By James Bacon: Octocon 2022, the Irish National SF convention, emerged from the pandemic to successfully present a hybrid event in a new venue and it went very well.
It was so nice to be home amongst fans in Dublin enjoying catching up, hearing about new projects, new works, new ideas all the time within easy reach of chairs and tables, relaxing with a pint and looking over the green of the pitch of the legendary Croke Park.
I had my nieces for some of the time on Saturday, kids could go free, so that was kind, and they got into the swing of things coming in cosplay and immediately joining the Lego session and making some fascinating space ships to a story. Octocon feels young, be it attendees or organisers. I am on the team but am possibly the oldest, and the energy and enthusiasm of the fans present while shared is great to see.
Younger engagement was a key aspect of the programme, kids and teens programme was highlighted, the youngest attendee was 15 months old, she was issued her own badge which was given to her parents for safekeeping while the youngest panelist was 12 years old, and was delighted to proudly wear her panelist ribbon.
Raissa Perez the Octocon chair who has successfully steered the team through three conventions, was visibly ecstatic to be in Croke Park, a venue she was familiar with. Raissa’s ability to pivot to virtual with a fabulous team saw Octocon grow its virtual presence with 600 online members last year and now to dynamically go hybrid demonstrated a skilful approach by all involved., requiring commitment and determination from all the volunteers as this further change brought fresh challenges.
Running a hybrid convention, in the sense that there was an online programme, streaming of programme in person and social space online, is without doubt very tasking on convention running teams. Here success was achieved well, the volunteers all working very hard, in person and online. The strengths of the online aspect was utilised bringing new guests to members while allowing those unable to travel to enjoy the range of discussions and a lively, amusing and educational watch party of Nosferatu also took place.
The venue was ample in size, the conference facilities seemed to work well for attendees and the Croke Park staff were welcoming, a workshop room, main programme, dealers, secondary programme, fan chats and ample socialising space with a bar ran on the same floor. As experience grows with the venue, I expect some aspects will be refined and adjusted to suit the convention, but there is ample space for expansion and growth.
As well as bringing us safely to Croke Park, Raissa helped bring back aspects of Octocon that had slipped away. Costuming had been a strong aspect of Octocons early years and it returned in strength this year with a dedicated Cosplay team and competition a surprisingly large amount of entries. Kids and juniors also got involved and it was impressive to see so many people looking fabulous.
This year’s guests of honour were Michael Carroll, Philippa and Helen Ryder. All three are fans, while Michael and Philippa have received much fame and respect for their professional writing. The three of them have been an integral part of Irish Fandom, conventions, publications, meetings, all fan activities that they have spent vast amounts of time and energy bringing to fruition. All three have worked and chaired Octocons.
This meant the History of Irish Fandom panel was definitely a history! Pippa could speak to the Irish contingent that went to the Brighton Worldccon in 1979 and the nature of the 1970’s Irish Science Fiction Association and the first SF conventions, ISFAcon in the Eighties. Legendary and Brian Nisbet were able to speak to gaming conventions, which mostly emanated from universities. Social Media is such that as this conversation was ongoing, a pal of mine, now lost to us, Mick O’Connor popped up as a memory at an Octocon ten years previous, such synchronicity.
The ISFA was a nexus for Irish fandom. The association itself had newsletters, fiction magazines, workshops, special events, art shows, and monthly meetings. I recall fondly Clive Barker doing a special interview meeting, and of course the Pub Quiz nights. The three guests on the panel were heavily involved in the association. Out of the ISFA Octocon was born, but so many fans who were members, or attended the monthly pub gatherings went on to do more, there was Timewarp a Star Trek Convention than ran twice in the nineties, Sproutlore, which went on to spawn five conventions of its own, Starbase ireland a Star Trek fanclub, Visicon, Nine P-Con’s, two Eurocons and a Worldcon. In actual fact one can trace a vast amount of Fan Activity back to the ISFA. .
Mention of course was made of Harry Harrison’s World SF writers conference in 1976 as well as a story about Harry Harrison at Trincon 1, the first of two SF cons at Trinity University. The 1992 Octocon with its 600 attendees was mentioned – boosted past the expected 200 members by the national broadcaster RTE giving coverage in its guide mentioning Star Trek offhandedly and encouraging fans along. Concept a more relaxed convention which was planned to be held at Celtworld in Wexford in 1993 and didn’t come to pass was explored.
History is very subjective, and fans will associate their own entry point strongly, and while the ISFA is without doubt a crucial point in history, it has been extant now for nearly twenty years, and in that time Anime Conventions and Comic Conventions have stormed forth with great success, gaming cons have been consistent while other more specialised events have been very successful as festivals have grown. Fanac.org got a mention as there is now quite a bit of Irish material there, and I think it was Helen Ryder suggested the ISFA makes a return. Brian Nisbet was an encyclopaedia of Irish gaming cons, there really wasn’t enough time, and in retrospect Raissa should have been on this panel to talk about the anime conventions, Eirtikon and Jcon which were impressive, though really a sequence of panels looking at each decade is probably very feasible.
Michael Carroll made mention of something though that is so vital, connecting with fans, and this is more important than ever, while the internet is amazing, one has to find conventions to get to them, he noted that he found the ISFA from a flyer in a shop, and I noted that Mick worked in Phantasia when I met him and others, Padraig in Dandelion books was another source of fans and this year Octocon had a wonderful window display in Hodges Figgis the week of the convention. We still need to reach out, to go to where fans will be, shops and libraries, and Comic Cons, where also this year a team from Octocon had a table.
I was sitting down the back, as one does with fellow previous Octocon Chair Maura McHugh and I said how interesting it is to see the little different recollections of the same thing with a bit at variance with my own memories.
Philippa and Helen Ryder had produced a fanzine Through Space and Time a personal journey in Irish Science Fiction, Part 1, 1970 – 90 and this was picked up eagerly by fans, and I understand soon to be available on efanzines.com and Fanac.
Maura McHugh had been on a panel about Irish Horror Films with Jon O Sullivan, amongst others from which I took some excellent recommendations. Dead Meat by Dubliner Eddie King seems to be the starting point of a new epoch of Irish Horror Films in 2006. Based on my notes, here were a list of films recommended, Dark Song, Grabbers, The Lodgers, Hole in the ground, Byzantium, Boys from County Hell, Mad God, Hellbender, You are not my mother and Sea Fever. Ygraine Hackett-Cantabranna who was also on the panel had written a Fangoria article earlier in the year which was the source of inspiration for the panel and I was pleased at how knowledgeable some of the panelists were.
I picked up The Elementals and Spyfunk, different anthologies as they had stories by Russell A. Smith stories which I was interested in reading, and Russell is a supporter and participant of Octocon and it was nice to be able to pick up his stories in these books. Spyfunk is an anthology of Spy Stories with characters who are from Africa or of African heritage and it’s a cracking selection edited by Milton J Davis. As well as Russell’s story, which I read first and was well impressed with, I thought Eugene Bacon’s story was quite wonderful with a fantastical element to it, but they were all quite quick reads which really delivered, entertaining while being fresh and fun. Russell’s story in The Elementals was a different prospect, set in London, it felt very real and very current, albeit with a magically abled protagonist, a young witch who is able to manipulate water and air and whose plans for a nice weekend gets complex both with real life problems, her cousin gets arrested and then the fantastical. A nice read, it feels very honest and genuine in its London setting, giving a strong sense of place and another quick read.
Overall, it was a smashing weekend. It was interesting to see how people adjusted to the return, with a total of 409 members, 283 people attended the convention in person, 49 of whom joined on the door, 185 members attended virtually and the programme was excellent, both online and in person. The con worked well. They sought support from Dublin and Fingal Libraries, Unesco City of Literature, Glasgow 2024 and Dublin 2019, and it was nice to see Libraries present where readers could actually borrow books.
Too soon it was over. Next year’s Octocon awaits a date confirmation, but fans are already signing up here.