So last weekend I went to Redemption 09, a multifandom convention which has been running biannually for ten years now: it started in 1999 as a Blake's 7/Babylon 5 convention, became 'Blake's 7, Babylon 5 and Beyond' in I think 2005, and now the only real trace of its origins as a two-fandom con is the awesome logo (the Liberator from Blake's 7 emerging from a Babylon-5-style jump-gate). I've been going since 2001 (though I had to miss '07 because I was in Australia, and will probably miss '11 for the same reason, BOO).
It was fantastic. I haven't been very involved with fandom as such over the last few years: the shift of fandom from e-mail lists to Livejournal hasn't suited me very well, and also there was the whole thing where I got a girlfriend and a full-time job and had less time for spontaneous small-scale writing, and also the obsession with Harry Potter which has paradoxically kept me out of organized fandom. So I don't participate in a lot of the activities which tend to be used to define 'fandom' - I've written very little fic, and almost all of it in fandoms which I don't otherwise participate in or which are extremely small-to-non-existent; I don't beta-read, edit, or really read fanfic or watch songvids; all my fandoms are closed-canon so I don't participate in ongoing show discussion or reviews or whatever. But really my online life centres around fandom and fans, and I still think of myself as a fan. I guess I still read like a fan. But I went to the con with a little bit of trepidation, in case I didn't 'count' as a fan any more.
But it was just bloody marvellous. I still had that feeling of being among my people, and just that absolute joyfulness of being among people who all want to think and talk and share their skills and their enthusiasm with one another. People who are making stuff, all the time, out of the bits and pieces that our culture gives us, and who are keeping alive niche skills and strange traditions, and who are looking at the world from a strange sideways perspective and thinking about how to live in it differently, and who are in a glorious tradition of amateurism (root word love): doing things for the love of it, as best as we can, and in ways which often bypass the main (commodified and professionalized) circuits of reward and evaluation. I guess one of the best ways to try and convey that is to talk about the Saturday-night cabaret, where any con attendees can sign up to perform, and which this year included, among many other things:
* a beautiful youth whose gender I couldn't read (sorry, beautiful youth, unless you prefer not to be read in gendered terms, in which case, unsorry) performing a hilarious Star Trek version of a song referred to in Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, complete with Tribbles; I talked to hir afterwards and ze said it had been hir first performance without a script, but ze hadn't been nervous because ze'd spent the whole half-hour before ze went on talking to the Guests of Honour (Doctor Who writers Paul Cornell and Rob Shearman) and they'd been so lovely and interesting ze'd forgotten to be scared;
* a woman in a pinstriped corset with a red feather boa and a tiny black hat with a veil skewered onto her long hair, performing a dance to an amazing song called 'Doomsday' which managed not only to be visually splendid but also to critique and extend the characterization of Lucy Saxon (the Master's wife in Season 3 of New Who) in fabulous ways;
* a person in mediaeval dress playing the dulcimer and the recorder (simultaneously);
* a woman doing a poi routine to a Tom Lehrer song;
* a completely hilarious sketch crossing Doctor Who with the Council of Elrond from The Lord of the Rings (and critiquing both texts in the process);
* a fancy-dress competition won by a woman who'd hand-sewn an outfit from original Victorian patterns, with second place taken by a woman who'd made a 'Liberator' costume out of three paper cones and a big green balloon - both of them were amazing and fannish in completely different ways, one because of the craft and the rigour/geekery and the skill and the labour, and the other because of the simplicity and the humour and the way in which it relied on a shared fannish world of references and icons and allusions.
The Redemption community is a nice mix of ages - skewing mainly into the 30s and 40s but with a good sprinkling of white-haired sex- and septuagenarians, and a fair number of twentysomethings. Also some children, between about three and about ten (not many teenagers). It's pretty white, but by no means completely so, and there were a number of people with visible disabilities (including a guy with a guide dog who ran a panel on how blind people experience TV, and talked very interestingly about how Old Who, with the Radiophonic Workshop, is a much better show for people mainly experiencing it aurally than New Who, with the fancy visual CGI and the intrusive/cliched post-John-Williams-style music).
I spent a lot of time in the bar, talking to good friends I made through Blake's 7 fandom and/or at earlier Redemptions, and a lot of time going to panels (one of the differences between a Redemption convention and a conference is that Redemption schedules three streams of panels/activities continuously from ten am until midnight or one in the morning, and people think this is a good thing, because there isn't anything we'd rather do than, for example, have a beery discussion about who the best Doctor Who writer is at eleven o'clock on a Saturday night). I participated in two panels - one on Mary-Sue, which was absolutely brilliant and caused me to have many thoughts, which will all mulch around in the back of my brain until I suddenly come up with a shiny new Theory of Mary-Sue, and one on Lois McMaster Bujold, which was also brilliant: in fact, one of the things I liked best about the convention was that we managed to spend nearly an hour talking about Bujold's protagonist Miles Vorkosigan and the way in which her characters are given psychological depth and complexity so as to deepen and extend the action-adventure/space-opera/romance genres that she plays with... and no-one even once mentioned that Miles (the action/romance hero) is severely disabled, because there was so much else to say. (I also liked the moment when about seven of us, all women, had gone out into Coventry to forage for dinner and some boys threw stuff at us from an alleyway - but we paid no attention because we were too busy animatedly talking about self-defence systems and the best way to deal with attacks, and the boys got bored and gave up straightaway.)
But perhaps the highlight of the con was the now-traditional dramatic reading of Man of Iron, which started in 2001 and now has to be scheduled in one of the biggest conference rooms the hotel has to offer, because the audience gets bigger every time. Now, Man of Iron is a never-produced script written for Blake's 7 by Paul Darrow, who played one of its leads, Avon, and, in the words of the person sitting behind me at the reading, it reaches levels of bad never before attained by humans. It was, alarmingly, the only specifically Blake's 7 item on the programming this year, and I'm pretty sure there were people watching it who had never seen any of the original show, but this doesn't seem to detract from the sheer joy of it. By now, it's becoming a sort of Rocky-Horror experience, with semi-formalized, semi-spontaneous audience participation (eg the explosion of applause and catcalls at the line Water is your ally, Tarrant! Water! Water!). Again, it's the sort of thing you could only get at a convention: it's a celebration of a shared world, a shared knowledge of genre conventions and their uses and abuses, and a shared mythology of Paul Darrow and his curious mix of self-delusion and canniness (one of the things that is most mocked by fans about Darrow's performance in B7 is his running; one of the things we love the most is his capacity for Beautiful Suffering; and the Man of Iron script consists in roughly equal measure of Avon running and Avon being beaten up). And the performance works so well because of its skilled amateurishness: more of a professional gloss would ruin the tone of it, and make it less of a shared experience between audience and actors (also, would we start casting according to physical type, and lose our fifty-nine-year-old, walks-with-a-cane, portly, white Dayna and our skinny, blonde, female Avon? Not to mention our mad scientist in a silver PVC knee-length kilt?); less skill in the performance and it wouldn't come across at all.
And now (see previous post) that is all the time I have to write about Redemption, though I wish I could say more about almost every aspect of it. I'm gutted we'll probably have to miss Redemption 11, but starting to lay grandiose plans for Ruler of the Universe at Redemption 13 (this year won by Brigade Leader Lethbridge-Stewart, an alternate-universe Fascist version of the Brigadier who appears in one story from Old Who - I love it when the minor characters rule the universe! - played to the hilt by a fantastic fan whose name I only know as 'Ming' (his badge name), complete with a poster campaign with slogans like: If you want to imagine the future, imagine a boot stamping down on a human face. Now imagine your foot in that boot. Vote Lethbridge-Stewart!), and hoping to attend Odyssey 2010, which will be run by the same committee as Redemption and therefore will no doubt be AWESOME.
And so, in conclusion, GREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEN!!!!!!