Fantasy fair is so unconventional

17 October 08 / David Barnett, Assistant Editor (Content) /

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It would be foolish, old-fashioned and probably mysogynistic to suggest that science fiction and fantasy is purely the preserve of blokes.

Some of the finest of the modern purveyors of speculative fiction are women – Bradford’s Steph Swainston, Justina Robson from Leeds, Tricia Sullivan, Liz Williams, Storm Constantine… heck, even the novel that it could be argued started the whole science fiction genre, Frankenstein, was written by Mary Shelley, who was quite resolutely female.

But it could also be argued that the public perception of the genre’s fans tends to err on the side of the male of the species.

Less enlightened souls might have a mental image of a friendless geek who smells of milk, but then those same people would probably not balk at going to the cinema to watch a blockbuster movie about invading aliens or giant robots that turn into cars.

All of which is a lengthy apology for putting this feature on the upcoming Eastercon into what is ostensibly a section of the newspaper aimed at men. The convention and the genre it champions has a much wider remit but if, like me, you’re one of those blokes who has an attic full of Marvel comics, a cupboard full of Isaac Asimov books and a sneaky habit of watching Saturday morning cartoons full of rockets and aliens – all to the disdain of your other half – then this feature is for you.

Eastercon is, as its name suggests, always held over Easter weekend, which falls in 2009 on April 10 to 13. The convention travels around the country; next year Bradford is the venue, with the action centred on the Cedar Court Hotel, up near the M606 motorway.

If you’re thinking of blokes in anoraks and people dressed as Stormtroopers from Star Wars, then forget it. There may well be some of that, of course, but Eastercon in Bradford next year is more about celebrating the genres of science fiction, fantasy and horror in all its media, be that books, movies, comics, games or whatever.

The guest list is to die for. Guests of honour include Jon Courtenay Grimwood, possibly the coolest man in the business at the moment – witness his shaved head, ever-present shades and string of literary SF novels.

There’s also David Lloyd, the comic book artist who was responsible for the art on V For Vendetta, recently a blockbuster movie starring Natalie Portman. Tim Powers is an American fantasy author making a rare visit to these shores.

Also signed up are Robert Rankin, who has written a series of comic fantasy novels set in the contemporary world, the aforementioned Liz Williams, whose Snake Agent novels are getting critical acclaim at the moment, and Chaz Brenchley, the Newcastle-based author who is possibly one of the nicest men you could hope to meet.

A big draw is likely to be Ramsey Campbell, the British horror writer who in recent years curated the Fantastic Films Weekend at the National Media Museum in Bradford, and whose “comeback” novel The Grin Of The Dark earned him major plaudits.

Flying in from Canada is Cory Doctorow, the internet prodigy whose Boing Boing website keeps a close eye on popular culture, and who has just had published a novel for young adults, Little Brother, which is a rallying call to teenagers not to be sucked into complacency by our increasingly-surveilled world in the wake of the war on terror.

It might still be six months away, but the organisers of Eastercon – celebrating 60 years next year, and thus given the subtitle ‘LX’ – have just released their latest progress report, which seems an opportune time to update Bradfordians on what exactly will be happening next April.

Co-chairman James Bacon writes in his report: “LX is a literary science fiction convention, so discussion, debate, consideration and reflection upon the genre is part of the course. We hope to provide engaging topics for discussion from some of the ideas germinated by the works of our guests.

“We understand that science fiction conventions work with a broad canvas, so fantasy and horror will also contribute. All speculative fiction is of interest as are the hard facts of current and past science.

“We will have a games room, a fan and fun programme, a stream about motion pictures and television, a music stream, a parent-child stream especially for the younger attendee, but designed to be entertaining for adults as well, and all our streams will have panels or discussions.

“Eastercon is about expanding the mind; listening and talking about SF literature, expanding on and engaging in discussion on what you know and don’t know, what you enjoy and things that are new to you. It’s a place to meet like-minded people and come away rich in experience and friends.”

All of which sounds better than the usual Easter weekend of scoffing too much chocolate, sitting through lunch with the in-laws, and watching the Great Escape yet again.

To attend the convention you have to sign up. It costs £50 for an adult attending the whole weekend, £20 for under 17s, £30 for unwaged/concessions. Children under 12 get in for a fiver, young adults (under 25) for £30 and the under fives free. For information about registering as an attendee, log on to lx2009.org.uk. Because the Cedar Court is out of town, the organisers have put on a free bus service, which will run on a continuous loop between the Cedar Court and three other hotels – the Hilton, the Midland and the Campanile.

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