Saturday, 30 August 2014

Steampunk at WorldCon

Those goggles get everywhere!
There were quite a few well turned out gentlemen in waistcoats and top hats wandering the halls - and Dr Geof was in the dealers' hall, with his amusing patches. He specialises in tea related ephemera, which is why he is exhibiting underneath the Cutty Sark at the moment. The last day is Sept 30th. He's also involved in Longitude Punk'd at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, until January 4th, 2015. On the hand bills (illustrated by Dr Geof) it says "Discover a fascinating world of Steampunk creations, inspired by the quest for longitude". We didn't have time to visit the exhibitions while I was in London, but we did stop to chat with Dr Geof in the dealers' hall when we passed by.
And there were panels, too. Steampunk is also a literary phenomenon, and comes under the umbrella of SF. We got to Beyond Blighty: world steampunk, where the panel was made up of one Venezuelan and three Germans, to represent writers beyond the Anglo-sphere. Joseph Remesar sets his work in London, all the same, though he has a Latino Scotland Yard detective, who is assigned to a difficult case because he can speak Spanish, so it's a different look at the greatest Steampunk city in the world. There was some artwork associated with this series in the art show, too, which looked intriguing.
One of the German ladies on the panel, Romy Wolf, has set her Steampunk series in Edinburgh. It's called Die Spione von Edinburgh, and is only available in German. This led to a discussion of other towns and cities that could easily be used as a setting for steampunk stories, rather than going back to London all the time.
One of the questions that was asked was why there was so little German steampunk, when Germany had been a great 19thC industrial area - I can't really say "nation" until 1870, and that's really one of the problems. German history is fragmented into the different principalities and electorates and so on. One lady on the panel was writing about the Kingdom of Bavaria and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and we learned some interesting German history on the way, like the importance of the date 1866 - the Austro-Prussian war, which threw up some interesting possibilities for alternate histories. One Dane in the audience suggested that for him, 1864 was more important, as Denmark had been invaded by the Germans - for which the panel apologised.
Sadly, the Germans considered that there was too small an audience for Steampunk literature to support them at the moment. I just wish I could read German better - the glimpse of the stories that the panel were telling was fascinating.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Vampires at WorldCon

There really was something for everyone on the huge programme.
Vampires and Identity was a panel on the academic track that sounded interesting. It was just a pity that no-one in the room had read the books that Nin Harris had based her thesis on, so it was difficult to make any comments about it. She did say a couple of interesting things about vampires in Malaysia, though, blood sucking women who lived in the forest, and owl women who swept down from the trees, and I wish she'd said more about that. She kept things going until Deborah Christie arrived, fresh off the plane and craving caffeine, and the third member of the panel never managed to get there at all. Then the discussion really opened up, though, and became quite jolly.
I saw Deborah Christie the next day, looking much less jet lagged in a long green dress, lounging across the Iron Throne!
On Saturday was a panel called The Daughters of Buffy, which was only slightly vampire related - it was more about female characters in TV since Buffy, and what the legacy of the programme had been in terms of gender equality. So Foz Meadows, LM Myles, Dr Tansy Rayner Roberts and Sarah Shemilt talked about the way Buffy had female friends to back her up as well as looking at modern programmes like Orphan Black (which was up for a Hugo Award). I particularly enjoyed this panel, because I've been following Tansy Rayner Roberts' blog for a while now, and I've also read stuff by Foz Meadows on the web, so I was interested to see what they were like in real life - and the answer is, great fun, and full of interesting opinions.
On Sunday, the Young Man wanted to see a panel with one of his favourite authors, Kim Newman. This was called Making Old Tropes New: Vampires, and was very entertaining, going over the history of vampire mythology beyond Bram Stoker to things like Varney the Vampire, and forward to how they have been used in films and books and TV more recently (with a brief mention of sparkly vampires....). I think they even mentioned the Salt Vampire from original Star Trek. The other members of the panel were Alys Sterling, Keffy RM Kehrli, Mur Lafferty and Marianna Leikomaa, who talked about how there wasn't really a Finnish vampire mythology, and why that might be. We saw Nin Harris in the audience of that one.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Comics at WorldCon

One of the highlights of WorldCon for us was Bryan Talbot (who turns out to be a lovely man!). As Guest of Honour, he gave several talks - the first we attended was on the history of anthropomorphic animals in comics, which was very comprehensive. Mind you, I felt a little bit of a fraud when I put my hand up to knowing about 1930s annuals like Teddy Tail and Tiger Tim, because I knew about them from my time working at the Children's Bookshop in Hay, rather than from my own childhood experience. We're now eagerly awaiting Grandville:Noel, which is due out in November.
There's also a film called Graphic Novel Man, which was shown at the Con (my Young Man bought a copy - it's fascinating), about Bryan Talbot's life and work - and he also gave a talk called How I make a Graphic Novel which will make me look at the layout of comics with new eyes. He talked about making things absolutely clear on the page, to lead the reader's eye to speech bubbles in the right order, and to draw the eye across, and how it made sense to finish one scene at the bottom of the right hand page, so you could turn over and see that you were in a new scene - "It's no use having people wonder about so-and-so's secret identity on one page, if you can see him taking his mask off in the next!" He also showed the perils of letting the letterers choose where they put the speech bubbles over the picture, with an image of Magneto - but all you could see of him were his feet, the rest being hidden by the speech bubble!
Another panel we went to was called In Space, No One Can Hear You Ink: the Best SF Comics. Here we had a French perspective on comics, from a physicist (I think - certainly a scientist) called Sakuya - the French are seriously into comics as an adult literary form. Also on the panel was Phil Foglio, who was up for a Hugo for Volume 13 of his Girl Genius comic. Being unfamiliar with any earlier volumes, when I read the Hugo packet I hadn't got a clue what was going on, so I didn't rate the series very highly, but after the panel we went back to the Girl Genius table in the dealers' hall to find that Volume One had already sold out, so my Young Man got Volume Two to start off with - and suddenly it made so much more sense. He'll be looking for more, I think. We also noticed that Agatha, the Girl Genius of the title, looked uncannily like Phil Foglio, complete with large round glasses. He said he had no problem in getting the domain name on the web, because the words "Girl" and "Genius" were never used together! Other members of the panel were Ade Brown and Scott Edelman.
The last thing that we went to on the Monday, after the Closing Ceremony where the gavel was passed from LonCon to Sasquan in Spokane, Washington, complete with their own Sasquatch (and the audience was pelted with huckleberry sweets), was a film called Comics Britannia - Anarchy in the UK. I've never been much of a fan of Viz, but the other stuff was interesting - and it also showed how different things were in the 1970s, when young men on the dole could spend that time honing their creative skills or, in the case of Viz, starting to put out a comic from their back bedroom. That sort of thing would probably get you 'sanctioned' these days.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Science at WorldCon

I suppose I shouldn't have been so surprised that there was a lot of real science on display at WorldCon. There was even a meeting advertised during the Con for alumni of MIT - there were enough of them there to fill a room.
In the Dealers' Hall there were several science stands - the Royal Holloway Department of Earth Sciences was monitoring methane and carbon dioxide during the Con and presenting their research into changing global methane emissions. The University of Dundee was also showcasing their research in Life Sciences.
There was plenty about space, like the Herschel Telescope and Planck satellite, and the ALMA and e-MERLIN radio telescope arrays from Chile and Jodrell Bank.
On the first day of the Con, across the room I saw a man flapping his arms around in front of a screen - this was Pigeon Sim, where you could fly like a pigeon over London. That one came from University College, London.
While we were dressed in our white coats as UNIT scientists, we got talking to the students at the Proxomics Project, which was absolutely fascinating. The Young Man was interested in the way they are looking at cells individually, to look at the differences and ways of treating cancers and dealing with problems of aging. He came away with an invitation to visit the lab at Imperial College!
I was more interested in the display that showed, with magnets and ball-bearings, how a mass spectrometer works. It was something I remembered vaguely from my A levels, but I'd never heard of it being used with proteins, as this group were doing.
There was a display about the Mars Desert Research Station, in Utah, where people are practicing how to live on Mars, and there was a Deep Sea Crawler, down at 900m in the Canadian Pacific, which was sending live video data back.
And, speaking of remote viewing, there was a man in Idaho who was "present" at the Con via a moving TV screen, so he could actually move around and talk to people in real time. He even asked a question at the Astronomer Royal's talk.
There were many science talks. We really enjoyed The Science of Discworld, particularly as I had just read the second book in the four book series, the one about elves invading Roundworld, and the wizards trying to make sure that Shakespeare is born and writes A Midsummer Night's Dream. The Discworld bits of the books are written by Terry Pratchett, and the alternate chapters describing the science are written by Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart. Ian Stewart, a maths professor at Warwick, was giving the talk, and he was very entertaining, and explained things very clearly. I remembered Jack Cohen, who is a biologist, from Star Trek Cons years ago - he gave some very amusing talks, with slides, about alien sex, including the real biology of tribbles. They are also, now, honorary wizards of the Unseen University, the ceremony taking place on the same day as Terry Pratchett became an Honorary Doctor of Warwick University.
The most impressive talk, though, was the Astronomer Royal's lecture The Post Human Future. Like Ian Stewart, Lord Martin Rees explained his ideas clearly - but we still needed to concentrate to keep up! He talked about the discovery of exo-planets by the Kepler telescope, which was so fascinating I looked it up when I came home (there's a lot of information on the NASA website), and evolution and astronomy, and science interacting with politics, and we came staggering out with our brains full and needing beer!

Sunday, 24 August 2014

The Retro-Hugos for 1939

The first ever WorldCon was held in 1939 (only 200 people attended) - but the first ever Hugo Awards didn't happen until 1953. Therefore, this year, voting took place for the 1939 Hugo Awards - with the benefit of hindsight, of course.
It seems strange now to think that Carson of Venus by Edgar Rice Burroughs and Galactic Patrol by EE Doc Smith were published in the same year as The Sword in the Stone by TH White - which was voted the winner of best novel category. Out of the Silent Planet, by CS Lewis, was a contender, too, the fifth choice being The Legion of Time by Jack Williamson.
For Best Novella, it really had to be "Who Goes There?" by Don A Stuart/John W Campbell - the story which became the film The Thing, just as the best dramatic presentation (short form) had to be The War of the Worlds by HG Wells, put on radio by Orson Welles to famously cause widespread panic. Nothing else in the category came close to that sort of notoriety. There was no category for best long form dramatic presentation, so I suppose there were no SF films put out that year.
The choice for best novelette was Rule 18 by Clifford D Simak - though Pigeons from Hell by Robert E Howard sounds intriguing, and I don't think I've come across Werewoman by CL Moore, though I'm a fan of her work (especially Jirel of Joiry).
The wonderful thing about the Hugos now is that voters are able to receive a package of the nominated works - that couldn't happen in 1987, when I was last eligible to vote. Computer downloads are so much lighter than a pile of books coming through the post, even if anyone had been able to afford to give out so many books back then. So I was able to read quite a few of the works that had been nominated. I was already familiar with most of the novels, but the shorter stories mostly appeared in SF magazines, and are harder to track down. I did enjoy (though I thought it was terribly sad) Lester del Ray's short story The Faithful, about genetically enhanced dogs in a time when humans have been wiped out, who embark on a project to make themselves new humans from genetically enhanced apes so they will have someone to be faithful to. Arthur C Clarke won that category, though, with How We Went to Mars.
The best editor, and certainly the one whose fame has lasted best, was John W Campbell, and the best artist was Virgil Finlay.
I didn't feel qualified to vote for best fanzine, though there seem to have been a few to choose from - Imagination!, edited by Forrest J Ackerman, Morojo and T Bruce Yerke, won there. "Morojo" seems to have been Myrtle Douglas in Esperanto. Forrest J Ackerman was also nominated as best fan writer, and was beaten by a man who went on to greater things - Ray Bradbury!

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Art at WorldCon

The Art Show at this year's WorldCon was one of the biggest ever, with over 2,000 pieces of art on display.
I had to take two goes to get round it - my brain was too full!
And what wonderful stuff it was.
Chris Foss was one of the guests of honour, so some of his work was on display, as well as some Grandville panels by Bryan Talbot. They were for sale, too, though well out of our price range - and an auction finished off the art show at the end of the Con.
Jeanne Gomoll, the fan guest of honour, is also an artist - she designed the James Tiptree Jr quilt which was on show on the other side of the dealers' hall, along with Tracy Benson. The quilt is on its way to a permanent home, which I think is a museum or library in Oregon.
Out of the many brilliant artists exhibiting, the one whose work really jumped out at me was Anne Sudworth, who paints wonderfully detailed, realistic pictures. Greetings cards of some of her work were on sale, and I wasn't surprised to find that the one of Whitby Abbey had sold out by the time I made my choice. It was an added bonus to meet the artist herself while I was standing in the queue to pay - and the person in front of me was also buying some of her greetings cards. She has a website at
It wasn't just paintings that were on show - there were sculptures and masks and jewellery and embroidery and clothes with LED lights running through them and model spacecraft and weaving and pictures made with cut out paper. There were even jigsaws, from Judy Peterson.
One artist, Vincent Jo-Nes (there should be an umlaut over the o and an acute accent over the e), paints pictures that glow in the dark, incorporating discarded electronic components. Paola Kathuria creates works of art on computer - the Young Man was very impressed with her work, especially the glowing snail-shell shape called Hexodus. She, too, has a website, at
I rather liked the travel posters, modelled on the 1930 - 50s British Rail posters, but for SF destinations, by Auton Pursur.
Alastair Reynolds turns out to be a man of many talents, too - I knew he was a writer and astronomer, but I had no idea what a good artist he also is.
Each of the stands for the guests of honour to meet and greet had been decorated, too - stuffed dragons and a life sized Wizard of the Pigeons sitting on a bench surrounded by stuffed pigeons for Robin Hobb, for example. There were even some live pigeons on Saturday, of the nine different varieties that Charles Darwin owned and studied.
Costumes were on display, too, as well as photos of people wearing costume - my Young Man knew some of them (he was able to point out Anne Sudworth to me, as well).
There were also Artists in Residence throughout the con, talking, and working and selling merchandise. They included Chris Achilleos - the other really famous Chris who has painted many famous book covers.
There were demonstrations and art classes, too - we passed by while people were sitting in a circle sketching a couple of models in the centre (and yes, one of them was a rather good looking young black man with his shirt off, but it was a complete co-incidence that we kept going past!) There were also demonstrations of bead jewellery, gold leaf, acrylics and oils and watercolour, and clay modelling.
Where writers have the Hugo award (named after Hugo Gernsback, the magazine editor), SF artists have the Chesley, named after Chesley Bonestell, who painted pictures of the Earth from space in beautiful detail before we had ever gone into orbit.
There was even a book of the exhibition, a bargain at £5, fully illustrated in colour.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Music at WorldCon - and Queues

There was a whole filk "track" to the WorldCon programme that we managed to miss entirely, with concerts running from Thursday afternoon to Monday night - though we were entertained in the queue to register by a chap playing a ukelele and singing "Who the Bloody Hell was Tauriel?", a musical critique of the Hobbit films.
The queue, by the way, moved at a reasonably fast rate, and there were plenty of volunteers marshalling the queue, unlike certain ComicCons my Young Man could mention (four hours in the queue, and volunteers who didn't know what was going on and didn't have access to a radio). Here it went smoothly, and with good humour, and the people behind the desk (also volunteers) were working as fast as they could.
I was talking later to a lady who had spent five hours volunteering on that first day - she had gone off to a talk she wanted to see after a couple of hours, come back, seen that there was still a need for help, and pitched in again. She said that the organisers hadn't realised that everyone would come at once on the first day - but they rose to the occasion and got through it, despite only having one sharpie! More sharpies arrived on the second day, to write names on badges that hadn't been printed, mainly for the people who were only coming for the day.
Queues for events, and the escalators, were also well managed, with volunteers coming along and making sure that people knew how late the previous event was running (the play before the Astronomer Royal's talk over-ran, for instance) and making sure, too, that people with mobility problems were sorted out properly. I was very impressed that the lifts were reserved for mobility scooters and wheelchairs and people with related mobility problems, and there were spaces in each room for mobility scooters to park that were nice and central, rather than being corralled into one corner or at the back. There were quite a few mobility scooters zipping around, as well.
There were also talks about music, and other concerts happening around the convention - I hadn't known, for instance, that Iain Banks, who had been one of the Guests of Honour until his untimely death, was a musician as well as a novelists, although I was aware of his book Espedair Street, which is about rock musicians. There was also a pipe and tabor workshop for the medievalists - I thought about going to that one, but left it too late to pre-book (there were limited places available).

And then there was the Philharmonic Orchestra.
ExCel has a huge Auditorium - even with the thousands of people at the Con, no event managed to fill it completely - and it also has a large stage with three big screens above it. And this is something else impressive about this sort of Convention - the tech volunteers who were able to manage the sound desks and lights and man the cameras that fed into the screens live, and even provide film clips to go with the music at the concert.
I think I'm right in saying there were something like 86 musicians on the stage, drawn from the London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Concert Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Britten Sinfonia. They had an open rehearsal in the afternoon, and the concert on the Friday evening.
They alternated between well-known film, TV and game music and classical pieces, and it really was a superb evening. The standing ovation they got at the end was thoroughly well deserved. For instance, they ended the first half with Mars and Jupiter from Holst's Planet Suite, which are so well known, and they made the music exciting to listen to. The Song to the Moon, from Dvorak's Rusalka, was accompanied by film footage from the Apollo 11 mission that I'd never seen before.
In the second half there was a tribute to Iain Banks by a composer who was a friend of his, Gary Lloyd, who wrote The Bridge Redux, named for the Forth Bridge and Iain Banks' novel The Bridge - this finished with a crescendo that the audience were invited to join in with, as loud as we could!
The Hugo ceremony also featured music, from violin and guitar, as the names of all the SF novelists and creators and well-known fans who had died in the previous year were projected onto the big screen overhead. They even managed to include Robin Williams. I didn't manage to catch the name of the piece they played, but it was beautiful.
And there was dancing - period jazz and swing from the Brideshead Ballroom Stompers after the Retro-Hugo Awards, which were given for SF from 1939, and a Regency ball the following afternoon (I saw several beautiful Regency dresses and a few gentlemen in period costume around the halls).
So there really was something for everyone!

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Cosplaying at WorldCon

WorldCon is not like ComicCons - the interest is more literary, and there are fewer hall costumes on display. Having said that, there were a few people wearing costumes who had really made an effort, like the two Jawas who even spoke like the ones in the films. There was also an Imperial Stormtrooper, and a Cyberman, several Steampunks, a Minbari lady from Babylon 5 (with hair, so a human hybrid), a lady Sixth Doctor in an amazing patchwork dress, and more - and I wasn't the only Captain Marvel. There was another lady from Poland. We had our picture taken together:

One of the high points of the Con for me, though, was on the Saturday, when my Young Man and I were waiting to go into Bryan Talbot's talk on the history of anthropomorphic animals in comics. We were dressed as his characters Inspector LeBrock of Scotland Yard and his girlfriend the Divine Sarah. Bryan Talbot himself came past - and he took our photo! A little later, we got Hall Costume medals, too (I am so proud!). And here are the costumes, picture taken by our friend Becky:

The Young Man did the makeup - he's far better at that sort of thing than I am.
I found it quite difficult to go to the toilet in that crinoline, and I had to sit on the end of rows of chairs at the talks we went to that day.

We were also UNIT scientists Malcolm Taylor and Liz Shaw on the first day, and here is another picture taken by Becky:

On the other days, the Young Man wore his Captain Britain tshirt when I was Captain Marvel, and we were also Green Lantern and Green Arrow - someone asked where the Young Man's ring was, so he showed off the ring that lights up. I got stopped by a volunteer and asked to go to Ops to have my bow and arrow checked for safety. The weapons policy is quite strict, but the toy bow and the arrow with a little boxing glove on the end passed the test ("Stab me with it," the lady said, holding out her hand - and the boxing glove is quite well padded, so that was okay).
At the end of that evening we took the tube to Woolwich Arsenal and a taxi the rest of the way home. I was still wearing the costume and the taxi driver said: "You're not going to rob me, are you?"
"It's okay - I only rob the rich!" I said, deciding it was too much effort to explain I was Green Arrow rather than Robin Hood.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Packing for WorldCon

It's fortunate that my Young Man found me a Very Big Suitcase on Wheels - because I'm taking four different costumes to wear, that require three different pairs of boots!
The first day of the Con has quite a bit of Doctor Who content, including a Doctor Who party at the end of the day, so I will be Dr. Liz Shaw, Companion to Jon Pertwee and UNIT scientist. That's fairly easy - all I need is a white coat and a short skirt, and I'll be carrying a clipboard. Crossing the time lines a bit, my Young Man will be Malcolm Taylor, the Welsh UNIT scientist in the more recent Christmas special that had the double decker bus in the desert.
Since I already have the costumes for Captain Marvel and Green Arrow, it would be a shame not to wear them again - and they require a pair of red boots for Captain Marvel, and green boots for Green Arrow. And the Young Man will be joining me as a steampunked Captain Britain, and Green Lantern.
But the most elaborate costumes will be in honour of Bryan Talbot, one of the Guests of Honour, who wrote and illustrated (among other things) the Grandville graphic novels.
The Young Man is going to be Inspector LeBrock of Scotland Yard, and I will be his girlfriend the Divine Sarah, with badger makeup and wig (and the third, lace up, pair of boots under my crinoline skirt).
I'm not going to attempt getting the bus and tube to Excel wearing the crinoline - the underskirt is going on when I get there, as is the make up!
This is the look we're aiming for:

Friday, 8 August 2014

Kersal Moor, Salford

Kersal Moor is a scrubby bit of moorland, with the occasional rare heathland flower, where I used to play as a child. In the middle of the moor there is St Paul's Church (where my sister was baptised) and the old junior school was next door. There were the remains of wooden steps and laid out paths, where the people of Salford and the surrounding area used to walk on Sundays. I knew that it used to be the site of the original racecourse, for horse racing, but that was the sum total of my knowledge.

Here's a picture of the moor by William Wyld in 1852, looking out towards the chimneys of Manchester. Queen Victoria commissioned the painting, and it is now in the Royal collection. The moor was bigger then, running right down to the River Irwell in one direction, and spreading across Moor Lane to what is now the rugby ground - the race track encircled the rugby ground as well as most of the present moorland.

What I didn't know, until I got into a conversation on Facebook with an old school friend, is that a huge Chartist meeting took place there in 1838. According to the Morning Advertiser at the time "the meeting then was certainly the largest that has ever taken place in the British Empire. – not less than 300,000 people could have been present."
The movement was named for the People's Charter and the Chartists were protesting about the state of democracy in their time, and campaigning for various measures to make things fairer - such as extending voting rights to every man over the age of 21, rather than limiting the vote only to property owners, and equalising the size of constituencies so that each MP represented about the same number of voters - Manchester was particularly poorly served here, as the population had increased hugely because of the Industrial Revolution, but the representation in Parliament hadn't changed.
They also wanted MPs to be paid, so that poor men could stand for Parliament as well as rich men, the secret ballot and annual elections "the most effectual check to bribery and intimidation, since as the constituency might be bought once in seven years (even with the ballot), no purse could buy a constituency (under a system of universal suffrage) in each ensuing twelvemonth; and since member, when elected for a year only, would not be able to defy and betray their constituents as now."
This made them dangerous radicals in the eyes of the ruling classes.

As well as being a handy place to hold open air meetings (in 1818 a group of coal miners assembled there to protest about their pay and dangerous conditions - Agecroft Colliery isn't far away) the moor was used by the military for exercises and reviews. This was another bit of history I knew about, because of the disaster of Broughton Suspension Bridge. As the troops marched across the bridge back to their barracks, it began to vibrate in time with the marching feet, and the bridge collapsed before they reached the other side. No-one was killed, but 20 men were injured, and since that incident troops in the British Army have always broken step when they cross a bridge.

There have also been duels, and in 1790 a burglar and highwayman called MacNamara was hanged there, though it didn't seem to do much to lower the crime rate. Archery clubs have met there, and there was a golf course built in 1818, only the second to be built outside Scotland. There were also, in the eighteenth century, races where the men competed naked, so that women could eye them up and choose a husband!

Monday, 4 August 2014

Con-Tours for LonCon3

There were several people wearing bright pink badges around Hay today. One lady was also carrying a black shopping bag with the pink logo (of a plump dragon) which included the word "LonCon3".
"Are you going to WorldCon?" I asked.
She explained that she was on a coach tour with 38 people who were seeing the sights of England (and Wales) before going on to London and the World SF and Fantasy Convention. Apparently, this has been done before, when WorldCon was in Japan. One of the ladies I spoke to had been going to WorldCons for forty years (though she missed the only one I'd been able to get to - WorldCon 87 in Brighton)!
It's just possible that I'll see some of them there, among the over 8,000 people who will be attending the Con.
So this has made me very happy - and glad that I'm going. I'd be incredibly depressed if I'd met these people and I wasn't going to be attending the Con myself!

Saturday, 2 August 2014

WorldCon 87 - part 2

We're about halfway through the Convention now....

We began Saturday with an unmissable item - Hacking at the Enterprise, on how to write for Star Trek. The panelists were Barbara Hambly, who has an incredible giggle, Joe Haldeman, one of the first ST novel writers, John M Ford, Klingon expert, and Melissa Snodgrass, who wrote Tears for the Singers - and Diane Duane was in the audience. They had, unfortunately, a rather low opinion of the present editorial staff for Trek at Pocket Books. Apparently it's been deteriorating for some time and has now reached an all time low. Nor were they too hopeful about getting stories other than straight action-adventure published.

I spent the next four hours stewarding at the Bedford, watching The War Games, the last Pat Troughton Doctor Who adventure, in its entirety. I hadn't seen it before, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The script was rather better than some more recent offerings.

There was something wrong with the video player, so that the picture tended to wander across the screen sideways, and nobody knew how to fix it, but we sat there and kept on watching anyway because these things weren't so easy to come by back then, and we might not have got another chance to see it! I was wearing my original Starfleet uniform that day, and I think I was in full Andorian makeup.

That evening was the Masquerade so, appropriately garbed, we headed for the Brighton Centre. Not wishing to shell out funds for the Masked Ball, we watched from the balcony - and pretty stunning some of it was, too. Ann Page was the MC for the evening. The greatly deserving winners were a group who did Elric of Melnibone. Incredibly rich fabrics in great quantity. Several costumes were made out of feathers, including a sweet griffin with flapping wings. There was a set piece of Masters of the Universe, which redeemed itself, after general groans from the audience, by a really good fight scene. One of my personal favourites was the High Deryni, but they were all worthy of praise. On the way home, in my orange ball gown, an extremely drunk young man insisted on 'protecting' us along the prom. We were concerned that he might pass out on us.

Sunday, and we met our friends at the Brighton Centre. We just let them loose on the dealers' room. Mary spent vast quantities of Terry's money and spent ages queuing for Robert Silverberg's autograph. The staff of Alternate Worlds were beginning to recognise us by now.

After lunch we went to the Ray Harryhousen talk. Doris Lessing was in the audience, and Terry had his picture taken in the hall with Caroline Munro. Ray Harryhousen's talk was in the form of an interview, and he came across as a very pleasant, interesting man.

Later, we - or at least, I - worried the natives by dining out at a local chippy (I was wearing my Andorian makeup with a purple sari and red boots).

In the evening I went to the filksinging concert, while everyone else went to the Hugos. At 10.00pm we all came outside to see the fireworks.


Half an hour of incredible pyrotechnics, explosions echoing off the buildings behind us, and visible (so it was said) up to twenty miles away in France. Probably audible, too. I met one of the chaps who set it up, sporting a sling and heavy bandages but quite cheerful about it.

The first talk on Monday was on special effects, moved from the previous day. Martin Bower started out with Space: 1999, and worked on Doctor Who, Alien, Blake's 7, and some drinks commercials, and was most entertaining.

We went round what we could of the Art Show, which was truly amazing, and took a quick look around the Games Suite. Then to Hall 4 and How to Make Sure we Reject Your First Story. We found that basically we're doing the right things, but the editors on the panel gave some horror stories of manuscripts arriving in crates, or hand-carved, silk-lined boxes, or with pictures of naked ladies pushed in between the pages. One chap even had a little old lady turning up on his doorstep asking, "Have you read my manuscript yet?" at regular, frequent intervals.

At the time my friend Pat Keen and I were writing a Star Trek novel together - which we did send off to Pocket Books. We got a standard rejection letter, but at least they had read it.

Then to some real science; John Gribbin and Fred Pohl talking about the Big Bang in fact and fiction. Most stimulating to the brain cells (and I never imagined that John Gribbin was so scruffy!)

And finally the Closing Ceremony, where the gavel was handed over to the Committee for next year's WorldCon in New Orleans, complete with jazz band!

It was certainly a unique experience!"

So that was what I wrote about the last WorldCon I attended, thinking that it was a once in a lifetime experience. And I didn't even mention the incident where Iain Banks (quite drunk at the time) thought it would be a good idea to get back to his hotel room by scaling the outside of the hotel, and got arrested.
And I remember standing on a balcony near a display for L. Ron Hubbard books and scientology, debating whether he was dead or not, and looking down to see Michael Moorcock signing autographs (he was very tall), and there was a display for a book called Kaeti and Company by Kieth Roberts with a life sized cardboard cutout of Kaeti (it was a series of short stories all 'starring' Kaeti, but as different characters - I finally got a copy some years later, and it was very cleverly done. But then, he's a very good writer).
And there was the Japanese lad who was obsessed with Gerry Anderson and tried to ask about ten long and complicated questions in not very good English at the special effects talk, who had to be asked to let someone else from the audience have a go.
And I came away with one of those sand pictures that you tilted and the sand moved around, which were very popular at the time, and a phaser that I was told I mustn't take out of the wrapping because of the very strict no weapons policy. There was a lady I vaguely knew from Star Trek Cons who dressed as both Alice in Wonderland and an assassin, who was bemoaning the fact that she was a totally weaponless assassin for the duration, though she still looked good in black.

Friday, 1 August 2014

WorldCon 87 - part 1

Very soon now, I'll be going to LonCon3, this year's World Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention, at London's Excel Centre. The last time I went to a WorldCon was in 1987, when it was held in Brighton. I wrote a Con Report - I think it was for STAG, one of the Star Trek fan clubs around at the time (or possibly Starship Excalibur - I really don't remember which).
So this is what it was like, all those years ago:

"So much was going on at WorldCon that I only got to see a fraction of it - so this is a very partial report. To give some idea of the scale of things, there were four main 'streams' of programming, videos and films, a huge dealers' room and a quite stunning, and huge, art show. There was also a fan room, where events were going on each day, a suite of rooms for role-playing games, and filksinging [science fiction folk songs - anything from ST's own 'Banned from Argo' through songs on general SF themes to fan versions of songs mentioned but not actually written in various books. Anne McCaffrey's 'Dragonrider' works are very popular in this last respect - Ed.] and discos at night. As if that weren't enough, there was also the Hawkwind concert, the Masquerade, the Hugo awards and the firework display.

We arrived with the intention (or rather, strict instructions) to phone friends to give them the main programme items so they could decide which day to come. We juggled with the goody bag, souvenir book (large, hardback, and £10.00 to non-attendees) and badge, found the pocket programme, and laughed hysterically at the thought of reading it all out over the phone. In the end we just said "Come Sunday" and left it at that.

No internet then - we had no idea of the programme until we turned up - this time it's all on line and we can work it out well in advance!

We left our bags at the boarding house and sallied forth to find the first talk we wanted to see. Hall 4, Metropole Exhibition Centre, was not exceptionally well-marked on the map. It also didn't help that we entered through the back door.

The first thing we found was the dealers' room.

It was immense.

It filled three halls effortlessly, and there were goods on display the like of which we had never seen. We drifted through, dazedly. With some help, we found Hall 4. Brian Aldiss, with the help of Harry Harrison (who wore a T-shirt saying "I Love The Stainless Steel Rat") was giving tips on 'how to write a best-seller'. This became a session of ideas from the audience on a given theme "adding the sex and violence as we go along". It was given the snappy title Drunkworld, and one suggestion was to call the sequel Hangoverworld.

We then retired to plan our next day and, as importantly, to eat. The Old Ship had been recommended by a friend and, as I still looked more-or-less respectable, we decided to end our first day with a really good meal. There will now be a short advert - The Old Ship is excellent, if a little expensive, and the service is very good indeed. I can especialy recommend the melon starter with raspberries and cointreau, and the chocolate truffle and coffee sauce sweet.

I awoke next morning with a hangover, caused by two glasses of white wine and the melon starter. (In those days, I didn't really drink). After breakfast we strolled through the Lanes, missing out on such things as the Christian Fandom Meeting, Sci-Fi on TV, The Comix Business and SF Origins to name but a few talks, not to mention films and videos. By the time we plunged into the dealers' room, I was feeling almost human. I bought an awful lot.

After lunch in The Salad Basket at the top of the Exhibition Centre (good and cheap, as the programme said) we headed for the panel on Young Adult Books. This had some favourite authors - Joy Chant, Terry Pratchett (who introduced himself as the "token juvenile"), Tanith Lee, Diana Wynne Jones (who looks like a jolly white witch), Peter Nicholls and Cherry Wilder. From the point of view of wanting to try it ourselves, and enjoying their books, it was an interesting hour (so you can see I've been wanting to be an author for a very long time!)

We continued with the Fantasy Authors Forum - in a completely different hotel, the Bedford, about five minutes' walk up the seafront. Thus we missed the introductions, but recognised Katherine Kurtz. There the talk revolved around how to describe alien mindsets, bearing in mind that the past is just as alien as another planet, and cultures other than one's own are very hard to get inside without a great deal of research. Hence the large amounts of fantasy based on Celtic myth/Medieval Europe rather than, for instance, China or Africa. Personally, I'd love to read Chinese fantasy, but there's no way I'd ever be able to write it. (I think this may be before I discovered Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart).

Heading back to the Metropole, we met Keith Cook dashing in the opposite direction, and arranged quickly when I wanted to steward the video room (having foolishly agreed to assist).

Onward - this was fantasy day with a vengeance - to the Medieval Re-Creation talk, which had nothing to do with SF and everything to do with history. The panel had members from groups ranging from the English Civil War Society (not the same as the Sealed Knot), to Romans, with Vikings and a large group from the Far Isles (a medieval group) in between. Talk was wide-ranging, including the authenticity of letting women fight (apart from the danger of them beating up whoever tried to stop them), via the joys of medieval and Roman cooking and brewing, safety standards and the part women really played in history contrasted with our modern understanding of sexual roles. (and people are still arguing about the same things today!) The point also came up that about 80% of people actively involved in Historical Societies are also into SF and fantasy. In case I'm thought to be babbling on about this, I was a pike-person in the Sealed Knot at university and I'm quite definitely hooked on medieval history, which formed a fair chunk of my degree (and that hasn't changed - I went back to re-enacting as a 13thC Welsh mercenary with Drudion about ten years ago). It was reassuring to see such importance placed on accuracy and period detail, and to find that the head of the Herbalists' Guild in the Far Isles is also an archaeo-botanist at the great dig in Southampton.

As Thames TV were filming a documentary about Anne McCaffrey, who had been in the room before this, we ran over time somewhat, and it was later than anticipated that I met up with Pat again.

Neither of us had ever been to a rock concert, and Hawkwind seemed to be a good opportunity to see what it was like, and hear their Chronicles of the Black Sword, based on Michael Moorcock. It was a lot more enjoyable, and about as loud, as we'd anticipated, and the songs were illustrated by some very good backdrop projection and several mime artists. There was a rather good sword fight.