((As I received lots of letters commenting on the topics raised in the last issue I've extracted parts from different letters and put them together under headings. I'm sorry that this means that we lose the stylistic grace of Chuck Connor's prose as his letter is interrupted by others. It also leads to certain odd phrases where a writer's first quoted contribution actually came from the end of their letter and they refer to comments they made previously but which I've printed afterwards. If you get my meaning. Anyway, thanks to all who wrote and keep the responses coming.
A list of names and addresses of contributors comes at the end. Although it is mentioned in her letter I would like to draw your attention to the fact that Pat Brown now wishes to be known as Pat Silver.))
Firstly, comments to/on/about Dave Bell's nice, though somewhat short, piece. Firstly David mentions a programme called PKZIP. This is what's known as shareware and is distributed on a "try before you buy" basis (my underlining there}. If conventions are going to use this programme for data compression then they should have the decency to register it (use a multi-site registration under the name of EASTERCON or something so that the programme can be legally moved from machine to machine without incurring the wrath of FAST.)
There is an excellent Public Domain compression programme from Japan, called LHZ, which would circumvent the requirement for registration of the software, so that would probably be the better option.
David didn't say it, but if possible (when using an IBM/compatible) try and keep clear of DOS v4.01 - it has more bugs in it than the Regent's Park Insect House. No joke, especially if you're using something like a TSR (Terminate and Stay Resident) programme that is also a little fussy about what it gets stacked on top of (well, aren't we all?).
Other useful aids and crisis savers: NORTON DISC DOCTOR for a start - which can (9 times out of 10) even salvage the fat (or in this case, FAT) out of the proverbial fire when a hard disc goes down. PC TOOLS usually has a programme. called MIRROR, which actually mirrors the FAT into a separate file, thus ensuring even more chances of recovery.
The suggestion of using DISKCOPY is something I don't really agree with, mainly as if you use the plain COPY command with a wildcard or two you will not only copy the files across, but also ensure that they are unfragmented in the process.
I know that people have their own preferences when it comes to word processors, but I would like to suggest using the BUTTONWARE stuff, PC TYPE and the database PC FILE+ mainly because there won't be any incompatibility problems, the database can be mail merged, and there is also a label programme in the same package.
Security? If you're using a computer with an A drive and a C drive, and booting off the C drive then you really have no security at all. Pop in a system disc in drive A and the machine will happily take that over the C drive and any security system you may have installed. Take it from one who knows, Ian dearest.
Another sure way of getting around any mass damage is by using programmes that write to disc at regular interval Sagesoft's PC WRITE does this at five minute intervals, and NEW YORK WORD (aka KEYWORD as was the commercial package over here) had a timesetting you could adjust. That way, after you've been assault & battering the keyboard for an hour or so and some mindless git pulls the power supply out from under then you haven't lost everything.
Dave Bells' Computer Konning: Why not use an Archimedes? It's cheaper than a Mac and friendlier than an IBM clone, and although there is no good database software for it at present only large conventions really need more than a plain text file and an ounce of ingenuity. I remember for example that Uniconze's membership list was kept on a BBC Micro, after it was kept on an IBM 3084 mainframe (what a comedown!), and that worked perfectly happily, But I rant.
In reply to 'What to do if the computer is stolen?' Firstly, keep a paperwork copy, I usually use a 16 column accounting book with columns for appropriate info., and it is very portable. Secondly, give your Treasurer (or another appointed person) all the relevant details as a double check, esp. where money is going in from several different sources, this stops all info being lost due to fires etc. I know it may sound old fashioned, and yes I do possess a computer, but pen and paper is best as far as I'm concerned!
Was rather amused by Rob Meades' comments on writers for publicity. Does he mean a professional copywriter? Does he mean a professional author? Or does he mean just concoms cannot string two words together without having to have a vote on it? The same goes for the "convention image" thing - by which, I take it, he actually meant guidelines - which is something that I would've thought was automatically brought into play as soon as you started talking PRs and booklets. Common sense here says that for continuity's sake both Publicity and Publications should be run by one and the same person, thus keeping Merchandising to a respectable freedom. Does publicity really need to know that the 500 XXL T-shirts for SchtuppCon XXVI have suddenly become 50,000? I doubt it, and I doubt very much if Merchandising will want to talk about anything else until the problem is solved.
As any teacher of business management will tell you, the biggest time destroyer is meetings, and with sub-committees you are doubling your oxygen consumption for half the final product value. VIDEO ARTS were certainly correct on that point, I can assure you.
Whatever, perhaps I'm just not thinking commercial enough.
It strikes me that Conrunner is mainly concerned with large cons such as Worldcons and Eastercons, with others such as Novacon and Mexicon getting name dropped occasionally but with no mention of their substance. This may well be because there is little correspondence from anybody involved in other cons. Therefore I will address a few issues from the point of view of a small convention, in this case ARMADACON which is held each November in Plymouth.
Rob Meades gave us a good look at publicity but did not really address the problem of assessing the response in any way other than counting the inquiries. With the tight budget in the early stages of planning a con it would be desirable to target the advertising in the places most likely to generate a response quickly; but how are they to be identified?
At Armadacon 1 we asked attendees to fill in a questionnaire which included the question "where did you first learn of Armadacon?" which received little response. (Answer - "Starburst" magazine). At our second con we asked people to list any/all the places that they had seen or heard of us, as an incentive we ran a competition offering a free registration that had to be answered on the back of a completed questionnaire. Again, only about 15% took up the offer. (Answer - word of mouth and "Starburst").
Rob's point about conventions developing a "corporate image" is a good one. Who can look at a mouse in a space helmet without thinking of ConFiction? This is something we realised right at the beginning when we first devised our name and logo. Our "image" as such is our eye-catching logo - an old-fashioned galleon orbiting the Earth with the moon in the background. Our guests have commented on its uniqueness and long-term con attendees have praised its outstanding appearance.
Any positive comments on the above would be welcome.
((The responses on forms at this year's Albacon were dominated by "from a friend", "other con" and "poster/flyer in bookshop". Over 5,000 flyers were distributed in Glasgow and generated 280 walk-in members. When attracting first timers it helps if you have a big name guest too.))
What I actually wanted to comment on was what you said about attracting types of fans, and also Rob Meades' talk of convention images. It's all very well saying "we want to attract the jaded fans" in the safety of a committee meeting, but you then have to go and do something about it with your available resources, Publications and Publicity. (I view Merchandising as being part of Publicity and have considerable qualms about it having a separate existence at all!). Your publicity, while it projected a pleasant and consistent image, never really put that message across, and your publications presented a plethora of contradictory images having little relevance to Speculation, or indeed to conventions. don't get me wrong, they were interesting as fanzines, but as PRs they were a dead loss. On our side, we have been constantly criticised for not having an identifiable logo (until we settled on the "sun" design), but our publicity has said what we're about, and or Progress Reports, while they have necessarily not had hard facts to present, have been consistent, honest, apposite and (hopefully) thought provoking, at least to my biased eyes. Not that anyone's written any LoCs mind you....
Onto Martin Easterbrook (and not in the Biblical sense, I might add). Sorry, but too many buzz words in this distracted me - though again, what he is talking about is basic man management (or person management - whatever they call it these days).
Does anyone keep a running 'snags log' for a convention so that information and solutions can be passed on, or kept for future reference?
Cut purses and padfeet (pickpockets and sneak thieves) can be held/detained under the citizen's arrest package - something that your security should have laid down in photocopy format (we call them ROE cards - short for Rules Of Engagement) that give the set cautions/warnings which must be spoken for the arrest to have legal standing, etc. This would also have to take into account the differences between both English and Scottish laws as there are normally some variations even though the end product should be the same. The other thing I would like to say about security is that it would be nice to get most of them to stop dragging their knuckles on the carpets whenever they walked anywhere.
Sadly, Martin also points out that you really cannot bring in a team of professional security people owing to the amount of drugs at conventions. Brighton, 1982, had a classic evening fan game of Mime That Drug Experience, and even then I was left wondering how long it would be before a convention was either raided by the Drugs squad or infiltrated by some local suppliers.
Andy Croft's piece was more accessible, mainly because it broke the buzz words down so that real people could understand them. But, again, it was basics in management. I appreciate that this might well be totally new and informative ground to some people, but I'm just saying why I have little to comment about it.
Just as a small 'helpful hint', I find that a 'list of deadlines' comes in helpful when organising cons. I start a list of jobs usually as early as possible, up to 18 months in advance, and give them a deadline date which can be many months in advance. I give everyone on the committee a copy and discuss the dates, and add anything else mentioned, to the list, possibly adding jobs as we get nearer the con. I find that this helps get the non-essential tasks out of the way, and prevents people from forgetting to do things, or leaving them to the last minute. This leaves the last minute panic to unforeseen crises! This also prevents the 'I thought that you were doing it' syndrome, because I put the name of the person responsible for the job, along side the job description on the list!
First of all, I have changed my name from Brown to Silver. Could you publicise that for me please? I am only half joking when I say it's to match the change in hair colour! Martin Easterbrook's post-con analysis of Eastcon contained a lot of very useful information. I wish I'd done one after Follycon since it seems like a good way to pass on information. I was flattered by his comments ref. me, but it does show up that as a professional, mean, nasty and cynical paper shuffler, I took certain actions as a matter of course that perhaps aren't obvious to someone not used to shuffling paper.
I wonder if more concoms would consider doing a similar exercise after the con? Ref. his suggestion for a "staff book" for each post on a concom, detailing levels of responsibility, spending powers etc, like the one that Follycon produced, I personally would have no objection at all if the Follycon book was used as the basis for a general purpose basic book. It would be courteous to ask the rest of the Follycon committee but I can't see any particular problem there.
I was interested too by Andy Croft's piece ref. the Tech Ops Manager. In practice this post has been filled by one or other of the tech crew for some years, although not normally as a committee post. In particular, Richard the Rampant is a superb tech-ops manager, also Andy Morris. They aren't the only ones; I've also seen Dermot Dobson & John Stewart do the job well and I know there are others equally as good. I've designed a query form along the lines that Andy suggested for my own use in doing tech-ops. for Masque in 1992 and will willingly make it available to any concom who ask. (Phone 0272 693453). From experience the commonest problems are people who turn up with unusual video formats (or double-length format) without prior notice, and equipment supplied by the programme participant which has non-standard connectors. We've hurriedly soldered up leads to get a programme item running while the audience waits before now but it's not something I enjoy doing. (I'm really good at burning my fingers with the soldering iron when I'm in a hurry!). We can cope with most requests at surprisingly short notice but it's much easier to know in advance.
I also have an information sheet on "How to use microphones" available to anyone who asks, and Andy Morris has produced a booklet on "Running Convention Films".
((Andy's address is 167 Washington Ave, Grove Hill, Hemel Hempstead, HP2 6AT. If you enclose an A5 SAE and have a bit of patience while Andy revises it, I'm sure it will be worth it.))
I was given a makeweight gopher's job at Speculation - running an 'Information' desk. From my experience, I would suggest that this type of job should be expanded to handle problems and complaints as well - with a HOTLINE phone to all conrunning departments. The gopher doing this job could also act as a clearing house for programme changes and alternative (cheaper) accommodation. Positioned at a table near con registration, the Info gopher would become the interface between the fans and the committee. He or she would know who to contact (and who is contactable) to deal with problems as they arise. The Info gopher could also advise neos about cons in general, and where and when to meet fans with a similar interest. The voodoo board should be nearby so that all inter-fan communications can be focused in one area.
The Info gopher would be able to head off fans who would otherwise worry Registration, Ops, Security, Hotel Liaison and Green Room personnel with problems which are outside their respective fields. As the Info gopher would always be in a fixed position, there would be no need for a fan with a problem to chase after the person whose job covers the pertinent aspect of the con. This slightly bureaucratic post would be of most use for larger cons. For smaller cons, the job could be combined with Registration. (It usually is already - but very much on a hit or miss basis.)
On the first evening, before the con proper starts, the Info desk should be set up and manned to deal with alternative accommodation as soon as possible. An external phone limited to local calls (or a plug-in pay phone) would be an added bonus. Bookings could then be organised for twin room half-sharers and others for a small fee (say 50p). Anyone who has used the Jersey tourist service or a German Verkehrsamt will be familiar with the system. During the con, the Con Info desk should be manned as soon as the early breakfasters begin to circulate - say 09.30 - before Registration opens. It should remain open for business until around 19.30. When it is closed, the INTERNAL phone should be left in place so that fans with problems can ring up (say) Ops until after the last programme item of the day has started.
A further nice touch would be to treat the Info gopher in the same way as a programme participant (assuming that the one drink per shift rule applies.) This would save chasing around first for a drinks voucher and then someone with authority to cash it. This could also apply to all gophers who work in fixed positions during their shifts. (InterCon offers gophers food and soft drinks. A Tee-shirt is impressive but a snack lunch or two may be more appreciated.)
In summary, the Info/Complaints gopher could save a lot of conrunners a lot of hassle while providing a very useful service to the members of a convention.
An idea: Give each con member a set of labels to identify his/her bags and baggage as for airline baggage). These labels could make identification of otherwise identical carrier bags easier in cloakrooms and the Secure Store.
At Speculation, the con security staff had an invidious problem - no bags could be taken into the Dealers Room + Art Show. However, there were plenty of dealers providing plenty of bags within the Dealers' Room. The con security guards had to tell fans who had just left the Dealers' Room with bags full of books that they couldn't take the same bags back in.
I had another idea to deal with this problem: Booksellers could put their own sealing labels on the bags they provide for their customers. (As is often done in duty free shops.) But, after discussing the idea with Ken Slater, I now know that it would be impractical for many reasons. The essential thing is to separate the bookroom from the art show and to arrange for proper storage of bags (with cloakroom tickets) near the art show entrance.
Agree with Peter Pinto re the class level of conventioneers, which is also highlighted by those on the "con circuit", which may well have helped to alienate the neofan (a term that, hopefully, no longer carries the derogatory inferences it once did). You, yourself, comment about the requirements for large expensive because they have to keep high overheads) hotels, but even the Unicons and Lucons are nudging the scales a little bit (mostly due to the charges for out-of-term accommodation being jacked up in recent years). Sadly I can see no hope/end in sight, and with the recession in full swing it will be a positive certainty that attending numbers will shrink rather than expand.
Most conventions are run in luxury hotels because nowhere else can offer the same facilities and because fans want them to be held in such venues. The first two Armadacons were not held in a hotel and we are sure this will have dissuaded a number of potential attendees. We were asked to move to a hotel next time and we have been lucky enough to find a suitable one.
On the face of it, registration fees seem high but venues and advertising cost money and we cannot expect guests to pay their own way for our benefit, so these cannot be realistically lowered.
Travelling expenses for attendees can be reduced by sharing transport but how do you find such a companion?
The single most expensive aspect of any convention must be the accommodation for the duration of the event (dealers room notwithstanding). With more conventions moving into ever more costly venues there is a real danger of them becoming exclusive "clubs" for the well-off, and cutting out the rest of fandom. apart from a few late converts, how many of us are as keen and "into" SF and fantasy now as were in our teens when most of our pocketmoney went on books and such, leaving nothing left to attend exotic and costly conventions?
One of the cons we intend to visit next year is a Star Trek con held over one of the Bank Holiday weekends. Just being there will cost us £100 per head, not including travel or eating.
You can provide names of people who are willing to allow fans floor space in their homes, but this is no solution. although we are promoting the Astor Hotel, as it is or new venue, we still make it clear on our registration forms that other accommodation is available nearby, and will provide details of a number of small one or two star hotels and B&Bs within a few minutes walking distance of the con. This can cut the cost of attending in half, though it is still not cheap. I would urge all cons to do the same and not just rely on four star "overflow" hotels and leave it at that.
((You have remember though that fans staying outwith the hotel have problems buying drinks outside normal licensing hours. There is also the problem of people being anxious about walking back to hotels late at night.))
The cost of attending a convention is (for most fans) mainly made up from travelling and accommodation bills as D. said. I marked up my calendar long before I read D.'s article. Looking at it now I see many dates highlighted in fluorescent colours. Beside the dates are the names of most of this year's European conventions and locations. InterCon-Oslo and BirCon-Berlin are top of my personal list, followed by HillCon-Rotterdam, SF Tage NRW-Dusseldorf and Confuse-Linkoping. EuroCon-Cracow and OctoCon-Dun Laoghaire are out of the running, and the remaining British cons come after the European cons. I don't know which ones I can afford to go to yet (if any), but I never look back at cons I have been to, to try to work out if they were worth what they cost me.
The cost of food and drink is likely to be the same for all 2/3 day cons £30. Travelling to any of the British cons is likely to cost less than £30 (by coach). Accommodation is likely to add £40 to £60 depending on the hotel. Money for souvenirs, books etc. is excluded from these figures.
Travelling to Linkoping of Oslo is likely to cost at least £l80. To Dusseldorf will be about £90, and Berlin around £150. I've been offered free accommodation in Oslo and Dusseldorf, and cheap, possibly free accommodation in Linkoping and Berlin. (It cost me £49 to get to The Hague and £75 to stay there for the six days of Confiction.)
D. suggested £120 for a typical Eastercon and £200 for a Worldcon. Even in my impoverished state I would think that these figures are well on the low side. However, in spite of the magnitude of the total spending at a convention, the costs (as seen by many poor fans) roughly balance the benefits.
Holidays for the average mundane tourist are designed to numb the brain with deafening music, mindless gambling, footsore sightseeing, oncogenic solar radiation, an expense account standard of luxury, and booze cheap enough to maintain a state of near-zero brain activity throughout the day. Few fans find this type of holiday even remotely attractive.
Most fans I have met (from 25 countries) have two things in common - they enjoy talking to each other and exercising their brains - even if only a little. A small minority like to get pissed out of their heads, but most just drink enough to loosen their tongues while they sit and chat about anything and everything - for hours. What better way is there for a lone fan spend a holiday weekend with friends? If you enjoy a holiday, whatever it costs is worth it. If you don't, it is no bargain, no matter how cheap it is.
Students generally get by at cons by hitching a lift to the cons, crashing on a friend's floor and surviving on junk food and bar snacks - in other words, situation normal. Very few conventions do anything about this - Wincon II is the only one I can think of, and they had help form the Southern Arts Council - but anyway, there is nothing they can do beyond offering reduced membership rates, which is the tip of the iceberg.
The only really cheap way to do a con is to do a one-day con like Picocon, Shoestringcon or Fencon/Pentacon. Even campus accommodation mounts up over a weekend, as any Unicon-goer can tell you.
The large number of conrunning fans in London have been busy running cons in Cardiff, St Helier, Brighton, Birmingham, Cambridge,... in fact, anywhere other than London, because London is too expensive. Contrivance had a good look around London before settling on Jersey. Illumination in its very early days had a brief flirt with Milton Keynes rather than tackle London hotel rates. Really, you wouldn't like it.
At Speculation there was a justified outcry about the price of beer. Even more justified was the rage engendered by the prices of soft drinks. From my experience of working for a brewery, I said at the gripe meeting that soft drinks used to cost around l.5p per gallon10 years ago - at the brewery. I now realise time has passed quicker than I thought - it was 16 years ago. But, I can still prove the basis of my claim with the following figures:-
Sainsbury's Blackcurrant drink was (31/3/91) £1.06 per litre including 15% VAT. It contains 15% blackcurrant juice. It is normally diluted 1:6 to give 7 litres (X1.76 =12.3 pints) of very acceptable drink. 106/12.3 = 8.6l7p/pt. Remove:15% VAT. 8.617/1.15 = 7.9p, 30% retailmark-up, 7.49/1.3 = 5.76p, 20% wholesale mark-up, 5.76/1.2 = 4.80p, 20% producer's mark-up, 4.80/1.2 = 4.00p. Now you have some idea of the basic cost of a drink which is far better than Coke - it includes vitamin C - at just 4p per pint! (The cost of C02 is about 0.005p per pt.) It is therefore fair to assume that half a pint of Coke costs the brewer-owners of the Hospitality Inn less than 2p to produce. They sold it at the!!!reduced!!! price of 70p! (Normal price - 90p!) Put it another way: Hospitality Inn effectively charged fans over £1.36 an hour rent on their 1/2 pint glasses! (at the 1/2 pint per 1/2 hour rate). To my mind, charging a fair rent is almost the exact antithesis of hospitality.
What is an unfair rent? I think that it is one of the major CON-sur-VAT-ive 'gains' of the decade but I'm biased against rip-off merchants.
Vote early, vote well, vote often - for cheaper beer and soft drinks!
Andy Morris and his comment of "Fandom would have died out from boredom long before I got the chance to savour it." has me wondering if the darling little child has ever followed or read up on the history of fandom?
The same feeling of dismay was also generated by Pat Brown, who screams her hatred of fanzines and fanzine writers, and then admits that she doesn't bother reading them. The trouble is that she generalises, no specifics are named, no examples put forward to illustrate her sawn-off shotgun technique of trying to slaughter any confans' budding interest in what has mostly been a sub-genre since the SEACON '79 influx. One could deduce from Pat that (a) she is more than conversant with "fanzine fans" because of her comments, and (b) that all fanzines are full of vitriolic mud-slinging point-scoring. Again, no names are mentioned, no fanzine titles, and there is a reference to "those of the old guard" - how old is old? Are we talking the remnants of the FIDO mailing list? Are we talking BAFF, RAT, Pre or Post-79, just what are we talking about here - give me some term of reference instead of generalities, and then I would be more willing to talk about it. Meaningless comments, Pat, have done little for your argument. Tell me what your frame of reference is and I will try and show you that there is more good than bad in fanzine fandom.
And for the record, seeing as though we are now having to label ourselves these days, I am a fanzine fan. I always have been an always will be until I leave the Navy. In the last 18 months I have managed to be on dry land for 3, and around the UK for 6 at best. The rest of the time has been spent at sea, away from the UK completely. I only have fanzines as my point of contact with fandom. I have seen them come, and I have seen them dwindle away. That is my only point of contact with something I enjoy and feel as strongly about as Pat, in her own way, obviously does. But, to see her fulfilling her own image, that anything printed in fanzines is hack & slash, and to do so in such a sharp, violent, scatter-blast way, hurts me because of the potential destruction she is - maybe unknowingly - doing.
In case Pat doesn't realise it, Doc Weir was a fanzine fan. If she would like to contact either myself, or Vincent Clarke (pref. Vincent, as I'm going to be heading for another 6-month stint down the Falklands), directly then we can supply her with copies of his writings.
Unlike Pat, I can remember pre-SEACON '79, when there were so few conventions that each one was a special occasion, and something that you went out of your way to attend if you could (CHANNELCON '82 was one I managed to get to, despite being on 24-hours notice to sail off to war). Now conventions are once a month, they are no longer as special as they once were, nor as affordable. Fanzines are the only fandom I have, Pat. They're not "personal slagging matches but presumably those who do get enjoyment out of it" - if they were then they wouldn't have succeeded in the first place
Lastly, to Tim Illingworth. The fact that (a} a sudden flood of new blood spurted into "fandom" after the CHANNELCON '79 marker point was also balanced by a "burning out" of those who had gone balls-out to make it a success. This meant that there was going to be a change in attitudes, no matter what. CHANNELCON '79 was the spark that has given you the mass of conventions you have today. The following year saw at least two mini-cons (ANGLICON being one of them, the other UNICON has since become a tradition in itself) added to the list. People had tasted confandom and away they went. Subsequently you now have fans who know no different. True, KTF did a lot of damage in what was a potentially good breeding ground, but having come through the fires unscathed and (almost) unmarked, I don't think it killed off most of those people and turned them into conrunners.
On the back page Tim Illingworth offers a different perspective on post-1979 British fandom and states that "the KTF school of fanzine reviewing did not help fanzine fans "because all the weak fanzines that it killed off included most of those who were just starting to write and publish" sic - from the grammar of this sentence, you'd think fanzines were people. But anyone who wishes to argue that KTF fanzine reviews were responsible for the precipitate decline of fanzine fandom in the eighties must answer three key questions: what KTF fanzine reviews? written by whom? And published where? The plain fact is that there were no KTF fanzine reviews published anywhere in Britain by anyone during the eighties, and anyone who claims otherwise is indulging in mythology rather than history. Fanzines are dying for a wider and more complex variety of reasons than those who attempt to blame everything on KTF fanzine reviewers will allow, and to push this line in preference to the truth is merely to seek refuge from the hard graft of analysis in easy, inane superficialities.
Actually, there's one more comment, in response to Pat Brown's statement that D. West "has confirmed my opinion of most of the fanzines and fanzine writers I have had the misfortune to encounter and further reinforced my disinclination to bother reading any fanzine which comes my way". But what is Conrunner if not a fanzine? And by what tortuous process of redefinition does she then justify her reading and contributing to it?
I note your remark that you feel you should curtail "the D. West correspondence", but debate on the issues he raised is unlikely to go away for the simple reason that they're such obvious topics of conversation. (Although fans could usefully learn to distinguish between the person and the idea - too often, especially with respect to arguments advanced by D., they conflate the two. What are conventions for, how should they be run, blah blah blah. (This is what your fanzine is all about, after all.)
Indeed, what is the Eastercon for? Pat Brown says that it "should be a meeting place for all the specialised groups and different interests", but the plain truth is that they don't meet and mingle in the way she seems to imagine. Sure, they're all gathered together beneath the same set of roofs for the same weekend, but do they actually interact with each other? Of course not - as she confirms by her remark that she goes off "to sing in a room far removed from D. West)", filkers don't mix with fanzine fans. Just as gamers don't mix with fanzine fans, and costumers don't mix with techies, and so on. So why go through the whole rigmarole of attending an Eastercon just to ignore most of the people there? One can ignore them much more easily, and much cheaper, simply by staying home for the weekend.
What this means is that the Eastercon, as a national convention, has probably had its day. The rise of Mexicon to cater exclusively for devotees of written SF, and the appearance of the media convention Elydore in opposition to the national convention last Easter, indicate the shape of things to come: increasing fragmentation as the different interest groups draw farther apart and organise their own conventions in preference to attending less specialist ones. Indeed, the ability of each special-interest group to run its own conventions is a testament to its size and self-sufficiency; they don't need the others, either to provide programming for them at some other convention because the group in question isn't large enough to be self-sustaining, or to offer additional programming at their own convention to attract other groups in order to make the profit-and-loss figures come out right. Recognising this needn't be traumatic; the notion of an Eastercon as a national convention is simply a tradition, and why stick with tradition simply for the sake of it?
Since my bit of vitriol in the last issue I have received a number of fanzines (what a surprise!) and if you have the room I would like you to print the following:
"Pat Silver (ex Brown) hereby admits that she has read a number of fanzines with interest and pleasure, and further admits that not all fanzines are fit only for lining the rubbish bin." Your "Bob?" came into that category by the way. It was fun.
Now, as a result of considerable amounts of communicating with various fanzine people, I have trampled cheerfully in where angels (and probably devils too) fear to tread and suggested to a number of fans that they take to writing letters of comment and suggestion to con committees, both before and after the event, the idea being that if nobody TELLS a concom what they liked or didn't like about a con, or what they would like to see at a con, then a concom cannot be blamed if they don't satisfy fandom in general. I hope that con committees will not be offended by my actions, also that they will take note of any letters they receive and hopefully will reply to those letters, otherwise I'm going to have egg all over my face. Again. (I could get really bored with egg). It ISN'T always obvious from outside why a concom acted in a particular way, and I do think we have a duty to tell people why we did things if we are asked.
((OK, you think of a better heading.))
Thank you for CONRUNNER 15. I am sure that I did not write after the last issue, I think I was probably exhausted after wading though the turgid prose of D.West.
I am slightly shocked at p14 where Martin Easterbrook affirms that not every congoer would know who wrote FOUNDATION AND EMPIRE. All in all though a fascinating report showing so much of the background work. Reading the job description by Andy Croft made me extra pleased that the Doc Weir award went to a "backroom" fan.
Cost is mentioned by Peter Pinto... I spent 4 nights and had three dinners total was £161.
Whew! imagine Pat Brown condemning the whole of fanzine fandom by the yardstick of D.West. Pretty wholesale and certainly not fair.
I did make some notes on the Glasgow Eastercon which might be useful. First the hotel - very handy place for the town centre. The publicity about the hotel was very sparse. All I could find was that each room was "large and comfortable". No mention of the amenities which were plentiful. My main concern is always - are there tea-making facilities? The food was good, though once we were housed in the ballroom for breakfast and I took a dim view of not having my own pot of tea. The fact that one of the lifts broke down was no surprise. Most hotel lifts are not accustomed to being used so constantly or being so crowded. Maybe management should be warned about this. Much to my astonishment I noticed that the lovely fountain in the foyer ceased to work properly towards the end of the weekend. How fandom managed that I do not know!
I did not like the bar-I am unable to tolerate loud music. As it seemed to absorb a great amount of people I guess in this I am in the minority. It took me two days to discover that snack lunches were served there and that it was possible to obtain coffee.
On the whole I attended a good amount of the programme. What interested me was the small amount of audience at many items. I have just read a complaint about the same thing at the 91 Lunacon. I noticed the same thing sometimes in Holland. It must cause difficulties in getting speakers if they are to continue having so little response. Shall we see the day where there are no programme items?
I am getting a little deaf in one ear so get exasperated at speakers who do not use the microphones properly. Not that this only happens at SF cons: I saw the same thing at the Boucher mystery con. There were some bad habits - panellists who projected their voices to other panellists instead of out to the audience; panellists who waved the microphone about; and one female panellist chairman who hung onto the microphone like grim death and never passed it around.
A typical programme item THE DEATH OF THE FANZINE IS GREATLY EXAGGERATED- had a total of 20 in the audience. Peter Weston's talk on the historical perspective of SF had an audience that already knew all about his subject. The ones who did not know and whom he hoped to address were, presumably, all in the bar. Peter's passionate declaration that today's' fans who ignore early SF are missing a good deal made me think a bit. This ties in with the fact that one can no longer sell an early ASTOUNDING collection. I don't mind many of the changes I see the Eastercons except the feeling that reading SF is now a minority interest. One panel was all about the TV series TWIN PEAKS and had about the biggest audience for a programme item except for the Masquerade. How sad!
Martin Easterbrook's article is one of the most useful and insightful items that I have read in Conrunner since I read my first copy a couple of years ago. Small cons have all the same problems if only on a comparative scale.
And now on to the long running topic of "formulas for cons". Filthy Pierre's history of Boskone is a well timed contribution. I do not believe in change for the sake of change in any group activity, especially conventions. change should come gradually without losing sight of the foundations upon which the con is built.
If something works and is popular, why change it? Take videos for example. How many fans have video recorders, especially young ones? How many people had them in the 60s and 70s? (Mass availability for Britain started in 1980). There were many popular SF programmes on TV in those decades which are only now being released on video and many which never will be. There are fans out there who did have the equipment and foresight at the time and others who live in regions with understanding ITV companies. When these people make their collections available to convention organisers, they have handed them a popular programme stream on a silver platter.
Guest panels and author readings will always be popular as the guest list is often what will attract attendees to a particular con for the first time and help them to choose between the cons on their shortlist for the year.
These events form the core of all con programmes that I have heard of, but are not enough for an ambitious committee who want to offer the greatest amount of stimulation and entertainment to their attendees that they can over the weekend, and send them off home feeling that it was well worth the effort and cost of going to the con in the first place. To do that they may have to steal somebody else's ideas or come up with their own innovations.
At Contrivance I was fortunate enough to attend a successful and very enjoyable Turkey Reading (where the audience bids for the panel to stop or continue reading the literary equivalent of the "killer B" movies). Upon returning home my wife and I set about convincing the rest of the Armadacon committee that we should include it in our programme, and our faith was rewarded with an almost packed room where the laughter did not stop for well over an hour at Armadacon 2. Our thanks and best wishes are hereby bestowed upon whomever came up with this event way back in the dim and distant. a new event for us, taken from somebody else, and now part of the Armadacon formula.
A new event independently created by us, though we were not apparently the first to schedule it, was our "Whose Con is it Anyway?" which we put on as a cabaret event after the masquerade on the Saturday evening. One of our regular guests, Adrian Cole, was a very popular participant and the attendees acclaimed it as a great success. It too has become a part of our formula.
Finally, on this subject, is an event which we have not heard of anyone else even considering, yet proved the most celebrated of the whole convention. This was a single combat gladiatorial style tourney using "rubber" swords, organised and refereed for us by the "Fools and Heroes" live role-playing group. For safety, thrusting and all head attacks are prohibited and it is the fact that you hit your opponent, not how hard you do it, that counts. These weapons are not cheap and are easily damaged if mistreated, but we hope to repeat this event in the future.
So, to summarise, innovative ideas are always welcome, but do not turn your back on past successes, yours or anybody else's.
((A winning formula is fine when you have a good number of new attendees each year, but long established con attendees get turned off by seeing the same programme again and again, especially of the items are also done at other conventions. an example of this was "Vogon Poetry Reading" which was hugely popular in Glasgow cons of the early 80's but could hardly get any interest by '85. I'm quite sure that even such staples as the masquerade and guest of honour speeches could be quietly shelved and nobody would protest too much.))
One thing I liked about the planned Speculation programme was the fact that it discarded the divide between the "main" and "fan" programmes. I've long argued that the division works against fandom in general, creating as it does unnecessary tension and rivalry. How did it work in practice?
((Pretty well. Nobody missed the fanroom that I heard about. The workshops were the problem as some were heavily oversubscribed and others cancelled due to lack of numbers. The large hall seemed too big for some items because we didn't do the "set dressing" we had intended with screens and hangings to make for a more intimate atmosphere, though the use of settees for panellists was a success.))
The bit in Conrunner that most boggled me was the argument from unquoted authority in one of the letters, sort of "I have a friend who applied quantum optical analysis to the previous issue and showed it to be a load of rubbish," but the details of the friend's arguments are not actually subjected to the crude scrutiny of Conrunner readers who might loathsomely differ with it. (Maybe your response should have been, "But God told me that D West is right in every detail, and He outranks your friend.")
Thanks for the issues of Conrunner you've sent. In many ways an academic exercise for me as I'm not a big convention fan. In fact, I've been to just 6 in over 10 years. The thought of being surrounded by loads of science fiction fans gives me the creeps, actually!
Having said that, I will be going to Mexicon 4 in Harrogate whenever it is. Mind you, this is mainly on the principle that I can get on a bus and go home if I don't like it.
((What a 'fraidy cat! If you don't like cons, run one you would like.))
James D Grey
After reading your zine, "Conrunner", I am not sure why I ever thought of getting involved with a convention committee. At least I am beginning to understand why I have been feeling disadvantaged by recent events. Even if Tim Illingworth is spending more than usual of his own money, I can see how different our circumstances must be.
I didn't see any point in the bidding session which took place at "Speculation". It was a fun show, and "Helicon" certainly seems to have a good site, but what choice did we have? None, I think. Why waste so much time over the bid session? And why should I waste so much time and money on travel in 1992? I don't think the organisers are trying to exclude poorer fans, but that is the effect of their choice of Jersey.
I think that I would describe this, and a few other things which might be less obvious to you, as signs of a lack of empathy. Somebody who can spend several thousand pounds a year on convention organising and convention attendance seems all too likely not to realise that the difference between travelling to Glasgow and travelling to Jersey far outweighs any good points the hotel might have.
Similarly, even if part of the problem was a result of inept publicity, I don't think that the "Speculation" single-rooms-affair shows much sign of care and forethought. Conrunners, at committee level at least, seem to come from places where it is relatively easy to meet other fans. How else can they get together to organise a bid? But in that situation it is very easy to arrange to share a room. Again we are getting signs of mild egocentrism, and the common practice of distributing things such as progress reports and hotel booking forms at "Novacon" provokes the same sort of criticism.
I don't have the spare cash. I don't have the personal contacts. I don't go to "Novacon". I don't need "Conrunner", interesting though it is. Am I really so incredibly untypical of fandom in general, rather than just the convention committees who seem to think that they know what the rest of us want?
As for the main contents of "Conrunner 15", I am a little suprised that "Eastcon" was so unprepared for petty theft at the con. The same happened at "Follycon", and I have one of the warning announcements on a low-quality tape of the filk concert. But I don't think that professional security is affordable, not with the timing of conventions. The overtime rates for effective cover would be horrendous, and choosing the lowest bid would be lunacy. Whoever does provide the security, there is definite need for a thorough briefing, covering what actions are lawful for the security people to take, and what behaviour can be tolerated at a con which might not be allowed elsewhere. To my own knowledge, uniformed security guards have no more authority than any other non-policeman, except as employees of owners or occupiers of a property.
Your editorial: I suspect that Illumination having more members than Speculation last Novacon is mere rumour. I hope it was mere rumour, as our membership figures were only in the two hundreds at the time. Still, I agree with you, size isn't everything. We've been budgeting on 750 members, expecting a knock on downward trend from both Eastcon and Speculation. Yes, I know Eastcon turned out as another 1000 person Eastercon, but as late as the preceding Christmas it was looking unhealthily small. The bonus from this has barely offset the massively uninterested results we got from Speculation-goers: when you've paid to get as far a Glasgow and the Helicon Hard Sell team have hit you as soon as you came in the door, you don't have much money left for other cons. It's slightly worrying to think that we did nearly as well out of Wincon II. But I digress.
Filthy Pierre: Tech Ops is but a symptom of a far more general malaise that has hit convention fandom in Britain, and from what little I know, fanzine fandom as well. They appear to be highly stratified. There are all these little cliques about called things like USSG, LCFI, the Leeds group, the Iconoclasts, and so forth, and if you aren't in one of them then you're never going to be anything in fandom. Reality is somewhat different; you don't need to be one of the Oxford bombers to do tech, you don't need to come from Leeds to do write a fanzine, you don't have to have years of experience to run an Eastercon. Appearances are deceiving, but I fear that impressions last.
I have access to a specialist insurance company via my current employer, which deals in conferences etc. and am more than happy to help out any committee with insurance. I'm quite happy for the above address to be given out for contact, and to back up my offer, I currently have insurance policies of 4 conventions with this company!
Did you ever hear about FREUCON? I don't think so! At the WORLDCON in Den Haag I met Ian Sorensen. We spoke about Cons and I promised to send him some information about the FREUCON, a German con in 1992.
The FREUCON 1992 will be a German SF-convention with international participation. We are expecting about 500 visitors. We think it's realistic - not enthusiastic. It will take place in an area which has an attractive landscape. German SF-fans are already organising the FREUCON, the big SF-event of 1992.
The time: April, 24th to 26th, the week after Easter. At this time you are able to combine a visit in Freudenstadt with the Easter holidays.
The place: The Kongresszentrum in Freudenstadt is a highly modern one, which was built in 1989. The possibilities of communication and the building's styling come up to international standard.
The town: Freudenstadt is in northern part of the Black Forest, in the southern part of Germany, about 80 kilometres from Stuttgart or Strasbourg. Freudenstadt is within easy driving distance. The town is in the middle of the beautiful nature of the Black Forest.
The con: Different sets will form the programme, dedicated to sf-fans, to fantasy and horror fans, to readers of modern comics, to friends of the fantastic film, to roleplayers, to Perry Rhodan fans - for all. Performances, lectures, discussions, talk shows, a night programme until three o'clock, films, action and theatre. German and other European authors will be at the convention, but we can't say anything about the names yet.
The money: 15 dollars (20 marks) for supporting membership, 20 dollars for attending membership. You can pay cash, with traveller or with euro cheques. The membership includes the whole programme.
The organising committee: German SF-fans, between 25 and 30 years old, working for German fandom since a lot of years, visiting and organising various cons, are organising the FreuCon.
Our addresses: - Gunther Freunek, Von-Guericke-Allee 1,D-5300 Bonn 1 (for membership) - Hermann Ritter, BismarckstraBe 39, D-6100 Darmstadt (for the programme) - Klaus N. Frick, Postfach 301, D-7290 Freudenstadt (for the rest)
D. West, 17 Carlisle St, Keighley, BD21 4PX.
Andy Croft, Top Flat 217 Chichester Rd, North End, Portsmouth, PO2 0AL.
Chuck Connor, Sildan House, Chediston Road, Wissett, Near Halesworth, Suffolk, IP19 ONF.
Steve Pritchard, 4 Gleneagle Ave, Plymouth, PL3 5HL.
Joseph Nicholas, 5a Frinton Rd, Stamford Hill, London, N15 6NH.
Ethel Lindsay, 69 Barry Rd, Carnoustie, DD7 7QQ.
Dave Langford, 94 London Rd, Reading, RG1 5AU.
Rhodri James, 25 Wycliffe Rd, Cambridge, CB1 3JD.
Michael Ashley, 9 Blakely House, Kelmore Grove, Bradford, BD6 2RF.
James D Grey, Rivendell, 3 Burrowes Lane, Bag Enderby, Horncastle, Lincolnshire. ((Don't know him, but the address rings a Bell...))
Pat Silver, 83 Cavendish Rd, Bristol, BS12 5HH.
Tina Hewitt, 65, Park Rd, Dartford, Kent, DAl lST.
Wilf James, 106 Jarden, Letchworth, SG6 2NZ.
Gunther Freunek, Von-Guericke-Allee 1,D-5300 Bonn 1, Germany.
((My thanks again to all of the contributors for their letters. If you are sending a letter, please send dark type as it makes scanning so much quicker!))