Monday, October 26, 2015

Notes From a Nottingham Laundry

Hello, friends! Tex here, reporting live from a laundrette (=laundromat) somewhere in Nottingham. I'm pleased to report that the spin cycle is proceeding industriously, and that the lone sock dangling from the dryer opposite has been rescued by its owner.

Needless to say, it's been a hell of a week. 24 hours of planes, trains, and my saintly mother-in-law's automobile got me from Dallas to God's Own Country (as my dad calls it), where Dr. Robert Maslen hosted me for a discussion on "The Changing Faces of Fantasy" at the University of Glasgow. And that was... friends, it was entirely too much. More on that next week – if I write it now, it will be nothing but Oscar-clutching tears and snotters.

Right now it's pretty much just wall-eyed vegetative stupor.

But let me tell you about FantasyCon. And maybe extend that to the wonders of British SFF-lit cons generally (as I am operating on about 18% over here, and couldn't rake my fingers through this one with my usual hair-pulling intensity.)

This was my third UK con – after WorldCon in London last year and Eastercon back in April – and while that's not much of a sample size, I'm noticing a pattern. FantasyCon in particular was just astonishingly organized: every panel (that I saw) with exactly five panelists plus a moderator, every moderator prepared with questions, every panelist enthusiastic but mindful in their contributions, keeping up the conviviality without running roughshod over their colleagues. They all took questions from the audience. They all ended on time (thanks in no small part to con staff at the back of the room, flashing "five minutes" and "end now" signs as appropriate). It was like a party in a pocket-watch – and a huge departure from the wild, improvised scrum that seems to be the hallmark of so many American cons. ("Moderator? We don't need no stinkin' moderator!")

Which is not to say it wasn't spontaneous or fun. Around midday on Saturday, the fire alarm went off. Everyone dutifully gathered their things and trooped outside to the parking lot, waiting under the overcast sky with tea and portions of chips still in hand.

It was a social event, of course.
After we were allowed back in, the warm, brassy curls of a Midlands accent came on over the intercom in perfect deadpan:

"Would all FantasyCon members please be advised that the 2:00 barbecue has been cancelled."

We thought it was a pretty good joke :)

And speaking of food, it's an odd thing here. Unless someone is throwing a capital-P (usually) by-invitation-only Party, you don't see free food or drinks anywhere. Sometimes you can't even pay for it (which is more about the venues than the cons – even their sandwiches keep bankers' hours.) It's made me realize just how odd it is to expect to have food available anytime, anywhere.  No wonder the French think we're savages.

But that also means there's no culture of room parties here, at least not any that I can see. It's a huge part of the US con scene: people will spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars to spill-proof and then decorate a hotel suite, setting out a whole smorgasbord of free food and booze, and then advertise to all comers. Sometimes they're small and simple, sure – you can throw a room party with just a bag of Doritos and a cooler of beer – but they're as much a part of our conventions as league sports are to our schools, and Greek life is to our universities – and it probably looks just as frivolous and bizarre to the rest of the world.

And speaking of frivolous and bizarre, can I just say how proud I am that my publisher was the one hosting the karaoke?
So what do you do when you don't have room parties? Why, you follow standard British procedure, of course: you meet at the pub!

And god, what a great idea. Instead of wedging ourselves awkwardly between hotel beds, circulating through a stuffy, overcrowded room to try to reach the snacky-cakes on the nightstand, let's just meet at the bar and buy each other a round. Everyone's there. You can scan the crowd and find your crew and introduce people to each other in a space custom-made for the purpose. Now, if the hotel bars of the world could just be persuaded to serve cupcakes and Cheetos, we would truly be living in a utopian age...!

Well, I'm taking matters into my own hands, and heading off for the post-Soviet paradise that is Bulgaria. Wish me luck, friends:  if I can survive the customs interview, there will be a grand time waiting for me on the other side!

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