18 Nov 2016

Fantasticon 2016: It’s all fun and games

Thomas Diar gives a gamer’s eye view of an annual fest of sci-fi, fantasy, gaming, cosplay, comics and more.

Experience immersive virtual reality, meet a Harry Potter and Doctor Who actor, mingle with JRR Tolkien’s grandson, dress up, or get into sci-fi novels or gaming at the annual FantastiCon weekender.

Taking place at Hull’s Guildhall, the convention with a penchant for the unconventional will be open from 10.15am until late on Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 November, 2016.

Managed by Fantastic Books Publishing, this convention launched as a literary event, but now also offers something for fans of sci-fi, fantasy, gaming, cosplay, comics and more, with events including readings, music, comedy and dance.

Organiser Dan Grubb positively radiates enthusiasm – about the festival and about Hull’s upcoming arts scene in general. He speaks about Hull’s great “cultural river” and how he’s tapped into that great resource to develop his convention.

Authors’ book readings will be taking place on the main stage on both days, starting with the fantastically exuberant Drew Wagar at 4.15pm on the Saturday. Reading from his new book Shadeward Exoneration, (twice on Saturday, once on Sunday) attendees can expect science fiction with a fantasy twist.

Also doing readings on both days will be technology reporter and sci-fi writer Kate Russell (from her new fantasy novel, The Bookkeeper’s Guide to Practical Sorcery), and John Scotcher (The Boy in Winter’s Grasp). The whole of Sunday afternoon (from noon to 5pm), is given over to a literary festival, featuring Graham Austin-King and several other authors.

The wind-down to last year’s festival, which involved an impromptu jamming session, proved so popular that festival organisers have decided to bring live music to con-goers in the form of new age artist Saraswati, the humorous guitar playing Dan Smith, (on both days) and the talented Leeds based songstress Jemma Johnson (8.15pm, Saturday).

In an event of such diversity as this, it’s hard to say what will prove to be the most unique entertainment, but I’d give a decent shot to pin-up entertainer Kitten von Mew, who will be captivating the public on Sunday at 12.30pm (singing performance to follow) with what is reportedly a “family friendly fan dance”.

What it has maintained throughout, and what sets it apart from some other conventions, is its emphasis on having activities and events for people to do and enjoy, and less focus on trade and sales aspects.

Aside from the readings and music, there is a full docket of one-off events that should hold substantial interest to lovers of a good story.

If you are a fan of comedy or actor spotting, be sure not to miss the exclusive live one-man show Let Zygons Be Zygons’, by Harry Potter and Doctor Who actor Simon Fisher-Becker. Taking place at 2.15pm

on the Saturday, Fisher-Becker’s autobiographical stories are deeply personal, unfailingly cheerful, occasionally self-deprecating and always very funny.

Alternatively, especially for Lord of the Rings fans, be sure to be around at 4pm on Saturday, as Royd Tolkien, grandson of legendary author J.R.R. Tolkien, will be hosting a 15-minute chat on the main stage.

If you’re curious about virtual reality, but have not yet had this chance to experience it at is fullest, then this is a fantastic opportunity for you. Both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vives headsets are available to try for free, including a chance to move around in a virtual environment aided by two controllers and the dedicated space of a small marquee. Expect asteroid fields, obstacles, bad guys, and truly jaw-dropping immersion. Also on the hi-tech front, sponsors Frontier Developments will be holding a panel and a variety of presentations over the two days on the Elite Dangerous series, which many of the writers and organisers present have worked on.

Although the prospect might seem a little daunting at first, don’t hesitate to bring children of any ages along with you – gaming conventions are hugely friendly affairs, and FantastiCon has its own dedicated children’s chill-out zone, including a fudge and brownies store. Younger fans may well also be fascinated by the costumes present: Cosplay is a given at such an event, but FantastiCon supplements the usual awards with a dedicated “hospital” and tutorials, which is a thoughtful touch, as costume construction and know-how can seem like an impenetrable world at times, even to those of us who are semi-regulars at these sorts of events.

Despite the focus on activities, there is still general treasure for purchase, including a dedicated themed hat stall (The Toggery UK), a Lovecraftian themed shop for all your madness-related tastes (Old One Productions). If cuddly toys are more your scene than headgear or eldritch horrors, there are handmade teddy bears (Airship Constella), retro and vintage toys (Kitsch Itch Toys), and clothing and accessories (Curious Creations) for sale.

Retro gaming is present, (including favourites Megadrive, NES, SNES and the Sega Saturn) and there will also be RPG and board gaming of a very high quality – having played at conventions before, if you haven’t tried it, I would urge you to, even if the prospect seems a little strange initially.

Fans are expected to come to this event from Canada, New York, Norway, Sweden, Holland and Portugal, so if you want a great way to spend a day (or a weekend), FantastiCon kicks off at 10.15 am on Saturday 19 November, 2016.

Tickets for Fantasticon are available to buy at the door at £10 (£8 NUS) per day.

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