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.

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