I've seen the wrong side of four consecutive Swancons - the inside. So when I was approached over whether I was going to attend Swancon 15, I fixed my friends with a steely glare and declared that I could always rent the complete run of Gilligan's Island on video for fun, so why go to Swancon? The best con I'd ever been to was mostly dull, and the rest were like different levels in Dante's Inferno. Worse.
When the time for Swancon came however, I looked at the attractively packaged stack of Gilligan's Island video tapes and thought . . . Naaah, all my friends are going. What fun is Gilligan's Island by yourself?
Friday night reminded me of the carnival scene from Walt Disney's Pinocchio: bright, colourful, slightly wild and mawkishly sweet. After a rather clumsy but well intentioned panel item on cyberpunk, the Swancon XV cocktail party took off. Drinks were served by Darren Smith and Peter James, who came up with the most interesting approximations on standard alcoholic themes. I dimly recall having my first White Russian, my first Tequila Sunrise and my second, third, fourth . . . seventh . . . At some point Robin, Slasher and I snuck off for a pizza. It was terrible, the waitress cute and the Riesling watery. Friday was the night of the ill-fated "Is Science Fiction Silly?" panel. Intended to affectionately rubbish a few fannish icons, it was ruined by some idiots kidnapping the panelists and showing all the wit and aplomb of a brick in the process. Psycho Squiggle and the Juvenile Brigade were out to promote the (since defunct) "Videodrome" and ended up embarrassing themselves and everyone else in the process. It seemed they just didn't have the sensitivity to realise it. Thanks to Grant "the immortal Gran-Twan" Stone the evening was saved. His good humour and copy of Weird Al Yankovic's The Vidiot From VHF were just what was needed to kick start the evening again. Yankovic's "Conan the Librarian" skit was definitely a scream. The evening then segued into a quiet kind of twilight. Robin screened Them in the Video Room and one of my fondest memories is of standing at the back of the room at one o'clock in the morning discussing the animation of Winsor McCay with the immortal Gran-Twan. Picture if you will, Grant Stone, hair streaming back into oblivion, outlined against a backdrop of giant ants ravishing a black and white Texas. You had to be there!
"Slasher" Snow greeted me at the registration desk looking like he hadn't slept and asked immediately if I'd met Terry. "He's grate" he drawled (the only Canadian I've ever met who sounds like he came from the Scottish Highlands). It was around 10.00am and the programming was soon in full swing. I must confess that I only clearly remember two programmed events from Saturday. At 1.00pm Terry Dowling did a reading of "The Robot is Running Away From The Trees", one of his Tom Rynosseros tales. It was an intelligent, sensitive, articulate and moving reading. I made a point of meeting Terry afterwards, and he was the most open, generous Guest of Honour I'd met since Grant Stone the night before. Not long after the Guest of Honour Reading a screening of Warriors of the Wind was programmed in the Video Room. At this point I should call a time out and give you some background. Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicca is a serious piece of environmental science fiction reminiscent of Frank Herberts' Dune. Beautifully animated, it was released in a substantially edited English version in 1986 as Warriors of the Wind. I've seen the film six times and adore it. I was looking forward to seeing the film on a bigger screen than ever before. The screening became the sourest moment of the Con. I took a seat near the front to get a really good view, heard the opening score, saw old Lord Youpa trek across the Sea of Corruption and then the Vandals sacked Rome. A number of my fellow audience members saw fit to embellish what I considered to be an already more than adequate film with their witticisms, bon mots and a general "rape and pillage approach" to film going. Salient comments like "Awww, bullshit", and "What the . . . is going on?" seemed, unsurprisingly, to be the best they could come up with. I left half way through the film, disgusted, angry and disappointed. It was a sour way to end what was an otherwise enjoyable day.
After lunch Terry presented his GOH Speech. It came in three parts, and unlike the curate's egg, all parts were good. Using three different coats to represent three different aspects of himself, he told us about his past, showed us spectacular Rynosseros artwork by Nick Stathopoulos, and was both entertaining and moving. Although already more than rewarding, the day was still not over. I spent most of the afternoon in discussion with Matthew Clarkson. Matthew has long been a friend and the time we spent together seemed to underscore the spirit of the convention. We sat in a freezing cold lighting booth and discussed all manner of things, as is appropriate when the most interesting thing going on is a panel on whether Heinlein is an old fart or not.
The Convention Banquet took place at round 8.00pm and I didn't go. The inevitable presentations were made afterward with an inspirational speech by Grant "the immortal Gran-Twan" Stone, some artwork from Keira McKenzie and some truly weird acceptance speeches.
For me it was an odd, uneven, but rich experience founded in the friendship of a group of unusual people. XV itself was not a perfect convention. The video program ran erratically, equipment failed, panelists were often vague, disorganised or totally irrelevant and things went wrong. All this was, and is, beside the point. XV had an atmosphere based on friendship and respect. For the first time I really enjoyed myself at a Con.
For this the Committee, Terry Dowling, Grant Stone and my other friends have my thanks.