Mancunicon 2016 – A Survivor’s Overview

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“I survived Eastercon” – I’m going to start printing t-shirts to this effect. Not because it’s a war of attrition, but the thing is, there’s so much to do – especially as part of the SFFN team! Not that we’re complaining, you understand. Idle hands and all that, and being right in the thick of the action here is a large part of what makes it so interesting.

This year, the setting was the “giant Lego block”, also known as the Hilton Deansgate in Manchester. With book launches taking place on the lofty heights of the 22nd floor, this made for some interesting excursions between floors. Perhaps there should also be a shirt with the words, “I survived the Mancunicon elevator”.

Jokes aside, every con has its niggly bits, especially when you are organising a thousand people! The most important thing to remember is that the organising committee is comprised of volunteers, people like you and me, with a passion for SF and fandom. Things can go wrong, and yes, it is fair to point them out so mistakes aren’t repeated ad infinitum, but ultimately you need to keep it all in perspective – if you’ve never managed that amount of people converging from all continents, then you need to be understanding and make the best of the situation.

As some of you know, the bee is the symbol of Manchester, which means that all our badges were emblazoned with the striped insect. That raised a lot of curious comments from the non-con guests of the hotel, who were under the impression we were all beekeepers. Then again, there was mead and honey brew floating around, so they weren’t wholly wrong either.

The programme was vast, with up to five concurrent streams at most times; of the 1,000 guests, 300 people were involved in these, including the SFFN. This is one of the strengths of Eastercon: the variety and quality of panels, talks and workshops. It’s also an opportunity to meet your favourite authors, pick their brains and steal an autograph too. For this crowd, authors are the stars – it’s the comic con of the printed word. The art show and the dealers’ rooms were packed with the latest from the creative world – oh! And crowd-beloved Genki Gear celebrated their tenth anniversary, along the way providing official UK convention t-shirts.

Although books and publishing take up most of the programming, fandom isn’t left unattended. Eastercon is run by the fans for the fans, and whoever the organising group is for a particular year, they make sure the programme keeps everyone in the loop. The evening events are varied, entertaining and sometimes outright mad! This year we were treated, among other things, to a mass-screening of Flash Gordon with pizza delivered to the attendees as they entered the hall; there was also improvised comedy, LARP sessions, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show Singalong (peppered with outrageous heckling which would have embarrassed Tim Curry – or not: I don’t actually think you can embarrass Dr. Frank-N-Furter).

Perhaps the most impressive evening performance was offered by writer Tajinder Singh Hayer and his stage performers, with the play, “North Country”. It was a Game of Thrones meets The Walking Dead in Bradford experience, but catchphrases aside, the story was far from being a parody: instead it was deep, atmospheric, punchy and very well acted. If your world was destroyed, what would you do next? As I sat there in the darkness, I put myself in their shoes, helped by the honest performances of the three young actors. The chairs were arranged in a large circle, with the players at the centre of the room, scripts in their hands, illuminated by small torches, the only light allowed in the room.

On Saturday afternoon, the BSFA awards winners were announced, with the following results:

Best Art Work: Jim Burns, Pelquin’s Comet.

Best Non-Fiction: Adam Roberts, Rave and Let Die: the SF and Fantasy of 2014.

Best Short Story: Aliette de Bodard, “Thirty Cups of Grief, by Starlight”

Best Novel: Aliette de Bodard, House of Shattered Wings.

The team is back in Scotland, knackered but delighted (and possibly still inebriated) on the other side of a whirlwind of literary delights and friendly catch-ups over the last four days. Watch out for the Mancunicon interviews and specials coming up in the next few weeks. If you have never been to Eastercon, I recommend you slot it into your calendar. Next year’s venue will be Birmingham and we will bring you all the details as they are released.