Well, I’m now back from Contemplation, this year's Eastercon in Chester, and, obviously, I caught something, as everyone else seems to have, and I’ve just finished throwing up and am still feeling as weak as a piece of wet tissue paper. Thank goodness I drove home before I started feeling bad. But I am now back at my desk and working. Caroline’s on the final draft of her thesis, writing all day and now mostly all night, so I’m doing my best to keep up.
Eastercon was lovely, relaxed, and I found myself very much accepted into the fold of SF fandom. It was good to encounter other ‘hyphenates’ like my XTNCT collaborator D’Israeli. I had dinners with editor turned agent (there should really be the word poacher in there somewhere) John Jarrold, author Ian McDonald and his partner, and, on my first alcohol-fuelled night after the end of Lent, the good people of Third Row Fandom. This lot revolve around fan critic and Clarke Award judge Graham Sleight, like the planets revolve around the sun. If the planets spent all their time taking the piss out of the sun. It’s always good to find a gang, and the ones named after their regular position in panel halls are young… so very… very… bloody… young… and enthusiastic and are continually creating internet icons, conventions, magazines and argot. Exactly where I love to be. And they’ll show you their pants:
I was on four panels. On the Friday I interviewed SFX magazine editor Dave Bradley (‘cute’ according to someone in that link), which was meant to be a state of the nation sort of thing but ended up being entirely about the magazine, because I got as interested as the audience did.
On the Saturday I moderated what felt like a very successful panel/audience discussion of why so much mainstream fiction these days is Science Fiction without letting itself be labeled as such, with Graham, quiet fantasy author Freda Warrington, stand-in for Gollancz editor Jo Fletcher Ian Whates (I made him do everything Jo would) and the wonderful Ian Watson. Ian’s an author of long standing, but I’d never heard him speak before. He’s a natural comedian, coming out with sighing little soundbites like: ‘Why do they call them mobile phones when you need to carry them?’ Thanks to him, we found ourselves discussing Philip K. Dick’s genitalia. And not for the obvious reason.
I was surprised to find that the panel generally agreed that too much of a fuss is made about the mainstream stealing our clothes. Perhaps not to the degree I do: I think that genres should be formed after the fact by critical response, and that publishing and authorial intent play no part, or certainly not to the degree where we should be upset or pleased if an author does or does not show up for their Clarke Award. But generally the vision of Margaret Atwood being dragged into Worldcon in chains did not please the audience, so many of whom made good contribution. I love panels like that.
Monday brought a children’s literature panel at which I took a back seat to save the poor moderator from having to say things like ‘so, Paul, you’ve… read some children’s books… when you were young… right?’ (I think I might have been on there because of Doctor Who, but I’ve never written anything for children.) On the panel was a small child, which makes sense. Before the panel, I’d toyed with the idea of asking her things like: ‘So, in the latest edition of Vector magazine, I believe it's famed SF critic John Clute who says that his Mum is nicer than your Mum, and that you break all your toys, that you stole his ball, and that you smell, no returns, to infinity, nah nah nah.’ But in the light of day it seemed cruel. And she seemed a nice child. Though not as cute as the toddler (broody non-parent alert here) who kept pointing to the milk jug at breakfast and saying ‘milk on the table!’ ‘What’s your point?’ replied his Dad. Which is how I’d talk to my children too. Like they were the Minister for Overseas Development.
Following that panel immediately, in a room that was so air-conditioned that I now had my arms tucked into my sleeves and was rocking back and forth and shivering like something out of Trainspotting, there was the Battlestar Galactica panel. (Some small SPOILERS from here.) I’ve been meaning to blog about this season of Galactica for some time now, and got to rant about some of my main points. I think it wobbled badly towards the end, then recovered astonishingly. I think the nature of its audience identification is much more like that of a cable show like Rome than other network shows: these people aren’t asking to be your friends, and it’s often hard to love them. I think that its desire to interrogate, rather than take a position on, the Iraq war has got both sides in that debate convinced that it plays for the other team. And I think that Lee Adama’s speech at the trial in the final episode, which was played back to us at the start of the panel, and held the room rapt from a cold start, is the best bit of TV writing I’ve experienced in ages. It’s not just rhetoric, it’s a summing up of the theme of the show and season, it comes from character, it’s dramatically realised, and it’s truth truth truth. It’s someone not making a speech, but letting out something long held inside. It sounds easy for an actor to say, but I bet it took all of that season to compose. It’s also, if you’ll forgive me for a moment, the most Christian thing I’ve encountered in genre television. No, in a good way. (I’ll get called a fundamentalist in the Comments again in a minute.)
Speaking of which, I found it pleasantly easy to be a theist at a convention that holds a singalong Songs of Praise on a Sunday morning (not that I was, erm, up in time). From my old friend Jo Fletcher inviting me along to a choral service, to running into quite a few drunken believers on the Sunday night, it feels like SF fandom has started to be more comfortable with its ecclesiastical members. (My wife is never going to be able to come to an Eastercon, because she’s, you know, kind of busy.) Or maybe it’s just me feeling more comfortable, and seeing things that reflect that. That's be good.
Oh, and it was great to run into old mates like Sue Mason and Sandy Auden and the lads from Solaris Books again, and John Jarrold ran the entire BSFA Awards ceremony so that it lasted eight minutes in all (for three presentations and a reading list!) and hey, I think I got over my Awe Of Geoff Ryman! We had a wander in Chester together, and I might just be speaking to him like a real person now.
It’s good to have a convention in the middle of such a good-looking town, especially when it includes a Japanese shop that sponsors the event:
From which I bought much Pocky: thin, crisp sticks of biscuit with a chocolate coating. And some miso soup mix. And some green tea.
And I think I’m just about done now. Phew. Inspired by being in an audience talking about books, I even plotted out the end of the novel in my hotel room. I bought loads of books, subscribed to Interzone, came home feeling good about everything. And only then threw up.
There is, and this is sweetly typical of SF fandom, now an online poll devoted to our collective throwing up:
I’m sure some hard nuggets of knowledge can be fished out of that data.
The next blog should be announcement time. I’m just waiting for contracts to be signed before I can talk about it here. But I’m very excited. So hopefully see you again quite soon. Until then, Cheerio.
ITEM! An American edition of my second SF novel, British Summertime, will be out next month from MonkeyBrain Books, the noted specialist house who also publish such authors as Michael Moorcock, Kim Newman and Hal Duncan:
That’s not the final cover, but an indication of the legendary John Picacio’s design intentions. I await to see what he comes up with for the actual book. I’ll be making a bigger fuss about this on the day of release, because it’s wonderful to see one of my SF novels available in the USA for the first time.
ITEM! Big Finish productions has announced that Bernice Summerfield: The Inside Story will be out this October:
I created Bernice in a Doctor Who novel fifteen years ago, and since then she’s appeared in more than 150 books and audio plays. This book, written by Simon Guerrier, is the story of how it all happened, and like all Big Finish’s accounts of their own works, it promises to be honest and in depth. Again, more of a fuss will be made when we get there.
ITEM! My friend Ian Abrahams has been gradually making a name for himself writing research-heavy yet popular (not written in a weekend is what I’m saying) books about rock musicians. His latest is Strange Boat – Mike Scott & The Waterboys of which I was delighted to be sent a copy, and very lovely it is too. May I suggest that if you have an interest in the subject matter, you check out his blog?