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 which is a unique Irish folklore collection. Other useful websites are, 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
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, 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....