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.

Friday, 6 September 2019

WorldCon on Monday 2 - Islands, Folk and Filk, and Closing Ceremony

When I went to FantasyCon last year, I really enjoyed the live podcast by Breaking the Glass Slipper.
In Dublin, they were doing it again, on the subject of islands, and it was a wide ranging and fascinating discussion (available on their website).
One of the panel, Vida Cruz, said she came from the Philippines, which is made up of something like 7,000 islands, so she might possibly know something about the subject! Most of the panel thought of islands as places of exile or isolation, which she said was a very mainland way of looking at things! To her, water was a bridge, not a separator.
The discussion about using islands as places to do things you'd never get away with in a mainland setting was fascinating, too, for instance The Island of Dr Moreau, or Lord of the Flies. And now I have to track down Tunnel in the Sky by Robert Heinlein, which was apparently written as an answer to Lord of the Flies, with the characters co-operating rather than descending into barbarism.
Vida Cruz also talked about the history of the Philippines, and how the Spanish invaders destroyed the indigenous culture in which women, and men who presented as women, were leaders of tribes, and storytellers were important. This led on to the panel wondering why white men, who wrote most of the classic texts featuring islands, were afraid of them. Was it because islands could be seen as places of feminine power, ruled by the tides and the moon?
Other islands mentioned were Earthsea, the Narnian islands of Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the Odyssey, and Robinson Crusoe's island.

It was time for more music after that, from Irish folk singer Daoiri Farrell. He commented between songs that, when he left school he had become an apprentice electrician, and he had helped to install the lights that were presently blinding him on stage! The only song I already knew was The Galway Shawl, and he did a variety of comic and serious songs, including The Mickey Dam, about Irish labourers working on a dam in Scotland - which just goes to show that the UK has always needed workers from other countries.

Then there was a panel about the influence of Irish folk music on filk, which was quite good fun, and rapidly broadened out into all sorts of musical influences, including Swedish influence in the case of the works of Poul Anderson. They also suggested places to find filk online - I have already warned Bob, who runs our local acoustic session, that my new Five Year Mission is to seek out new filk, and boldly sing songs no-one else has ever heard of!
So, there's the Filkcast podcast, and Spotify, and Bandcamp, and Xenofilk, which all have interesting stuff.

And so to the Closing Ceremony. There weren't as many people around by now, so wristbands weren't necessary to get in - but even so it was a nice surprise to end up sitting next to a lady I'd sat next to on a previous evening! Eoin Colfer was Master of Ceremonies, and the Guests of Honour appeared on stage with drinks in their hands.
James Bacon appeared on stage wearing a suit printed to look like R2-D2, and presented George RR Martin and his wife Parris with a special award. Other members of the Con Staff also presented him with a picture of himself on stage for the Opening Ceremony (when he'd worn a kilt) in the colours of the Irish flag - and he went round to shake the hands of all of them who were on stage.
And then it was time for the hand over to the next WorldCon committee - which will be in Wellington, New Zealand, complete with a tourism film extolling the delights of the area, and messages from the chap who runs WETA and the Prime Minister of New Zealand! George RR Martin will be Toastmaster.

I picked up the last copy of the Con newsletter, The Salmon of Knowledge - which had become The Trout of Doubt for its last issue, and staggered off to the very last filk circle in the Second Stage room, as the Dead Dog party got started in Martin's Bar. I was so tired by this time that I could hardly keep my eyes open, let alone remember the words to any songs, but the duet of penny whistle and collapsible didgeridoo playing When I Had Maggie in the Wood was particularly memorable!

Monday at WorldCon - Lady Astronauts

I had been planning to go to Mary Robinette Kowal's reading on Monday morning even if she hadn't won the Hugo. So it was even more exciting that she actually brought the Hugo with her, and let people hold it!


She explained that they are told how to hold the Hugo in rehearsals - not in the middle in front of your body under any circumstances, because it just looks rude! The correct position is cradled in one arm to the side.
She also told us about the dress she had been wearing the night before, a gorgeous silver evening dress. I missed the name of the designer, but he had created a range of dresses named after lady astronauts, and the dress Mary Robinette wore was the Peggy Whitsun, named for the woman astronaut who had spent the longest period in space.
She also brought some computer punch cards from the sort of computers that feature in her books. I remember being shown round the computer room of Salford University when I first started work there in the 1970s - it looked like something out of the Man From UNCLE, and it worked by feeding punch cards into it!
And she brought Lady Astronaut Club badges, too.
She read two pieces from her as yet unpublished work, this time telling the story from the point of view of Helen, the senator's wife (and pilot) rather than Elma the Lady Astronaut's. She said there are two ways of reading, a neutral tone that enables the listener to hear the story clearly, and a more emotionally engaged reading where the reader is acting the parts and doing the voices. She prefers the latter, but added that both ways are valid.
It also turned into a bit of a writing class as she frowned at one point. "Hm, both those sentences end with "hand" - that's not good," and changed it on the fly. The second piece was still only a draft, so may well change before publication.
There was also discussion about Pancho Barnes - one of the audience asked if Helen was based on this real life pilot, who sounds fascinating. There was a book recommendation - Sky Girls, written by one of the Mercury 13, the women who did the astronaut training but were not allowed into space, about the Powder Puff Derby, a flying race for women pilots.

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Sunday at WorldCon 4 - Art and Politics, Filk and Hugo Awards

I thought that the only chance I'd have to see Jim Fitzpatrick was the panel on Art and Politics at the Point however, for whatever reason, he wasn't there, leaving Dr Mary Talbot and Dominic Riemenschneider to chat to moderator Siobhan Murphy, with occasional interjections from Bryan Talbot (graphic novelist and Mary Talbot's husband) in the audience. It was a huge subject, and they only scratched the surface of it, talking about abstract art being encouraged at the expense of figurative art by the CIA, for instance. It was also noted that there was a bid for the 2024 WorldCon to be held in the Chinese city of Cheng Du, which undoubtedly had the backing of the Chinese government.

To fill the time before the Hugo Award Ceremony, I went back to the filk room at the Convention Centre for a quiet sit down. Bill and Brenda Sutton were performing again, and I managed to get a CD of their songs, And They Said it Wouldn't Last. They were not officially selling CDs, so they asked instead that anyone who was interested should give tokens of their friendship in the form of paper notes, and they would give tokens of their friendship in the form of CDs in return. After all, there was no-one in the dealers' room selling any filk CDs or music books. The member of the Con Staff in the room then took the mic to say it was absolutely fine.

Once again, I found somebody interesting to sit and talk to during the ceremony while queuing up. Her boyfriend had the job of live tweeting the ceremony, and had been looking up interesting facts about each winner - which he wasn't allowed to tell her ahead of time.
Artist Afua Richardson and Michael Scott were the masters of ceremony for the evening - and it took me a while to realise that it was that Michael Scott - the author whose books retelling Irish myths I had adored when I first read them, an embarrassingly long time ago.
The evening began with an award that was not a Hugo - the John W Campbell Award for Best New Writer. This was won by Jeannette Ng, who caused a sensation when she came up to give her acceptance speech. The first words out of her mouth were "John W Campbell was a fucking fascist!" She went on to say that people who were now winning the award named after him were far from the white male authors he had nurtured at Astounding magazine, and far more diverse than he could ever have imagined. She went on "you've given me the microphone now," and talked about the protests going on in Hong Kong, the city of her birth.
The speech certainly caused a stir. John W Campbell's grandson had been on the same stage only two evenings before to collect a Retro Hugo for his grandfather's work as editor, and he was of the opinion that Jeannette Ng should have the award taken from her. However, the sponsors of the award announced publicly only a few days later that the award would be renamed the Astounding Award. Jeannette Ng was not the only person to have criticised the name of the award, but her speech was the final action that made the change happen. And she did it while wearing an awesome peacock hat.
Nothing could quite live up to that beginning.
I was very pleased to see Charles Vess go up twice to receive a Hugo - once for the Best Art Book, for his work on the Complete Illustrated Edition of the Books of Earthsea, which was a special award for Dublin WorldCon only, as each committee has the right to create a special award for that year only, and once for Best Artist.
It was also lovely to see Likhain (Mia Sereno) win the Hugo for Best Fan Artist - she gave part of her speech in Filipino, which the caption service couldn't cope with (there were problems with the captioning throughout the weekend).
With Best Fan Writer being Foz Meadows and Best Fancast being Our Opinions Are Correct, hosted by Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders, this was turning into a very female and very LGBTQ+ Awards Ceremony.
Even better, the Best Semiprozine Award went to Uncanny Magazine - one of the ladies who went up on stage to receive the award had her guide dog with her, and announced that she was the first blind person in the history of the Hugos to win an award!
Part way through the ceremony, Afua Richardson made a speech to honour Nichelle Nichols, original Star Trek's Lt. Uhura, who was a great inspiration to her, and who has recently announced that she is suffering from Alzheimer's. She also sang, incorporating the Star Trek theme in the song.
Later, it was Michael Scott's turn to say a few words, and while he spoke Afua played the flute (a woman of many talents!)
When it came to the Dramatic Presentations, a clip of each show was shown. I voted for Demons of the Punjab, one of the two Doctor Who episodes in the shortlist (with Rosa next on the ballot paper), but the Award went to The Good Place episode Janet(s) - a series I haven't seen (yet).
Best film went to Into the Spider-Verse, which looks like a lot of fun.
Best Series of books went to Becky Chambers' Wayfarers series. I've read the first one of those, and enjoyed it a lot (I want to live on that space ship!), and it's strange to think that, when I was having fun at LonCon in 2014, Becky Chambers was also there with the manuscript of her self-published novel, trying to find a publisher - and here she is now, a Hugo winner!
Monstress won Best Graphic Story - I'd seen some of Sana Takeda's wonderful artwork in the art show earlier.
And then there was another moment of unusual excitement, as the Best Related Work was announced to be AO3 - the Archive Of Our Own, a website for fan fiction. At this point the house lights came on, so that everyone in the audience who had written fan fiction and posted it on AO3 could stand up - because this was their Hugo!
I was pleased for Zen Cho, who won Best Novelette for If at First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try Again - I enjoyed that one.
I was absolutely delighted that The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal won Best Novel! She also gave a great speech about noticing the people who get airbrushed out of history. That was a great end to my evening!

Monday, 2 September 2019

Sunday at WorldCon 3 - Charles Vess, the Morrigan and hurling

I headed off to the Point to see Charles Vess next.
I first became aware of Charles Vess's work when I saw his illustrations for Neil Gaiman's Stardust. Later I discovered his work on Sandman, and for the last four years he's been working on the Illustrated Edition of Earthsea, collaborating closely with Ursula Le Guin.
He gave a fascinating slide show, talking about his childhood in a small town in Virginia. At one point, the interviewer asked him: "Did you live on the same street as Norman Rockwell?" because he described such a typically small town America of the sort Norman Rockwell painted.
He discussed his influences as an artist, starting with the covers of Tarzan novels, and the comic strips Flash Gordon and Prince Valiant. He even showed one of his early pictures, where he had combined a knight from Prince Valiant with a woman who had Dale Arden's face.
Later he showed a bronze statue of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream he had worked on, and talked a bit about collaborating with Ursula Le Guin - that evening he would win the Hugo for that work, as well as a Hugo for best artist.

Then it was back to the Convention Centre to queue for a wristband for the Hugo Award Ceremony, and then the panel about the Morrigan.
The speaker was Lora O'Brien, who had also been on the Irish Folklore panel. She's legally a pagan priestess in Ireland, and teaches. She described her relationship with the Morrigan in this way: "When the gods come to you, and are pissed off with the world, it takes a shitload of work!"
Although the Morrigan is usually seen as a battle goddess, sometimes in the form of a crow or raven, there's a lot more to her than that. "There's nothing fixed about the goddess".
She features in the Irish myth the Tain Bo Regamna, which is a prequel to the more famous Cattle Raid of Cooley. In these legends, the hero Cu Culainn is an outsider to society, at odds with the Morrigan, who knows how things should be done.
One of the sites associated with the Morrigan is the Cave of the Cats, the Uaimh na gCat at Rathcroghan. This is an entrance to the Otherworld and a place of initiation. The entrance is a womblike narrow passage which you have to enter feet first to get down to where the cave opens up to a big cavern.
Lora also talked about how the Morrigan's name was mis-used in computer games - usually as a cool name for some large breasted sexy goddess. When one of the audience tried to explain the thing in one particular game about the character giving birth to a baby demon, Lora countered with "It's fucking disrespectful," adding that Irish people swear a lot, so she wasn't apologising for her language. (It's a classic example of cultural appropriation by the computer game makers).
She finished by saying: "If anything I've said here pisses you off, I'm doing God's work!"

Outside in the real world (and showing on the big screen in Martin's Bar) Dublin was hosting the all-Ireland hurling championship between Limerick and Kilkenny.
So it was quite amusing to see this version of the Iron Throne in the dealers' room:

Sunday, 1 September 2019

Sunday at WorldCon 2 - Archaeology

I was very keen to go to the panel on Archaeology in SFF - The Bare Bones of Worldbuilding. I trained as an archaeologist, so a lot of what the panellists touched on was familiar to me, but there was still plenty there that was new to me.
It was nice to see a textile historian on the panel, Dr Katrin Kania from Germany, and Marie Brennan the author also has a background in archaeology.
They talked about using knowledge of archaeology to create detail about, for instance, a city built on a river delta, thinking about the origins of the settlement in huts on stilts, with the islands gradually built up and larger buildings constructed, and the flow of trade and who would have access to the imported luxury goods, and who would be relying on local goods and food.
There was quite a lot about Central American archaeology that was new to me - recent geophysical studies of the jungles have revealed way more pyramids than anyone was expecting, but in remote areas that are very hard to get to. The idea that the Mayan cities were primarily ritual centres has been overturned, too, as more recent surveys have revealed the huge suburbs where ordinary people lived, which in turn has meant that the estimates of population have risen greatly.
The assumptions archaeologists make was considered too - for instance, the lack of roads 'obviously' meant there was a lack of trade and travel. What was overlooked here was the existence of a vast network of waterways. There was also the point that the Amazon was not untamed primal jungle, but basically a vast overgrown orchard that had been used by the local people for centuries.
So, who got it right? Recommendations included The Drowning City by Amanda Downham.
The panel were also asked for top tips to make archaeology 'sexy'. What was cool to find that wasn't treasure?
(For me, the most exciting thing I ever found was a very boring looking black pot - it was the context, and it's completeness, that made it interesting, the only complete Thetford Ware pot found at the Castle Mall dig in Norwich, on a site that was littered with masses of Thetford War pot sherds).
A book that was recommended here was What Does This Awl Mean? by Janet Spencer, where she talks about the life of a prehistoric woman based on the markings carved into an awl, a very basic and easily overlooked tool. Mary Beard's book about Pompeii was also praised.
They also talked about the different approaches to the subject from US and EU archaeologists. In the US, archaeology is seen as a branch of anthropology whereas in Europe there are more written sources to consult, and archaeology is seen as a branch of history. But, historians and archaeologists ask different questions about the evidence. One of the great examples is the 'postcards' from Vindolanda, which give a picture of the everyday life of the fort on Hadrian's Wall, complete with requests for warm socks and invitations to birthday parties.
Marie Brennan was quite excited that her latest book, which touches on some of the things discussed in the panel, was out on Tuesday - Turning Darkness into Light.
The panel finished with some problems that can be caused by archaeologists - such as archaeologists declaring there were no more Mayans, leading to the government of Guatemala refusing to acknowledge the existence of actual living Mayan Indians in their country. And there were the fanciful reconstructions - there's a famous picture of a line of people carrying offerings reconstructed by Sir Arthur Evans at Knossos - which looks great until you realise that the original fresco was complete only up to the ankles - everything above that came from Sir Arthur Evans' imagination!

Saturday, 31 August 2019

Sunday at WorldCon - A Walk Along the Liffey

My room mate told me he'd been back late the night before because he'd been to the party for the Glasgow 2024 WorldCon bid - where the whisky had run out! It had been a bit of a shock to him that the main gate to Trinity College was closed. The gate had been closed when I got back too, I suppose because it was the weekend, but there was a sign up pointing to the entrance that was open, round on Nassau Street. All I had to do was follow the wall round until I came to the modern buildings on that side of the campus.

I decided to walk in to the Convention Centre that morning. The weather was overcast but dry, and I wanted to see a bit more of Dublin.
I found the Famine monument:


There was an information board telling the story of one particular group of over 1,000 emigrants who had walked to Dublin from the estate they lived on to be packed into the hold of a ship and taken to Canada, I think it was. Many died on the journey.
You could walk among the statues, and there are brass plaques set into the cobbles with the names of people who have donated money. They included ordinary people like "the Sullivan family of New York", and some very famous people like Bill and Hilary Clinton, Wayne Sleep the dancer, Pierce Brosnan, Richard Branson and politicians like Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness from Northern Ireland. The money raised is used to help the homeless and people living in poverty today.

Near the statue is the Emigrant Museum - I'd seen it from the Luas line. Further along the river is the Jeannie Johnston, a square rigged ship which is also used to tell the story of the people who left Ireland because of the Great Famine.


It was very quiet - I was pretty much the only person walking along the river that morning - and very moving.

Friday, 30 August 2019

Saturday at WorldCon 3 - Introduction to Afrofuturism

This was such a fun panel, and it started with the panellists laughing at the very term 'Afrofuturism'. Brandon O'Brien, for instance, is from the Caribbean, so how does his writing fit in? The other members of the panel are black Americans. There are so many different sorts of black person that they can't all be lumped together as writers under the term Afrofuturism. Adding to the discomfort with the term, it was invented by a white man, so do they really want to be defined by that?
They did have words of praise for the film Black Panther, which has proved that a film with a primarily black cast can have universal appeal.
They also gave recommendations of SF and fantasy by black authors, such as Nalo Hopkinson, Phenderson Djeli Clark, An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon (one of the panel), Karen Lord, Octavia Butler and Nnedi Okorafor.

I took the Luas back to Trinity College after that - I was exhausted! I hadn't queued for a wristband for the Masquerade, which is just as well - I'd probably have fallen asleep. I've seen some of the photos of the evening though, and it looks like I missed a really good evening, with some excellent costumes.

Thursday, 29 August 2019

WorldCon on Saturday 2 - Filk and Libraries

One of the fun things about dressing as the Jedi Librarian is that people come up to you and tell you cool things about the libraries they're involved in - which is how I got talking to a Canadian chap who told me about how he was involved in the IT set up for the libraries in his local school district, covering around 230 schools.
Later, I saw a fun t-shirt: "Do not meddle in the affairs of filkers, for they are not at all subtle, and people remember funny songs."

One of the events I was determined to get to was the 20 minute concert by TJ Burnside. Back in the distant past of the 1987 Brighton WorldCon, I had seen her on stage with the group she performed with, Technical Difficulties. The concert had been on at the same time as the Hugo Award Ceremony, which I hadn't been terribly interested in. I did buy the Technical Difficulties cassette tape, though, which I still have.
Technical Difficulties finally broke up when TJ moved to California - they were already living in three separate states, as one of their songs lamented, but California was even further away. Her husband is an actual rocket scientist, and she talked about a song he'd written where the third verse was just marked 'Classified'. She assumed it was a joke until he met up with another scientist and said "Now I can finally sing that third verse!" In the secure facility where no-one else could overhear them.
She also talked about a Con where he wandered into the filk room while people were singing one of the songs he wrote - he was formally dressed for a scientific conference at the time. One of the audience said to him: "This song was written by an actual rocket scientist, you know!" and he beamed and said "Yes - that would be me!"
She sang several songs, including Falling Down on New Jersey (to the tune of Old Maui) and one of the songs from that old cassette tape, which everyone joined in with - Lullaby for a Weary World.

I was going to go off and attend another panel, but I was getting too tired to move, so I stayed for Bill and Brenda Sutton's concert, which was enormous fun. I liked their Tea and Beer song, and Life is Better with Lots of Beer. There was a small child running round the room, and after the song about Terry Pratchett's Wee Free Men ("Crivens!") they joked that they had their own Wee Free Man running round. The kid's father said that they were trying to make a deal with the fairies for him - "but it's all right. I've seen Labyrinth; I know how to get him back!"

After all that singing about beer, I headed for the bar, where another lady chatted to me about libraries, and her friend 'George' who had gone to college to find that she had been assigned to a male dorm. She obviously couldn't stay there, and the only room they could find for her at such short notice was actually in the library. So they asked her if she would like to be the Night Keeper of the Library, which was her idea of heaven!
And there was another lovely lady on a mobility scooter, who said she was 4th generation Bay Area. We shared a common love of Diane Duane and Good Omens.

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

WorldCon on Saturday - Astronomy, Art and the Captain's Chair

The first panel I went to on Saturday was How Astronomy Might Break Physics.
One point that came up was that the universe was not expanding at the same rate in all directions, which was not expected.
There was also a good discussion about what might loosely be termed 'colonialism in space'. It is the case that only rich countries can afford the telescopes that are now studying the universe, so they tend to only look at the areas of sky above those countries, and assume that what they are seeing is universally true. However, there are lots of other directions to look in, and things might be different there.
They also talked about the sorts of things that telescopes couldn't detect, and someone in the audience shouted out "Phlogiston!"
"But that's combustible, so we'd detect it," was the immediate answer.
They also talked about the Hubble Constant, which is used to measure the speed at which objects are moving away from the Earth by looking at the red shift. However, the value of the Hubble Constant can change, so the panel said that it was more of a Hubble Tension, trying to make different measurements agree - and this could be the start of a change of understanding of the physics involved.

I thought it unlikely in the extreme that I'd be able to get into the next panel I'd planned to go to - Artemis: Apollo's Big Sister, so I went off to the Point to have a proper look at the Art Show instead. (This is where my plans collided with reality and the result was a totally different day!). I'd hoped to be able to buy a Jim Fitzpatrick print, as he was signing that afternoon, but I didn't see any at the print shop area of the Art Show. It was wonderful to see the pictures he did bring along to exhibit up close, some of which were also in this year's Con Book. There was a lot of good work there, by featured artists Afua Richardson and Sana Takeda (who is the artist for the Monstress graphic novels). Maeve Clancy had done a whole comic strip about Syrian refugees trying to find safety, which was very powerful. I think my favourite work of the whole show, though, was the Lady Astronaut panel, done like a medieval manuscript in English and Hebrew, with part of the Jewish Sanctification of the Moon prayer. It was stunningly beautiful, and the minimum bid for the auction was E1,000.
On my way out of the Art Show, I met some people from Blackpool, where I spent all my childhood holidays. I was dressed as the Jedi Librarian for the day, and the tall young man dressed as the Flash was really pleased to see someone else in costume so he didn't feel so self-conscious.
Off to one side a filk session was going on, by Kerri-Ellen Kelly - one song she performed was Carmina Burana in Latin and Klingon!

The absolute high point of my Con came a bit later in the dealers' room. USS Cuchulain are an Irish Star Trek group, and they have built the central part of the bridge of the original Starship Enterprise - and they were letting anyone who wanted to either sit in the Captain's Chair or at the Helm. They even had jackets in various sizes in the Starfleet colours for people who wanted to be in uniform.
So I now have several photos (slightly blurry) where I'm sitting in the Captain's Chair of the Enterprise, dressed as a Jedi Librarian! It was so cool!

Monday, 26 August 2019

WorldCon Philharmonic Orchestra

When we went to LonCon in 2014, one of the highlights was the WorldCon Philharmonic Orchestra playing music from SF films, games and classical pieces.
On the Friday night of DublinCon, the Orchestra came together again to perform a variety of Irish themed music, and it was glorious!
They started with the Game of Thrones theme (filmed, of course, in Northern Ireland), and followed it up with the Return of the King Suite from The Lord of the Rings. Then there was Seasons of War from Worlds of Warcraft.
After that a flute soloist came on stage, Eimear McGeown, to play a selection from her CD Inis, with harp and bodhran accompaniment.
That was followed by Night on a Bald Mountain by Mussorgsky, and then Princess Leia's Theme and Jedi Steps from the Star Wars films.

After the interval (the CD of Inis was available to buy in the foyer, but I didn't fancy battling through the crowds), the second half opened with a world premiere.
Mary Talbot wrote an acclaimed graphic novel with her husband Bryan called Dotter of her Father's Eyes, about the life of Lucia Joyce, the daughter of James Joyce, in parallel with Mary's own life with her father, a Joycean scholar. The graphic novel is being turned into an opera with dance, and three extracts were performed - a dance between Lucia and a young man, young Mary trying to get her father's attention (I didn't realise until afterwards, but Mary's father was played by James Bacon, the Chair of DublinCon) and finally Lucia's death in an insane asylum.
This was followed by Claire de Lune by Debussy, with scenes of the moon's surface projected overhead, for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission.
The song How Beautiful are thy Feet, from Handel's Messiah, was included because the first performance of the Messiah was in Dublin! And the ladies attending were asked to leave off their hooped petticoats, and the gentlemen to leave their swords at home, so that more people could be crammed into the venue!
It was, perhaps, inevitable that Danny Boy was included, but it was very well done, and it was followed by Mise Eire 'I Am Ireland' by Sean O Riada.
Back to SF with the theme from ET, followed by Star Trek through the Years for Guest of Honour Diane Duane.
And then we came to the final piece, for which the conductor swapped his ordinary baton for a green lightsaber baton - The Throne Room and End Title from Star Wars A New Hope.
What a fantastic evening!

According to the programme booklet, the producer of the evening was also responsible for the 2014 performance, and the performance of Thomas Bloch and Pauline Haas at EasterCon 2017, which was also very enjoyable.
Gary Lloyd, who composed the music for the Dotter of Her Father's Eyes opera, also composed The Bridge Redux, in memory of Iain Banks, which was performed at LonCon3.

Friday at WorldCon 3 - Irish Legends

The first thing the moderator made clear at the beginning of the Ireland's Legends and Lore panel was "We are not going to be talking about Darby O'Gill and the Little People."
What they were talking about was the Irish Origin Story, which is basically waves of immigration to the island of Ireland in the myths, and emigration in historic times.
They were also talking about oral tradition - if you say it, that makes it part of the tradition, and therefore true!
They talked about books that had influenced them, including a series by Michael Scott starting with Windlord. There were meant to be four books, one for each of the elements, and Earthlord and Firelord came out - but there were members of the panel who are still waiting hopefully for Sealord to finish off the series!
They also questioned why stories of the old gods are becoming popular again, and came up with two answers. The first was "The world is dying and the old gods are resurging" and the second was that the Irish are not ashamed of their own culture any more.
People in the audience asked for recommendations of places to visit in Ireland, and Dowth passage tomb was mentioned. It's about the same size as the more famous Newgrange and Knowth tombs, and was built at about the same time, but is far less touristy.
Loughcrew was also recommended - one of the cairns is aligned towards the spring and autumn equinoxes and Lough Gur near Limerick is a prehistoric settlement with a stone circle.
Online, anyone interested can find out more at www.duchas.ie which is a unique Irish folklore collection. Other useful websites are celt.ie, an online resource for Irish history, literature and politics, and The Irish Pagan School. Lora O'Brien, on the panel, teaches some of the courses there.

Sunday, 25 August 2019

Friday at WorldCon 2 - Angels, Demons and Tie-in Novels

A pause for lunch, and I found myself having a lovely chat with Ada Palmer's dad. He was very proud of his Hugo winning daughter (who was sitting with friends on the other side of the large round table)!
Then it was off to queue for the Angels and Demons: Christian Mysticism in Fantasy panel. This was the one where I was right at the end of the queue - I just managed to squeeze in by sitting on the windowsill!
The panel member I really wanted to see here was Brother Guy Consolmagno, Jesuit and official Vatican astronomer.
He related the story of a meeting he'd had with Lois McMaster Bujold at a previous Con, when she realised that he was a Jesuit, and hoped he wasn't offended by some of the things she'd written. He answered that he was also a physicist - and she had faster than light travel in her books....
One of the topics of discussion was what an author does when they leave religion out of their fictional societies. The obvious example (which I hadn't actually thought about before) was Pern. Who teaches the children? The Harpers! Who performs the rituals that people go through in their lives? The Harpers! Who keeps the memory of the planet's history? The Harpers! And then the question was asked - what if they were the baddies, manipulating Pernese society for their own ends?
Brother Guy also suggested that heresy was really the emphasis of one truth at the expense of others, which gave me food for thought. And he said that the religion in A Canticle for Liebowicz was too nice!
The panel talked about myth, and suggested that the stories were a way of describing the natural world so it made sense. For instance in Ancient Greek myth there is the Medusa with snaky hair. Could this also relate to the octopus?
In a previous panel on Cultural Appropriation there had been some discussion about taking parts of a culture without asking permission, and the same could be said about religions - taking the cool parts out of context. It wasn't such a problem for Christianity, which is not threatened, but it's different for minority religions.
Finally there were recommendations of books that dealt with religion in fantasy well, and these included The Sparrow by Mary Russell (Jesuits in Space), and Jo Walton's Lent.

I didn't need to queue for the next panel, which was Expanding the Storyverse with Tie-In Novels. This was the only chance I got all weekend to see guest of honour Diane Duane, and it was lovely to see her on the same panel as Pat Cadigan. I saw Pat Cadigan at EasterCon in Birmingham, and she was a brilliant speaker. Now, she was whizzing round the Con on a mobility scooter and introduced herself by saying "I'm Pat Cadigan, bitches!"
I love Diane Duane's Star Trek novels, so it was great fun to hear her talk about that. The panel also talked about difficulties they had had with the studios, like the one which read the tie-in novel and told the author she hadn't put a certain thing into it that they wanted in it - but they wouldn't tell her what it was in case the information leaked to the public before they were ready! Or the tie-in novels that all had to be 95,000 words, so the authors would go through the manuscripts taking out all the contractions so they got two words instead of one.

Saturday, 24 August 2019

Friday at WorldCon - Apollo at 50, Kate Elliot and Sharp Storytelling

On Friday, I wore my Captain Marvel costume.
The first panel I wanted to go to was the Apollo at 50. I didn't know who the male panellists were, but the female panellists were Dr Jeanette Epps, a real NASA astronaut, and Mary Robinette Kowal, who wrote The Calculating Stars, about the Lady Astronaut, and whose research about the early Space Race is exceptionally good.
There was a little trouble with getting the mics to work, and at one point only Dr Epps and Mary Robinette had working mics, which led to a comment about the people who were traditionally silenced in the history of the space race being the only ones who could speak on the panel! While the tech people were sorting things out, the ladies talked about the problems of peeing and poo-ing in space, and Jeanette Epps confirmed that astronauts are trained to use a camera while poo-ing to make sure they are aiming in the right place so that stuff doesn't float away in the zero gravity.
I was sitting next to a Danish engineer who had worked internationally, including in the Netherlands - he gleefully said that he had a handful of languages - and once the discussion got technical he was quietly making comments to me agreeing with the panellists.
They weren't just talking about Apollo, but what came after, and Mary Robinette Kowal made the point that anyone under the age of 19 has lived in a world where there have been people living in space for their entire lives, for months at a time in the International Space Station.
They also talked about SkyLab, and there was some disagreement about that. One panellist said that, once they had built it and demonstrated it worked, the idea was to bring it down in the Pacific and go on to the next stage of getting to the stars. Another panellist said this had never been the case, but they hadn't thought much beyond getting it up there - once it was up there they had to think about useful science they could do.

The queuing had been a bit chaotic on Thursday, but was much improved with white tape marking out the queues for different rooms, and some energetic volunteers marshalling the queues, on the Friday. There was a particular German volunteer who was exceptionally good at it. They also started to count the number of people in the queues, so they could close the line when the room hit capacity. For one panel I was that last member of the queue who would be able to get in, and I spent a good ten minutes stopping more people from joining the queue, because they wouldn't be able to get in, and they may as well go off now to find another panel that wasn't full yet.

So I came out of the Apollo panel to find that the panel on Dr Who Historical stories was already full - and I went for coffee, followed by a stroll round the dealers' room. A little boy mistook me for Wonder Woman and asked where my Lasso of Truth was, so I told him I was Captain Marvel because I was wearing trousers and Wonder Woman wears a skirt. He knew who Captain Marvel was, so he wasn't too disappointed.

One of the authors I wanted to see while I was at the Con was Kate Elliot, who was doing a reading at 12 noon. She read some passages from her forthcoming "Alexander the Great in Space" novel, which was very enjoyable.
The reading was only 20 minutes long, so I had plenty of time to get into the queue for the next panel I really wanted to see. Peter Morwood was on a panel called Sharp Storytelling, which was about the film sword fighting choreographer Bob Anderson. Peter Morwood knows a lot about sword fighting on screen, and the rest of the panel included Olympic class fencers and sabre fighters, including one chap who is a life member of the Trinity College sabre Club because he was the coach when the University won an important inter-varsity competition. So the panel were experts on how it's really done, with a variety of styles of weapon, critiquing the screen clichés that are how the general public thinks it's done - that great scene in many films, for instance, where the blades clash, and slide down until the fighters are hilt to hilt, at which point they can snarl witticisms at each other before they disengage. One of the women on the panel pointed out that this was fine if both fighters were a similar height - for a smaller woman such as herself, it was important to back out of such a move very quickly!
It was also mentioned that, in sabre fighting, it's very common to set your eyebrows on fire behind the fencing mask!
Bob Anderson was one of the people who played Darth Vader on screen, and there was some discussion of the different intentions dramatically of screen sword fights. "Vader wasn't fighting Luke - he was auditioning Luke!" Peter Morwood said. He also preferred the work of another film choreographer, William Hobbs - a great example of his work is the film The Duellists, and there was quite a discussion comparing the two - William Hobbs tended to be a bit more down and dirty in his fighting scenes, and that, of course had clichés of its own, like turning your basket hilted broadsword round to clout the opponent with the hilt!
Terry Pratchett was also mentioned, writing every film sword fight cliché into one of his books - "Good old Terry - he pulled its leg until it limped!"
And they finished with a discussion of Liam Neeson as Rob Roy, fighting Archie Cunningham, a character "with a sadistic streak so wide you could land a 747 on it". They had been talking earlier about the witty comments that usually pepper sword fights, as in The Princess Bride, and noted that in this film the comments only came at the beginning of the fight.
"Nae quarter will be asked...."
"...or given."

WorldCon Opening Ceremony and Retro Hugos

I met an interesting lady on the way to the Opening Ceremony and ended up sitting on the balcony with her.
It was a long way down, but the view was terrific.
Ellen Klages and Dave Rudden were the hosts for the evening, and Ellen Klages was very funny, especially in the bit where she tried to pronounce Irish names ("Are those sheep in the photos getting closer?").
James Bacon, the Chair of this year's WorldCon, gave a speech, and he was bursting with pride at what they had achieved.
The Guests of Honour for the Convention were introduced and sent to sit on sofas to one side of the stage. They came up later to present the Retro Hugo Awards.
There was also a short play by Firedoor Theatre, about a druid, a banshee and a Viking drinking in a bar run by the Morrigan - and the Viking has brought a mortal with him....
The other entertainment of the evening was from Songs in the Key of D, a community choir who only sing songs about Dublin or have a strong connection to Dublin. They were great!

Also awarded at this point in the proceedings were some special awards. First Fandom is a group, dwindling now, of fans who were around in the early days, and people who have been fans for more than 30 years. The award for the Hall of Fame went to Ray Faraday Nelson.
The First Fandom Posthumous Hall of Fame went to Bob Shaw, James White and Walt Willis, all fans who were important in Northern Irish fandom. Bob Shaw and James White also became well known authors (I met James White once, at a Star Trek Con in the 1980s. I was dressed as an Andorian and my makeup was way too dark - I hadn't tested it beforehand - which he commented on. We were in a group that was being interviewed for a Liverpool hospital radio station, and he was lovely).
The Sam Moskowitz Archive Award for SF collecting went to Dr Bradford Lyau, and the Big Heart Award went to Alice Lawson.

The Hugo Awards began being awarded in 1953, so the Retro Hugos were created to honour those who created their work before 1953, who would have been honoured if the award had existed at the time. This year, the works all came from 1943, when no WorldCon was held (for obvious reasons). The Retro Hugo base this year was made from blue ceramic, designed by Dr Eleanor Wheeler, whose doctorate is in architectural ceramics and public art.
I was pleased to see Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber, Jr. win the best novel.
Best novella was introduced as a slap down between The Little Prince and HP Lovecraft! And The Little Prince won!
Best novelette was Mimsy Were the Borogroves by Lewis Padgett (the name used by the writing team CL Moore and Henry Kuttner), and Ray Bradbury won best short story for King of the Gray Spaces.
The people who came up to collect the awards were not, of course, the actual winners, but the awards will be going to the estates or families or whoever is now connected to the original works.
Wonder Woman won the best Graphic Story (runners up were Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers and Garth - and Le Secret de la Licorne by Herge, with one I was unfamiliar with, Plastic Man by Jack Cole).
The films were Heaven Can Wait and Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (there was laughter as the film poster for one of the runners up, Der Fuehrer's Face, was shown on the big screen - it shows Donald Duck throwing something at Hitler).
The Best Professional Editor, Short Form award was won by John W Campbell, and his grandson and great-granddaughter came up to receive the award.
Best Professional Artist was Virgil Finlay, and Best Fanzine was Le Zombie edited by Wilson 'Bob' Tucker. The Best Fan Writer was Forrest J Ackerman.
And in the programme for the evening, it is noted that 1943 was the year that Irish Coffee was invented, to warm up passengers at Foynes airfield, Limerick.

Thursday at WorldCon 3 - I-LOFAR

I went back to the Point, and as I was going up the escalator I could see George RR Martin at a table below, with a long queue of people waiting for him to sign things for them. I heard that people started queuing at 2pm for the signing at 4pm.
I was going for more astronomy, at the talk about I-LOFAR.
The I-LOFAR radio telescope does not look like a telescope. It looks like a series of black slabs in a field, some of them with poles in the middle.
The presentation began with some slides of radio telescopes that look like the traditional idea of a radio telescope - the Jodrell Bank model. The biggest free-standing radio telescope dish like this was at Green Park in the US, and was 300m across - and then it collapsed. The Chinese have a dish that is built into the ground, which is 500m across - of course, it can only point straight up. When I went to the Astronomer Royal's talk at Hay Festival he also showed a slide of this telescope.
But this is about as big as it's possible to go with a single telescope. Fortunately for astronomers there is a thing called interferometry - a way of joining several telescopes together to make one huge one. The LOFAR project is the size of Europe. They have fields full of these black slabs, which collect the radio waves, as far south as the north of Italy, across to Poland, dotted across Europe - and at Birr Castle, County Offaly. From Birr to the Polish site is 2,000km.
The third Earl of Rosse, who built the Leviathan telescope at Birr, was the first astronomer to discover the spiral arms of galaxies - the shape that is now familiar to everyone who has seen pictures of other galaxies.
The only problem with the LOFAR array is that it picks up radio waves which include local radio stations and taxi firms and mobile phones, so the arrays can only be built in areas which are reasonably remote from these things, and where the local authorities are not going to build radio masts - or wind farms. The rotation of the blades also interferes with the work of the arrays. Even so, there is a big chunk of frequencies that cannot be studied by the arrays.
One of the PhD students giving the talk had worked on wiring the on-site processor, along with other students and 40,000m of cable. This does the initial processing of the vast amount of data collected, which is then sent to the Netherlands for further study. She was excited to be a part of such a Europe-wide project, at the cutting edge of science, and she didn't have to leave Ireland to do it. It also means that Irish astronomers can access the information from all the other sites across Europe.
They study a variety of things, including the Epoch of Re-ionisation, which is the moment after the Big Bang. They also do all sky surveys, look at cosmic magnetism, solar science and space weather - this last is commercially important, for all sorts of satellites, as they can predict solar flares that might knock out electrical circuits.
At the end of the talk it was revealed that the two PhD students who gave such a brilliant presentation were last minute replacements for the original speaker who couldn't come, and they only had about 2 hours to put their slides together!

On the way out, I saw one of the Con's featured artists, Afua Richardson, chatting in the Art Show. She's a comic book artist who has worked on Black Panther, among other things. The Con organisers wanted to make artists a big feature this year, and I think they succeeded in that.

Back at the Convention Centre I had a pint of Foxe's Rock Red Ale for E6.50 in Martin's Bar (named in honour of Martin Hoare, a fan who died recently, but had been very much involved in organising Con bars over the years).

Friday, 23 August 2019

Thursday at WorldCon 2 - Space Telescopes, Filk and Fantastical Travel

As people mingled in the Odeon foyer, I overheard someone say "The dolphin communication was really good."

And I plunged straight back in (to a smaller screen) for A Million Miles Beyond Midnight, a presentation about the James Webb Space Telescope.
Bill Higgins is part of the Solar System Ambassador Program, and he started his talk by mentioning the history of astronomy in Ireland, with reference to the telescope named Leviathan which was built at Birr Castle in the 1840s by the third Earl of Rosse. This was exciting, because I've visited Birr Castle, on a family holiday when I was seventeen, and I remember seeing the base of the telescope in the grounds. In those days, it was all a lot more informal than it is now. While ambling around the gardens we got talking to an older lady with secateurs in her hands, who told us all about the great magnolia bush we were looking at. We realised later she must have been one of the family who lived in the Castle.
The talk was actually about an ambitious project for the future, though. The James Webb Space Telescope is named after the administrator who led NASA during the Apollo missions. It will consist of a 6.5m segmented mirror - and it might launch in 2021. All the components need rigorous testing, so the launch date keeps getting pushed back.
All the details are at www.JWST.nasa.gov
It's a collaborative effort with the Canadian Space Agency and European Space Agency, and the mirrors are made of beryllium with a gold coating - it's so big that it has to fold up to fit inside the nose cone of the launch rocket. It will be picking up frequencies into the infra red so it can "see" through dustclouds, and it should be able to look out far enough to see the light of the first stars in the universe, at 0.3 billion years from the Big Bang. It has to be kept very cold, about 40 degrees Kelvin, to work properly, and it will be deployed further out than any previous telescope, at the Legrange Point L2, a million and a half kilometres from Earth. That's well beyond the Moon, and this is why it's so important that it works first time - it's too far out to ever be serviced by astronauts. The Hubble telescope has had regular services, because it's in an orbit far closer to Earth.

After that I went back to the Convention Centre to queue for my wristband for the Opening Ceremony that evening. They had decided to issue wristbands to make it easier for people to get into the Auditorium without vast queues, and it did seem to work. It did mean that we were queuing outside though. There was some good natured discussion about this, and I remembered queuing for the check in at LonCon 3, where the queue was entertained by a filker with a ukulele. The song I remember was Who The Bloody Hell was Tauriel?, a critique of The Hobbit films. Then we had to explain to the volunteer marshalling the queue what filk was. "It was a typo," said someone behind me - which is true. Someone in the early days of Cons was typing the programme, and put 'filk' instead of 'folk', and the term stuck, for SF and Fantasy themed music.

I admired the DeLaurean parked at the entrance to the dealers' room as I made my first pass around, and then I headed to Liffey 2 for the Fantastical Travel Guide. The four panellists took on the personas of characters from their works to explain why anyone would like to visit their worlds - the festivals, scenery, historical buildings, sanitation - and the dangers to unwary travellers.
It soon became clear that three of the worlds had rich and varied cultures, one world was run by a god who was a little bemused by the antics of her humans, and one was really, really grim! For the sanitation question, for instance, he answered "We have swamps...." and for the question about food delicacies of the region, one of the other panellists said to him: "You're going to say stew, aren't you?" At which he suggested taking a rabbit that had been mutated by magical anomalies, adding lots of spices to the boiling pot - after which you throw away the rabbit and drink the spicy liquid!
For the question about interesting architecture, the god recommended seeing her city, which was built of a white substance which was definitely not bone....
The only panellist I was familiar with was Juliet McKenna, the others being a Polish lady called Karolina Fedyk (she was the god), a Frenchman called Lionel Davoust (the one with the grim world), Melissa Caruso and the moderator Marianna Leikomaa.

Thursday at WorldCon - Fanzines and Pulsars

My original plan, since I was actually staying at Trinity College, was to wander over to the Old Library after breakfast to have a look at the Book of Kells before it got too busy, and then go up to the Convention Centre to check in at the Con.
I had a wander around the grounds - it really is a green oasis in the middle of the city.


Then I turned the corner to the entrance to the Book of Kells Exhibition, which opened at 9.30am.
It was 9am, and there was already a queue.

So I went straight up to the Convention Centre instead. My Leap card worked perfectly on the Luas, which took me from Abbey Street to Spencer Dock.
It's a wonderfully futuristic building.


The check in process was easy - I liked the little stiff fans the volunteers at the counters were waving, with the word "NEXT" on them. I was also impressed to see that they had stickers you could add to your name badge with your preferred pronouns. I picked up "SHE".
The organisers had put some thought into making the Con welcoming and inclusive. There were also signs up in all the toilets, which basically said "If you see someone who you think is in the 'wrong' toilet, leave them alone and let them pee in peace." I saw one person taking a photo of the sign, and I wish I had now, to get the exact wording, because it was excellent.

The way to remember which floor you were on was - if you can see the river, you're on Liffey, and if you can see the mountains in the distance you're on Wicklow. The Dealers' Room was on the ground floor and there was a food area and the entrances to the Auditorium above.

I headed to my first panel, Fanzines Now!
This was a discussion that ranged from some of the earliest fanzines right up to websites and blogs like File 770. Joe Siclari, on the panel, is involved in saving some of those historic fanzines for posterity, and could be seen throughout the Con on a table to one side of the Dealers Room with some of the old fanzines they were digitising.
Recommendations from the panel included e.fanzines.com, bananawings and The Incomparable podcast. The chap I was sitting next to in the audience gave me a mini folded zine called 'zine + origami - because you can't fold PDFs'.
I sneaked out when the questions from the floor started with "This is more of a comment than a question..."
Also, I wanted to get to The Point in plenty of time, and I wasn't sure how far away it was or how often the Luas ran. Part of the programming for the Con had overflowed into the Odeon complex at The Point, with the children's programming in the hotel next door to it (so I didn't see many children over the weekend). The Art Show was also at The Point.

One of the Guests of Honour this year was Professor Jocelyn Bell, who discovered pulsars, and I really wanted to get to her talk. She played us the sound of real pulsars, which are picked up by radio telescopes. A pulsar is a very dense star which is spinning incredibly fast, and as it spins it sends out a beam, rather like a lighthouse, which can be detected here on earth - if the pulsar is facing towards us. There must be many more out there we don't know about because their beams go in different directions. The first sound she played us came from a star that was spinning at 11 times per second, had a mass of 10 to the 27 tonnes, and was 10km across. That's incredibly dense, and this is the end stage of the life of a big star which has collapsed down after a supernova.
She also explained why there is so much pink on pictures of nebulae and gas clouds and so on - that's hydrogen, which is the most abundant element in the universe.
A supernova was observed from earth in 1954AD, by Chinese astronomers. This was the Crab Nebula, which is brighter than it would normally be expected to be because there is a pulsar in there. The beam of the pulsar keeps the gas cloud energised.
She went through some of the reasons why it was a bad idea to get too close to a pulsar, including the tidal disruption of bodies that would tear a person's body apart. The gravitational forces bend light, and make clocks run twice as slow as normal. Then there's the magnetic field of 10 to the 8 Tesla (for comparison a fridge magnet is one hundredth of a Tesla).
About 3,000 pulsars are known and of these only 20 are visible to the human eye. About 100 are detected by X-rays, and 200 by gamma rays.
Some pulsars even have planets.
The regular spinning means that pulsars are very accurate clocks, and they can also be used for space navigation, because each one spins at a slightly different rate.

Thursday, 22 August 2019

A Diary of WorldCon - Travelling to Dublin

I'm an anxious traveller, but I was pretty sure I could get to Dublin with no problems.
So I took the early bus from Hay to Hereford. The first train I could get to Holyhead was at 8.27am, but the bus comes in at 8.25am, so I booked for the following train at 9.08am. It was lucky I did, as the 8.27am train was cancelled that morning due to a train fault. It also meant I had a reserved seat in a very full train (for which they apologised). At Shrewsbury I changed for Holyhead very easily, and at Holyhead you leave the station platforms straight into the ferry terminal, so that was easy.
I like the train journey along the North Welsh coast - I used to stay in a caravan at Pensarn when I was a kid, and the caravan site is still there, though the caravans these days tend to have a pitched roof like a shed, and a balcony built on the front. The big wind farm just off the coast was new to me, and looked very impressive. I like wind farms.
And castles - we passed Gwrych Castle, and right under the walls of Conway. We also passed RAF Valley, with all the jet trainers (Hawks?) parked in a row.
In the queue for the ferry, I met a lady who was going to a Music and Dance Festival at Drogheda, and then going on to Norway.
The ferry was called Ulysses, after the book by James Joyce; the bar was Leopold Bloom's. It was a smooth crossing. Once we were through passport control on the Irish side the buses into the centre of Dublin were right there. I had thought I could get on the bus and use my Leap Card straight away (I sent off for it in advance) but the Morton bus that picks up from the ferry didn't take my Visitor Card because it hadn't been validated in the centre of Dublin, so I paid cash. "I've only got notes," I apologised (in case they only took exact change).
"We won't hold that against you," the driver said.
I got off at Westmoreland Street, which is very close to Trinity College, where I was staying:


This is the main gate. Inside, the staff at the accommodation office were very helpful - I had to go back because I couldn't get the key card to work. Turns out you have to put it in and pull it out quite fast, and then turn the handle - and I'd stuck it in and left it there while I tried jiggling the handle.
This is where I was staying.


It was right by the Buttery, where breakfasts were served. When I booked I didn't think breakfast was included, so I'd been intending to find a nearby café, but a breakfast voucher was included with my key card, and the meals were very good.
The student rooms at Trinity are laid out with a shared kitchen and lounge area, bathroom, and two lockable bedrooms. It was all spotlessly clean and very comfortable. For the first day or so, I wasn't sure whether I had a room mate or not. Then a washbag appeared in the bathroom. I was about to leave a note saying "Hello, invisible room mate!" when he appeared as I was making my morning cup of coffee. He met up with friends in the Buttery each morning and our paths hardly crossed, though we did have a chat about future WorldCon bids one morning.

On that first evening I had plenty of time to wander round and get my bearings. I checked out where the Luas stop was - that's the Dublin tram system, and it is wonderful. I had to cross the bridge across the Liffey, and it was just off O'Connell street - and the Leap Card did work as soon as I touched it to the machine on the platform.
I also wandered along Temple Bar. Live music was coming out of the pubs, and I was amused to hear a tune by O'Carolan the harper followed, at the next pub, by Whiskey in the Jar - just about the most Irish music it was possible to get!
I didn't drink in Temple Bar, though - I found this pub right next to the Molly Malone statue and had my first Guinness there.


Drinks are expensive in Dublin, even allowing for the difference between pounds and Euros - E3.50 for a half!

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

DublinCon was AWESOME!


Here's one of my best moments from DublinCon, sitting on the Captain's Chair of the Starship Enterprise while dressed as the Jedi Librarian!
I also got a Hall Costumer's ribbon for the costume!

I will be writing much more about the Con later....

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Dublin WorldCon Here I Come!

Very excited.
This time tomorrow I should be trundling my wheelie suitcase into Trinity College for the start of my Dublin WorldCon adventure....

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Rutger Hauer has Died


I haven't seen many of Rutger Hauer's films, but I loved Ladyhawke, and was impressed with his performance in Bladerunner. He was the bad guy in the film of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which led to the long running series. And the Guinness commercials were fun. He appeared in many films and TV series, in English and Dutch.
In his personal life, he was an environmentalist, and set up and AIDS awareness organisation called the Rutger Hauer Starfish Association.
I've just heard that he's died, aged 75.

Monday, 22 July 2019

The Captain of the Seaview Dies


David Hedison, who played Captain Lee Crane of the Seaview in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, has died, aged 92.
I loved Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, but even when I was seven I was aware of how silly some of it was - like the crewmen who died were always the ones with a Polish name, rather like a redshirt on Star Trek. And it wasn't a decent episode unless a control panel blew up!

David Hedison played other roles as well, of course - in the original The Fly, for instance, and he was Felix Leiter in the Bond films Live and Let Die and Licence to Kill.

I was quite surprised to find he'd also played the lead in a 1958 film, The Son of Robin Hood. I thought I was aware of all the Robin Hood films out there, but I don't think I've ever seen this one.
He was also a guest star in The Saint. I've been watching my way through a partial collection of Saint episodes which I picked up in a charity shop a while back, and I haven't seen him yet.
His parents were Armenian, and he got married to Bridget in London in 1968. One of his daughters, Alexandra, a fine art photographer, is married to Jodie Foster.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Oh, Brother!

I am ridiculously happy!

At work, we often get CDs, DVDs and, occasionally, videos, along with the book collections we buy. Sadly, it's very hard to sell the videos, because so few people now have a video player, so often these get thrown away.
Today, though, the video heading for landfill was the incomparable Derek Nimmo, starring in all 8 surviving episodes of Oh, Brother!
He was a novice monk. Hilarity ensued.
The series ran from 1968 to 1970, and I remember it with great fondness - so I brought it home.

I hope it's as good as I remember!

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Norman Florence's Acting Career

I was watching another episode of The Saint, The Set Up - it's 1965 and involves an unusually brutal mail van robbery. There are fist fights in The Saint every week, and Simon does get knocked out rather a lot, but one of the bad guys in this episode was shooting people all over the place.
And another member of the gang of robbers was a certain Norman Florence.
In Hay, Norman Florence (or Flo, as he was usually known), was best known for having the original idea that became Hay Festival, now an international concern run by his son Peter. I knew he had been an actor, but I hadn't noticed him appearing in anything until last night.
When I looked up his acting career, I saw that he had also appeared (well down the cast list) in one of my favourite episodes of The Champions, The Iron Man, in which Craig, Richard and Sharon are sent to protect a South American dictator in exile from being murdered.
He did quite a lot of TV work in the 1960s, including two other episodes of The Saint and one other episode of The Champions. Several of his characters seem to have been called Carlo, or some other vaguely Mediterranean name - he also seemed to play quite a few policemen, and he was Tony Marchesi in the series Compact, which was a soap opera set in the offices of a glossy women's magazine. He was also in Redcap, with a young John Thaw. The last acting credit in his IMDb entry is for Doomwatch in 1971.
In the 1970s he went into theatre management, working with Sam Wanamaker on the Globe project, and coming to Wales with Theatr Ym Ymylon, a bilingual theatre group - and he happened to settle just outside Hay....

Saturday, 8 June 2019

The Saint in Puerto Rico - with Parker!

The latest episode of the Saint that I've seen takes him to Puerto Rico, where he finds a poor peasant farmer about to lose his farm because he borrowed money to grow tomatoes in a hydroponic system which failed.
And I remembered reading the original story, many years ago, in which it was made clear (which it was not in the episode) that the poor peasant farmer had been set up to fail because the hydroponic system didn't work, and the man who lent the money knew this.
I also noted that the actor playing the poor peasant farmer had the very un-Puerto Rican name of David Graham.... and that name seemed strangely familiar.

David Graham was quite busy in the 1960s. He's best known for his performance as Parker, Lady Penelope's chauffeur in Thunderbirds - though I wasn't aware until I read his Wikipedia entry that he had also provided the voices for Gordon Tracy, Brains and Kyrano! When Thunderbirds was remade in the last few years, he was the only original cast member to return. He also provided Dalek voices for some of the early Doctor Who episodes.

Friday, 7 June 2019

Merlin's Isle of Gramarye

There was a record and CD sale in the Buttermarket during Hay Festival, and I always go along to see if there's anything interesting and folky - so this title leapt out at me.

Merlin's Isle of Gramarye is a collection of Kipling's poems from Puck of Pook's Hill, put to traditional music. It's by Peter Bellamy, and apparently it's a second collection (so now I'll be looking out for the first one).
Peter Bellamy is joined on the CD by Dik Cadbury, Nic Jones, Dolly Collins, Peter Hall, Chris Birch and Anthea Bellamy, and the songs include Puck's Song, Eddi's Service (the one where the priest says the service to the animals who are the only congregation in his remote little church), St. Helena, The Song of the Red War Boat, and the Smugglers Song.
I think Kipling would probably have been pleased to hear his words set to English folk music, but I did wonder about some of the choices. For instance, shouldn't the Harp Song of the Dane Women be sung by, well, women?

Many years ago, I became aware of the filk songs of Leslie Fish, and others who then put out cassette tapes through Off Centaur. Leslie Fish also adapted the poems of Kipling, and they're now available on CD - as soon as I re-discovered them, I sent off for them, having lent my precious cassette to a folk singing friend who never returned it.
She does Harp Song of the Dane Women too, and the Song of the Red War Boat which, in her hands, has a more emphatic beat as if the singers really are rowing through a storm to rescue their master. She also does the Roman Centurion's Song (which always brings me to the point of tears), and the Female of the Species, and many more.
I have Our Fathers of Old, where she performs with Joe Bethancourt and Kristoph Klover, and Cold Iron, where she performs with Catherine Cook.

I've known the Leslie Fish tunes for a very long time, so I tend to like them better because of the long familiarity, but the Peter Bellamy songs are an interesting different take on the poems, and I'll be listening to them again.

Monday, 3 June 2019

Farewell Avon

I noticed that Paul Darrow was trending on Twitter this evening, and sadly, it is because he has died. He was 78.
Paul Darrow was most famous for his role as Avon in Blake's Seven - he had all the best snarky lines.
He was also an excellent villain in the audio drama Minister of Chance, in a cast that also included Paul McGann and Sylvester McCoy.
On stage, he played Commander Vimes in the adaptation of the Discworld book Guards! Guards!
He was also part of UNIT in Doctor Who, in Doctor Who and the Silurians (as Captain Hawkins), and in the 80s he returned to the series in the story Timelash.
He was the Sheriff of Nottingham in the 1975 BBC version of Robin Hood (and was one of the best things about the series!).
He was also in the Lord Peter Wimsey mystery Murder Must Advertise.
[Edited to add: I completely forgot he also played Cromwell in The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, the graphic novel by Bryan Talbot which was adapted into an audio drama with David Tennant in the title role, by Big Finish]
He played many other parts as well - but this is the moment I'm thinking of right now....





Sunday, 26 May 2019

The Saint Goes Fishing

The Sporting Chance is, without doubt, the most sexist episode of the Saint I've seen so far. Usually, he seems respectful of women, and seems comfortable around women professionals. In this episode, though, he starts off with his usual piece to camera about how women are entering every workplace and sitting on bar stools alongside the men - but there's one place that women do not follow men, and that's the fishing trip.
The setting is a hunting lodge in Ontario, and the plot involves a scientist who has defected to the West but is now being blackmailed to return to the East.
The bad guys are doing this under the cover of a logging company, where the Saint chats to the innocent secretary - who wears glasses.
He says the cliché line - "you look prettier without your glasses", and makes it worse by adding later that she doesn't really need her glasses anyway.
All of this is a pity, because one of the bad guys, Derren Nesbitt who played the Russian sea plane pilot, is great fun, and seems to be channelling Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Derren Nesbitt later appeared in The Blue Max and Where Eagles Dare, as Major Von Happen.

In the next episode I saw, the Miracle Tea Party, the Saint was back to being respectful of women's abilities, recruiting Aunt Hattie, an older lady who was a keen bird photographer, to take photos of customers at a chemist's shop at the heart of the spying ring he was investigating. Aunt Hattie was played by Fabia Drake, who was best known as a Shakespearean actress.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Goodbye, Judith Kerr

My twitter feed today was full of tributes to Judith Kerr, author of the Mog books and The Tiger Who Came to Tea, as well as her autobiography When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. As a child, she was part of a family that fled Germany to come to England just before the Second World War.
She has just died, aged 95.
Last year, she was a speaker at Hay Festival.
I first came across the Mog books when I lived in London in the 1980s, with a teacher friend who videoed children's programmes at home to use with her class. One of them was Mog, and I thought it was delightful.
The picture books still sell well, because Mog is such a lovely character. And the last story, Goodbye Mog, has been known to make grown adults cry.

Monday, 20 May 2019

The Saint Tackles Council Corruption and an Arabian Coup

I enjoyed The Saint Plays With Fire, so I've been watching a few more episodes from late 1963 and early 1964.

The Well-Meaning Mayor starts with a local election, and deals with council corruption in an English seaside town - a new civic centre is being built, and somebody is making a lot of profit from it. Some of the episode was shot on location on a real building site, and it amused me that the entrance to the site had a big sign up saying "New Civic Centre" in case the viewer was in any doubt.
The idea of a council overspending on a building project struck me as being quite topical.

And then there's The Wonderful War, set in a fictional Arab country next-door to Kuwait with every Middle Eastern cliché going. There's a wicked prime minister who organises a coup once oil is found in the country, a young prince who escapes and gets the help of the Saint - and it seems that the Saint can speak fluent Arabic now. He gives a rabble rousing speech in support of the prince, dressed in Arab robes. Oh, and the Arab soldiers are about as good shots as Star Wars Imperial stormtroopers. There's even a hilariously bad sword fight, which is about at the same standard as Richard Greene's Robin Hood. Modern fight choreography is in a totally different league.
The Saint is assisted in his plot to regain the prince's throne by the wonderful Noel Purcell, as an Irish oil man, a pretty girl (daughter of another oil man who has been murdered) and a middle-aged Scottish lady who lives in Kuwait.
There's a feast with a belly dancer, where the Saint is offered a sheep's eyeball to eat. And all the Arab characters are, of course, played by white English actors. The nearest they get to an Arab is Ishaq Bux, who played "Arab (uncredited)" and was actually Indian.
The belly dancer, however, was a real princess - Princess Soraya Esfandiary, the second wife of the Shah of Persia!

Sunday, 19 May 2019

The Saint Plays With Fire

I fancied something vintage to watch last night, and so picked up the next DVD in my pile of The Saint episodes.
The beginning was a bit of a shock, to be honest - The Saint was observing a Fascist rally in Trafalgar Square, with some stock footage of protesters struggling against a cordon of police. I don't know who they really were, but in the story they were anti-fascists trying to get to the podium where the leader of the British Nazi Party was speaking.
A punch up ensued.
The Saint observes to camera how much he hates Nazis, and that it's only 20 years after the end of the Second World War and here they are again.
He's then drawn into an adventure involving files stolen from the British Nazi HQ, detailing the rich donors to the party. This information is passed to a journalist who is going to write a magazine article about it. The whole premise of the story is that, if the magazine article is published, this will be the end of the British Nazi Party, and will totally discredit all the donors. They will, therefore, stop at nothing to prevent the journalist from writing his story, while trying to get the information back from wherever it's hidden.
And the Saint finds out how difficult it is to burn through his bonds with a cigarette lighter held by the beautiful girl he's been imprisoned in a cellar with.

If only today's Fascists could be defeated with a well-placed magazine article....

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Memories of Freddie Starr

I wasn't a great fan of Freddie Starr's comedy, but I was sorry to hear of his death at his home in Spain the other day.
It reminded me of an incident in my childhood....

When I was young, we had a caravan in Blackpool, and in the summer holidays we would always go to a big show at one of the Blackpool theatres. This particular year, top of the bill were the Batchelors, Con, Dec and John, and somewhere near the bottom of the bill, just starting out, was a young comic called Freddie Starr.
At the interval, mum took us round to the stage door to see if anyone would come out to give autographs. Con came out, and as he did so a woman stepped right in front of my little sister, who would have been about seven years old, to ask for his autograph. Con neatly swerved round the woman, signed my sister's autograph book, and headed straight on to the bar.
We stood around, hoping that someone else would come out, and Freddie Starr chose that moment to walk past the stage door on the inside. They were double doors with a round window near the top like a port hole. Seeing us, he stopped, and pressed his nose against the glass, and made faces at us to make us laugh.
He didn't have to do that - he could have just walked on.