A Swancon Trip Report
ThursdayI'm planning to catch the train to and from Swancon this year. The slight spanner in the works is that the Powers That Be have taken my railway station, and haven't give it back. They cut the whole thing off at ground level, and they're planning to replace it with a new one, with a pedestrian underpass for access to the platform instead of the old overpass. But this is taking some considerable time, and I thus have to use the next railway station up- or down-stream. My nearest railway station (the provisionally non-existant one) is easy walking distance, but its neighbours are driving distance. While I'm looking up timetables and stuff, Rohan, who is the Programming Committee this time around, calls me up and asks if I'd like to go in and help some guy called Matthew lug a bunch of AV gear around. I agree.
I drive upstream one station, and catch the train into the city.
This year the convention is in the Rydges hotel, right in the city centre. The hotel is a former office tower, converted. The exterior of the office building was ugly late 70's architecture, but they've cunningly slapped a new facade on the ground floor, and a new balcony on the first floor, which conceals the building's origins quite well.
There seems to be a surfeit of volunteers, so I spend some time sitting around doing nothing; but Pete (the Gaming Committee) shows up looking for people to help carry stuff up from his car, so I get to do a bit of work. There are two people on the committee that I don't recognise -- evidently the four years I've been away has been long enough for new fans to join the community and proceed as far as con committees. Registration opens late, and then it's the opening ceremony.
Choosing a hotel is always a trade-off, and the trade-off at the Rydges is the shape of the main convention room. The room is titled "West End" (even though it's on the North side of the hotel), and it's incredibly long and skinny, only ten-chairs-plus-aisle wide. It's fine when it's broken down into two smaller rooms, using partitions; but in its large form, the people up the back are a really long way from the stage, and from the sound. Several fans make jokes about the similarity with the passenger cabin of an aeroplane.
The opening ceremony has a multimedia bit, made by cleverly splicing together trailer material from the forthcoming Lord Of The Rings movie, some footage of the con committee, and some homegrown CGI titles. (The footage from the movie trailer looks really good; although the vowels on the inscription in the ring looked a bit funny, and in any case the inscription should have been written in Cirth, not Tengwar.)
The balcony turns out to be a good spot to socialise. The con name badges are a bit problematic: they're on a loop of string designed to be hung around your neck (although some enterprising fans are, of course, finding other places to hang them), and they're single-sided. So 50% of the time, your name badge is flipped backwards, and nobody knows who you are.
I go to a panel, attempt to go to another panel which is displaced by a book launch that has overrun its time slot, and then it's time for Raw Cordial. (Note for Americans: cordial is like Kool-Aid, only liquid; it is designed to be cut with about five parts water to form a drink for children. When drunk straight, it's a big sugar rush, and generally a great excuse to run around being an aeroplane. Wheeee!) Raw Cordial is an attempt by two fans, Simon and Grant (the Video Committee) to replicate the effects of raw cordial in panel form. It's part talk show, part game show, and part video sketch comedy.
The game show part is the most fun -- they have a part called the Mega Point Challenge: "In thirty seconds or less, describe why Battlefield Earth was a good movie. For an extra ten points, do you want to take the bonus challenge?" And when the contestant agrees (which they always do, because the scores are always close enough for the extra ten points to make the difference), "In thirty seconds or less, describe why Battlefield Earth was a good movie, using interpretive dance."
The talk show sections vary with the guest, but Robin Pen is extremely entertaining when he relates his experience of spending a week working inside a "Woofa the Dog" costume, and re-enacts a Godzilla movie fight scene, using a camcorder hooked to a video projector and screen, a toy Godzilla, cardboard boxes for skyscrapers, and a Chow Yun Fat doll as the bad guy.
Raw Cordial runs on all four nights of the convention, and (for me at least) is the most memorable part of the whole con.
The last train home is at midnight, so I catch it.
FridayThere's a panel this morning with the Guest of Honour, Robert Silverberg, on it. He is quite entertaining, with a long perspective on SF, and a dry wit. He is equally good value in his GoH speech a little later in the day, in which he basically says that the Australian SF community of today is rather like the US SF community of 40 years ago, and that he rather likes it that way.
It being Good Friday, there are two restaurants open in the city centre. Conveniently, one of them is Han's, directly across the road, and the other one is Fast Eddy's, which is traditional con fare. So I have one for lunch and the other for dinner. In the evening it's part 1 of Dune (the Sci Fi channel version), and more Raw Cordial. (Yaay!) Last train at midnight.
SaturdayI go to a panel called "Inner Space versus Outer Space", which debates the relative merits of exploring the very small, such as nanotech, genetic engineering and virtual reality, versus the very big, such as terraforming Mars. One of the panellists, Nicko (described by Simon and Grant as "Grumpy Raconteur Poet Warrior"), arrives 40 minutes late to the one hour panel, spends his first ten minutes waffling about nothing even remotely close to the point, then finally makes a point which brings him down on one side of the argument, and when a member of the audience challenges him, switches sides. He then spends the remaining ten minutes switching sides fast enough that nobody else in the room can keep track.
I play some cards with Mike, Mark and Neil; namely Hearts (aka Black Maria, Chase The Lady, ...).
Later in the day there is a panel in which all the guests supposedly recommend their favourite SF short story. One after another, the guests all anounce that they are going to cheat, and recommend something else: a movie, a novel, a comic book, etc. Robert Silverberg recommends the Iliad and the Odyssey. I scribble out quite a list of things to hunt down.
In the evening, it's more Dune, more Godzilla from Robin Pen, and more Raw Cordial. (Wheeee!)
SundayIn the video lounge it's "Muppets from Space". It's amusing that a muppet movie contains an alien spaceship scene that just a few years ago would have been regarded as seriously serious CGI.
And then Live Robo-rally, on the balcony. Robo-rally is a board game in which each player controls a robot, marching around a board dotted with conveyor belts, lasers and pit-traps. In Live Robo-rally, of course, the board is magnified until it is (just barely) large enough to fit players onto the squares, so the players directly represent their robots. (It's very reminiscent of a game called GKR, which stood for Giant Killer Robot, developed by me and some friends a few years before.)
After lunch, we say farewell to Robert Silverberg. When he booked his airline tickets, no-one had mentioned to him that Easter Monday is a holiday in Australia, so he had assumed that our Easter convention ended on the Sunday, and booked accordingly.
Back out on the balcony, I play a card game called "Chez Geek", which is a startlingly accurate re-creation of life in a geek house.
Dinner is with a bunch of my fencing friends who are also SF fans. We rendezvous within the hotel via SMS, and then go as a group. It's kind of amusing, using this incredibly advanced digital wireless cellular spread-spectrum technology to send messages to and fro when all of the people involved in the conversation are within shouting distance.
We go to Han's, but going to the Han's across the road would be much too simple, so we go to the one on the other side of the city centre, about a kilometre away. We wind up having quite a long and intense discussion about electronic scoring systems for fencing, with the conclusion that we can manufacture our own and substantially undercut the prices of current manufacturers.
Back at the convention, it's the finale of Dune, which contains a really, really gratuitously stupid hand gesture from a representative of the Spacing Guild; and Swancon: the Collectible Card Game. It's not really as collectible as all that; you're allowed to modify your cards by writing new stuff on them, and you can play any card at any time if you can come up with a good enough explanation as to why you should be allowed to do so. Essentially it's a giant in-joke.
Raw cordial! Yaay!
Last train is at midnight, but I got wise and drove in. Thus, I am able to stay and watch The Prisoner. The last two episodes are very psychedelic, and gave one of the actors a heart attack.
MondayOr, as the pocket program has it, "Onday".
In the morning, there's a presentation from a bunch called Vagabond Theatre who are planning to do a play of Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. They have a bunch of multimedia stuff like CGI sofas bouncing around in wireframe graphic stairwells and such like. The play sounds reasonably faithful to the book, except that they have had to cut the character of the Electric Monk, on account of the difficulty of putting a horse on stage.
In the afternoon, a panel called "Where will we be in 3001?". I'm more or less in the camp of what Jeremy tells me is called Spike Theory, and as such my answer to the title question is that anything recognisably human will be at least 900 years gone. OK, with the exception of some kind of neo-Amish.
"Good bits in crap films" turns out to be a very popular panel. Interestingly, the movie "Hudson Hawk" often makes "top ten worst movies of all time" lists, but a show of hands reveals that only four of the 200-odd fans in the room disliked it.
And then it's the closing ceremony.
TuesdayI go in to help with tear-down and clean-up. There are some amusing logistical problems involving the office partitions and display cabinets that were used to mount the art show, which end with us carrying them all across the hotel's foyer and leaving them sitting just outside the hotel front door for an hour or so. Word comes that one of the committee members has already come down with the Festival Fever, and is off throwing up somewhere. We carry a couple of signs that say "The City of Perth proudly supports your whatever-the-hell-it-is" back across town to the city's offices, and go to Mr. Samurai for lunch. In a conversation with the convenor and co-convenor, it is revealed that they each got time to go to about one program item other than the ones they were actually scheduled for.