MOONCON: Britain’s Best Science Fiction Convention

The cover of the 1983 MoonCon Programme guide. A blast from the past for anyone who was there!

I’ve been convention-going for–bloody hell!–more than a decade now so I guess I can claim to be something of a, er, well… con-noisseur (sorry). Eastercon, Novacon, Fantasycon: you name it I’ve loitered about in it making a nuisance of myself.

All the aforementioned have their individual charms. But by far my favourite is a little-known science fiction convention calling itself Mooncon.

Mooncon, since its inception way back in March 1981, has always been held in Leicester. Which is fortunate for me, being that I live there, but also good for the British con-goer generally. Leicester, squatting in the Midlands, is easy for anyone in Britain to get to, or at least easier to get to than, say, London or Glasgow.

A convention really should have a city surrounding it. Though comparatively small, Leicester is a city full of wonderful restaurants and shops and is a good place to escape Mooncon from time to time. The need for a change of scenery and thereby socially depressurise cannot be overstated. It’s why I’ll take a moth-eaten hotel in a town over a state-of-the-art convention centre amid an industrial estate every time.

The venue itself is only a hundred yards from Leicester train station. Since 1985 Mooncon has been held at the Hotel Carnell, an ageing but comfortable hotel built in Victorian times but renovated for modern standards, especially in terms of access issues of which the Carnell takes pride in going beyond the legal minimum.

Registration at Mooncon always passes like a dream. The registration desk is easily findable the moment you enter the hotel, while those behind the desk are both affable and diligent.

The name badge they give you has your name on both sides. That can’t be emphasised enough. Receiving a one-sided name badge when you arrive is practically a bad omen. For at that moment you realise you will spend the next three days having to constantly adjust your lanyard so that strangers can see who you are. Worse, new people (or people who’s name you can’t quite recall) will be but a blank white rectangle upon a chest, which is no bloody help at all.

Like all conventions Mooncon gives you a goodies bag on arrival. It generally contains a programme guide that is legible, a bookmark that is fun, a pen that is practical and a free novel that is not book two of a trilogy.

Nearby registration you will find a table covered in free books. A devilish treat for any bookworm, naturally, but also a social icebreaker. I’ve made several friends on the first day of a con while scouring such tables.

There is a crèche which I am told is very well ran and also- a nice touch this- a ‘first-timer’ desk where anyone who has never been to a science fiction convention can chat with a true veteran and have any questions answered. That’s classic Mooncon, that. Like no other convention I know of, Mooncon’s venerable members- the original tribe if you will- make a point of engaging with the ‘new’ set of millennials and zoomers.

The young reply in kind and there is a wonderful intergenerational air that enriches all. Other cons, if left unchecked, devolve into cliques of either silver or luminously dyed hair (and in the worst cases just silver).

A POC friend informs me that Mooncon has the most inclusive atmosphere of any British convention they’ve attended and that that inclusivity feels natural and not forced. Mooncon was the first (or perhaps second, the memory falters) to introduce gender parity among programme participants and is actively engaging with representation of all kinds. Notably, Mooncon had a code of conduct for all members decades before any other convention.

Mooncon runs three programme streams, with one in a large hall and the other two in smaller. There are twenty minute breaks between events so that the corridors don’t get jammed with people and, vitally, people have time to smoke/vape/urinate (and sometimes all three).

There is, of course, a dealers’ hall where people can buy books and LARP clothing and other such skiffy items. And I say ‘people’, for you do not have to be a con member to enter there. Too many’s the time at cons I’ve seen other guests at the hotel, often mothers with children drawn to the outlandish products, turned away by some smug toad in a faded Red Dwarf tee-shirt for not possessing a convention badge.

I can’t express how much that infuriates me. No con-goer, in my long experience, has ever cared about a non-con-goer visiting the dealers’ hall and the dealers themselves would love the extra custom. Worse, such gatekeeping kills interest in conventions in its most embryonic form: the curious child today might be the Guest Of Honour tomorrow, dependent on formative experiences. The only victory in turning outsiders away from a dealers’ hall (or the art exhibition now I think of it) belongs to the petulant door-toad’s ego.

Thanks for reading! Second half IS HERE, in which we look at Mooncon’s bars, the beating heart of any convention! 

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