So let’s be honest here, rather than pretend this to be some massive act of fandom. After a week of getting miserable under edits and real life stressing me out, I really needed to get out the house. So on Saturday morning, I jumped in the car and drove a hundred and fifty miles to Derby for the one-day Alt.Fiction event, Other Worlds. This, my brain told me, wasn’t a form of procrastination because it was still linked to writing.
The idea of these one day events is to try and capture those people who never go to cons; to give them a taste of what to expect. And I have to be honest, and say that whilst I’ve thought a lot since about how the event can be improved, it wasn’t because Other Worlds did anything wrong.
The event kicked off with some optional SF or Fantasy workshops in the morning. I didn’t go for a number of reasons but I heard from people who did go who said it was well-attended and very beneficial.
The panels started with a discussion on the landscape of SF and Fantasy with panellists Adrian Tchaikovsky, Mark Charan Newton, Peter F Hamilton and Tony Ballantyne.. What was clever about this was that they introduced some friendly SF v Fantasy banter into the debate. This really helped ensure the conversation flowed from side to side, became a bit animated and engaged the crowd.
From there people followed their allegiance either into a panel on SF or (in the case of myself) the discussion on Fantasy. If you’ve ever been to a con before then you kinda knew what to expect, but both Mark and Adrian made it an interesting panel.
A signing there followed, but if I’m honest (and it may be because I wasn’t queuing up to have anything signed) it felt the event had ended and we were just hanging on for the raffle. I’d prefer the event ended with a bang rather than a whimper.
Are these events suited to your average con-goer? I think some will find them deliberately light on panels, so unless you’re supporting a favourite author, it might not be worth doing hundreds of miles. But I think if you’ve never been to a con before and are nervous about committing to a whole weekend, then these are perfect.
The thing I’ve been thinking a lot about since is the goodie bag. A lot of people seemed genuinely excited about getting King Rat by China Mieville in their bags. I got a SF book. A free book is a free book and I think most regular con-goers would agree. But if these one-day events are outreach programmes, I found myself wondering if there should be a separate fantasy or SF goodie bag. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about what was done, but instead wondering if the event is catering to those people who are just entering fandom, whether the goodie bag could be changed to better suit that slightly different audience. I’m sure if I had wanted I could have swapped the book (although I do own King Rat), but if this is possibly someone’s first con experience and we’re looking to try and engage them with fandom, do we have to offer something slightly different in the goodie bag? What about a book by one of the authors present? Maybe even play around with the entrance fee to budget for it. It’s something I offer as a point of debate not a criticism.
One thing they did include which I thought was a great idea, was a sampler from Tor. A lot of people were very excited to see that the little booklet included samples from Embassytown and The Sea Watch. Now you can be cynical and say it’s just Tor promo material, but I think giving the fans an early taste of things to come gave the event weight. I know hardcore fans who were excited about an extract of Embassytown, so to a casual first-timer, I think it would have been a big deal.
These one-day events are definitely a good thing, and there’s another in the form of Conjour being planned for next year in Leeds. It would be great if there was a way these smaller events could filter out to places that never get any form of fandom events, maybe even more rural areas. Hardcore fans seem to be willing to travel, so they should ensure events are well attended. If this is a form of outreach programme I think we as a community still have more to do, things to still experiment with.
All this might sound like I’m being slightly negative about the event. I’m not. It tried something slightly different and I think it worked. It was brilliantly organised and a very good event. I had a great day out and I think those who were experiencing their first con, did so too.