Ten years ago, I attended Swancon XXX, a strange and wondrous affair held at the Emerald Hotel Perth (now the Rendezvous Hotel Perth Central). I have many memories of that, my first SF convention, but the one thing that stands out (aside from the fact that the con featured a wedding!) is the kindness and hospitality I encountered. Complete strangers would come up and ask me if I was lost (I must have looked very lost), and would drag me to a panel with them (if I didn’t have one in mind) or invite me to lunch or dinner with their friends. This seems to happen fairly often with the people who go to Swancon – never mind that they’ve all been friends for a gazillion years, they’ll gather you up and include you as part of the group.
Ten years on, and I’ve just returned to Singapore from Swancon 40, a celebration of 40 years of Swancon in Australia. I’m not the wide-eyed con virgin of Swancon XXX – these days I go mainly to be social: to reconnect with people I met the last time around, to meet people I’ve only ever had contact with online and to make new friends – but Swancon is still the friendliest con I’ve ever had the pleasure to attend.
Held over the Easter long weekend at the Pan Pacific Perth, Swancon is the longest-running SF convention in Australia, and in the Southern Hemisphere, and this year’s iteration featured everything that makes it so very special. The convention booklet describes Swancon as being “organic in nature and development” and “a unique weekend long event which is part literary discourse symposium, part writing development retreat, part gaming gathering and part party”. That description is quite accurate, and the convention committee (who work hard all year) and the volunteers who run the event really put their all into giving members something to remember.
If you’ve never been to an SF convention before, I can do no more than to urge you to come to Swancon. It feels like there’s something for everyone at Swancon, from the gaming room that seemed to go almost non-stop, an art show featuring some pretty spectacular works, a dealers’ room where I spent an inordinate amount of time and money, to the panels across various streams (gaming, SF, writing, and so on) and even a family room with activities for children and adults alike. The word “family” pops up a lot during discussions of Swancon, both because the community around it is so tightly knit, but also because many fans bring their entire families to the event, secure in the knowledge that it’s a safe place for children.
For a better sense of the range of activities available at Swancon, look at the convention program, live and updated on the Livecon website at http://livecon.net/convention/48
The guests of honour this year included well-known international author John Scalzi, local author Kylie Chan and fan guest Anthony Peacey. Most will recognize Scalzi and Chan, and if you don’t, they’re famous enough that a look at Google will tell you who they are. In some sense, Peacey may be the most important of the three guests: he kicked off the whole thing 40 years ago by organizing the very first Swancon and running it in his home.
That last fact may explain why Swancon is the way it is – it’s very much a con by fans, for fans. Unlike other conventions, which seem to be more like trade shows or expositions designed primarily to shill merchandise, Swancon is the kind of place where you can barely walk down a corridor without getting dragged into geeky chats and carried away with discussions of nerdish minutiae.
Which is part for the course at a convention where the programming includes everything from YouTube-a-rama (a chance to watch all sorts of outre fannish videos) to a panel on whether Batman is or isn’t nuts (I think the consensus was that he *is* insane, but that doesn’t seem to stand in the way of some pretty fine entertainment, notably Batman: The Animated Series (a television cartoon) and Dark Knight (a grim and gritty look at the future of Gotham ten years after Batman has retired)). At the same time, there is also room for serious conversations – the ongoing Hugo Awards debacle was discussed at great length all over the con – and the programming included panels on cultural appropriation in speculative fiction, and the resurgence of concern about climate change as reflected by its increasing use as a specfic trope.
No matter what kind of geek you are, Swancon provides lots of options to find out more about various fannish interests, ranging from upcoming movies with an SF flavour (in the Trailer Park panels), to various panels on animation, different kinds of SF, costuming, podcasting, roleplaying and more. A couple of the more creative panels included a worldbuilding workshop where the audience collaborated with panelists (the result was sentient eight-legged goats) and another for budding Evil Overlords as usual looking for ways to take over the world. Programming at Swancon runs from 10am to 11pm over most days (registration starts Thursday afternoon, and the con winds down on Monday afternoon, so those aren’t full days). As always, one night is set aside for the annual Masquerade, and as Swancon is this year’s National Convention, we also got the awards show, which combined the Tin Duck Awards (WA’s SF awards) as well as the Ditmar Awards, which recognised achievement in SF across Australia.
No con report can really give you a real sense of what a con is like – and in my experience, they’re all different. Swancon, however, is definitely something special, not just for its longevity, but also because of the wonderful community that makes it possible. I’m home now, suffering the usual post-con blues, missing the bustle and activity of the last few days, and especially missing the people that I spent time with. As I mentioned on Facebook, I wore my Swancon 40 t-shirt to bed last night because I wanted to hang on to the magic for as long as possible.
I think that says more about how I feel about the con than anything else.