Saturday, 27 September 2014

Barricade in August: #nineworlds #gollanczfest, #loncon3 and all...

Caption competition!

Now that my holidays are done I thought I’d document a few thoughts about the conventions that packed out my August - one particular ten day stretch involved Nineworlds, Fantasy in the Court, Gollanczfest, and Worldcon. It was exhausting and tremendous fun in equal measure, and I wanted to get a few thoughts down about it before it fades from memory.

Love the total strangers

I’m easily intimidated by large crowds and remain a shocking networker, so I approached the conventions with some trepidation. However, I’m glad to report that I did fine - simply by settling my nerves with an early pint, mooching about and letting the event bump into me. I had some brilliant conversations with complete strangers, on subjects as varied as the ugliness of Athens to the merits of safari jackets.

Curiously the spirit of the genre seemed to travel with me, out of the conventions and into the city. I departed Nineworlds early one evening to attend a leaving do at H’s office. I was reluctant to go, but ended up having a very stimulating exchange with a stranger at the party. It turned out she was a massive Asimov fan, and she told me all about the Black Widower stories, which I had never heard of before.

On another late-night tube journey I was accosted by a fashionable group of 20 somethings, fresh from some club or other. They were seeking nothing more than a friendly chat and, being pleasantly juiced, I was happy to oblige. I soon discovered that one of them was working on Star Wars Episode VII - I had a fascinating talk with him about the production. If I could remember any of it I’d tell you.

Watch rocket scientists

I missed out on a lot of Worldcon panels due to overcrowding, but I really enjoyed the BIS (British Interplanetary Society) events I attended. It’s refreshing to hear a succession of brainiacs spell out how very doable expansion into space actually is, even if the species remains depressingly noncommittal. On the other hand, there is a dark side to these speakers.

One in particular caught my attention. He was advocating human expansion into the asteroid belt, and he’d come packing statistics: 380 trillion terrawatts of energy produced by the Sun, 1000 years of extraterrestrial travel made possible by harnessing that energy, the asteroid belt’s potential to house 100 times the Earth’s population. These were seductive, awe-inspiring numbers.

But then I wondered: did he have any figures which predicted how many people might perish in the construction of his asteroid belt utopia? I don’t believe he’d care if he had. To him all that mattered was the space faring society his numbers made possible. All other considerations, particularly environmentalism, were condemned as small-minded horseshit. I think he would happily obliterate the Earth personally if it meant hurrying humanity into space. It was fascinating and kind of funny listening to him, but a little chilling too.

Pity the death weasel

So I’ll come out and say it: I kind of hate the Excel Centre. I’m not having a go at Worldcon organisers, they had to choose from what I imagine is a limited and super-pricey list of London venues. But I have always found the place enervating. I first went there to watch Olympic table tennis and everything about that charmless box made me want to escape.

Panels often took place in hot, packed, windowless rooms. I had my first moderation job in one of the smaller spaces, and it got off to a shaky start when our flustered sound guy announced: “only one of the mics works. You’ll have to move it up and down,” then buggered off at speed before we could protest. We might have been OK, but the moment we started speaking a persistent, incredibly irritating noise filled the room. I can only describe it as like someone sawing a weasel in half. It drove audience and panel to distraction - until we figured out we could stop it by switching off our mics. We had to yell our way through the rest of the event.

Aggravating this stifling atmosphere are a lot of overpriced, soulless food outlets, and the location - which is somewhere around the arse-end of nowhere – so there’s no local area to adjourn for half an hour.

Don’t get me wrong, I had a great time at Worldcon and I was privileged to moderate my SciFi comics panel with Scott Edelman, Phil Foglio and others. I’ll also bet that every venue has its bad points - but those Excel mic weasels can really try your patience.

Know your fellow debuts 

One of the pleasures of Crazy August was the opportunity to meet Anna and John, the two US debuts published by Gollancz this year. They were two more impressive, friendly people to add to Ed Cox and Den Patrick and it was a great opportunity to build on our excellent “Class of 2014” camaraderie.

Gollancz did an excellent job of bringing debuts together at panels and events. Meeting them provided me with some useful perspective on my experience (Holy shit, Anna is 17? I couldn’t tie my shoelaces at 17!) and has given me a group of Fantasy authors to introduce me to the genre (being almost solely a scifi reader until this year).

I have only read Den’s novel (the Boy with The Procelain Blade) so far, while H has read the Seventh Miss Hatfield, but we’ll get through the lot soon. You should too. More details here.

Share it all with your love

I wouldn’t have got through the many parties, and all the associated drinking, without the balance and joyful presence of H. People love her. One Gollancz debut approached me one night specifically to tell me that: “Dude, your wife is an absolute fucking delight”. And so she is.

It makes these things so much more fun when she’s there to share in the experience. Being published for the first time feels unique, with all the good and the bad, and it’s been a heady delight to have H by my side throughout.

She has thrown herself into the deep end of SFF, ploughing through genre novels, tweeting the good and the great for all she’s worth and attending what events she can. That kind of support is worth its weight in gold, and it would have been much tougher without it.