Metathesis - June 1996
The Picocon Papers - bug
(page 4/9)

The Picocon Papers

(this originally appeared in the programme flyer of Picocon 13, sans the photos which are from said convention)

As you may have noticed, this is Picocon 13. We didn't pluck this number out of thin air, oh no, we have a long and glorious history behind us! To put paid to, or perhaps substantiate, the opinion that Picocons are always shambolic affairs run by well meaning incompetents, I proudly present an account of the doings of students of long ago. Lovingly researched by quizzing lots of ex-IC members, reading old newspapers, and digging out the old posters from the bottom of the ICSF library cupboard.

Picocon Year Guests Organiser
Pico-Con 1984 Dave Langford, John Cowne (sic)
Picocon pi 1985 Dave Langford, Gerry Webb
Picocon 4 1986 Brian Stableford, Dave Langford Dave Clements
Picocon 5 1987 John Brunner, Dave Hardy John Salmon
Picocon 6 1988 Terry Pratchett, Mike Scott Rohan, Dave Langford Tom Yates
Picocon 7 1989 Dave Langford, Terry Pratchett, Gerry Webb, Dave Lally Simon Bradshaw
Picocon 8 1990 Bob Shaw Amanda Baker
Picocon 9 1991 Dan Abnett, Alex Stewart Steve Newhouse
Picocon 10 1992 Dave Langford, Brian Stableford Alex McLintock
Picocon 11 1993 Colin Greenland Bridget Hardcastle
Picocon 12 1995 Iain (M) Banks, Dr. Arley Anderson Gidon Moont / Bridget Hardcastle
Picocon 13 1996 Chris Priest, Rob Holdstock, Steve Baxter Gidon Moont

But what of Picocon 1? As you may have noticed from the listing above, there is a little confusion about the early years. The first Picocon I can find mention of in Felix (the College newspaper) is the so-called Pico-Con held in 1984. However, I am assured by "a source" ie Brian Haunton that a Picocon 1 did happen, in 1983 in the Life Sciences building, for a tax dodge or other such bureaucracy. So, source, what was it like? "Oh, er, it was an excuse for lots of alcohol... This is a far cry from the account of Picocon 1 printed in Felix in 1986, but probably a lot closer to the truth. Possibly it was named ex post facto, when the attendees realised they'd just held a con, and they rationalised the numbering This alcohol-induced haze accounts for a lot of anecdotes I didn't get about Picocons; apparently they "all just merge into one" after enough beer. Still, undaunted I press on:

Pico-Con claimed to have such delights as Thunderbird 6, Call My Bluff, and talks from Dave Langford and the "Renowned SF personality, John Cowrie".
Picocon pi also had a talk by Dave Langford, and held the dreaded ICSF vs. Astrosoc charades match. No record has been kept of the victor.
Dave Langford spoke again at Picocon 4, as did Brian Stableford. Blade Runner and a UFO episode were shown, and ICSF and CUSFS battled it out it a two-round quiz (and we're not talking beer, here! Or maybe they were...).
Picocon 5 saw a move from the Union Building to the Biology Seminar rooms. This was the only piece of information on the very artistic poster. The article in Felix claims a victory and a narrow loss to IC versus Cambridge, and another quiz was held this year. Dangermouse episodes were shown, with Scanners shown over supper time. And The Hunger later in the evening, for those who didn't manage much supper.
Picocon 6 featured another very artistic poster, whose design was taken from the cover of The Light Fantastic. Unfortunately the chap from GraffitiSoc who screenprinted it put his own name on as copyright, which did slightly miff a certain guest! This Picocon also featured the famous Varsity Herring Fight over the Unicon Oxford vs.Cambridge bid. Matt Bishop of OUSFG did battle with someone (no-one will admit who) from CUSFS in Beit Quad with a Cod.
Picocon 7 "It went wrong." - Simon Bradshaw, Chair. At this Picocon, the ICSF charade team was thoroughly hammered by Beccon's. When ICSF had fallen way, way behind, the audience took pity on them, and said that Beccon should only be given difficult charades, and ICSF should only be given easy ones. And still the difference between the scores increased... Should have got the Beccon team to do their charades with only one arm.
Picocon 8 saw publication of The Waking Edge, ICSF's first fanzine in several years.
The most memorable moments of Picocon 9 were watching Dan Abnett do half his talk with his flies undone, and hearing Alex Stewart's Law of Life, viz. that there is never enough garlic bread.
Picocon 10 was completely unmemorable, but had Dave Langford at it. Also, a posh restaurant, booked in advance by the committee, turned out to be closed.
It rained on the day of Picocon 11, and very few people turned up (though they claimed it was because they hadn't heard about it). Due to a combination of the small turnout and the three programme streams (overdoing it by about two), the con didn't take off as well as had been hoped. Apathy and disillusionment reigned among ICSF ("We're all dismal failures"), and there was no Picocon the following year. This Picocon was held on Sat March 13th. 1 knew I should have listened to that funny bloke who warned me to "Beware the ides of March!"
Picocon 12 was held on a Sunday. Fun was had at the bar; getting drinks out of them and dragging lain Banks away from them (well, from the animé programme held therein). The programme was strongly science / literature based (for a Picocon!), including a panel on "When should the laws of science be broken for the sake of fiction?"
Picocon 13 - insert anecdote of your choice here!

World's first ever SF convention was a Picocon!

Forget about that petty bickering between various American and UK groups as to which of their 1936-7 events counts as the first ever SF convention, Picocon has you beat! Back in the late 19th Century, a chap called HG Wells was a student at Imperial College. He liked science fiction. He even wrote a bit himself. Some of his published stories can even be seen on display in the Haldane Library. This was, of course, ICSF's first fanzine. Now, HG wasn't alone in this enthusiasm, oh no. He had a chum, name of Huxley, and every so often they'd get together in the Union Bar, sink a few pints and throw a few science-fictional ideas around. It's not inconceivable that they'd get a few more friends round to chat too from time to time, from nearby towns. This would have been an early Picocon, and therefore the first SF convention in the world, ever.

Rumours about Dave Langford!

Dave's been a guest at a lot of Picocons, but he doesn't seem to come any more. There have been lots of reasons given by paranoid IC students ("Oh no, Dave hates us, what did we do?"), some of which I put to Dave, who disappointingly said they were unfounded. My favourite reason is the one where Dave was sitting at home in Reading one spring Saturday, when his doorbell rang. He answered the door, to find two young men waiting outside, with a motorbike and a spare helmet. One of the men grinned, took off his helmet, and asked Dave if he'd like to guest at a Picocon. "Okay," said Dave, "when is it?" They gestured towards the bike and replied, "Now."

Dave sheds the truth: I like that too, but it didn't happen -- I've always come by train to Paddington and walked across Hyde Park. And haven't (thank goodness) been on a motorbike since the 70s.

Then there's the rumour that Dave was a guest at Picocon one year, but didn't find that out until he turned up. Or the "reason" for his (as it turned out, not actually existent) antipathy to Picocons being because he wasn't met at a train station once, and thus decided he was being "badly treated". Again, both false. Must make up some better rumours next time!

So go and see the display of past posters in the Ents Lounge, and guffaw at the photos of past Picocons. Where are they now? If you spot anyone in the photos at the con, ask "Do you come here often?"

Images - not available
The guests, organisers, and other bods having a meal after its all over.
left to right: Stephen Baxter, Simon Bradshaw, Bridget Hardcastle, Phillip Keller,
Robert Holdstock + Mrs. Holdstock, Christopher Priest, Mike Spiller, Rick Yagodich, Gidon Moont