Tribal Rites

I've been doing it since 1974, you know, despite medical evidence that it makes you go blind – or at least causes terminal anorexia of the wallet. It's one of the arcane rituals of binding in the UK fan world; if you've read Jorge Luis Borges's "The Sect of the Phoenix" you'll suspect it of being a sordid euphemism. Yes, I went to Eastercon.

This year's was in a Birmingham (ie Solihull) National Exhibition Centre hotel, surrounded by stark NEC building-block architecture to represent the Future, bluebell-infested woods to symbolize Fantasy, and swarms of horrible black mating flies from the nearby lake as a reminder of what happens in convention bedrooms.

What's Eastercon, apart from Britain's national SF convention? The gathering of the SF tribes, Brian Aldiss once put it, meaning that you meet all sorts of riffraff. Young fans drool over the guests of honour, this year including David Weber of Honor Harrington fame (see my SFX #104 column "Hornblower in Space") and Peter F "Tree-Slayer" Hamilton of enormous great fat trilogy fame. Boozy fans flock to the real ale bar, also featuring real cider with that toxic hue known to pathologists as "Mrs Blenkinsop's Specimen". Greying old fans appear on panels titled "Is Fandom Getting Old and Grey?" and bang on about this troubling question until another of them drops dead.

A newer tradition is that the tribes unite for the one and only programme item that's so sacred that nothing else can be scheduled against it, the Saturday evening showing of Doctor Who. Sometimes the Chair of the convention is rebranded as the Sofa and sits at the front so the entire audience can hide behind this iconic piece of furniture.

Alas, I'm not much of a programme-goer: the official pose is that I've heard it all before, which is a fib because my hearing was always terrible. Now it's even worse and I've given up pretending to follow those damned panels where writers persuasively argue that the most significant cultural aspect of steampunk (or zombies, vampires, space opera, slipstream, New Weird) is that you should buy their latest book. Instead, the dealers' room is a great place for chat as well as acquiring sf treasures you really really can't afford.

Eastercon's art show brought me serious payola, with that splendidly Gothic fantasy artist Anne Sudworth slipping me a copy of her artbook Gothic Fantasies, perhaps hoping I'd mention her marvellously lit landscapes here. But I am incorruptible. David A Hardy, the artist guest of honour, does fine space and SF pictures (including one Langford book cover) but failed to offer any interesting bribes and doesn't get a namecheck.

Nor can I describe the lavish secret parties, because the Hotel Police are still trying to track down the hosts and charge them 500% corkage. Further attractions included book launches (I'm too modest to plug Ian Whates's Arthur C. Clarke-homage anthology Fables from the Fountain, which I'm in), multi-author signing sessions (I was part of the one to which no one at all came; the Guinness Book of Records is aghast), the BSFA Awards (Ian McDonald's The Dervish House won as best novel), a voting session to choose who runs the 2013 Eastercon and where (decision embarrassedly deferred to next year since there were absolutely no volunteers), and – for the non-photogenic – the uplifting opportunity to be photographed with your head inside a replica satellite. SF fans, keen-eyed peerers into the future, will not be fobbed off with paper bags.

Scandalous conversations were plentiful, and I'd reveal countless tasty titbits if it weren't for the superinjunctions. Like caviar or root canal therapy, Eastercon is an unforgettable experience.

David Langford has madly registered for next year's event at Heathrow (