There were many things I loved about the weekend I spent in Prestatyn, flying the Angry Robot table at the SFX Weekender. There were also a couple of things that were mindlessly irritating, and one thing that was fairly disgusting. This is not how I wanted to begin my account of the weekend. How I was going to begin it until about 15mins before calling it a night on Saturday, was like this:
‘If you’ve not danced in the same room as Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Captain Picard, Tron, and Bananaman, you haven’t lived.’
What changed that was really the last straw of something I’d been trying to grin and bear the whole weekend. I’m talking about the semi-naked women. No, not the slave-Leias – those ladies do that because they want to fulfil their own fantasies, and I respect that, especially when they’re braving the gold bikini on the coast of Wales in February – I’m talking about the women hired by SFX as entertainment, where the entertainment consisted of walking around in little but a thin film of silver spandex, on stilts, trailing men with cameras. I’d heard the complaints about them last year, and was appalled that nothing had been done to even out the score.
Let me be absolutely clear on this: I’m not appalled by the women – they’re doing a job and I imagine they’re extroverted types who are drawn to the work; neither am I appalled by the concept of employing people to dress up in risqué SF and fantasy costumes to entertain the punters. What I’m complaining about is the complete lack of equality. It sends a completely different message to employ only young women to walk around wearing very little with the deliberate purpose of titillating men in a purely objectifying fashion. (They may well have been titillating some of the women too, but I don’t think that was the aim.) It’s clear by such a decision that the organisers neither considered that heterosexual women might want a bit of harmless titillation, too, nor how discomforting it would be for the female attendees to have to endure the constant leering of their male companions without any similar outlet to balance it out.
It was deeply discomforting to have to listen to the constant comments whenever they were around; deeply disappointing that nothing similar had been laid on for me. But I tried to set it aside. I assumed it would be done after the trading room closed and the evening events began. Yet there I was, partying with the Lukes and the Leias, the Picards and the Uhuras, feeling like this was the closest I would ever get to a genuine alien disco, and there were superheroes there too, and I saw them: the same women from the daytime-posing, now dancing on stage wearing nothing but tiny black straps and lightbulbs over their crotches and breasts, reducing them to giant glowing versions of their sexual characteristics.
Instant buzz kill.
I wasn’t the only woman who felt this way. And the thing is this: no one would have minded if there were some semi-naked chaps strutting around for the het ladies and gay fellas to enjoy as well. It’s much less objectifying if the sexual desires of the other genders and sexual preferences are being recognised, too. It was a real shame that something so easy to rectify should sour what had been working out to be one of the best discos of my life.
So, yeah, there was that.
The other problems were fairly endurable. The accommodation was terrible. If buildings had personalities, Pontins would be a little old woman whose grandchildren never visit and who can’t really look after herself anymore, but refuses to have a carer in to help. Most of the windows in our ‘chalet’ didn’t close properly, and one was hanging off its hinges. There was no mirror. The heaters were ineffectual, and the beds were singularly uncomfortable. Oh, and we had no hot water for the first day, so I endured the coldest shower of my life.
But I didn’t come to Pontins for a luxury holiday experience; I came to hang out with awesome people dressed in awesome clothes talking about awesome geeky things. At the end of the day the poor accommodation instilled a sort of camaraderie: ‘Yours doesn’t have a mirror? Ours doesn’t have a microwave! And have you seen our sofa bed?!’ I can’t say I ever want to experience that sort of accommodation again, but for a weekend it was endurable.
My experience of the various panels was limited, due to my duties on the stall, but that’s OK, I come to conventions to socialise, for the most part, anyway. The panels I did get to see were fantastic. I especially enjoyed the Q & A with Eve Myles. Anyone who’s read my reviews of Torchwood: Miracle Day will know that I’m recently converted to Eve Myles fandom. I thought she was absolutely fantastic in TMD, both as an actor and as a realistic female action hero. It was wonderful, then, to discover that she was such a wonderful, open, entertaining speaker, as well. I enjoyed both her stories of Torchwood (including certain amusing and bizarre stories concerning John Barrowman’s ‘little Barrowman’) and her accounts of her own life. I admire a woman who is pleased by the concept of wine in pint glasses and endless buffets. She’s gained status as a sex symbol without ever being tempted to destroy her beauty by starving herself to abnormal thinness. Every moment of her Q & A was an absolute treat.
I also have to say how much I enjoyed the Kitschies, awards presented by the very fine people at Pornokitsch for ‘the year’s most progressive, intelligent and entertaining works of genre literature’. I can’t help but approve of an award ceremony where the winners receive handmade stuffed tentacles and Kraken rum as prizes, as well as monetary rewards. It’s great to see progressive and intelligent genre fiction rewarded, and I’ve noted several of the nominees and winners to chase down and sample myself. You can read more about them, and this year’s winners, at: http://www.thekitschies.com/ . I kind of felt that A Monster Calls deserved the Inky Tentacle for its cover art, but as it won the Red Tentacle for most progressive, intelligent, and entertaining novel I suppose it’s only fair that the Inky went to someone else.
There was a special pleasure, too, to singing along to ‘Once More with Feeling’, the Buffy musical episode, with several hundred other people, at least 50% of whom knew all the words. There’s no doubt that this was a convention for fans, and as such it had a joy and exuberance not quite like any other I’ve been to. The costumes were fantastic. There were Daleks and Aliens and stilt-walking transformers. One of my favourites had to be the wookie, which I first saw being greeted by a tenth Doctor. The wookie called out to the Doctor in wookie, and the Doctor responded in kind (of course, the Doctor would speak wookie), and then they hugged. I also heard tell of a dalek saying to someone who held the door open for it ‘You will be the last to be exterminated’. All in all it was as warm and open and kind as you would hope a bunch of geeks would be when they’re all just enjoying the openness and company of others as prepared to celebrate geek culture as themselves.
My only regret is that I didn’t have anything resembling a true costume myself. I would have loved to join the ranks of the superheroes and aliens. All the same, until my buzz was killed, there was really nothing quite like the costumed disco. I’ve rarely enjoyed dancing quite so much.
And I can’t talk about the weekend without saying how great it was to catch up with people. Conventions are a great way to cross the Internet divide, and I’ve never known so many people coming to the same event. I met up with old buddies like Ros Dando and Natalie Burford, who I know from college; and Dave Moore, who I know from LARPing. I met people I’d previously talked to only on Twitter, like the fabulous Emma Newman and Jenni Hill, with whom I worked on Genre for Japan, but never actually met in the flesh until yesterday. And I caught up with people I’d had the good fortune to natter with at EasterCon last year, as well, such as Anne Lyle, Amanda Rutter, Andrew ‘MyGodItsRaining’ Reid, and Emma Jane Davies, to name but a few. I only wish I could have caught up with everyone I knew who was there, but without wifi to get in touch with people it was impossible to find everyone amongst the thousands of attendees.
Plus, it was a great weekend for the Angry Robot team as well. We sold out of nearly everything and did our best business ever at any con. Loads of authors did signings, including my Twitter mate Adam Christopher (author of Empire State) and my old writing group buddy Dave Tallerman, whose debut novel, Giant Theif, was launched on Thursday. We sold out every copy of each of their books from the stock we had with us, and you can’t ask much better than that.
Thanks again to the Angry Robot team for enabling my convention going. If I’m asked to fly the Angry Robot table again next year I shall definitely accept (although I hope we’re able to get different accommodation, and that the event’s organisers will join us in the 21st century regarding sex and gender).