually happened at Plokta.con? There was a regrettable amount of drinking despite eye-watering bar prices. (One of the bar staff reads this column. Excuse me while I wave to him.) Science fiction was discussed. Fans wandered the Sunningdale Park grounds looking for clues in the manifestly incomprehensible treasure hunt: I was frightened off this by the starter clue in Cyrillic script. In a side room a dedicated party of paper engineers was constructing the official model of Howl's Moving Castle as imagined by Studio Ghibli. I missed the controversial panel on Web 2.0, where someone who felt Twitter was the one true way (since you don't have to interact, just broadcast your important opinions to the masses) stormed out when others dared to interact with different and clearly less important opinions.
Oh yes, and there was the musical. Perhaps I'd better not try to describe the musical. Well, if you insist... The evil genius Ian Sorensen has been producing spoof rock operas at SF conventions for many years. As a joint tribute to Diana Wynne Jones and Paul Cornell he came up with the starkly inevitable title Harry Plokta and the Half-Cut Prince. If J K Rowling's solicitors are reading this, could they please stop now?
The included Doctor Who homage, besides some Slytherin/Slitheen confusion, was extremely practical. Since there was a clear shortage of male fans who could actually sing, the original Harry Plokta was quickly killed off (by Draco Malfoy. With a light-sabre. In the conservatory. Don't ask) and equally quickly regenerated as female and tuneful. Later, an important plot point required Hogwarts school to have been secretly dismantled and, with the help of those famous messenger birds, moved stone by stone to a new location. Harry/Harriet: "It's not possible!" Dumbledore: "Surely you've heard of owls moving castle?"
Other parts of the production were less sensible. I was tickled by one of Snape Sorensen's deadly incantations: "Ansible!" A Cabal mother fretted that someone would tell her daughter the significance of Hermione's pink vibrator "wand", and was horrified to find her daughter didn't need to be told. The final ensemble piece involved many pelvic thrusts from the whole cast – including a gaggle of Scream-masked Dementors – to the somehow vaguely familiar song "Let's do the Tomb-Walk again..."
Not all SF conventions are like Plokta.con. For a start, there are usually fewer moose.
David Langford lists UK events at links.ansible.co.uk.