Monday, March 4, 2013

SF Weekender Post-Con-Review-Round-Up-Thing

So, this weekend we headed to North Wales for the SF Weekender. We went last year, when it was the SFX Weekender, but this year it was without the "X" after Future Publishing apparently decided that big media cons weren't the sort of thing it wanted to do anymore, and the organizers of previous years carried on without them, and their fancy "X". Overall it was a good weekend, but not all roses, as we shall see.

The first thing that springs to mind is that the venue is a huge improvement over last year. At Prestatyn the staff were unhelpful, the security downright offensive, the accommodation really grotty (at one point a member of our party ended up locked in the bathroom, after the door handles fell apart) and I found moving around the venue a pain with it's strange and occasionally non-Euclidean access rules. This year everything seemed just nicer; the accommodation isn't going to win any awards but it was a step up, and the staff were uniformly helpful and polite. Access to everything just seemed easier, and everything a little less cluttered. I've read today some people had problems with the caravans, but I didn't hear a lot of it in the "con buzz", whereas last year it was a constant background refrain.

That said, there was a few issues. At nearly all the panels I went to the sound was an issue (to a greater or lesser extent), especially in the "Spaceport" where it was fighting against the background hum of the signing queues and entrance to the Trading Area. In the Main Void the bigger issue was that the main are in front of the stage was roped off "VIP Seating", and which I appreciate that they want to give VIPs "added value", the area was too large, too empty and definitely something they need to address for next year. I was at some interesting and funny panels that I am sure would have been interesting-er and funnier if I'd been able to hear all of them.

The big let down for us was, I think, the Saturday night when the scheduling seemed to go completely to hell and what fun we did have felt like being in spite of events not because of them. The Quiz, which we were all looking forward to, started late, and then was pitched waaaay to obscure, and whilst we did OK it left us all feeling left out and slightly stupid. A whole round on the Twilight Zone? Really? Last year's quiz had a lot of interesting and broad questions, but this was skewed towards movies, and in many cases obscure ones at that. After the quiz we killed a bit of time as the centre-piece Craig Charles set wasn't starting till 12.30 (which is a bit later to start with!) and it probably started about 1, by which point the dance-floor was noticeably thinning and some of our group had already sloped off to bed. I have to say I enjoyed it, but would have enjoyed it more if it started earlier, frankly.

Right, enough bad stuff, lets get back to the good.

As ever, cons are made by the people and I got to catch up with a bunch of people I don't see a lot of, and meet some new and interesting people I hope to meet again. The cosplayers were (as ever) awesome and lent character and colour, and a real sense of this being an "event". The panels I did see were good fun, especially "Just a Minute" and (of course) Brian Blessed. When I got out on the dance floor I loved it, and still ache today.

I'm conscious I've written about as much on the annoyances as on the pleasures, and the word count isn't representative. The Weekend was a multitude of small, recurring good times with some big bright spots, and whilst the downs are noticeable, they're not, critically, anything inherently unfixable, and progress has definitely been made over SFX3 in a lot of areas, and hopefully next year they will be improved again - I suspect I'll be a lot less forgiving if they're not.