Tuesday, 12 November 2019

The Green Death on Location

I've been watching the 1973 Doctor Who story The Green Death - The One With The Maggots. It's also the one with a very strong environmental message which still looks very topical today.
They did quite a lot of location shooting for the story in South Wales, at a pit head and a disused video tape factory (which became the headquarters of Global Chemicals), and a big slag heap which they covered with giant maggots.
It was a very industrial landscape in those days, but the time of the National Coal Board was coming to an end.
One of the extras on the boxed set was a report from Wales Today, in which Jon Pertwee returned to the area to open a new visitor centre for a nature park. The slag heap had been landscaped, the pit was long gone, and there was a lake.
I looked it up and was pleased to see that Parc Cwm Darran is still there, somewhere near Caerphilly. There's a camp site and various outdoor activities, and they drained the lake in 2006 to turn it into a wetland area for birds.

Friday, 18 October 2019

Space Walk

A friend on Facebook started a watch party today for the first all female space walk from the International Space Station. I wouldn't have realised it was happening otherwise, but she gave me the chance to see it happening live, which was absolutely brilliant!

Women astronauts have been doing space walks for 35 years, but this was the first one where both astronauts were women. Only this March, an all woman space walk was planned, but they found that they didn't have enough space suits of the right size - an unintended consequence of designing for the average man. They tend not to have enough smaller sizes. Mary Robinette Kowal has been eloquent on this sort of design problem.

But, today was the day when Christina Koch and Jessica Meir floated out of the airlock together. Christina Koch is an electrical engineer, and Jessica Meir is a marine biologist - she was interviewed on 'Houston, We Have a Podcast' before she went into space, which was a fascinating insight into her life and career, and how she finally achieved her dream of becoming an astronaut.
They were replacing a battery unit, and once they get into position they have to be tethered to the space station, and all the tools have to be tethered, too. There are rails all over the space station that they use to pull themselves around.
The most fascinating thing to me was that they showed what the astronauts could see via a helmet cam. This really is the closest I will ever come to being in space! There were also good views of the space station itself and, behind it, the Earth in startlingly bright blue and white.
Down on earth, the commentator was also talking to another astronaut about what the space walkers were experiencing, and how they trained - there's an entire replica space station in a pool that they practice on. They can't remove the gravity, but they can have neutral buoyancy by practicing in the water.

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Li Bic and the Golden Dawn

I've just uploaded my latest story onto Smashwords, and added the cover on the side-bar here. I'm just waiting for them to approve the publication, which usually takes a day or so.
It's a ripping yarn that takes my Steampunk heroine, Li Bic, from the Victorian music halls of London, across Europe on an airship, up the Nile, and into the unexplored interior of Africa, pitting her wits against members of the Order of the Golden Dawn.
I had a lot of fun doing all the research!

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Archive Of Our Own - Fan Fiction

Archive of our Own, or AO3, is the website that won the Hugo for hosting fan fiction, and I thought I'd like to find out a bit more about it. I did try looking at it during the voting period for the Hugos, but it's so vast I kind of bounced off. There are fandoms represented on there that I've never heard of, and even with the ones I am familiar with, it's a puzzle to know where to start.
So I thought I'd start with something small.
Looking down the 'S' section, I found The Saint - and there were only 6 stories there. When I looked at the descriptions of the stories, I found that one was a crossover between The Saint and The Man from UNCLE. That seemed like my cup of tea - I'm familiar with both series. I didn't pay much attention to who wrote it.
When I clicked to open the story, I got an Adult Content warning.
Now, I used to read a lot of Star Trek fan fiction back in the 1980s. I'm familiar with K/S and hurt/comfort - I have fond memories of the Variations on a Theme series. So I had a vague idea of what I was letting myself in for here.
We start in the middle of a mission gone wrong - and Napoleon Solo meets the Saint (Illya being unconscious at the time). The Saint takes them to a remote cottage and leaves them there. Hot sex ensues. I'll never look at Illya Kuryakin the same way again!
It was a lot of fun.
I might try some Star Trek next time.... or maybe some Good Omens - I've been reading some very good fan fiction about Aziraphale and Crowley on the Tardis Stowaway blog, and some of it is just adorable!

Monday, 9 September 2019

The Ferry Home

I had to get up at the crack of dawn on my last morning, to catch the 7am bus from Westmorland Street to the ferry terminal. The Mortons bus came right on time, but there were hold ups due to roadworks when we got into the port area.
And then the bus stopped at the StenaLine terminal.
The last I saw of the bus driver was him having an argument with a taxi driver who had cut in front of him, and was loudly declaring that the bus driver was from County Mayo, so he hated Dubs!
The Garda, standing nearby, directed those of us who were travelling by Irish Ferries to the next terminal down - we ran for it, and got there with only 10 minutes to spare!
That was a little more exciting than I would have liked!
The café on the Ulysses was doing a special offer of coffee and muffin for E5, so that was my breakfast, and I treated myself to a Trinity College sweatshirt from the shop, since I'd never been able to get to the shop at Trinity College itself when it was open.
Near to where I was sitting, two men were consulting maps of London and chatting. As the ship got close to Anglesey, we got talking. They were from Southern California, and had been at the Con - they noticed my t-shirt, and the older man had been the president of the Heinlein Society (he was wearing a Heinlein Society cap). What's more, he was a physicist, and he had been taught by Gregory Benford! This was like meeting SF Royalty!
I lost sight of them as we disembarked, and the London train was going from a different platform to the one I ended up on - but from there the journey home was very smooth.

Sunday, 8 September 2019

Impressions of Dublin

I liked Dublin a lot. I want to go back and see all the things in the city I was too busy to see during the Convention.

It was lovely to be staying at Trinity College, which was a quiet oasis in the middle of the city. Every morning I strolled out of the main gate and up Westmorland Street, past the Wax Museum with the statues of Batman and Superman perched on the cornice on the first floor, across the O'Connell Bridge and round the corner to the Abbey Street Luas stop. I love being by the water, too, so walking along the bank of the Liffey was very pleasant.

On the first evening, I walked up O'Connell Street to the Post Office, famous for its part in the Easter Rising of 1916.


There's a long table under the colonnade, where people in Hi-Viz jackets were serving food to the homeless. On the side of the road where I was taking the photo, there was an Outreach Bus, also for the local homeless.
On another evening a similar table was set up under the colonnade of the old Bank of Ireland near Trinity College.
I saw a few beggars while I was there, but no-one selling the Big Issue - I suppose that isn't a thing in Ireland.

On the Luas journey between the Convention Centre and The Point, at the end of the line, there were houses, dwarfed by the new buildings that were springing up all around them, some with signs up. From what I could gather, the local residents were protesting about the way they were being treated, and trying to keep their community going.

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Impressions of WorldCon

We all got really, really good at queuing!
There was a brilliant young man marshalling the queues on the Wicklow floor - his name was Toji and I think he was German.
And I always met interesting people to chat to in the queues. After all, if you're queuing for the same panel, at the same event, you're bound to have something in common.
I also saw Convention Centre staff with little carpet sweepers everywhere. Was this for crumbs, or huon particles from passing time travellers?

I saw a lot more Starfleet uniforms than I was expecting, original Star Trek or Next Gen (I don't think I noticed any from other series). Cosplayers do seem to be in the minority at WorldCons, but there was a high standard. I saw a few of the people who later went in for the Masquerade wandering the halls - the red and white striped Victorian bustle dress looked fantastic! So did Gimli, and the two girls dressed as Vikings who were at their first WorldCon. There was a girl dressed as a witch, with a dark red velvet skirt which had Elvish script around the hem, who was asking people if they could read Elvish to tell her what it said! (I wonder if anyone at the Tolkein stall in the dealers' room knew?)

A lot of people wore t-shirts - I saw a lot of Helsinki WorldCon's Ursa, and a fair few LonCon, and even some Mancunicon, the EasterCon I also had a t-shirt of.

There was music everywhere - I never got to see the Helsinki choir, but I did renew my interest in filk, and the Philharmonic was absolutely brilliant.

The Con organisers were also putting a lot of emphasis on art, with their special award at the Hugos which went to Charles Vess, and special guests like Afua Richardson and Jim Fitzpatrick.

They also tried to make the Con as accessible as possible - though there were some selfish people who used the elevators when they didn't need to, making it more difficult for the mobility scooter users, and one lady said that people had actually tried to climb over her to get out of one of the panel rooms!
The captioning service on the big screen in the auditorium was a bit hit and miss, (there was laughter when "dogmatic" became "dog magicians", for instance), but they did try, and the scripted stuff came out fine.
I liked the idea of the pronoun stickers on the badges, too, and the notices up in the toilets saying leave people to pee in peace.

The Luas between Spencer Dock and The Point was like an extension of the Con, as most people riding on it during the day were wearing Con badges.


They were also, of course, focussing very much on Irish programme events wherever possible, and I really enjoyed the panels on Irish folklore and the Morrigan, and I loved all the stuff about Irish astronomy. A few people on the DublinCon Facebook page have talked about enjoying the panel on Flann O'Brien, too.
I'm sure I noticed that they wanted to encourage Irish Travellers to attend the Con, and there were certainly leaflets at one of the tables to the side of the dealers' room about Travellers, and challenging the myths about them. For a time, when I lived in London, I lived opposite the lane leading to a Traveller camp, while I worked in the local police station, and that experience showed me that they were perfectly fine as neighbours, and co-operated with the police who had a good working relationship with them locally. So I was pleased to see the myths about them being challenged.
It was a great pity that the Irish government didn't grant any visas to Nigerian fans who wanted to attend the convention.