EightSquared’s Costume Event – The Mirror Mirror Ball

What’s the most Frequently Asked Question about SF conventions? It’s “Will there be people wearing Mr Spock ears?” Or dressed as Star Wars storm troopers, or Doctor Who, or any number of other characters from film and TV, up to and including (with that particular glint in the questioner’s eye) Princess Leia as a slavegirl?

No, we say, you’re missing the point. We’re there to discuss the on-going development and discussion of speculative fiction, in books and film, TV and in the ways that narrative is emerging as a force in other media. We’re considering the relationship of humanity with technology through Science Fiction and the complexity of human nature through portrayals of the supernatural and the fantastic and our interaction and reactions.

Right, the questioner nods. So why are there photos of you dressed up as a space admiral, ceilidh dancing with a giant rabbit at Illustrious, the 2011 Eastercon? Because yes, okay, costumes are part of conventions. While they’re not so widespread here in the UK as they are in the US, masquerades and hall costumes have long been part of Eastercon. Why? Is this, the really doubtful questioner will ask, another manifestation of speculative fiction as a refuge from reality? Is it – shudder – yet more escapism?

If it is, what’s wrong with that? Escapism, I mean. Not in the sense of ducking reality, heads stuck in the metaphorical sand. In the sense of stepping outside our usual preoccupations and distractions to reach a place where we can pause, take stock of our own lives, and look around us to consider the big picture and bigger questions from new and different perspectives. Isn’t what speculative fiction is all about?

Costuming can surely be part of that. How does the old proverb go? “Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes.” (And yes, I know the joke that follows it. After that, who cares? He’s a mile away and you’ve got his shoes.) But that’s not the only such proverb. How about ‘Dress maketh the man’ (or woman)? Ask any actor, amateur or professional, how vital the right costume can be to really understanding a dramatic role. Ask anyone who’s ever worn a uniform how different the reactions they get from people around them can be. Thinking back to Illustrious, the reaction I got dressed up for The Admiral’s Ball was as nothing compared to the reactions when people saw me walking through the hotel in my martial arts gi, hakama and black belt. On the other side of that coin, turning around and unexpectedly finding myself face to face with a HALO Master Chief at the SFX Weekender was an illuminating experience as I considered just what makes those guys so scary. Yes, of course I knew it was someone dressed up. That’s not the point. What if they were real? What if… the eternal question of SF&F.

I’m not a dedicated cosplayer. There will be those who can answer these questions and expand on this debate far better than me, and please, you’re very welcome to do so in Comments. I for one will be very interested in your perspectives.

For my part, I’ll put on a fancy dress for an evening every now and again to have fun – and what’s wrong with that? You know, I have long suspected that what really irritates these people who dismiss the whole spectrum of speculative fiction as “not serious” is the sneaking realisation that we can discuss the eternal verities and philosophies of life just as thoroughly as the most earnestly sombre literature – and we can do all that while entertaining ourselves with vampires and faeries and wizards and dragons and rayguns and rocketships. We have a lot more fun than the literary puritans and that really winds them up.

So if you fancy dressing up at EightSquared, as well as the usual hall costume competition, we’ll be delighted to welcome you to The Mirror Mirror Ball. This Eastercon is about exploring past times and other worlds, alternate presents and possible futures, near and far. So come as your chosen alter ego from your favourite parallel universe, historical period or alternate reality of choice. (Or just come along to see what other people are wearing.)


Illustrious; Eastercon 2011. The Ambassador.

Illustrious; Eastercon 2011

Illustrious; Eastercon 2011. One of several Admirals.


Illustrious; Eastercon 2011. Admiral’s Aide: Close Protection.


Illustrious; Eastercon 2011. Admiral’s Aide: Priority Communications.

All photos courtesy John Dallman and used in accordance with Creative Commons licensing. You can find more of John’s photos of the Illustrious Admiral’s Ball here.


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