Wednesday, 23 April 2014

That was the con that was: Satellite 4

I had a brilliant time at this year’s Eastercon, Satellite 4, in Glasgow.  There was a very strong programme, and like previous Satellite cons, there was  very strong science thread running through it, not least through having Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell (or the Queen of Pulsars, as Sacha put it) as one of the guests of honour.  I got to know a few new people, mostly thanks to dancing with them at the ceilidh, and went to a lot of panels and talks.

Some of the programme highlights for me included the privilege of hearing Dame Jocelyn discuss current and upcoming trends in astronomy; finding out more about the Historical Thesaurus developed at my alma mater; an excellent discussion of women in science and SF; a discussion of CubeSats by local boys Clyde Space; scone tasting; inadvisable rocket science; and the intersection of gynaecology and lasers (Sacha again).

The guests of honour were all delightful as well.  Juliet E. McKenna was kind enough to point me to some of her free fiction online when I twittered that I hadn’t read any of her work (after reading it, I’m afraid it’s not really to my taste, but it was still very kind of her to respond on Twitter).  I picked up several of John Meaney’s books in the dealers’ room and spent the rest of the con trying to corner him to sign one.  I eventually spotted him making a beeline for the bar at the dead dog party on Monday evening.  I approached him, and not only was he very happy to sign for me, but he offered to buy me a drink (something which I was going to offer him) and spent ten or so minutes just chatting (turns out he’s a Haskell and formal methods fan), confirming the impression that I had formed of him during the rest of the con as a thoroughly nice chap and all round good egg.  I bid on a couple of prints by (artist GoH) Jim Burns in the art auction, but was outbid on both of them.  I did attend his interview though, where I learned that he had provided some early conceptual artwork for Blade Runner, which I hadn’t known before.

Other con highlights include the aforementioned conversation with and signing by John Meaney; talking to Charlie Stross about the future direction of the Laundry series (spoiler: doooooooooom!); the ceilidh (although I felt the band themselves were a bit bland and less than engaging) and, of course, the general hanging around in the bar.  I should also congratulate the committee on wrangling cheap tea and coffee at the hotel bar.  Normally, you pay an arm and a leg for bad tea at cons, so I was very pleased to see that the bad tea was going for just £1 a cup.

The one problem with the con, that was more noticeable as the con went on, was the under-representation of women.  Fandom has worked pretty hard over the last few years to move towards panel parity, or at least an equal-ish overall number of men and women doing talks and on panels across the event as a whole, and I didn’t think that Satellite 4 managed that.  This may have been a function of the panels and events that I attended, but I did notice a few people on Twitter saying the same thing.  Hopefully this is just a blip in the process but it was a bit of a shame, I felt.

Sir Terry Pratchett was supposed to have been a special guest at Satellite 4, subject to health.  In the end, he couldn’t make it, but he did record a short video message that was shown at the opening ceremony.  And it was heartbreaking.  The video was very short, but Sir Terry was obviously struggling, and the whole thing took multiple takes to do.  My heart goes out to Sir Terry and his family and I wish them all the best.  I’ll treasure my own con memories of Sir Terry all the more now.

Other than that, and despite my inability to last beyond midnight for two out of the four evenings, I had a blast.  I had a lot of fun with my friends, and got to know some new people, and to cap it all, the weather was absolutely gorgeous all weekend.  I’m not sure what the next con that I’ll go to will be, but roll on Satellite 5!


Michael says:

Thank you for your kind comments about the convention. I am glad you enjoyed it – there was much to enjoy.

However, you comment re panel parity is in error. Satellite 4 had a clear policy on this issue which was presented at our bid session and overwhelmingly endorsed by the Eastercon membership (by about 100:1 in favour of our bid). Not only that, but we fully met (and slightly exceeded) our stated policy. Further, our policy has also been supportd by Dame Jocelyn in the panel of women in SF and science as it is exactly the same policy she promotes for encouraging women in science careers. It may have been a ‘blip;’ in the panels you personally selected, but gender reperesentation across the programme had excess female reperesentation compared to the membership, and vastly excessive compared to the actual volunteer pool. We shall be presenting a more detailed breakdown of our performance in this area in the souvenir book.

However, the main thing is you enjoyed our full and varied programmme, so thank for that.

Raj says:

Hi Michael,
If it was just a function of the events that I chose to see then that’s great, I’m happy about that. Although I was at the 2012 bid session, I don’t really remember what your policy was, can you remind me? I look forward to reading the details in the souvenir book.

Thanks for taking the time to comment and hopefully I’ll actually make it to Trout one of these days…


Michael says:

Hi Raj
We promised that participation across the whole programme would at least reflect our membership ratio. Christine had to work hard to achieve that (indeed she bettered it) as we had very few volunteers particularly female ones – a side effect of enforced gender parity which most females find patronizing and a real turn-off. Even though we were not doing it, a lot of people have been put off volunteering in general. We also have a Loncon effect – people are saving themselves for that. Stat attack to follow but happy to discuss at Trout if we see you there!

Raj says:

Thanks for those details, Michael. I can appreciate what you were trying to do, and I’m glad that you managed to meet, and better, your goal. I should point out that the women I did see on panels/talks were excellent, so the quality aspect was definitely high.

I can totally appreciate the LonCon effect as well. I went the opposite way, going to EasterCon and not WorldCon (life-related issues), but I can see that most people would go the opposite route.

I always have good intentions of making it to Trout and then either forget or can’t be bothered. I’m afraid I’ll be baking this Thursday, in advance of Eurovision :-), but maybe next time.

PS: apologies for the delay in responding – my PC died recently, and I’ve only just got it back up and running.

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