Conrunner Logo


((Not very many letters for publication this time, but those that I did receive were, as you will read, fairly substantial and thought provoking. I've had many conversations at conventions and elsewhere about the need for novel programme items. Everyone seems tired of the same formula of talking heads, quizzes and films but few can see a practical way round the problem. I think the impact that theatrical performances like Geoff Ryman's plays or his marvellous version of D West's "Performance" that he did at Conception point the way to the future: less programme but better quality, requiring more talented participants and greater technical support from the convention. In other words, run the programme less like ITV and more like BBC2 or Channel 4. This, before anyone jumps down my throat, is not elitism in any way. It is simply coming to terms with the fact that there are many people staying away from the programme at conventions simply because they've seen it all before. Here's a letter from someone who has been around long enough to have seen it all many times....))

Ethel Lindsay, 69 Barry Rd, Carnoustie, Angus, DD7 7QQ

Your editorial asking for novel programme items is asking quite something! After all these years there isn't much that has not been tried. The best novel thing I have seen was the ceilidh at Albacon III. That certainly got people together which is more than you can say for a disco. Mind you, I would quite enjoy a disco if the music were not so loud.

Discussion groups where people can argue are usually lively - but how do you arrange that in a large convention? The Banquet used to be fun but I see that has fallen into disuse.

Coming up with a suitable form to register "Eastercon" sounds like a job for a lawyer. I know that Doreen Rogers has had law training but are there any lawyers in fandom?

I'm sure that convention planners will bless you for the wealth of information in CONRUNNER. Jonathan Cowie's idea of a compilation into a deluxe edition is quite right. Many fanzines are ephemeral but this one could be a handy reference for years to come.

((Thank you for those kind words. There will be a "Best of Conrunner" out at worldcon, but I hope it will be done as a Beccon publication as I don't think I'll have time to make a good job of it myself. I still haven't heard anything further about service marks, but Vince Docherty relates the Albacon experience a little later. There are lawyers in fandom - Lilian Edwards who wrote for Conrunner 4 on the legal status of conventions, Tim Stannard who is legal adviser to Conspiracy and Howard Singerman in Glasgow all spring to mind.

The next letter is by way of being a Novacon report with interesting diversions to examine programme ideas that do and don't work.))

Peter Pinto, 33 North Rd, Lancaster, LA1 1NS

The non existence of function rooms in the Royal Court, Sloane Square (alluded to in Conrunner 5), should make it ideal for traditonal style Novacons. I don't know if the lack of attendees resulted in too little demand for 24hr bar opening at the De Vere, or if the concom wasn't bothered, but it made a deadly difference to 3-9am fans.

I'm impressed by the almost tone-deaf (or tasteless) ness of fandom. While I did not enjoy more than two of the numbers by whichever avatar of Hawkwindclone it was, it was lively. Likewise the ceilidh. But only one con where I and like minded friends took over the muzak system on the Sunday, and the hotel people didn't notice for a day, has there been much attention to what must be an important factor in "atmosphere" (plus the tapes we played at the Albacon I had a booktable)(various of them were borrowed for further use). (I know the Hawclonecon and ceilidhcon were different. Sooner or later all cons run into one another, with exceptionally good or bad ones retaining their reputation long after the actual events have merged......)

Conspiracy '87 please get programme items with sf/fantasy publishing/wholesaling/retailing professionals as well! A roasting of Simon Ounsley whole in the main con bar might raise subs for Interzone.

Cons are put on by fans, attended by fans and, largely, items are presented by fans. If those putting them on, those presenting items or those attending cease to enjoy doing so, they'll stop. ALL discussion not accepting the above is pointless. Discussion proceeding from this may well argue over balance, what will be enjoyable (and to who) etc., but if the basic approach is what should be, rather than what is - why expect sense to be added later? I feel Novacon was advertised as a kind of con it was not intended to be - whether this intention was primarily among the concom or the regular attendees, or both, I am not in a position to say. I think any normally shy fan attending it as their first con and knowing no-one else would have found it most off-putting. Maybe it can't return to the traditional Novacon where everyone knew the programme was a joke (Pam Bulmer, as then was, didn't, and felt hurt and somewhat insulted, I think, that the debate she was asked to be a principal in was intended as an entertainment item rather than sercon. This was some years back. No-one had told her.. and everyone else seemed to know) between friends and best enemies alike, but it can't move very far from that, very fast, without finding three to five hundred new Novacongoers to change with it. A single strong programme stream with emergency fill-in items prepared (and bar/alcohol/non alcohol refreshments including at the least packets of crisps) running through 'til breakfast now seems essential.

((I'm glad I use a word processor or I'd have worn out the brackets character on a typewriter with that letter! Peter is quite right that music does lend atmosphere to a convention, but music is too emotive to ever get widespread agreement on what should be played. You simply have to have a variety available and let people choose what they want to listen to at different times of the day.

Steve Green's thoughtful piece of film programming provoked this letter from Peter Smith.))

Peter Smith, 16 Tresta Walk, Woking, Surrey, GU21 4XF

I am going to limit my comments to the subject of films and Steve Green's piece, as I am addicted to the cinema and films have been my sole contribution to convention organising so far (albeit in a minor way).

As Steve said, the audience at an SF convention is not a homogeneous one. It is a varied audience which sees a varied number of films at varied occasions for varied reasons. To deal with this is not easy - it would be nice to try and get figures for the head count watching certain films, I don't know if this has ever been done, but it would be interesting to see numbers. My feeling is that films at a convention will be for most con-goers a side-show, rather than a main attraction. The films will be light entertainment, rather than intellectual stimulation and education. I would like it to be otherwise, what Steve says about themes in film programming sounds good, and I hope there's more experimentation along these lines, but is the audience committed enough? I don't think so.

The bottom line in film programming is showing crud films people want to see, rather than decent films they ought to see. Only a small fraction of the film programme is going to make it to being unusual, exotic, rare, foreign. Within this limitation there is still a lot of room for maneouvre, to trying to make the film programme as varied as possible. I was very impressed with the selection of films at the last Novacon, and delighted to see a goodly audience turn-out for REPO MAN. Perhaps I underestimate the SF audience's capacity for films.

The only tie-in between film programme and main programme I've noticed was at this year's Unicon, where the dire film DUNE was shown, and then a panel discussion was held on the dire film and the dire book. The discussion was fairly dire too. Not everyone there had seen the film (including some on the panel apparently from what was said), and the discussion was fixated on the vile literary work rather than on the camera angles used in the film or the colour filters used in certain scenes, or the cutting between scenes. Room for improvement.

Foreign films suffer reduced popularity because they're not in English. TOMORROW I'LL SCALD MY HAND WITH TEA is a good foreigner to let into con, but ALPHAVILLE ain't; unless one believes Goddard is God, then ALPHAVILLE is tedious, and the random switches from positive to negative picture annoying instead of awe-inspiring. Almost as boring as STALKER! Art films are not good con film material. To make up for the language barrier a varied appeal foreign film needs a little more zip - action lights camera chainsaws - rather than artistic slowness. I'm not a proper film fan; I still go to the cinema to enjoy myself, unlike the true film fan.

Finally. Sogo Ishii CRAZY FAMILY. Japanese film. Marvellous, Monty Pythonish. As good as REPO MAN. This paragraph is a commercial for the Oriental film industry which I have a soft spot for.

((So have I: a marsh just north of Tokyo. I won't get involved in a debate here on why DUNE is a good film, really, but I will say that Chris O'Kane has done head counts at films shown at Albacons and I'll try to get him to write them down for a future issue.

Now on to the Great Eastercon Charter (yawn) Debate. Tim Illingworth told me on the phone that he has had a less than enormous postbag on the subject - in fact, this is virtually it! However, I did discover that the Australian SF Society has a constitution that is only 220 words long, including the clause prohibiting any alteration that increases the number of words. Now that is my kind of constitution! Any of you reading Conspiracy's PR3 will have had the opportunity to examine the WSFS constitution in all its glory. And I hope you enjoyed it. Here is Vince Docherty's response to the piece by Tim in the last Conrunner in which he outlined his proposed constitution and charter as well as raising the notion of a "help file" of useful names and addresses.))

Vincent Docherty, 80 Hillington Gdns, Glasgow, G52 2TP

As a member of the Albacon III committee I was involved at all stages of the discussion concerning two year bidding, (except for the actual decision-making meeting where I was laid up bed with flu!), and I was present at the initial discussion on the subject at Yorcon III. Hopefully, after all that, my opinions will have some breadth although they do remain my personal opinions only.

Instead of trying to attack the whole problem at one go, I think I'll go through Tim Illingworth's proposals point-by-point and say whether I agree or disagree.

The first point I noticed (about the background to the decision to move to two year bidding) is ambiguous because he seems to be saying that the effort of losing bids is wasted. Surely this cannot be a reason for two year bidding since the loser MUST have had good ideas in the first place otherwise it would not have been a serious contender. There is still only one Eastercon a year, so any losing committee will have another opportunity regardless of whether it is one or two years in the future. Also, people comprising the bid committee are usually multi-event animals and they can apply their ideas elsewhere - taking the Contravention bid as an example, several of them are now working for Conspiracy. As far as I am aware, the main stated reason for two year bidding was the increasing difficulty in finding available sites for such an expanding event.

The next is just a passing comment - the reason we did not institute two year bidding at Albacon III was that we felt that the Yorcon meeting was not properly constituted, advertised and attended enugh to make such a binding decision. The full statement on the subject is in the Albacon III Progress Reports.

Now on to Charters etc.

Having thought about it for two years and after innumerable conversations with interested parties I have come down on the side of a written constitution. The trouble with a charter, as you pointed out, is that it tends to define things that are by their nature things that are done as a matter of course. In fact the only differences between the Eastercon and any other con are the BSFA and other awards, the bid session and the fact that many people see it as an event that they must go to - the power of inertia!! (In fact, minus the bid session, the above could easily describe a Novacon as well!)

The constitution provides a basis that gives the Eastercon authenticity as the premier meeting and decision-making event for active fandom and many authors in Britain each year. At Albacon, we used the name of the Eastercon as a platform not only to promote our guests and other authors present but also to try to increase and enhance the public awareness of SF generally. There is no reason why every Eastercon should not do this - it is not just there to entertain people (although it should do that as well).

A constitution provides the minimum details that a committee has to adopt in order to run an Eastercon wthout binding their hands with unnecessary rules and regulations - it's easy to tell each committee "you will run an inventive and exciting programme, with lots of cheap accomodation, food, drink and travel" but it's not easy to actually do it. The committee often has to decide that some things have a higher priority and that some prices will have to go up as a consequence. Remember, the committee have been elected by the membership (us) to do a job we don't want to do, so we must credit them with common sense and managerial ability.

The actual constitution Tim provided is quite a good basis although I would add a few points:

Section 1 - Definitions

(1) OK, but add that it must be held on the Easter holiday weekend - better to be explicit. Also, a list of when Easter actually is would be useful. A listing of the dates 'til 2000AD is given in an earlier issue of Conrunner.

(2) OK, although each individual committee decides who is eligible to vote etc.- sometimes postal votes might not be acceptable.

(3) The Eastercon committee will provide accounts of the finance of the event to be available for publication at the next Eastercon. As the event is not profit making, the committee's aim should be to break even or make a moderate surplus. The disposal of any surplus is at the discretion of the committee.

I'm not sure that having a fourth section to cover the smaller and more detailed parts of the convention is appropriate for the reasons stated above about the independence of the Eastercon committee, although it might be useful to have each committee publish their own policy statement. I DO think that something should be done to help the organisation of the various awards, as we had tremendous problems at Albacon III trying to ascertain who was supposed to run the Doc Weir award for instance, and it would be nice if the BSFA would let the committee know in advance who has won their awards so that the recipients can be organised - at Albacon none of the winners were present! Also, the winner of the Ken MacIntyre award, Mike Molloy, has received nothing but good wishes since Albacon. Obviously, something needs done.

About the "help file": I have always held the opinion that there should be a central information handling system, possibly maintained by the BSFA or some suitably masochistic individual. This would cover membership records, financial details, awards administration etc. I don't think the data protection law would be bent much by this as long as the membership records were only kept as a mailing list. The winning bid would then have access to all the previous Eastercon members. Other cons could then be encouraged to add their membership lists, although I'm not clear on the law at this point.

The idea of registering service marks sounds good, although I would like to hear more about the details. Albacon has considered this before but our plans came to nothing as the registration (then) had little force.

A (notorious) point that arose at Albacon III concerns security and the committee's right to refuse membership to anyone. Putting these specific circumstances to one side, the legal aspect is clear: the committee have hired the hotel for the purposes of holding a private function for which a membership fee is required. The committee therefore has the absolute right to refuse entry to anyone without giving a reason.

((The evening I typed the above I got a call from Bernie Peek of the Beccon committee asking me if I knew who had won the Doc Weir Award at Albacon III. It appears that nobody is really bothering with these awards these days. Keith Freeman who has done the the Doc Weir award for years is desperately looking for someone to take it over from him as he rarely goes to cons these days. Anyone like to volunteer?

Let me end this letters page with a plea of my own. There will be a "Best of Conrunner" out at Conspiracy so I doubt that Conrunner 7 will appear before Easter 1988. Please continue to write as I still need articles, some to include in the "Best of" and others for Conrunner 7. I would also like you to continue writing letters on any subject you think might interest conrunners.))


This page updated on 09 July 1999