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FantasyCon 2014

This summer has been such a whirlwind of conventions, I feel like I hardly had time to recover from one before the next was upon me. It didn’t help that I developed a nasty case of con crud right after WorldCon, which is why I never got around to blogging about the fab time I had there. However I’ve finally managed to catch my breath, so here’s my review of this year’s FantasyCon, held in York.

In a word (well, three): Best. FantasyCon. Ever.

Now admittedly I have a soft spot for FantasyCon anyway, because it’s where I pitched The Alchemist of Souls to Marc Gascoigne of Angry Robot, back in 2010. It’s also known for its awesome disco, of which more later. But this year the BFS, led by the redoubtable Lee Harris, delivered a fantastic convention worthy of our national genre organisation.

Firstly the venue, the Royal York Hotel, was far superior to the Britannia hotels of previous FantasyCons (albeit wickedly expensive to stay in!). Thankfully it’s conveniently placed just outside the city centre, right next to the railway station, so attendees on more limited budgets could stay elsewhere without major inconvenience. The central location also provided plenty of choices for eating out, and the opportunity to pop into the beautiful city centre if you needed a break from the convention.

Another nice touch was that instead of the goodie bag containing a couple of random paperbacks, there was a table piled with books from which one could choose (there was still a goodie bag, but with only the programme and a few small items). This was great, because at past FantasyCons I’d mostly ended up with horror books (yuck!), whereas this year I scored copies of The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie and Gideon’s Angel by Clifford Beal, both of them novels I actively want to read.

More importantly, the programme was excellent. In recent years I’d more-or-less stopped attending panels at FantasyCon because they retrod the same old topics I’d heard discussed a dozen times, but there was much more variety this year. Perhaps because of Guest of Honour Kate Elliott’s presence, there were lots of panels on different aspects of worldbuilding, which is a subject very much on my mind at the moment as I work on my new secondary world setting. My own panel, But Does it Make Sense: the Economics of Fantasy Worlds, with Kate Elliott, Kari Sperring, Tom Pollock and Leila , had a packed audience despite being at 10am on Saturday morning, and to be honest we could easily have talked for another hour about what turned out to be a fascinating topic.

Samurai McKenna demonstrates what to do when a peasant (Adrian Tchaikovsky) tries to grab your katana!
Samurai McKenna demonstrates what to do when a peasant (Adrian Tchaikovsky) tries to grab your katana!

Another topic that needed more than an hour was The Pen vs the Sword, in which four authors and practising martial artists – Juliet McKenna, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Fran Terminiello and Clifford Beal – talked about sword fights in fiction and demonstrated some cool moves. The panellists and audience ended up relocating to the (closed) bar next to the auditorium for more demonstrations – in fact our only complaint was that the panel should have been a demonstration with discussion, rather than a discussion with a few demonstrations, because it’s much easier to talk about the realities of fighting when you’re able to show it.

It wasn’t all serious panels, either. In addition to the ever-popular Just a Minute hosted by Paul Cornell, on Saturday evening I attended a live edition of Emma Newman’s podcast Tea and Jeopardy, where she interviewed screenwriter Toby Whithouse. I don’t know if they recorded it, but if not, it’s a shame – because now you’ll never know why the audience had to pretend to be chickens singing the Doctor Who theme…

And then there was the disco. This year we had a new DJ, my own editor Marc Gascoigne, who dipped into his vast record collection (and believe me, it’s big – I’ve seen it!) to bring us a mix of tracks from across the decades that left us exhausted but happy. An appropriately geeky highlight was 1988 No 1 hit single, Doctorin’ the TARDIS – complete with official dance. At first, most of the people still on the dance floor from the previous song gave this one a go, but it turned out to be a bit trickier than they’d expected, and soon there were only eight or ten of us dancing. For eight whole minutes. By the end, my legs were like jelly, but boy was it fun!

Next year, FantasyCon moves back to Nottingham, though thankfully not in the shabby Britannia Hotel. I shall be signing up as soon as my bank balance has recovered from this year’s expenses!