Thursday, 30 April 2015

The Memory of Whiteness

I'm slowly working my way through all the Kim Stanley Robinson titles I can find.
This one starts off with a mystery. Someone wants to kill the Master of Holywelkin's Orchestra, an 11 metre high conglomeration of instruments played by the Master from a control room half way up the tower. The Orchestra is about to go on a Grand Tour of the solar system from its home on Pluto, and the action moves slowly inwards from world to world.
But it's not just about a murder plot - the creator of the Orchestra, Holywelkin, was also a genius mathemetician who transformed physics and made it possible for all the little scattered colonies of the solar system to exist, so the story is also about the nature of reality, and the importance of music.
I think my favourite character was the journalist who wrote for a musical magazine, who becomes part of the entourage of the Orchestra and a friend of the Master. He also becomes part of the security efforts to keep the Master safe, on various worlds.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015


I've been listening to Earthsea on Radio 4. To my delight Judith Adams, who adapted Ursula le Guin's story, has taken The Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan and mingled them together. Sparrowhawk and Tenar are telling each other the stories of their childhoods, so you get bits of both books put together. It's extremely well done, and I'm really enjoying it, so much that I think I shall have to revisit the Earthsea books very soon.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Engraved on the Eye

I like diversity in my SF - what's the point of leaving the planet if you're only going to encounter what you're familiar with already?
I'd heard of Saladin Ahmed, but not read anything of his, until I got a chance to download a free ebook of his short stories, called Engraved on the Eye.
There's quite a mixture here. It's fun to visit an Arabian Nights fantasy world for a change, and he also has stories set in a future Middle East, and a funny super villain story. There's even a Muslim Wild West story. I enjoyed them all, and will be looking out for his novels in future.
He has a website at

Monday, 27 April 2015

The Big Elfquest Gatherum

I first came across Elfquest in the 1980s, when I saw the novelisation of the comics on a stall at a Star Trek convention. I enjoyed it, and after that I looked out for the comics, and started buying the Blood of Ten Chiefs anthologies, which are also great fun.
I never did get much further in the story than the Go-Backs, though I'm told that they did find the High Ones space ship in the end. The Wolfriders, for those who are unfamiliar with the story, are a tribe of elves who are forced out of their forest home, and find their way to another group, the Sun Folk, who live in a desert. Cutter, the leader of the Wolfriders, then begins a quest to find all the other scattered elves of the World With Two Moons, and find out what happened to their distant ancestors the High Ones. It's quite different from superhero comics, and good fantasy comic stories are quite rare. This one also has a wide range of good female characters (and Winnowill, who is a wonderful villain!), and that rarity in comic books, a happily married family with children - Cutter, Leetah of the Sun Folk, and their two children Ember and Suntop.
Occasionally I go down to Booth Bookshop's cellar, where the SF is, and the last time I browsed there, I found I book I had not suspected to exist - the Big Elfquest Gatherum. It's a sort of encyclopaedia of Elfquest knowledge, interviews, artwork and so on, and it's fascinating. I hadn't realised the effort Richard and Wendy Pini had put in to trying to get an animated film or TV series off the ground - though reading the struggles they went through, I'm glad we never got the live action film made with children on the backs of large dogs (a serious suggestion by the studio they were dealing with at the time!) or the cartoon series where they wanted to make Leetah's skin lighter because they didn't want to be seen to be endorsing mixed marriages!
There's also information about the Beauty and the Beast graphic novels that Wendy Pini did the artwork for. I used to have the one where Vincent paints an oil painting of Catherine, and I recently got the one where Vincent has to help Catherine's soul move on after death - both of them are beautiful, and quite a different style to the Elfquest elves.
And, it seems, there is more Elfquest out there - stories I was never aware of before, but which I'll be looking out for in future.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Widdershins: Piece of Cake

This is the fourth Widdershins comic book to come out - and I now have the full set, plus a pin for The Royal Society of Bounty Hunters, with smoking pipe logo, which I've clipped to the cape of my Sherlock Holmes coat.
Each story has been a little bit different, but they all centre on the magical town of Widdershins. This one starts in 2013, as an amateur cook heads for a baking competition in the Hotel Gula (which means throat in Italian) - only to find herself imprisoned in a time travelling gluttony spell. The link to previous books is one of the Victorian servants of the hotel, sister to the bounty hunter of previous stories.
It's nice to see a black lead character whose colour is incidental - she's a baker of delicious cakes, first and foremost. Other characters include a pair of cocktail making con artists from the 1920s, a gay chef from 2032 (whose sexual preferences are also incidental - he's first and foremost a chef and antagonist to our heroine) and a cookery book writer from the 1950s, all kidnapped by the insatiable hotel.
It's all great fun, and a satisfying read.
Kate Ashwin, writer and artist, has a website at

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Celtic Goddesses

I picked up this book, by Miranda Green, because of her qualifications in archaeology, listed on the back, and I was not disappointed. In fact, it was first published in paperback by the British Museum Press, in 1997. This is a look at the archaeological evidence for the Iron Age and Roman era goddesses and a look at what their worship reveals about Celtic society and the position of women within that society at the time. It also delves into the myths that have survived, from Ireland and Wales principally.
It's not fluffy, New Age-y stuff - but it's not overly dry and scholarly either. It's aimed at the general public as well as students of the subject, so there's just enough detail along with a good bibliography for those who want to do further study.
It contains some photos I've never seen before, and covers Gaul as well as Britain, touching on the sexual roles of various goddesses, and their links with the land as goddesses of sovreignty, goddesses of war, and more. The last chapter follows the transformation of some goddesses (like Brigit) into Christian saints.
I highly recommend it.

Friday, 24 April 2015

The Left Hand of Darkness

Radio 4 at the moment are celebrating the life and work of Ursula Le Guin.
There was a documentary recently which interviewed her on the occasion of her 85th birthday, and included comments from several well known authors who said that she had been an influence on their work. One of them was Neil Gaiman.

This was followed by a two part adaptation of The Left Hand of Darkness, which is about an envoy of the Ekumen, a grouping of around 80 planets, as he makes first contact with Gethen, or Winter, a new world which they are inviting to join them. His presence upsets the political situation on the planet forever - the nations have to deal with the idea of actual beings from other worlds, and put aside their differences to work together if they want to be part of the Ekumen.
But the story is also about gender. The inhabitants of Gethen only become male or female for a few days every month, and they can become either male or female at that time. The rest of the time, they're asexual adults. The famous phrase that's always quoted is "The King is pregnant."
This is difficult to convey on radio, where voices are either male or female, but I think the adaptation did it well, giving Estraven, the main character from Gethen who befriends the envoy, a low female voice. Genly Ai, the envoy, is a man - male all the time, something the inhabitants of this world consider to be perverted.
It's a thoughtful, intelligent work of science fiction and I think they did a pretty good job of adapting it for radio.

Next, they're adapting Earthsea. I'm not sure if they're doing just the first book or the whole first trilogy (I love the Tombs of Atuan, so I hope they do that). In a way, this is a straightforward "boy goes to wizard school" story, but I remember the first time I read it - or rather devoured it. I spent every spare moment immersed in the story - I think I lived on the island of Roke for a while! Young, arrogant Sparrowhawk unleashes something terrible on the world during some magic that gets out of his control, and he has to spend the rest of the book dealing with the consequences of that, and hunting the Shadow down.
I'm looking forward to it.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Ex Machina

The local cinema were showing Ex Machina a few weeks ago, so we went to the afternoon showing. The Young Man was expecting it to be something along the same lines as The Machine, which is also a film about an artificial intelligence in a female robot form - but this was quite different, and quite a bit creepier. Partly, I think this was due to the claustrophobic atmosphere of the house/research lab, remote home of the computing genius who had built Ava, the AI. This was actually filmed at the Juvet hotel in Norway, which is a spectacular location - and strangely, an article about the hotel came up on my Facebook page on the evening after we'd seen the film. The film rests on the performances of the three leads - the young programmer, his boss and Ava. The only other character who is on screen for any length of time is the Oriental girl who acts as the boss's servant, and she never speaks.
It's intelligent, adult SF, and it really makes you think.
I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Thunderbirds Are Go!

The first, double length, episode of Thunderbirds was shown over the Easter weekend, and I'm sure we weren't the only Convention goers who retired to their hotel room at 5pm to watch. With our hearts in our mouths - had they got it right?
We'd seen the documentary a couple of days before, and it looked as if the show might be in safe hands, with the chap from Weta obviously a big fan of the original series, and taking great pains with the Thunderbirds ships.
And there was a huge sigh of relief as we realised that they had been faithful to the original while updating it with a light touch. They even have the palm trees bending back for the launch of Thunderbird 2.
No sign of the Thunderbirds hats - or even Parker's chauffeur's hat -but that's fair enough. Who wears a hat while piloting an aircraft anyway? And Lady Penelope has lost her cigarette holder and gained a pug dog. There's also a new female member of the team, who gets a cool new ship (and has a guilty secret....).
The only thing that isn't quite right, and it's a pity to say this because the voice actor was so clearly enthusiastic in the documentary, is Brains. He just sounds weird.
I suppose that doesn't matter so much to the actual target audience, which is not a fifty-something person who remembers it when it first came out, but today's young TV watching generation.
I really hope the series succeeds, because it's good to have a family of characters whose main aim in life is to rescue people, rather than blowing stuff up and shooting people.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Guardians of the Galaxy

We were too tired to do much at the end of the last day of Dysprosium. Our brains were full! So the Young Man sent out for a Chinese (the Blossom Garden in Abbey Wood is quick to deliver, and very tasty), and we slumped in front of the DVD of Guardians of the Galaxy.
What a fun film. Lots of special effects, of course, and action sequences, but also those quiet little character moments that make the audience sympathetic to the characters, especially from Rocket, whose cynical wise-cracking exterior hides a good heart.
I have to say, when I first heard that this movie was being made, my first thought (not following the comics at all) was: "A talking racoon with a big gun? Riiiight!" But Rocket was great, and his friendship with Groot was lovely. And StarLord had just the right amount of character development from irresponsibility at the start of the film that you believed he really would risk almost certain death to save the galaxy by the end.
And though it was nice to see Zoe Saldana and Karen Gillan in action roles, I did kind of get the feeling that they were only there so that the two girls could fight together at the end - and if that's the case, we haven't really moved on from the days of The (British) Avengers in the 1960s, when the bad guys nearly always included one woman so Emma Peel would have someone to fight at the climax.
I'm looking forward to the second film, though.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Dysprosium - Day 4

The first thing to do after breakfast was to check out, which went very smoothly and we were able to leave our luggage in the store room by reception. Then we were free to go to the last day of panels.
And - squeeee! I sold one of my embroideries! I picked up the other one, and the lady at the art show said that there had been some interest in the Green Man, which didn't sell, and if I put it in another Con's Art Show, she thought it would sell. Big cheesy grin for the rest of the day!

So then we went down to Bleriot for the Fencing for Writers: Swashbucklers and Bravoes talk. The people doing this had flyers, which we'd seen around the Con - and they train very close to where the Young Man works! He said he'd go along and have a try, but I haven't heard back from him yet to find out what it was like. The two ladies were demonstrating mainly 16thC sword and buckler, or two swords, or sword and dagger fighting, and making the point that this was like modern gangs, and the people swaggering around armed to the teeth were not training in the salons like the nobility, but learning a few moves from their friends and hoping for the best.
We were sitting just behind Russell Smith, and chatting to him about sword fighting and re-enactment. He does Tudor re-enactment, and said he's done quite a bit in the armoury in his group.
The nice thing about Bleriot is that there is a large mirror on one wall, so when the time came for the audience to handle the weaponry, we could pose and see how we looked.
The talk over-ran, unsurprisingly.

And was followed, in the same room, by a panel about Ten Years of Doctor Who, including the possibility of having a woman Doctor in the future. Herr Doktor was on this panel, and early on he said that he had correctly predicted the return of Doctor Who, on the grounds that the children who had grown up with the programme were now in important positions in the BBC and able to commission programmes themselves. And, yes, he did predict a female Doctor in the not too distant future.

And finally, the Closing Ceremony, in which the committee handed over the hat with the duck on it to the brave souls who had come forward to organise Mancunicon next year. The chap from the new committee wore the hat for about three seconds, and then said: "You'll never see me wear that again!"
Thanks were also given to the Guests of Honour - Seanan MacGuire said; "I haven't slept! Everything is lizards!" - and to the tech crew, and everyone who had helped the Con to run smoothly.
A cup was awarded to a long-serving fan volunteer, something which has been going on since the 1960s - the cup is named after a chap who came late to fandom, and threw himself into the organising of Cons and the whole fan community, so that when he died, people got together to make an award in his memory (and I'm really sorry I have completely forgotten his name).
The hotel was thanked, and a collection was made as we went out for the staff, who worked really hard over the weekend.

And that was it. We stumbled out into the spring sunshine, straight onto the airport shuttle bus that took us to the underground station, and home.

It was the most brilliant fun.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Dysprosium - Day 3

When we went down to breakfast (me as Steampunk Alice in Wonderland, with white dress and pale blue corset, and the Young Man as Cutter Conway, Steampunk adventurer) there was a chap in the lounge bar playing a small harp. I paused to look, and he said; "Would you like a go?" As I hesitated, he added; "I wouldn't be sitting here if I didn't want people to join in."
So I had a quick impromtu lesson, which was brilliant, and I managed to make a reasonable sound, if not a tune.
After breakfast, we ambled through the dealers' rooms we hadn't seen yet, and got our photos taken and turned into sepia by the chap from Gearhearts. There's a possibility we may even appear in the magazine!

The first panel we attended was Truth, Justice and the Home Office, which was a discussion about how the law would have to change to accommodate paranormal beings. For instance, how would one deal with the requirement that a prisoner had to have a cell with access to natural daylight when the prisoner was a vampire? Would a selkie come under Fisheries? And how would the Dangerous Dogs Act apply to werewolves?
I forgot to say, for the Jim Butcher panel yesterday, what a good double act he and Charles Stross (who was interviewing him) are. Charles Stross writes the Laundry Files series, which deals with this sort of problem. Today the panel was Jim Butcher, Charles Stross and a lady who works for the police in real life. Seanan MacGuire was supposed to be there, but hadn't surfaced, so they kept an empty chair for her.

The Psychology of Doctor Who was more Real Science - Dr Sarita Robinson was talking about how we can extrapolate human knowledge of how the brain works onto a Time Lord, and mentioned some research she had been doing where volunteers were asked to draw a common everyday object (in this case the heads side of a 10p piece) and a Dalek. They found that more people could accurately draw a Dalek than a 10p, and there were various theories about why this should be so. "Daleks are scarier," said one little girl in the audience.

This was followed by Herr Doktor, who talked about his model making and Doctor Who and the pleasures of trawling through charity shops for smart clothes. Amongst other things.

And by that time, we were feeling ravenous, so we went off to buy a lunch voucher and eventually tracked down a baguette and a ham sandwich at the lounge bar. Every time we passed the lounge bar, we seemed to see a chap called Pietro (by his name badge) there. By the end of the Con, I was beginning to suspect he was an android - he never seemed to sleep! Or maybe he was just getting overtime in while he could.

The Runesmith held a talk in the dealers' room he was sharing on how to make a sword. Seven or eight people turned up, about half and half male and female, to discover that it is possible to make a sword or knife without access to the full blacksmith's forge - it can be cold forged, which basically means hitting the metal with a hammer for several hours. He also gave tips on how to make a mini-anvil from the head of an old sledgehammer, showed some knives he had made earlier, and talked about metal working in general.

We changed for the Masquerade Ball. I wore my crinoline skirt and black corset, with a purple blouse, and the Young Man was back in his frock coat with piratical accessories, and we both wore masks.
The fancy dress parade was great fun, and was run by the people who are bidding to hold WorldCon in Dublin in 2019. There were two child entries, Medieval Girl and a beautiful Rainette from The Girl in the Fireplace Doctor Who episode. They both got prizes. They were followed by Dr Sanguis (a mad scientist), Jenna from Blakes' Seven, a dashing Pirate King, a lady dressed as Angel from the novels of Jaine Fenn (I think that was the flapper) - about a dozen fine costumes. These were the winning entries, cribbed from Clickety Click, the Con newsletter.

And then there was dancing. The Young Man has always maintained that he can't dance - he just does slow martial arts moves at the back of the dance floor. However, some music came on that could be waltzed to - and he swept me round the dance floor like something off Strictly Come Dancing! And then muttered something about his half turns being sloppy! I was amazed, and delighted, and only just managed to keep up!

However, after that, people drifted off, leaving small children in charge of the dance floor. It seemed that everyone was in the lounge bar and Real Ale bars, talking, which must have been a bit discouraging for the DJ.

Late that evening (we had gone to bed by that stage) there was a performance of Spock in Manacles, which was first performed at Beccon in 1985. I wasn't at Beccon, but I do have a dim memory of hearing about it.
This is how it was reported on in Clickety Click the next morning:
"Teenage Nightmare: Going to EasterCon and discovering your English teacher is there - worrying
Going to EasterCon and realising you are running tech for your English teacher's programme item - seriously disturbing
Discovering your English teacher wrote Spock in Manacles and you are in charge of the video - priceless"
and on the other side of the sheet:
"Teacher Nightmare: Play you put on thirty years ago anonymously being remembered - nice
Being on a panel with all your old pals from those days - very nice
One of your sixth-formers is the tech gopher for your sci-fi goat slash orgy musical - priceless"

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Dysprosium - Day Two

I dressed up for the day in a blue silk jumpsuit with a tool belt - as a Tardis engineer. Anyone seen an old Type 40? I hear the chameleon circuit needs fixing, and every time I get somewhere it seems I've just missed it!
The Young Man, in cream frock coat, was a Time Agent.
The longest queue of the convention was for breakfast, due to a misunderstanding between the committee and the hotel that breakfast was between 9am and 11am, when in fact it could be taken earlier.
The first panel of the day for us was The Return of the Great British Eccentric, Huzzah!
Two Great British Ecentrics, Professor Elemental and Herr Doktor, were on the panel - I didn't catch the names of the other panelists. There was some discussion about whether eccentrics had to be British (Huzzah!), and about half way through it was realised that all the examples of eccentrics given so far had been male - and posh (poor people tend to be labelled mad, like poor John Clare the poet). So a good few women eccentrics were mentioned, like Gertrude Bell. One member of the audience said that talking about class was a load of rubbish - he had members of the Establishment on one side of his family and penniless refugees on the other side, so we shouldn't take any notice of the traditional class divisions.
Then on to Unseen London in Bleriot, which started off by talking about the Tube, and then branched off in interesting ways. One of the panellists here was Russell Smith, who spoke on some interesting panels on urban fantasy and London at LonCon. There was quite a bit of discussion of obscure engineering works, which was quite fascinating. The chap who'd talked about class (or the lack of it) in the previous panel was there too, and turned out to be extremely knowledgeable about Tube lines and tunnels under the Thames and so on.

Pause for a bit of gentle shopping, combined with chatting to people like Dr Geof, the lovely couple from Gearhearts magazine, the lady selling Beeblebears (with two heads) for ZZ9 the Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy fan club, Runesmith, Major Tinker, and others. And lunch. I think we had lunch.
We were also looking out for Clickety Click!, the Con newsletter, which was being put together over the weekend at a room off the Real Ale Bar, marked by the moose and crossbones flag. By this time the committee were appealing for more gophers (I'm afraid I wasn't about to volunteer, as I wanted to spend all the time I could with the Young Man, who I don't see very often. If I was on my own, I probably would have done.)

At three we were back in Discovery for Jim Butcher. He has started another series of books which are not at all like the Dresden Files, with cities inside huge spires, ruled by Spirearchs, connected by airships. Albion Spire is about to make war on Aurora Spire and the main characters are caught up in it. However, he was reconciled to the thought that the main thing that people would remember about the series was not the airships or the world building or any of that - it was the fact it had talking cats in it!
He also talked a bit about how he became a writer, and the writers' course he'd been on (and the terrible novels he'd written) until he decided he would prove his teacher wrong by doing exactly what she said he should do (thinking that it would fail and then he could say he told her so). And that was the first of the Dresden Files.

Later that afternoon, we were in Endeavour, across from the big hall, for Trowelblazers, which is an initiative to give recognition to all those women archaeologists whose contributions have been glossed over and forgotten. The speaker was Brenna Hassett, herself an archaeologist. I knew about a few of them, like Kathleen Kenyon - but there was plenty I didn't know, like seeing a picture of Gertrude Bell posing with Lawrence of Arabia and Winston Churchill, on camels, which just goes to show how influential she was (she was at some Middle East peace talks).
There was also a delightful film made in the 1930s at an Egyptian dig run by John Pendlebury, archaeologist and (later) war hero. There were women in the background, holding the high jump for the "Olympic Games" he put on for the children of the local labourers (who seemed to be having a great time), or sitting at tables illustrating the finds, but they were never mentioned or named. There were women labourers, too, walking, or sometimes running, around with baskets of dirt on their heads. Their names were never recorded, either.
I discovered, too, that there was an all female dig at Great Zimbabwe in 1929. It was run by Gertrude Caton-Thompson, who was a student of Margaret Murray (who I knew better as a writer on witchcraft), and one of the diggers was Kathleen Kenyon. Gertrude seriously annoyed the South African government by saying publically that there was no evidence at all that Europeans had come in and built Great Zimbabwe (as was widely believed, because of course the natives couldn't build anything in stone like this) and of course Africans had built it. It was such a fascinating talk that I started taking notes, and there is a website, too (link in the side bar).

And then it was back to Bleriot for the announcement of the Hugo shortlist, with a live video link to the committee of Sasquan.
Which was - interesting. It seems the Sad Puppies have been at it again. After the total failure last year to get their preferred right wing, white male candidates chosen, they have been much more organised this year. Voting is going to be a minefield. There was a meeting the following night, which we didn't get to, for concerned people who wanted to work out what to do about the voting.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Dysprosium Day One

For which I wore my LonCon tshirt, of course.
I put myself in the hands of my native guide (who lives in London so understands things like Oystercards and the map of the Underground) and we reached Heathrow without any problem. Then it was a short, free, bus ride to the hotel, Park Inn, in the company of several other fans.
It's a very nice hotel. Our room was huge, with a view of aircraft taking off nearby (but quiet), and the staff were friendly.
The first thing I needed to do after Registration was to find the Art Room. I brought two emboideries along - thinking that it would just be an art show of fan work. It was a bit overwhelming to find that there were a lot of professional artists, including Jim Burns, Anne Sudworth and Fangorn, all of whose work I'd seen and admired at LonCon. In one corner was an exhibition of Herr Doktor's work, including a magnificent Martian fighting machine from HG Wells (he grew up close to where the Martians landed) and a piece that had been exhibited at the Longitude Exhibition at Greenwich, which was (he explained in a panel later) the most intricate doll's house he could manage, depicting a beacon which would be 50 miles above the Earth's surface to enable shipping to work out exactly where they were. And how were they going to get the beacon and crew fifty miles up? "That is a job for engineers - I am a visionary!" it said on the card.
There was quite a queue for the Opening Ceremony in the corridor - this was also the area where there were tables for various WorldCon bids and the Registration Desk, and the British Interplanetary Society (and another real space society whose name I can't remember).
So we were welcomed to the Con, informed that the person with the duck on top of their hat was in charge (whichever member of the committee that might be) and the location of the Real Ale Bar, and introduced to the guests of honour. Herr Doktor was very dapper (I think he was wearing his top hat on that occasion) and introduced himself as a mad scientist. Jim Butcher looked out over the audience like a rabbit caught in the headlights - due to jetlag; he'd had problems with flights. Seanan McGuire was suffering from jetlag too. "Everything is lizards!" she announced cheerfully. Caroline Mullen was the fourth Guest of Honour, but I'm afraid I know nothing about her, as we didn't manage to get to any of the panels she was on. Professor Elemental was also on stage, in his pith helmet - he was doing the entertainment that evening. There was also a short slide show commemorating all the SF people who had died over the last year, starting with Terry Pratchett and finishing with Leonard Nimoy.
We stayed in Discovery, the biggest room, with the proper stage, for the first panel; The Things We Learned from Pratchett.
Incidentally, I was impressed to see the wheelchair lift to the stage, and the wheelchair parking spots along the aisles. There were quite a few people at the Con getting about on mobility scooters and there were also ribbons available to wear which said "Invisible Disability" so that others were made aware.
Anyway, an enjoyable hour of discussion about Sir Terry's work followed - interestingly, both the Americans came to Discworld via Soul Music, which was apparently the first Discworld novel to really make it in the States.
Then it was down to the other end of the Conference Suite to the panel on The Marvel Cinematic Universe. The organisers had left plenty of time to get from one panel to the next, as there was a long corridor between the two areas, which was being used as the dealers' rooms. The Real Ale bar was in the central space of the Aviator Suite, of which Bleriot was the biggest room. An hour of talking about Marvel superheroes was followed in the same room by A Joy of Steampunk, where the panel was formed of Herr Doktor, Dr Geof (who also had a dealers' table), Sydney Padua (who has a web comic), Professor Elemental (who performs chap hop), and Major Tinker (one of the organisers of Lincoln Asylum - I recognised him from the burlesque show when we went up there. He wasn't performing burlesque - he was acting as the innocent Scout Master behind whose back all sorts of naughty things were going on.
I think the consensus was that everyone has their own definition of Steampunk, and that's fine, because it's all about being creative with history and costume and making things and writing and art.
We decided to splash out and go for a dinner voucher. To make it easier for the staff, money was only changing hands at the hotel reception, and then you took a voucher for lunch or dinner and handed it in. It was £18 for three courses, which that night were Chinese dishes. It was all self service from the buffet, and a very fine meal.
In the evening, we were in a Dark Room.
This was a show put on by John Robertson, based around the idea of the old-fashioned text based computer games where you choose options - in this case, all options seemed to lead to DEATH!
A volunteer from the audience (called Darren - they were all called Darren whether they liked it or not) chose the options, and after a few goes the rest of the audience was able to chant along: "You awake to find yourself in a Dark Room," and some of the options, which got steadily more bizarre the further it went.
John Robertson is performing the Dark Room at the Udderbelly Festival - the purple tent thing that looks like an upside down cow on the riverbank at Southwark. We were quoting bits of the show and giggling for the rest of the weekend.
And to round the evening off was Professor Elemental, getting everyone dancing as he performed his songs. He also stars in a comic, copies of which were available, along with CDs, at the end of the show.

Friday, 10 April 2015

What I did on my Holidays

I spent the Easter weekend at Dysprosium, the 66th EasterCon, which this year was held at the Park Inn, Heathrow.

I went down the day before the Con, to stay with my Young Man, who lives in the Great Metropolis. I was very lucky - the train ticket cost £10.50 when I booked it, including a reserved seat from Birmingham New Street to London Euston. And everything went smoothly.
The railway line passes lots of canals, and a lovely little motte and bailey castle at Berkhampstead.

This is more or less the view from the train, taken from English Heritage.

Euston was a lot more packed than I remembered it - I used to go through there about twenty years ago - but when we got outside the sun was shining, and it was a short bus ride to Forbidden Planet. I was very pleased to get the next installment of the Green Arrow story I first read in the 1980s, and the new Ms Marvel - but no Captain Marvel figure, which was disappointing.
The Young Man took me to a Craft Beer pub nearby - on the way we passed the oldest pub in London, the White Hart, and a little later we met another friend at the Angel, a wonderful Victorian pub covered in green tiles, with an open fire. The beer was Samuel Smiths. She was on her way to an evening Vampire Group meeting, and had come into the centre of the city early to meet us.
So then it was round the corner to Patisserie Valerie. They have a very nice savoury menu - the Young Man had eggs Benedict and Becky had Croque Monsieur - but I was there for cake! Which made me very happy. The Peter Grant table (as mentioned in Ben Aaronovitch's novel Moon Over Soho) was taken, so we sat upstairs.
And then it was back to the Young Man's flat for the most gorgeous venison, which had been slowly cooking all day, and a documentary about the making of the new Thunderbirds series. Weta, in New Zealand, are doing the model work, and the head of Weta is a big Thunderbirds fan, so it was looking pretty good - and they have the original Parker back! I watched all the Gerry Anderson puppet shows back in the 60s, just at the right age for them to imprint themselves on my brain, and I was so hoping that the reboot would be done right. The first episode was broadcast on Saturday at 5pm, when we were at the Con....

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Dysprosium EasterCon

I'm just back from Dysprosium, the 66th EasterCon, held this year at Park Inn, Heathrow.
Just over a thousand people were there, attending talks, gaming, wearing costumes, shopping for cool stuff, drinking real ale - and talking, endlessly. As Seanan Maguire, one of the Guests of Honour, said: "I haven't slept. Everything is lizards!"

I will be blogging about what happened there, and how much fun it was, shortly, but now I'm off to soak in a hot bath....