Friday, 24 April 2015

Dysprosium: Monday

Left to right: Dave Mansfield aka Crazy Dave (moderator), Steve Lawson, and me yet again.
So it's Monday, and this is the final day of the convention, and therefore my final blog post giving a glimpse into what it's like to go to a SF convention.

The first panel of the day was my last panel of the convention, called Big Boys Toys - Real Superhero Weapons, scheduled for 10.00am.  After a long weekend of staying up late and drinking, this is a cruel time to get people to sit in front of a crowd, and attempt to be erudite and witty.  I was surprised at how many people were in the main hall waiting for us to speak to.  Did I mention that this was the only panel I was on that was in the main room of the convention.

A bit daunting because the main room is for the big name guests?

Still I mumbled my way through the various YouTube video clips that Crazy Dave had brought to discuss, and fielded a couple of questions from the audience.  I was told I was OK by my significant other, which will have to do.  Better that than having rotten vegetables thrown at one, which was what my partner said the audience felt like doing to panel.

Left to right: Dr. David Clements, Jaine Fenn (moderator), and Dr. Simon Morden.
Then we stayed in the main hall while I wound down, and listened to the next panel talking about Faeries.  It had Jim Butcher, Seanan McGuire and my friend Jaine Fenn, with several others whose names I don't recall.  Basically they talked about how the image of the fairy has changed from something that might be described as chaotic evil to the sweet little things that people think of today.

After that we grabbed a quick bite to eat, because we didn't want to crash later (sticking to the plan), and then we were off to the final panel of the day called What is a Planet Anyway?  This veered away from talking about is Pluto a planet, because it's not, it's special (name lead for Plutoids or Plutonoids, take your pick).  Dave and Simon were witty and entertaining, describing the various things we know, think we know, and what we don't know about planetary formation.

It was a very interesting discussion that overran by about fifteen minutes, because it could, being the last panel of the day.

Alice Lawson announcing the Doc Weir Award, which went to Martin Hoare.
Then we toddled off across the hallway back to the main hall for the Closing ceremony. Awards were given out, people thanked, much clapping occurred, and then the convention was over, and it was time for us to leave.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Dysprosium: Sunday & Masquerade

Guilia de Cesare the compere for the Dysprosium Masquerade.
It's Wednesday so it must be time to put up my Sunday post.  As my partner didn't take any pictures of the panels we went to see on Sunday at Dysprosium, you will all have to make do with the pictures she took at the Masquerade, which are probably more interesting, in that they show the hard work and creativity of the fans who go to all the effort to make costumes depicting their favourite characters.

I awoke Sunday full of good intentions, but lacking the energy to get-up and go, as in go to the morning Tai-chi practice.  Therefore we ambled around, got up late, had breakfast late, and so missed another chance to be virtuous.  It's a hard life being a fan at a convention.

So looking at our schedule I see that the first panel we went to was Truth, Justice and the Home Office, which can be best be described as a gag fest where Sabine Furlong, the moderator, joshed Jim Butcher and Charlie Stross about the awful truth that underlies hierarchical bureaucracies, by turn enthralling, thrilling and funny.

If I remember correctly, which I probably don't, I was also handed a fanzine by Joseph Nicholas, who was sitting in front of us with Judith Hanna called The Night is so Black that the Darkness Cooks (However, memory aside, this is as good as point as anywhere in the narrative to insert a mention of the event).  I read it after the convention was over, and have to say I'm impressed on two counts: first the fact I was given a copy, and second the fact that I was given an old school printed and staple fanzine.  I felt honoured.

Oustanding costume inspired by Jaine Fenn's Principle of Angels.
After too much fun we went and mooched around the various dealers rooms that were all off from the long connecting corridor.  Spoke to old friends, made some new acquaintances, and generally shot the breeze about the convention and writing.

After grabbing a light bite for lunch, all part of Plan B (don't flake out), we went to see Seanan McGuire Guest of Honour Q&A session.  She started by saying she would answer any question, with the caveat that a stupid or sexist question would get a lecture on how stupid and sexist the question was.  She was very witty and entertaining, and we loved her cat stories.

We also sat off to one side of the hall, rather than sitting in the centre as we had been doing on Saturday, and found that being able to stretch out in the chairs, resting on each other, was a far more comfortable way of sitting.  At least it meant I was able to keep on top of stuff, and not be wracked with pain, which when all things are said and done, can rather spoil one's enjoyment.

Steampunk mad scientist.
Then we were off to a panel called Imagineering Starships – How SF Starships work, or don't.  We had bumped into one of the presenters of this talk while having coffee, and being the SF spaceship geeks that we are, we were inevitably drawn into discussion about the British Interplanetary Society, Project Daedalus and stuff, as one is.

A very interesting talk by people who work in the field.  After the talk we went and grabbed a burger from the fan bar area, all part of the eat little and often plan, and bumped into Rob Hanson, where inevitably the conversation turned to the Hugo fracas.  My position on this is that you read the books, vote for what you like, and if there is anything that you feel is utter dreck, then vote no award above it.  No need to panic – we have rules, follow them.

Gary Stratmann with a steampunk adventurer that reminded me of Lord Flashheart from Black Adder.
After eating and chatting it was time to go to the Masquerade.  I'm an off and on again costume fan, because most of the time I cannot be fagged to go to all of the effort required to pull a costume together.  While I'm quite good with my hands, as in making things, I'm not at all into sewing and making clothes, so when I do stuff it's usually assembling items together.  Death from the Sandman series use to be a favourite of mine when I had dark hair, andI think that the last time we went to convention in costume it was a Stargate USAF MPs.

However, I really appreciate seeing other fans who have made the effort to dress up, and applaud them for doing so.  Cosplay has been a tradition of SF conventions from the very beginning when Forrest J. Ackerman attended the first Worldcon in 1939.  So colour me supportive.  My kind of fans.

I really like these two.  The costumes were gorgeous to look at.
So throughout the convention I tried to make sure I gave all the fans wearing their outfits during the day a tag provided by Dysprosium to acknowledge their efforts.  I've not wanted to be critical of the running of the convention, but this is one area where I think more could have been done.  For example better acknowledgement of hall costumes within the programme, and perhaps in future making up ribbons that one could give out.

My reminder to all con-committees to be inclusive of costume fans.

A group shot of all the participants in the masquerade.  The woman dressed as Cally was very good.
Finally, we came to the end of the day and the last item we would go to.  A retrospective called The Reunion: Spock in ManaclesDavid Wake moderated the reunion that had Kate Solomon, Caroline Mullan, and Steve Lawson on it.  We got to watch a cleaned up copy of the video taken by Colin Fine of the performance of Spock in Manacles that was put on at Beccon in 1985.  Susan tells me that I giggled like a little girl when I saw myself go on stage as one of the amazons.

Thirty years is a long time, and several of the cast have died since the performance, which is still being talked about today.  I understand that only four fans at Beccon didn't attend the performance of Spock in Manacles, preferring to stay in the bar.  Well bah yoo sucks to them.  I suppose this only goes to show that miserable old gits who don't like fun existed back then, much as they exist today.

After the days fun it was time to go to bed, for tomorrow is Monday and I'm on another panel.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Dysprosium: Saturday

Left to right: Seanan McGuire, Mike Carey, Alice Lawson (moderator), Al Robertson, and Jim Butcher.
Woke up Saturday morning not too wrecked – all things considered; the consideration being not being able to get comfortable enough to sleep properly.  We went down for breakfast thinking naively that if we arrived for 09.30 there would be no queues for food.  We were wrong.  Queuing for breakfast was a constant feature of the convention, which was surprising in that in all other respects the actual organization for sitting and serving was efficient.  However, like all things the choke point, staff leading one to a place to sit, caused a standing wave ripple that led to the formation of a queue.

I understand why the hotel went down this route, to avoid a scrum of unwashed fans rampaging through their establishment like wild steers stampeding across the prairie, but the restaurant was at the end of the day a glorified self-service canteen.  We sat with friends while stuffing our faces with too much food, which came back to bite us on the ankle later.

The first panel we went to was called Watching the Detectives.  We sat near the front in the middle of the row, mentioned for a reason, which I will come back to this later (call it foreshadowing of things to come).  We were entertained as Alice Lawson rode shotgun on a group of panelists who had interesting things to say.  In particular the stand out was Al Robertson, a new no-name author to me, who talked briefly about his first novel, called Crashing Heaven.  It has an intriguing pitch line; an accountant with a ventriloquist dummy face a world of sentient corporations where brands have become spiritual forces (so just like real life then).

I don't have a picture for the next item we went to, which is deeply ironic as it was called Modern Smartphone Photography.  It was a semi-structured workshop/talk by Chad Dixon on taking better pictures.  Susan of course was carrying her Nikon DSLR, which acquired the nickname Mjölnir during the convention, because its so large and heavy that one has to be worthy to be able to lift it up and carry it around all day.


The next item we went to was the Fan Guest of Honour by Caroline Mullan, who is a long time friend, who gave a talk called Science Fiction, UK Fandom, and Me.  She took the time to reminisce about her journey through life and fandom with witty asides, observations, and self reflection to round out what otherwise might have otherwise have been a bit of a narcissistic piece.  Caroline's talk was a testament to role of conversations she had been in during her life.  While I agree that conversations are important, my feeling is that the signal to noise ratio is often too low to sustain my interest.

What was a very nice touch came the end of the speech, when Caroline invited two singers onto the stage to sing a rather elegiac song whose title escapes me.

Two singers who go by the name Playing Rapunzel who both sang beautifully.
Then it was time for Jim Butcher's Guest of Honour talk, which turned out to be a Q&A with Charlie Stross, described as an interview in the programme book.

Charlie with Jim and his jet lag stare.
Charlie and Jim then entertained us, which just about sums it up really.  I'm not sure I can add any witty reminisces that were passed onto us, because their was a flood of interesting things said.  I should have taken a recorder or made notes, but I was too busy enjoying myself, and laughing.  I came away really liking Jim who was unaffected and open about his writing, and had a nice self-deprecating way of talking about himself.  He made me feel that it's alright to be a fan and a writer.

Left to right: Me, Roger Bell-West, Dev Agarwal (moderator), and Sean McLachlan.
After all the fun and excitement we'd been having it was then time for me to go and be on my first panel of the convention called Asymmetric Warfare.  There was some confusion over the timing of the session by the moderator, as in how long it would run, but we muddled through to the end.  I wasn't very satisfied with my performance, because had I realized we would be trailing down some of the paths that emerged, I would have prepared differently.

I know that there was at least one audience member who would have been a far better choice to have been on the panel, given he's doing his Ph.D in Counter-Insurgency Operations.  Still I had some positive feedback from one or two members of the audience which is nice.  However I think I would have been chomping at the bit had I been in the audience at the panel for the way it went off track; probably to avoid talking about the realities of modern insurgencies, with the constant call back to the American Civil War.

And no I do not think that bushwhackers in Missouri etc are a good example to talk about modern day insurgents.  While technically it was a historical example of asymmetrical warfare, they weren't fighting within a Fifth generational framework of attacking the leaders of the opposing force (as in trying to kill or remove Abraham Lincoln), which I would argue is the defining feature of the current political-military actions (think Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden etc).

I made one pithy statement about money and war,  Capitalism destroyed Communism, and now Capitalism is destroying Democracy.  To clarify my position on this and unpack what I said, because I understand this is being quoted by people, a caveat.  Capitalism is a terrible economic system, except for the fact that all the others are worse.

I'm available for hire, parties of all sizes, and I can blow up balloons too.

Left to right: Me again, Tom Parker, Jim Butcher (Guest of Honour), and Marcus Rowland (putative moderator - I helped a bit)
Due to organizational problems that the convention was having the start of The Game of the Book panel was a bit of a mess, dare I say even a bit of a train-wreck?  Tom and I both thought Marcus was the moderator, and Marcus knew he wasn't the moderator, but we could hardly ask Jim Butcher the Guest of Honour to moderate the panel.  I bullied Marcus into being the moderator, on the grounds that he was listed in the program book, whereas Tom and I were not.  Life can be so unfair.

Still, I helped Marcus to keep track of fielding questions, so ended up co-moderating the discussion with him, and this panel ended up being a lot of fun to be on.   We started off talking about rules versus fluff (the stories set in the game universe), and then moved on to telling stories about how players of games mangle the settings of the books that inspired the game.  In particular Call of Cthulhu RPG was discussed (players not making for good horror story characters), as was BattleTech, which Jim has played too (awesome or what?), and Battlestar Galactica the board game got mentioned for how it handled players being Cylons.  We also talked about Traveller and Dungeons & Dragons for providing a broad tool box for stealing settings to play in.

A good panel to be on, and I gather that a lot of people who were in the room liked it too (at least Frances Hardinge was kind enough to say so).

Left to right: Sam Stone, Ian Whates, Jaine Fenn (moderator), Marcus Gipps, and John Jarrold.

I was pretty zoned out after being on two panels, but I went to the Publish and be Damned talk, because my friend Jaine Fenn was moderating, and I knew several of the panelists.  John Jarrold was very positive and upbeat, and this was a good way to wind down from a busy day at the convention.

After this we went to eat, and then fact we'd gone the whole day without eating came back to haunt us, because effectively we had both crashed and burned.  I'd eaten too much at breakfast (as in more than I would normally eat), and hadn't really felt hungry at lunchtime.  Of course what with being on two panels, going from one item to another, we were both pretty washed out.  Should've have lunch.  Live and learn.

Afterwards we went to a room party, but when I got their there was nowhere comfortable to sit, and I had to leave to go and lie down in our room, and and take some pain killers.  My shoulders were complaining big time, and I recognized postural tension when it comes to bite me on the ankle.  Mostly this comes down to sitting in chairs that were not very comfortable, which I could cope with when younger, but now not so much.

After resting we went to the bar, talked to Jaine who was very nice to me, drank wine and chilled out before going to bed.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Dysprosium: Friday


One of the disadvantages of writing up a report a couple of weeks after the event is that one has lost the immediacy of the experience; perhaps a better way to re-frame this would be to say that one trades immediacy for reflection, and there has been a lot to reflect on in the world of fandom over the last two weeks.

So I remember that we arrived Friday at the hotel, and futilely drove around the Park Inn Hotel car park in search of a parking space.  Having to ask the car park attendant for directions to the overflow car park first.  I mention this as we had driven in and been directed by the attendant to drive through, and park.  It would have been nice had he directed us to the alternate car park in the first place.  Anyway we ending up with trail of cars following us, because the car park attendant told them to follow the little red car, which turned out to be our friends Gary & Linda, and that is how memories are made.

The other thing I remember about arriving is how I reacted to the convention space.

I found myself feeling very light head, as if I was floating, and realized I was having a mild adrenaline reaction, provoked no doubt by all the excitement of being there.  Or perhaps from the disorientating layout of the convention that was effectively divided into two parts.  What it did mean that we got a lot of walking done during the convention traipsing up and down the connecting corridor, which was a bit narrow for the density of the traffic.

After the faff of unpacking we went to our first event, which was The Hitchhikers Guide to Human Spaceflight.  No photo I'm afraid.  Kate Arkless Gray, aka Space Kate did a light weight presentation on her experiences following NASA as a reporter.  Probably not pitched quite high enough for an Eastercon full of SF fans, but she was bright, cheerful and amusing, which was a good start to the convention.  The chairs were uncomfortable, and this discomfort would catch up with me by the end of Saturday.  Cue forbidding music with violins screeching.

After that we wondered off, or at least I assume so, because quite frankly I can't remember what we did next.  However, we were back in the main hall an hour later to see The Ultimate Urban Fantasy panel.  Again no picture.  However it was the first panel with Jim Butcher on it.  I've not read any of his books, because none of my friends have said, "You must read this Ashley as it's right up your street."  Probably because people would assume it wasn't.  Still he impressed me, very switched on, and as a result I went and bought the first book in the Dresden Files after the convention, as I recounted here.


After this we went to see The Difference Engine Imaged and Imagined, which was probably the conventions best kept secret as far as panels went; with the usual caveats that what I like and find interesting may not be what you like like and or find interesting.  Sydney Padue did a presentation on her upcoming graphic novel The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage and showed how she went back to the original source material and constructed 3D images of the engines, which took advantage of modern computer graphics to animate the mechanical process.  Fascinating stuff, and I imagine we'll get a copy of the graphic novel as and when we see it at our local Forbidden Planet.

Then we went off to explore the culinary delights of the self-service menu at the restaurant, which all things considered was rather jolly good.  We saw friends, I forget who now, but we talked to them, and afterwards we went to the bar, where we met Francis Hardinge who we first encountered at PicoCon.  She was very nice to me, and perhaps when she's next visiting Shepherds Bush we'll get to meet up for coffee.

So the day ended with us drinking some nice wine, and settling down to unwind as the day drew to a close.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Another Late WIP Update 16th Apr 2015


Oh my, running late because I again forgot to post yesterday.  Been a bit lost in diving back into my writing.  Currently editing my third novel, working title Ghost Dog , which is currently running at 98,752 words, with the first 41,648 words processed in what I'm calling the first revision.  It's mostly correcting the little things like punctuation, sentence length, while marking passages that suck badly for further editing the next time round.  My plan being just to knock the text into rough shape, while re-reading the  story to make sure it works; as in it the plot makes sense.

On other things to come, I'm working on my Dysprosium review.  Delayed in part because of pictures from my beloved, who still hasn't sent them to me yet.  Hopefully tomorrow I'll post the first of three posts.

Reading wise I've finished Equoid by Charlie Stross, which I thoroughly enjoyed, but it has a very British sensibility about it.  My pitch line for it is My Little Pony meets Cthulhu with a shout out to Cold Comfort Farm.  Therefore it may not be to everyone's taste, but as I like my humour black, unsweetened, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.  Also, it has the decided plus point of not being overly long, which in today's market is very refreshing.

We also went into town (as in the centre of London), and visited both Orcs Nest and Forbidden Planet.  The former is my dealer of choice for my gaming needs, the latter is where I buy most of my novels.  A long time ago, when I use to live in Brighton, I worked for the local Forbidden Planet franchise holder as a book buyer, which would entail me making trips up to London to visit the warehouse to select the books to be sent to Brighton.  Some nice memories, and it has left with me with a certain fondness for shopping with them.

We bought half a dozen novels while we were there: The Rhesus Chart by Charlie Stross, Feed by Mira Grant aka Seanan McGuire, Storm Front (Book 1 of The Dresden files) by Jim Butcher, The Severed Streets by Paul Cornell, Monster Hunter Nemesis by Larry Correia, and Alternate Realities (a compilation of three short novels – Port Eternity, Wave Without a Shore & Voyager in the Night) by C. J. Cherryh.  It may take some time to read them all, especially given how hard I've found it of late to read fiction.

So that's it for this week's update.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Late WIP Update 10th Apr 2015


The above illustration is apropos of my previous posting about Cordwainer Smith, this being the magazine where I read The Lady Who Sailed the Soul  all those years ago.  The image on the cover enthralled me, and I found it while reading this blog, which is doing something rather interesting by posting commentary on old SF magazine stories, from the late fifties onwards, as if they were being read in real time.  Quite nostalgic.

I've been away at the British National SF Eastercon, Dysprosium, and I will be writing a report soon.  In the mean time I've spent my time entertaining friends and winding down after four days of fun, and having to deal with three to four hundred emails that were waiting for me.  It seems that there has been another explosion of fannish outrage on the internet while I was gone, which can best be summed up by reading Peter Watts' blog.

As for me I've been having far too much fun, see above.

My only concerns were would I be able to finish the first revision of my second novel before going to the convention.  The answer is yes.  I managed to do a rough edit of the remaining 36,000 words of Strike Dog by late Thursday night.  So last week was a productive one, and I for one can't ask for more than that.

Today I rode my refurbished Riese & Müller Birdy folding bicycle around my housing estate, which enabled me to check the brakes worked, and that the new chain was seated properly; as in it wasn't going to go spoing on me as it split into two parts while riding somewhere.  So all excited at the prospect of fun summer cycling.