As a general rule of thumb, I tend, on the whole, to favour smaller conventions. This is probably a reaction to the experiences at Panopticon 2003, where a large number of people attempted to fit into a fairly large hotel with results that were sadly cramped and unpleasant (the queues tended to snake around some small corridors and, in one memorable instance, up a large spiral staircase).
However, despite Orbital being attended by around 1300 people, I have to say that it was one of the most enjoyable convention experiences I’ve had in a long time – it never felt like it was unreasonably crowded, probably because of the sheer diversity of events which were taking place at any one time, ensuring that no room would be filled to anywhere near capacity (well, with the exception of the main hall, but even then most of the events I attended in there, apart from the opening and closing ceremonies and Mitch Benn’s spot on Sunday evening, seemed to have lots of space left over).
One helpful factor was that the hotel staff seemed to be generally well-disposed to us conventioners, even those like me who weren't staying at the Radisson (they were happy to put my bag in the cloakroom until I was ready to check into my hotel on the Friday, and again on the Monday).
Friday 21st March:
I arrived at the Radisson Edwardian hotel (thanks to a lift by huntingospray) at about 9:00am, feeling somewhat tired as a result of not having had much sleep the night before, and feeling somewhat grotty as a result of not having had a shower that morning. I sat around in the entrance lobby for a while, killing time by watching last weekend’s episode of Lewis on my iPod, before registration began. When it began, it was a bit confusing by virtue of there being two queues and it not properly having been spelt out until I was half way through the queue I was in, which queue was for what (although it turned out that one was for people who knew their registration number, and one was for people who didn’t, and anyway a gopher had been going down the lines ensuring people knew their numbers which sped things up at the desk anyway.
Rather pleasantly, in amongst the convention packs, were free books – I got a copy of a book by Neal Asher. I’d decided that I wasn’t going to spend too much money at the convention, so this would probably be the only book I’d be taking home with me.
I attended the first panel of the day – Russell T Davies: Best of British or Fan Boy Let Loose. The panel was a very interesting discussion (which stuck pretty much to the topic, so it would be rather superfluous to tell you what it was about), and I found Saxon Bullock to be a particularly engaging speaker, but one of the problems of the convention surfaced at this point, as for much of the first part of the discussion, the panellists were without microphones (or at least the microphones that were sitting in front of them didn’t appear to be wired up to anything that was actually turned on). This meant that it wasn’t always easy to hear/understand what was being said, although some panels were worse offenders than this.
This was followed by So You Want to be an SF Writer, which was interesting for me as, guess what, I do want to be an SF writer (or a writer of any kind, to be honest). It dealt less with writing issues per se (although one of the panellists did helpfully suggest that joining a writers group would be a good idea, and pointed out that the Orbiter Writing Groups run through the BSFA website would be worth joining) as with issues of finding an agent, finding a publisher, getting published, etc. One observation was made – posting your writings on a blog is a Really Crap Idea. Oh well – that rules that idea out…
As there were no panels that I was desperately interested in for a little while after that, I collected my bag from reception (briefly saying “hi” to blazingskies on the way) and wandered down the road to my hotel (I was staying at the Ibis down the road) where I checked in and had a much needed shower. I also finished watching Lewis and found it utterly perplexing, so may need to watch it again because I had no idea of the killer’s motivation and it all seemed a bit haphazard. But then having watched about an hour of it in a hotel lobby whilst awaiting a convention registration may not have been ideal...
I ended up crashing out at the Ibis rather longer than I’d intended, missing out on some panels that had seemed interesting as a result, and when I eventually stirred I popped into Hounslow for some food, having been informed by Sarah that there would be a Nando’s, a KFC and a Pizza Hut all in the area. I ate at the former, and then headed back to the Radisson for the evening’s events, which started with the Opening Ceremony (we were treated to a rather good jazz band dressed as the cantina band from Star Wars and playing...well, the only song the cantina band from Star Wars ever played, to the best of my knowledge...reminds me of the joke from the Family Guy Star Wars ep. This was followed by lots and lots of introductions. This contained possibly a tad too many in-jokes for my liking, but nevertheless it was all enjoyable fun, even the mad ice breaker.
After that was tlanti’s Sci-Fi pub quiz, which was good fun – I joined a a little team and we came up with some good answers to the questions. Some of the answers were actually right, which was nice, although we didn't win.
There was an announcement that that night’s BBC episode of Torchwood would be showing on the TV screen in the Polo Bar, if people could be persuaded that it was better than hockey. Granted that there are some SF fans (even some Doctor Who fans who would probably prefer the hockey to Torchwood, but even so I thought I’d pop down there on the off chance. I met blazingskies and tlanti there, ogled tlanti’s Eee PC (want!!!) had a very expensive glass of lemonade, and enjoyed watching Torchwood, but unfortunately such was the ambient noise and the low volume of the TV set that I could barely hear one word in five. Still, it looks like a good episode (with some slashy moments) and I’m looking forward to seeing it properly.
Then I headed up to the Winchester room. I’ve read some people saying that the hotel layout was confusing, but I’m going to stick my neck out here and say that I thought the maps included in the convention packs, combined with the hotel signage, made everything perfectly easy to understand. Although the convention signage that appeared on the Saturday – “you are in a maze of twisty-turny passages that all look the same” – couldn’t fail to get a laugh…
(Isn't that a reference to the mid-80s The Hobbit computer game?)
There were a couple of events in the Winchester – the Slash workshop, which was a great general discussion and made me look forward to lots and lots of Slashbashes, and then the Blake’s 7 drinking game, which even for a teetotaller was just hysterical and would have been a great end to the day were it not for the fact that it wasn’t the end of my day – afterwards I ended up in the Atrium bar area chatting to blazingskies, multiclassgeek, and gaspode until about 3:00am. I then got a cab back to the Ibis on the not unreasonable grounds that it was late and I was tired, and regretted it on the grounds that however late it was and however tired I was, I’d’ve preferred the ten minute walk to forking out £9:00 for a bloody taxi ride. Hmmph.