Ytterbium (the 2019 Eastercon)

España and I recently attended Ytterbium, the 70th Eastercon, held at the Park Inn at London Heathrow. We headed up on the Friday and left again on the Monday, and in some ways I feel like it’s the convention at which I attended (and paid attention to!) more panel items than perhaps I ever have before, which made me happy.

We arrived at the Renaissance after a pretty uneventful journey from Southampton via Woking, and we met Rae there before checking in. The Park Inn isn’t a bad hotel by any means but the Renaissance is a step above, and the rooms were very plush. The breakfasts were similarly plush; omelette station, waffles, breakfast dishes I’d never seen before alongside excellent mushrooms and sausages and freshly fried eggs. I’d recommend staying there, and I’d also say that the bar snacks were pretty good, too. The obvious disadvantage was that it wasn’t the con hotel, but it was only about a 5 minute walk down the road so that was pretty manageable.

As I mentioned, I really enjoyed the programming this year. The opening ceremony was haphazard and very Eastercon, and the Guests of Honour got amazing tees with the convention’s logo bejewelled on the fronts. This went straight into a panel on gaming and fiction which had (among others) Emma Newman and Frances Hardinge, and was a really fun and interesting panel. Some of the anecdotes told about gaming were truly bizarre, and I hadn’t realised that Newman and Hardinge are old gaming buddies.

I don’t think I made it to any other panels that Hardinge appeared on, but I did see panels with each of the other guests of honour. For John Scalzi, I saw his GoH interview, “Paranoid Politics and Fantasy”, and “The Future of Space Opera”. The three were all very different aspects of his personality — the interview had a lot of his thoughts on privilege and also thoughts on good burrito creation all had very different topics but all three were hugely enjoyable (if only to watch Scalzi shoot down attendees who wanted to give comments rather than asking questions).

The real stand-out for me over the weekend, though, was Syndey Padua — I was aware of her work as my wife is currently reading The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage but I hadn’t realised that she is, by day, an animator who worked on Iron Giant and I hadn’t realised that her research into Lovelace and Babbage has gone very much into the realm of academia. Consequently I found her GoH interview absolutely fascinating, and I found the “Mechanical Computing” panel she was on similarly extremely interesting (if you’d like a taste for what she was talking about, see this YouTube video).

In terms of the socialising, the convention was great. I got to see some people I’ve not seen for a while (up to and including as long ago as the 2012 Eastercon) and it was really great to catch up with people. Got to play a bunch of Star Wars Destiny with Hogg, and drink until the wee hours with amazing people, and properly speak to people I’ve only really known through Facebook, and generally have a really brilliant time. Especially brilliant was getting to know a few people I met on panels (especially those who I met on board game panels I describe below).

I was on a few panels over the weekend. I did two panels with my professional hat on: I moderated “Humanity in Space” on Friday night; “Black Holes at Ytterbium!” on Monday afternoon. “Humanity in Space” ended up being quite a wide-ranging look at the future of our species’ spaceflight, and the panellists brought quite a range of perspectives to the table, some of which I sympathised with more than others. My professional expertise isn’t as directly relevant to “Black Holes at Ytterbium!”, but I think I was able to bridge the gap between the astronomers and some of the lay audience effectively.

I was on two panels from the perspective of my gaming fandom, too. Those were “New Concepts in Collectible Card Games” on the Saturday and “What Makes a Board Game Good?” on Sunday. In both, I was joined by Jack Patten, who co-hosts the Standard Intelligence podcast and is an avid Magic the Gathering (MtG) player and gamer, and it was really cool to meet him. The latter panel also involved John Dodd, who is heavily involved as a floor manager with the UK Games Expo. I really enjoyed appearing on both of these! The first one focused on newer card games such as the LCGs being put out by Fantasy Flight Games and games such as Star Wars Destiny, which include cards and dice. Jack and I are, as it turns out, very good at talking to each other about games and Jack’s expertise in MtG was very useful in contextualising some of the things I was talking about in terms of LCG design. The panel on board games focused on Kramer’s rules for good board game design and we had a discussion which was quite wide-ranging focusing on different aspects of those rules which I really enjoyed (hopefully the audience did, too!).

I also helped out with two programme items to do with the fan funds (TAFF and GUFF); the first was a panel on what they are and why you should do them, which was ace, and the second was the fan fund auction — we raised something daft like £1500 for the fan funds over the course of the weekend and after a somewhat shaky start it went really well.

The last panel I was on, was on the topic of Disney and its relationships with creators (in the context of Chuck Wendig, James Gunn, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, etc.) and featured myself moderating alongside Janne and Jeannette Ng, who raised the energy level considerably and raised some very thought-provoking points. Based on an idea that came out of this panel I’ve already suggested a panel to next year’s Eastercon that I’m hopeful will make it into the programme.