Friday 6th April
My first Eastercon. I staggered through the huge revolving door of the conference hotel after an epic journey from the south coast that started at stupid o’clock involving two coach trips and three train changes. So wasn’t at my shiny best. Didn’t even initially notice THE throne from the TV series. However I cheered up at the sight of the atrium, where bullet-riddled puppy sculptures perched over pools of water cris-crossed by hump-backed bridges. The quirky effect seemed entirely suitable for a science fiction and fantasy conference.
Sorting out which panels to attend was a brain-boggling experience and some painful decisions had to be made as there was an extensive choice in a programme that started – most days – at 10 am and went right through until 9 pm. Where was that clone when you needed one? So I settled on the ones below and hoped for the best:-
Is Europe Winning the Space Race?
Um… probably not, but ESA is doing better than you might think. Everyone on the panel, who were all enthusiastic and articulate, felt that China was the One To Watch. I got the sense that NASA was having difficulty in coping with the downsizing of American political ambitions. While financial and resource limitations meant that USA spacefaring efforts needed to be part of a multi-national team, it seemed that NASA wasn’t accustomed to considering their partners when altering mission targets – with some unfortunate results.
Kaffeeklatsch with Tricia Sullivan
She’s a wonderful writer and I had promised myself to get a signed copy of her latest book Lightborn. So I couldn’t resist this session, which for the uninitiated, is a chance to get to listen to an author chatting in a small group over a cup of coffee. This session was one of the highlights of the whole conference. Tricia spoke frankly of the tension between her raw creative drive to explore ideas through her characters and the need to craft her writing into a coherent plot. I found her honesty and advice inspirational.
At this point I visited the Dealer’s Room. Sooo many wonderful books! And such low prices! In no time flat I had bought ten… which should have made me jump for joy. Except that never having cultivated the art of travelling light, during my epic journey I had staggered off and on all those coaches and trains with a suitcase the size and weight of a small house, along with a hefty handbag and shoulder bag for all those necessities that wouldn’t be crammed into said case. How on earth was I (and my rather dodgy back) going to cope with a carrier bag full of books on the return journey? Unable to work this one out, I returned to the panels.
There’s a hole in my plot
Joe Abercrombie’s sharp wit is always good value on any panel. I was impressed at how ably newbie Elspeth Cooper managed to cope with the shafts of humour coming her way. Jenni Hill’s moderating skills were given a thorough workout when dealing with the Gavin Smith/Joe Abercrombie double act. All in all, great fun.
What is I?
This was a panel which only really came to life when a very knowledgeable member of the audience joined in. This discussion was addressing some of the issues raised by the latest findings that suggest the brain is very reliant on sensory input, rather than an isolated region that defines us.
Beyond Red Mars
After Kim Stanley Robinson’s epic trilogy describing terraforming Mars, this panel was addressing how humanity would approach a migration to other planets. Some of the alternative locations were food for thought – I think it was Mary Turzillo – who proposed the upper atmosphere of Venus as a suitable site. It was a lively and informative discussion that concluded humanity would need to be prepared to undergo some radical genetic alteration in order to survive the rigors of radiation and differing gravities. It was interesting to see that a fair number of the audience were quite happy to seriously consider putting themselves up for such experimentation. However, when asked if they would be prepared to donate their children – all the hands went down…
After all those panels, I decided to attend the Ceilidh which was great fun – and where I met Alice and later, Jennifer and Rachael. No… I never did get to discover their surnames… We had a hilarious and not entirely coherent drinking session in which superglue featured – and I finally returned to my hotel room at 4 am.
Saturday 7th April
I wasn’t actually staying at the Radisson Edwardian hotel, but at the Marriott next door. However, the Radisson had provided tea, coffee, bottled water, fruit and snacks in the atrium all for £1 each. So brekkie was a slice of fruit flapjack and a cup of tea. The evening meal was a two course meal for £10 which was mostly filling and tasty – with scrummy little puddings that you could have seconds, or third helpings… However, they didn’t provide a vegetarian option for the first two nights, or if they did, it was the option that sold out early on.
The sheer scale of the place meant that despite the fact that there were 1300+ of us, it was rarely uncomfortably crowded. The downside was that the layout was challenging, with a series of conference rooms dotted around the place. The organisers had thoughtfully provided very clear maps – which I am sure were really helpful for those who can read them. I can’t. So I tended to arrive on average 5 minutes late to most panels. Which is why I’m not mentioning too much about panel members and their contributions – I mostly got to see the tops of their heads and hear their voices, rather than clearly see them.
Ethics of AI
This was one of the outstanding panels. The panellists were all well informed and raised some interesting issues that I had not even considered – for instance, never mind about protecting AI’s from exploitation, what about the fact that humans seem hardwired to hand over far too much responsibility to systems that are actually quite limited. Think of the people who nearly go off a cliff while slavishly following their Satnav, for instance… What do you do to protect children from bonding too closely to the AI toy that had been produced to act as babysitter and informal educator?
How Pseudo do You Like Your Medieval?
This was another excellent offering – and one of the big keynote events that was duly packed. George R.R. Martin, the guest of honour, was on this panel along with Juliet E. McKenna, Jacey Bedford and Anne Lyle with Anne C. Perry as moderator.
I generally avoided the other Martin events as I’m allergic to A Song of Ice and Fire, though if you haven’t come across his novella Fevre Dream, hunt it down. It is an absolute gem. Martin came across as a genuinely nice man who took the furore surrounding the Game of Thrones in his stride. All the panellists provided some useful tips for anyone in the audience attempting to build a medieval world, as well as some insights into the ongoing attraction of this particular historical period.
Mainstream published SF & F
This was an interesting panel which considered how an increasing amount of speculative fiction had escaped from the genre paddock and was now freely grazing in the mainstream meadow. It was generally agreed that this was a good thing and that the rise and rise of YA fiction could only help increase the popularity of fantasy and science fiction.
Depressingly, it was noted that Mariella Frostrup, who presents the Radio Four book programme Open Book, absolutely hates sci fi, horror and fantasy genre fiction. I also added my thoughts on the snobbery demonstrated on the More 4 TV Bookclub when describing Matt Haig’s wonderful take on vampires, The Radleys.
How To Get Published
After losing my publisher just before Christmas, this panel was particularly pertinent. John Jarrold, Ian Drury, Bella Pagan, Gillian Redfearn and Gale Sebold were all willing to give plenty of advice on how to make the best submission possible. I found it interesting to note the variation on attitudes to the dreaded synopsis.
The Fantastic Landscape
This was one of the more disappointing panels, despite having the wonderful Jaine Fenn and Paul McAuley on there. Inexplicably, Lewisham High Street got namechecked. While I’ve never been there I’m fairly convinced that it doesn’t qualify as remotely fantastical. And like an unwanted lover, thereafter kept popping back into the discussion – to the extent that a member of the audience saw fit to inform the rest of us about plans to uncover the River Quaggy… Oh well.
How Not to Suppress Women’s Writing
This is – obviously – something of a burning issue for those of us women who write science fiction and to a lesser extent, fantasy. It was agreed that there was a systemic problem somewhere along the line. It was also felt that there was a number of older men who constitute a significant chunk of the book-buying public who still yearn for the ‘golden age’ of science fiction which was very much technology oriented. The problem is compounded when it was noted that male reviewers don’t tend to review women writers, while female reviewers do cover male authors.
This panel ended on a slightly strident note, which made me wince. There were a significant number of men in the audience and I found myself wondering what their thoughts were – and whether the angry tone that developed would encourage them to rush out and sample any of the excellent writing from the likes of Tricia Sullivan and Jaine Fenn.
Worldbuilding (When, how and how much?)
Have to say that I was struggling by this time. It didn’t help that this was the 7th panel of the day I’d attended and I think I’d reached my limit.
After having tea, I staggered off to bed intending to have a short nap and recharge my batteries and meet up with some friends in the bar. And woke at 4 am…