Eastercon was dense and good. I went to lots of panels. Guest of Honor and special guest slots were particularly good. I loved the corset panel - comparative corset history with all the corsets under discussion being worn by models/volunteers. I bought books, I coveted a lovely etching in the art show, and I networked. (A German historian of science at the con recognized me from the Halifax conference.) I ran into long-lost friends (makyo), long-misplaced friends (guyelfkin, paul_skevington, and S.), and met lovely new people (including wishus). Thanks to London pub meets, I also knew a decent swathe of other attendees.
Opening Ceremonies - I like going to opening ceremonies. They often give a good sense - better than the program does - of what the con committee believes are the important parts of the event they've organized. Thanks to this, I particularly noted the presence of the special guests, and spent several wasted moments enquiring about the then-missing Phlosque award stickers. (The award is supposedly given for art-with-significance.)
Guest of Honor - Elizabeth Hand - Cons are always a good opportunity to learn about new-to-me and interesting authors. Liz Hand's reading disturbed me greatly. She may be interesting, but I'm not sure how comfortable I'd be with her topics. Still - powerful writing and an interesting interview.
"There ain't no such thing as free speech. And a good thing too!" - A discussion about taboo topics in literature - largely taboo because they'd result in law suits or death threats. I missed the beginning of the session, and thus much of a sense of the panel's structure.
Dinner and evening - At this point, I ran into guyelfkin just as he was heading out to dinner with friends, so I tagged along. Strata is competent and loungey, but the food isn't particularly memorable. Afterwards, guyelfkin started to tell makyo and me his exploding bathroom convention story, but didn't get very far. He promised he'd finish it before the con was over. I stayed up too late and was social; a nap the next day evened out my sleep schedule, and was good warning to be careful with enough sleep at Kalamazoo in a few weeks - between late night parties and early morning breakfast hours, I never have enough sleep there.
Art Show - The space was well-judged for the amount of artwork submitted for the show. I really liked an etching I saw there, by Fangorn, but paused over spending so much money, even if the price was quite reasonable for a well-known artist's original print. I'm still thinking about it. I'm also still thinking about the lure of original etchings and engravings to person who grew up in a house full of them.
Dealer's Room - I bought enough books in my first forty-five minutes in the dealer's room that I found it unwise to go back in, except for a last minute spate of present-buying. There were only so many books which would fit in my suitcase. The best sales pitch was from someone selling memberships for the Counfounding Tales! convention. The worst sales pitch was from someone who observed that buying a particular book from them was cheaper than buying it from Amazon - but only if my order didn't qualify for free shipping.
George Hay Memorial Lecture - Alice Jenkins, lecturer in English at Glasgow University, gave an excellent talk on the relationship between literature and science in the early nineteeth century. I took copious notes. The lecture pulled together many things I was vaguely familiar with and gave them continuity. The first three decades of the nineteenth century were a period of substantial change in the way in which science was dealt with. At the beginning of the period, science was a subject accessible, to various degrees, to everyone. There were still people with broad interests who could feasibly work on aspects of multiple sciences. This is reflected in the accessible way in which scientific treatises were often written. By the end of the period, specialization had taken over as a result of disciplinary defense, of putting up educational barriers around disciplines to avoid casual dabblers. The genre of popular science books emerged as a response to this intentional specialization.
Orbital Cleavage - Is it humanly possible to have cleavage the way it's often depicted in pulpier science fiction and fantasy imagery? The general consensus was usually yes, yes it was, with the right infrastructure to one's clothing. Dee Parker was a major contributor to this panel, and the primary reason for it happening in the first place - she was a special guest of the con's; she teaches in the world's only conture fashion course, in Leicester. The panel was strong on audience heckling and sensible costuming advice.
"All Quest Fantasies are basically Pilgrim's Progress rewritten." - Of course, I would go to the early modern literature panel.
Dinner - I skipped the Dr. Who showing. There was a new episode and hundreds of fans to see it with. At the time, I thought - well, I've seen two Dr. Who episodes in my life; it'd be wasted on me. In retrospect, I think it would have been a whole lot of fun to see it with hundreds of dedicated fans.
BSFA Award Ceremony - As evidence that I've been catching up on older literature rather than reading current SF, I hadn't read a single short story or novel up for competition at this year's British Science Fiction Association awards. The consensus of those near me was that Kelly Link, "Magic for Beginners", and Geoff Ryman, Air, were very deserving winners. I also caught up with matociquala. (We'd met a whole week before, so there was only so much catching up which could be done.)
The Eastercon Quiz - While the quiz had its highlights, it also had lowlights. When playing "Just a minute", you don't just deduct points for hesitations, deviations, or repetitions. What's the fun in that? Poach the topic from each other! Be competitive! The Mornington Space Station game was, however, quite nicely played.
"Why can't they just write it so people can understand?" - It was challenging for the panellists to grapple with concepts about difficult writing. They worked through difficulty in language and in structure and in plot - but only once they'd worked through to realizing that that's where some of their misunderstandings were coming from - the multiplicity of difficulty.
Special Guest - Dee Parker - Dee Parker teaches undergarment design at the university level. Her presentation was organized around a dozen-or-so volunteer models who stood for the duration of her talk, showing off her students' designs. The corsets included period examples from the eighteenth century onward, as well as a SFesque design in leather with orbital lines in wires around the wearer's head, designed by a student who went on into fetish wear. Clothing makes so much more sense when modeled rather then hung or held up. This was a very effective way to demonstrate corset variety and historical trends.
Harrison, Harrison, and Clute - I think I would have gotten more out of this panel had I known the participants to any degree better than I did.
Guest of Honor - Brian Froud - Some of you - pittenweem, griffinick - will remember Chris M. from several years back in Toronto. He was an enormous Brian Froud fan. I felt that in many ways, I was attending this in his stead - second-hand fandom. That said, I do admire Froud's work, which I primarily know from The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. He showed us a mock-up presentation he'd done when trying to get a movie into production about Tam Lin. He was disarmingly honest as well, with anecdotes about working on the forthcoming Dark Crystal sequel and the vividness of puppets on screen (as opposed to computer animation).
Reading - Freda Warrington, Chaz Brenchley, Mark Robson - Engaging snippets of novels. If I hadn't already promised myself I wouldn't buy any more books, I might have been tempted.
Dinner - The City Inn Café was a pleasant venue - decent food, nicely presented, and excellent company (wishus, paul_skevington, S., and N.). Afterwards, back at the con hotel, guyelfkin finally had a chance to tell makyo, me, and a growing crowd of other listeners, the full glory of his exploding bathroom convention story. It's an impressive tale.
Communal Criticism - brisingamen and coalescent discussed the intersection of their review work with their blogs. There was heavy audience participation. I took notes in preparation for chairing a roundtable discussion on academic weblogs at Kalamazoo in a few weeks.
Special Guest - Mat Irvine - Mat Irvine designed props for Dr. Who and other SF shows in the '70s. In addition to a slightly haphazard, but always interesting talk with slides on "Space - as it should have been", with particular attention to how publications in the '60s and '70s invisioned how space exploration would be going in the '80s, '90s, and beyond. We haven't achieved most of what they thought we would. Also, he had really great models.
How to write the truly terrifying - You can never terrify everyone. Atmosphere makes all the difference. Ambiguity helps.
Promoting Yourself - I've been to panels like this before - how to sell your writing, how to get published. I've never been to one which was really engaging, effective, and had things to say about the subject which I hadn't encountered before. The authors on the panel gave lots of personal anecdotes as examples without trying to actually sell themself to the audience. Charlie Stross observed that authors displaying their books in front of them while on panels was an especially North American habit.
Closing Ceremonies - Hurray for a well run con!
Dead Dog Party - I've never made it to one before. They're the parties which happen post-con, when everyone is in a state of collapse after several days of not enough sleep and too much to do. I met interesting new people, including some who work in fields which overlap with mine, so that was time well spent.
I did a bit of Mackintosh tourism at the Hunterian Art Gallery, where there was also a small Rembrandt etching show up, and had another fine meal. Many, many people had recommended Cyber to me for clothes shopping, but after fifteen minutes of it being closed in the middle of the afternoon, I gave up, and had a rather more leisurely trip back to catch my train than I had expected. Oh well.