Eurocon in Belfast

Titancon was a convention that probably shouldn’t have worked, but actually did very well.

To start with there were three very distinct groups of members. There were those (mainly Americans) who had been to Worldcon in Dublin, wanted to see more of Ireland, and signed up for Titancon without much intention of attending the convention. Being in the con hotel was a bonus because all of their friends were there too. Then there were those Eurocon regulars who didn’t go to Dublin and were trying to have a proper convention. And finally, there were those like myself who were trying to do both conventions but were pretty much dead on our feet by the time we got to Belfast.

The con was held in the Belfast Hilton which is over in the west of the city just south of the Titanic Quarter. It is very convenient for the Lanyon Place railway station, which would have been great had the Enterprise line from Dublin not been afflicted with engineering works just when we needed it. I came up by bus, stayed in the Hampton Inn near Great Victoria Street station, and commuted into Lanyon Place by train every day. It was very quick and cheap, and the trains were very frequent except on the Sunday. I also had a lot more food options in the evening.

Having arrived a few days early, because the Belfast hotel was cheaper than staying in Dublin, I went to see the Game of Thrones exhibition. This was at an exhibition centre in the Titanic Quarter. Belfast has done some amazingly good work rebuilding the harbour and docklands, but it has all been designed for cars. My feet were very sore by the end of the day. The exhibition itself was great if you are into costuming, which I am, but might have been a disappointment otherwise. I loved the fact that all of the costumes were displayed on headless mannequins, making it look like Alice’s Red Queen had paid them a visit and deprived the entire cast of their heads.

Back now to the Hilton, which had plenty of space for all of the programming scheduled for it. This was a blessed relief after Dublin. There was also a good-sized Dealers’ Room. However, for some inexplicable reason Francesco Verso and I, who were the only new book dealers in the room, were hidden away in a far corner. There was no art show.

As I said earlier, the convention should not have worked. Around a year or so ago there was some sort of major committee meltdown. A lot of work was put in behind the scenes by the Eurocon Board, in particular by Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf, to rescue it. However, as one person told me, it seemed like the convention was cursed. Even a few weeks before the event disasters were still adding up. Martin Hoare had been the Treasurer for the new committee, and his untimely death provided yet another problem for Carolina to solve.

Miraculously the convention mostly worked. The signings and kaffeklatsches were not fully scheduled before Worldcon and were a bit of a black hole, and at least one really interesting programme item materialised at the last minute so that I missed it. But everything I was scheduled for or knew in advance that I wanted to see ran fine.

I was on three programme items, and asked to moderate all of them. The small press one was a bit thin, but I livened it up by telling the story of The Green Man’s Heir. The panel on Writing Vulnerable Men was OK though it did get a bit feisty at one point. Ian McDonald had to miss it due to domestic issues, and I was left with two panellists who did not see eye-to-eye on one issue. As moderator it was my duty to move things on. However, outside the panel I am free to express an opinion. It is never “unrealistic” to write about certain types of people if people of that type exist in the real world. It doesn’t matter if they are a small minority, they are still real. And complaining that something is “unrealistic” when you are writing speculative fiction is frankly laughable.

The panel that I was most looking forward to was the one on The Matrix. I had some film studies experts on the panel so I knew I would not be short of good input. My role, beyond moderating, was to address the issue of the film(s) being a trans allegory.

I hadn’t watched the sequels before the convention because everyone keeps complaining about how bad they are. I was pleasantly surprised. The second film wasn’t really my cup of tea as I’m not into car chases or kung fu, but I could appreciate the technical wizardry. The third film is now my favourite Star Wars movie. Given that the three films are so different, it doesn’t surprise me that the trilogy as a whole found it hard to attract a fan base.

The trans allegory aspect of the first film is pretty obvious if you happen to be trans yourself. Also the whole idea that taking the red pill means taking cross-sex hormones is very funny given how alt-right conspiracy theorists have adopted the red pill for themselves. But I think that we should be wary of taking the allegory too far.

In one of the extras on the Jupiter Ascending disc Lana Wachowski talks about how many people, including herself, have unhappy lives that are suddenly transformed, and can therefore relate to the story of Cinderella (because Jupiter Ascending is totally a Cinderella reboot). She’s right, and it isn’t just that story either. As a kid I became obsessed with the story of the Ugly Duckling and half-convinced myself that I would turn into a beautiful girl as I grew up. The trans experience is a fairy story for those who survive.

So firstly, The Matrix is a trans allegory because many fairy stories are trans allegories. And secondly, once we move beyond Neo, the correspondences drop away. It is particularly dangerous to see Cypher as someone who can’t hack being trans and wants to de-transition. Many people do find post-transition life difficult, and some people do de-transition. However, those are not overlapping circles on the Venn Diagram, and most people who de-transition do so for very understandable reasons. It would worry me a lot if I felt that Lana and Lily were using Cypher to say that de-transitioners were traitors to the trans community. I can’t see them taking that position.

We spent quite a bit of time talking about the proposed Matrix 4 film. I don’t think any of us understood the need for it, beyond Hollywood wanting endless sequels, but we all hoped that it would be good.

Kevin and I had offered to do a kaffeklatsch on translation and awards, but it didn’t get scheduled in time and only two people turned up, both of whom just wanted to talk to us. It turned into a discussion on WSFS governance and Kevin is hoping to write an article for me based on the ideas we tossed around.

Sales in the Dealers’ Room were not great, but both Francesco and I had done very well in Dublin and many people told us that they had no more room in their luggage.

The ESFS Awards were handed out at Closing Ceremonies, with Carolina and her team doing amazingly well to get through the whole thing in 20 minutes. The full list of winners is available here. I’d like to repeat my congratulations to Ian McDonald, Charlie Stross, Francesco Verso and Petra Bulić, all of whom thoroughly deserve their awards.

Weirdly Closing Ceremonies was not on the last day of the convention. The Sunday was given over entirely to tourism. Most of the attendees headed off on the coach trip around Game of Thornes filming venues. I stayed at my hotel catching up on work, but did join the others for the evening’s mediaeval banquet. I was disappointed at how few people bothered to make any sort of attempt at costuming for the evening (well done, Philippa!). On the other hand, the banquet was not bad for a hotel.

One of my personal highlights of the convention was St. George’s market, which was just a few minutes walk away from the Hilton. I bought lunch there twice, the second time dragging Kevin along with me. If I lived in Belfast I’m sure I would shop there regularly, especially for cheese, bread and fish.

Next year’s Eurocon will be in Rijeka, Croatia. Site selection for 2021 was won by Fiuggi, Italy. We had been expecting a close vote between Italian and Romanian sites, but sadly fan politics in Romania caused them to withdraw their bid at the last minute. I’m looking forward to both events. Wizard’s Tower may have a surprise or two for people in Rijeka.