By the time I catch up with both life and sleep, you will probably have read something about Polish biggest multigenre convention – Pyrkon (its name has nothing to do with the publisher Pyr, but comes from the regional word for potato: “pyra”, which Wielkopolska and Poznań are somewhat famous for), and my intent is not to deliver the fastest or the most detailed account of the event, but rather to share personal feelings of a person who remembers the times when Pyrkon was much smaller convention, and who now had a chance to come back after ten years.
So read on if you want to know if it was worth the cost of the flight tickets and missing “Avengers: Age of Ultron” premiere…
I’ve been thinking of going to Pyrkon ever since I’ve heard the event has been moved from a small school in one of Poznań’s remote districts to the Poznań International Fair grounds in the very heart of the city. I wanted to see how the convention – now called a festival – in my home town have changed and grown, but living in Ireland poses a lot of problems with synchronizing the event with time off at work and available flights, but this year I’ve been determined to make it happen.
Poland welcomed me with blue sky, blazing sun and warm wind which made the wait more pleasant as Pyrkon welcomed me with a long queue. I took out a book, prepared to get through several chapters before buying the ticket, but the queue moved quickly speaking volumes of the event’s organization. I heard people speaking about mess with pre-booked tickets (they’ve ran out of promised gadgets), and I wasn’t happy myself as booking was only available for people with Polish bank accounts, but all in all I was very pleased to see professional staff and support members. My personal shout out goes to Alicja, a super-kind girl who was on duty in the autograph queue on Saturday evening, but I saw kind and helpful support members all around.
The Poznań International Fair grounds are vast, but they were filled with crowds of participants and colorful cosplayers. I didn’t take pictures, otherwise I’d have to stop every minute, as there were so many stunning and creative costumes around.
I only got to see one panel on Friday, as going to a convention in my hometown meant I had some non-geeky obligations, but the one I attended was definitely worth it. Listening to Ted Chiang, Joe Haldeman and Konrad Walewski discussing the art of writing short stories was both entertaining and satisfying. It’s also hard not to admire Ted Chiang, who admitted he persevered through seven years of getting rejections, only to receive all the major awards for his first published story, and I regretted not being able to attend their next panel on “architects” and “gardeners” in writing.
I also got to wander the vast hall with the exhibitors’ booths, full of all kinds of geeky gadgets (books, RPG, manga&anime, steampunk) as well as hand-made items and jewelry. Some of the booths looked quite impressive, for example the one advertising post-apocalyptic series by Fabryka Słów.
When one goes to sleep at 6am, one cannot expect to arrive at the convention by 10am to get Ted Chiang’s autograph, but a brave geek I am, I made it for 12.30pm for the train station to meet with my friend who just like me, flew from Ireland (with a stop in her home town before hitting Pyrkon), and together we made it just in time to attend a lecture on making a corset. The speaker, Basia Szejnfeld, not only presented historical background and resources on this amazing piece of clothing, but also shared her personal experience and journey through trial and error ridden attempts of making her own corset. From cloth choice to tricks, the lecture provided a lot of useful information, and made me think in years to come, when I finally master skirt-sewing arts, I might be crazy enough to make my own corset.
Unfortunately, this was the first and the last lecture we’ve seen that day. We tried to attend the science block’s lecture on the relation between robotics and science-fiction, but the room has been already filled, and the queue in front of it reassured us we have little chance of attending the next lecture as well, so instead we ventured out to meet our friends, and grab something to eat. On our way out, we saw a long line of people waiting for Dmitry Glukhovski’s autograph which spoke more than words of “Metro 2033” author’s popularity.
We couldn’t resist another peek into the exhibitors’ hall, and pushing through the crowds we fished for the unique items we’d like to take home, as well as admiring everything else. My inner geek squealed at all the models, and I wasn’t the only one frantically taking pictures.
Having lost hope for attending any lecture that interested us, as the thick crowds flowed around us, me and my friend made our way to another exhibition hall, and came across a stunning cosplayer in Iron Man’s Hulkbuster armor. The crowd around took turns to take pictures and I still regret I didn’t take out my camera in time to take a picture of a Stormtrooper and the Iron Man do fist bump, but at least I got a nice picture myself.
Little I knew that upon entering the pavilion 7a more picture madness will come, as we entered into a dragon territory, and we spent some time running around magnificent dragon sculptures.
The exhibition “In the land of Dragons”, although small in number, was definitely worth watching.
Upon leaving the dragon domain, we stumbled across Art from Scrap exhibition by Sebastian Kucharski. T2 from the Terminator series, Bumblebee from Transformers and the xenomorph from Alien gathered almost as much crowd as the Hulkbuster outside, and we gladly took more photos.
The xenomorph was the most popular one among the visitors, though more casual visitors didn’t necessarily recognize it. I still cringe at the memory of a mother (or grandmother) asking a four year old boy: “Would you like a picture with the little robot?” If a hell for geeks exists, it’s filled with non-geeks making such remarks all day long.
The pavilion 7a had also paintings and photographs exhibitions, as well as “villages” – areas set up within particular theme such as fantasy, medieval, Viking, steampunk … but the most impressive one was postapocalyptic village with tents and vehicles, and a huge banner that instantly made you think that “War never changes.”
Sadly, at the time we visited, there was a LARP taking place in the village, so we couldn’t enter to have a closer look, but I still managed to take a snapshot.
The queue to the throne from “Game of Thrones” was a bit too long (the visitors waited for an hour to sit on it and have a picture taken), and our attention was drawn to the strange match taking place in the designated area in the middle of the pavilion. The game made no sense at first, but then my friend exclaimed “Quidditch!”and everything became clear.
There also was a Lego exhibition in the neighboring hall and we got to see masterpieces like the Imperial II-class Star Destroyer and Millennium Falcon from Star Wars.
In the evening we went to meet veteran editors and contributors from Valkiria.net, and the meeting became a very nostalgic one, as some of us haven’t seen each other for 10 years or more. I also had a quick run to get an autograph from Robert M. Wegner on the freshly bought and just released fourth volume of his series, and then we headed out with a group of friends to get some fancy coffee and yummy cake in one of the cafes in Poznań’s picturesque Old Market Square. Needless to say, we came back home late.
One shouldn’t expect to get up at 8am if one went to bed at 4am, but I was determined to make it to Pyrkon in time to get Ted Chiang’s signature, and I was rewarded not only by a few minutes of a chat with that great author as well as a very special picture. I have to say that this single event and a chance to talk to him was worth the travel. I just regret I didn’t have time to re-read his stories, so I could ask some questions. I also converted another person into a fan, convincing my friend to buy the book, get it signed and read the stories. So far all she says about those stories are words of praise.
Later on we watched a fantasy and steampunk fashion show by some Polish designers, but with people constantly walking around between the rows of chairs it turned out difficult to take any pictures, and after eating some traditional Polish meals served in the food area, we attended the meeting with Ted Chiang interviewed by Konrad Walewski.
Finally the time came to say goodbye to our friends, promise to stay in touch, and after last minute shopping, to go home and prepare for the next day’s flight back home.
A couple of thoughts
With Pyrkon being so huge and its program so rich, I missed a lot of fun things there, including LARPs (I regret, but getting involved in the game would take too much time, while I wanted to see as much as possible), the cosplay contest, late night dance parties, movie shows, board games room and other festival attractions.
Did I enjoy Pyrkon 2015? I most definitely did, and to see how it has grown over the years made me happy, but I also saw the downside of the increasing size. Officially the festival had 31 495 visitors and whenever I think about this number, comparing it to the size of most of the panel and lecture rooms that could hold between 100 and 300 people, it makes me wonder whether the true soul of the event was not lost. I’d rather see more space given to speculative fiction, to tabletop RPGs panels and to science/culture lectures, that were always the opportunity to learn new and exciting facts. Nowadays the limelight seems to be pointed at video games, with so many Youtube streamers invited, and it makes me wonder whether Pyrkon still tries to show what’s the best in sci-fi and fantasy, or tries to attract gaming masses to boost the numbers. While I have nothing against gamers, being one myself, I feel that putting the focus on video games isn’t a good thing, especially when Poznań already boasts a huge, gamer-only event: Poznań Game Arena. With Pyrkon being so wide-known and bringing the best of sci-fi and fantasy to not only hardcore fans, but casual visitors, the limited access to lectures and panels, feels like a wrong direction.
Also, the mishaps with the booking tickets, missing rewards for people who preordered and the crowds unable to attend the panels left a bit of disappointment, especially when the comments from the organizers were limited to “We’re sorry. We will do better next year.” Such approach not only makes me wonder if the organizers can handle the event of this size (and still growing!), but it’s disheartening, as I was on Pyrkon this year, and it’s 2015’s event that will decide whether I will go through all the hassle to come to Pyrkon in 2016. Especially if instead of seeing my favorite, writers and listening to scientists telling me that some science-fiction is happening now or revealing the secrets of the past ages, on the guest list I will see video game players whom I can watch on Youtube at home.
All in all: Pyrkon 2015 was great. But it could have been better.
Right now I can’t honestly say: “See you next year,” but I hope that when 2016 comes, the organizers will show they’ve learned their lessons and if my life circumstances allow, I will be excited at the thought I’m going to Pyrkon again.
Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science fiction author who enjoys all things SFF: books, movies, and video games.
Her short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies in Polish and in English.
Her epic fantasy adventure series, starting with By the Pact, is available in ebook and paperback at all major retailers.