The Best of Times
The Worst of Times



A Personal Reminiscence On XV


Jonathan Strahan


ANTICIPATING DISASTER

When the ship begins to fill with the icy waters of the Atlantic it's not unreasonable to panic. When the edge of the ledge on which you are standing begins to collapse into the abyss, its considered acceptable to express a rather deep concern over your long term prospects. When the Swancon flyer arrives in the mail box its fair enough to run away blindly, screaming "No! Not again!".

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?


DAY ONE: A Night To Remember

On Friday afternoon Robin Pen, Scot "Slasher" Snow and I arrived at the SWY Theatre immediately prior to the opening of Swancon 15 and had a look around. The convention was being held at the same venue as Swancon 11 and I'd been looking forward to checking out the damage after four years wear and tear. It was pretty severe. SWY, who are running the premises as a theatre, have trashed the place. Anyone who went to Swancon 11 will remember the barely restrained, but vaguely tasteful decor. Well, its been replaced with black walls, stained carpets and cheap seats. At this point Gilligan's Island was beginning to look pretty good again and I was considering asking for a special "two hour" membership. The opening ceremony was . . . well, an opening ceremony. The committee said nice things, the Guests said nice things, the audience thought nice things and all the creatures from the black lagoon hid in the video room. At this point I should mention that Swancon 15 was running the first 24-hour video program to be run at a Swancon and odd creatures had materialised from the darkest corners of fandom, seemingly in response. They came dressed in nondescript clothes, carrying munchies and sleeping gear and shunning the company of ordinary people. They entered the video room on Friday and weren't seen again until Monday. We still don't know exactly what they did in there.

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!


DAY TWO: Fandom Crawls Out from Under a Rock--Some Shine, Some Don't

Saturday dawned bright and bleary and I scurried of to the Con (I didn't take a room at the hotel) without any real expectations for the day. It proved to be among the most enjoyable and the most disappointing of days I've spent at any Con.

"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.


DAY THREE: Terry and his Technicolour Dreamcoat

Having promised Bob Ogden, Senior Swancon Lighting Technician (retired), that I would arrange the lighting for the Fan Physical Fitness program item at 9.00am, I made a point of arriving early. I met up with Robin, Jeremy Byrne and Chris Stronach at Miss Maud's for breakfast, had mountains of good food, good fellowship, good coffee and the best start to any day of the Con. Robin, Slasher and I sat around talking in the Video room until about 10.00am when Terry arrived. He generously reminisced on his acquaintanceship with Harlan Ellison, signed my copy of The Essential Elephant (Thanks Terry!) and revealed the bibliophile which lurks in the heart of so many of us. We talked art, Tom Rynosseros, his new book and generally had a good time getting to know one another a bit.

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.


DAY FOUR: Friendship, Fun and Fuckwits

The final day of the convention. I arrived early, met Robin and decided to watch Laputa, another Miyazaki film, for a bit of self-indulgence. It too is a beautifully animated film which I looked forward to seeing on a big screen. Fans did it again, I suggested the only good use for fans was landfill and went to the Writers' Workshop. Terry, Grant, Stephen Dedman and Scot Snow discussed stories, writing and other points with aspiring writers. The rest of the day was a dream, talking and laughing with Terry, Grant, Robin and others. It was a wild wonderful time and I will always remember Terry holding his hair back in a mad imitation of Grant, jumping up and down yelling "I'm Grant, I'm Grant . . . just call me Lone Star Stone" and Grant's story of Vincent Serventi drop-kicking a race horse goanna. It was unique.


THE END: It's a Mad, Mad World . . . Don't You Love It?

I should say that I've ignored much of what happened at XV. There was gaming, live role playing, panels, fannish oddments and a wide variety of other events which seemed to be enjoyed by their respective participants. However, these events were not part of my experience at XV.

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.


POSTSCRIPT

When I originally sat down to write this article it was to be called "Definitely Not A Well Oiled Machine". As I have noted, XV did not run flawlessly; it creaked and groaned towards its objective of providing an enjoyable convention free of worthless "tradition", which it clearly achieved judging by subsequent response. The committee managed to see beyond what allegedly had to be included in a Swancon (which had hobbled so many well-intentioned committees in the past) and found instead what a Swancon can be: Giant Ants, Gran-Twan and a sand-ship captain!






Originally appeared pp16-20, Eidolon Issue 01, May 1990.
Copyright © Eidolon Publications, 1990. All Rights Reserved.

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