Where Were You During The Eastercon, Daddy?

When I heard of the Master Frost Plan to fill this fanzine with eulogies of all those wonderful people who run conventions, I thought of certain fascinating conversations with my old buddy Martin Hoare. If there is a true conventional wisdom, a group mind of dedicated con-runners, surely it must emerge through the late-night utterances of Martin. In beer veritas. Or maybe not, since Martin's views when very, very pissed (which is also when he particularly affects to speak for all "con-running fans") can be a mite idiosyncratic.

Martin: "Ah, you should have come to Contrivance. It was an incredible success. Everybody loved it."

DL: "Yes, I haven't heard any bad reports."

MH: "Tim Illingworth has been going round for weeks floating in the air saying, 'A thousand members, not bad for a small out-of-the-way event that no one could afford to get to, eh?'"

DL: "Point taken. Though maybe a few people couldn't afford it...."

MH: "Don't give me that." Burst of statistics indicating that by travelling steerage and staying in a B&B one could easily have attended Contrivance and had a sun-drenched Jersey holiday for tuppence, as opposed to the sums clocked up by effete high-livers like the Oborns (£700) or Rog Peyton (£1,000).

If Eastercon voters want a slightly more exotic and expensive con from time to time, then the best of democratic luck to them. I only grow uneasy when people point the finger at non-attendees. Martin points the finger.

MH: "Strange how many of the fanzine fan axis didn't bother to turn up, eh? They were hoping we'd be a big flop."

DL: "Oh, really? Who was hoping that?"

MH: "Well, Pickersgill ... all the Leeds fans ... the Mexicon people ... the BSFA mob ... even the Harveys buggered off to Australia. You're on the list, too, Dave."

Oh God, he has a little list. I exploded a bit at this point, having spent a long afternoon writing an article for the Contrivance programme book, and delivered a rude lecture on how not every fan's decision about attendance was handed down from above by the Illuminati. (My own non-political reasons for skipping Contrivance were reiterated at this point, but are on reflection none of anyone's bloody business, least of all the Eastercon Thought Police.)

Then we got on to the BSFA, against which Martin conveyed that there was now a popular uprising owing to this vile organization's particularly brutal stroke of attempted convention sabotage. They had withdrawn from Contrivance those central highlights of every Eastercon programme since the dawn of time, those two standing-room-only events ... the BSFA AGM and the awards presentation.

Actually there were serious doubts about whether the AGM could legally be held as an offshore enterprise. The awards affair was a major internal cock-up which certainly shouldn't have happened; I've done a good deal of committee bottom-kicking on my own account there, since if nothing else, as a past winner of the BSFA Award I'd be sorry to see it fade into obscurity, especially on such terms as these:

MH: "Contrivance has set the precedent now. In future, all Eastercons will give their own awards – we've finally got rid of the last vestigial links with the BSFA. If Paul fucking Kincaid wants to hand out awards he can run his own convention."

Terry Pratchett, winning one of the ad-hoc Contrivance awards, was rather amused by the faint stress on how this was for entertainment value, not for any sodding literary worth as supposedly aspired to by that horrid Other Award. Meanwhile, it didn't help that the delayed BSFA presentation was scheduled – late in the day, and apparently to the surprise of the committee – for Mexicon. Mexicon is one of the Hoare bugbears.

Many of these bugbears are so because of the reasoning defined by Kingsley Amis, in Jake's Thing, as "the inverted pyramid of piss, a great parcel of attitudes, rules and catch-words resting on one tiny (if you looked long and hard enough) point."

Thus the BSFA is bad a little bit on account of the above-mentioned follies, but largely because two of its perceived leaders happen to have been vociferous opponents of the "expensive" Contrivance bid. Although these views have very properly not been foisted on the membership, and the BSFA's Matrix ran regular publicity for Contrivance during the two-year run-up, the thousand or so actual BSFA members are classed by Martin as part of the "anti" conspiracy.

MH: "Don't talk to me about the innocent members. When they picked the BSFA committee they voted for elitists and tossers like Kincaid and Maureen Porter, didn't they?"

Leeds fans are bad because "they" ran these very dreadful conventions called Yorcons. Yorcons are mostly bad because of Yorcon II, which was admittedly short on programme and had some lousy ideas (I still wince at memories of trying to give a talk in a fan room which was also a busy bar), but whose principal crime was of course making a profit and using it to found Interzone.

MH: "The Yorcons were the worst conventions I've ever attended. I still refuse to subscribe to Internoze because I think its funding is tainted."

Mexicon is bad because – the old, old story – it is elitist in its focus on written SF (although a convention concentrating on soft toys or filk-singing is, conversely, a manifestation of exciting diversity), not to mention being an obvious attempt to sabotage the Eastercon by providing a rival attraction (again, curiously, not a charge made about any other "special interest" convention). Principally, I suspect, Mexicon is bad because of Greg Pickersgill, whose proximity naturally damns anything. When Ian Sorensen made a reputedly lousy presentation for the 1991 Eastercon bid, at Contrivance, it seems that besides announcing controversial room rates, the most disastrous thing he did was to speak of a "Mexicon-style programme".

MH: "So now Mexicon's stolen the BSFA awards ..."

Finally, anyone who didn't get to Contrivance but has ever appeared in or been associated with a fanzine is also part of the conspiracy to knock good convention-runners. Mere poverty is no excuse, and for the purposes of this paragraph Mexicon counts as a fanzine. (On the other hand, Conrunner is not a fanzine but an honorary convention.)

MH, for the severalth time: "You're on the list too, Dave."

I now whip off the mask of habitual mockery and suggest that if attitudes like these are indeed floating covertly around (I never know how typical Martin's views might be, especially towards closing time), some slightly more open discussion could be a good thing. After all these years, I still bridle a little when in the course of pub conversation it seems that "fanzine fan" is being used as a term of obloquy. I don't spit out the words "convention fan" with any corresponding venom, largely because I go to and quite often enjoy conventions.

Perhaps next time I'll see it on the programme. "Was It Immoral Not To Attend Contrivance? Martin Hoare versus Paul Kincaid and Greg Pickersgill in Public Debate...."