Casual Friday: Assembling

It's been a very good work week.  I sorted out what the start of the sequel to London Falling should be like, having made a false start, and, having chucked thousands of words, ended up with ten thousand that I can build on. I also ran two miles from Monday to Wednesday.  And so now I'm six miles away.  It was good to get the voices of the characters back, and the more I made it about them, the better it got.  I think I have three ways of being me.  There are three sorts of Paul.  There's default me, when I'm sort of succeeding in just being, reacting.  There's convention me, when I'm looking outward all the time, and trying to give good value to everyone who's paid to come along, and have locked away any self-consciousness and autistic traits in a very sturdy safe.  (After a minute on the phone to me during Eastercon, Caroline said to me 'can I speak to Paul please?')  And then there's novel-writing me, who came back to visit this week, after a week when I'd been writing a novel without having him around.  Novel writing me feels a bit like depression, and so I kind of flinch at his approach and it takes a while for me to let him drive.  But actually he's capable of joy.  He's just always looking completely inward, and thinking only about plot, and he lets the body wander about talking to itself, often arguing with itself.  At the end of a week of him being in charge, I was rewarded with knowing I'd done good work.  Which he's already trying to unpick, but that's why I grew him.

I also saw the cover design for London Falling, and that was a lovely moment, let me tell you.  There'll be a day in the next few weeks when you'll be able to pre-order it from Amazon, and sometime in October you'll be able to advance order it from your local book shop.  Believe me, I'll let you know!

And, blessed be, thanks to a swift bit of genius on the part of Tor, the ebook edition, out on the same day, will be free of Digital Rights Management software, so you'll be able to move your legally-purchased ebook between devices, etc.  That makes my life a bit easier.

Today I was back to commuting across London to work on the mysterious Project M!

Last Friday night, I joined Pinborough, Will Hill, Phil Ford (I introduced those two: 'Will, Phil!  Phil, Will Hill!' Maybe you had to be there) and various other writing chums at the Lyceum Theatre, where Tony Lee had organised a commemoration of the anniversary of Bram Stoker's death, with toasts from Sir Christopher Frayling (who I was pleased to meet), and the vampiratti.  Thence to many drinks.  And the day after I popped along to the Lord Clyde for the latest of Si Spencer's SWALC pub afternoons.  (The acronym doesn't mean anything, but I suggested Some Writers at the Lord Clyde, and there isn't yet a convenient website.)  The combination of musical acts, established creators (Si Spurrier and Kim Newman popped in) and hopefuls with sketchbooks was an intoxicating one, and I'm sure I'll pop back when I'm not on the guest list.  Midweek, we played host to 'the' Vatican astronomer Brother Guy Consolmagno, who we took out for a curry and then down the pub.  He was, as always, a great source of anecdote about matters SF and scientific, and we, erm, came second in the pub quiz.  I swear the regulars at the Saracen's Head don't believe half of what I say.

I'm sorry to say that, following a series of (perfectly civil and diplomatic) conversations about Panel Parity, I'll be going along to sign things and meet the audience at the Kapow convention, but I won't be appearing on any panels.  In order to get onstage and then give my place to a female participant, I'd now have to lie to people I respect, and I regard it as a personal failure that I haven't managed to get a better result in terms of fifty/fifty gender representation.  Still, there have been some good outcomes already, and there'll be some better ones later this year.  I suppose I under-report the good stuff, but for one thing I don't want to trumpet to the extent of making it look like it's me who's doing the work here (rather than the programmers of Olympus and alt.fiction), and also Panel Parity feels so normal in practice, because fifty/fifty is normal, that it actually seems odd to yell about it when it happens.

We went to see Avengers Assemble today.  It's exactly what you're after, and a good deal better than you might expect.  (SPOILERS AHOY!)  The two and a half hour running time gives it room to unfold the wings of a real movie, and plot moves that might feel awkward and irksome (Hawkeye gets possessed immediately?!  But we've hardly met him!) are given space to deploy properly and work themselves out.  (Tony's compassion for and identification with Bruce Banner being what saves him is a particularly nice example.)  There are still a couple of examples of what might be called Blockbuster Vagueness (I suspect this is caused when cuts have to be made to an edifice that's already creaking under multiple influences and conflicting storylines.)  I'm pretty sure that rather forced row between our heroes was caused by the presence of Loki's staff.  It was filmed like that.  But nobody just hit the beat by saying that out loud, and I wonder if there was an executive somewhere who thought the row might play more dramatically if it was about genuine differences between the characters, thus underlining their need for avenging redemption.  I also wonder about Thor standing in a field flexing his fingers for a bloody long time before retrieving his hammer.  I suspect that might be because of his uncertainty about his previous actions, but I don't know it in the way the movie so successfully telegraphed so many other things to me (the Widow's back story being a brilliant example) and I'm actually not quite sure how I could know it from that scene.  But these are minor mis-steps.  Director/writer Joss Whedon gets so hugely what the central attraction of super hero comics is: action motivated by high emotion.  He lets us get to know these people in a lot of depth before and while havoc ensues.  He gives Pepper and Natasha huge dollops of agency, so much so that it shines a light on how little depth/motivation women normally get in blockbuster movies.  That four minutes or so is the best material Gwyneth Paltrow has ever got as Pepper.  Natasha is basically our point of view character.  There are quite a few deliberately set up 'super hero battles', and who would have bet beforehand that 'Black Widow vs The Hulk' would be such an even match?  That she would be such a warrior?  Someone should do an essay on Whedon's un-knowable other; the cannon-fodder here are devised at entirely the right level of 'they're terrible things from out there, about which we don't want or need to know', just like so many things in Buffy.  One brilliant decision: casting someone as Bruce Banner who is not puny.  Turns out we're only scared of what he might become if he himself looks capable of physical threat.  And it's smart Dr Watson all over again; Banner being big says the Hulk is bigger.  Another brilliant decision: there's almost no continuity porn, tips of the hat, in-jokes, call them what you will.  The only real one is saved for the last line, and it's a terrific pun that rewards the knowledge of the fan audience and might take them a while to get. A third brilliant decision: the Hulk must talk.  Just not very much.  Avengers Assemble (it's called that in the UK because, presumably, of John Steed, and is thus given a crappy screensaver of an onscreen title here) isn't much like The Ultimates, though the look of it obviously is.  It's much more warm-hearted than that, with the character stories all being about redemption and courage.  (It reminded me more than anything of the Jim Shooter run.) There is still that difficult blockbuster awkwardness with authority (yes, yes, one imagines Nick Fury saying, of course I used the Tesseract to make weapons, I thought that might be obvious to any sane adult), but it's used in the end as just another of the many, many, lovely tricks that a series of very clever people play on each other.  And it takes cleverness to write those.  I don't know how, among all this cleverness and heart, nobody could be found to make a Captain America costume that looks as good as it does in the eponymous movie.  But come on, all in all, you've got to admit, that was a great time in the cinema.  I think if I was ten it would have blown my little mind, and even in my forties, it still very nearly did.

This week, our hardback copy of the first edition of Mary Robinette Kowal's Glamour in Glass arrived, and sure enough, it was missing the first line! Now, Mary has made tremendous lemonade out of that lemon, and she was kind enough to send us (along with one of her trademark hand-written letters) some of her first line temporary tattoos, which we will wear with pride at Worldcon.  We're particularly excited about the book because, to her delight, Mary has used my wife's name for a character.

The SF Squeecast has now reached Episode 11, without me on this one, but it's full of delights like Seanan McGuire on Stephen King and Cat Valente on Geoff Ryman.

You may be aware of how much I love the Hugo Awards.  Well, courtesy of SF Signal, here's a lovely informational graphic showing you all you need to know.

If you're anywhere near Oxfordshire and you fancy booking a fifteen piece rhythm and blues orchestra for your function, for an evening of Jools Holland -style full brass section/quadruple singer gorgeousness, then you want to get hold of my wife's former band Boogie Me. They will make you dance. This week also brings our two final after-convention reports from those I talked to before their first Eastercon.  First up, it's Peter Anghelides (who's on Twitter as @anghelides and can be found here)...

"I made it along on Monday.  I’d been to the hotel before for a business conference, and remembered it quite well.  There was the odd leather-studden furnishings in the main reception.  The indoor/outdoor layout of the dining area.  The idiosyncratic layout of the upper floor with its conservatory roof,  enclosed shallow ponds and illuminated diagonal walkway.  But instead of men and women in business attire the rooms were filled with SF fans in recognisable but stylistically very different attire.  It was an odd sensation – I felt like I should know everyone, but didn’t know anyone at first.
     I mistakenly went to one of the reception tables and asked about registration – and although they were taking registrations for a different convention, they very charmingly showed me where to find the Eastercon team. And by 'showed me' I mean 'politely escorted me up a flight of steps and along a corridor'.  That characterised the charm and courtesy of everyone I met.
     My panel was in the afternoon, so I spent time in the morning meandering around looking at the Dealer Room and trying to work out what 'groats' were – lots of tables had signs saying they accepted them.  I took it as a sort of whimsy for the first few, but it turned out to be an Actual Thing.  As a newcomer to the event in general and a latecomer to this event in particular, I didn’t pick up on all the nomenclature.  For example, there was much talk of the 'IKEA team'.  At the time, I suspected that it was an in-joke about a convention organizer called Alan Key.  Or possibly William Book-Case.  It turned out to be exactly what it said on the cardboard box: the folk who’d built the temporary furniture installed in the hotel brought in from (yes, really) IKEA.  Other jokes and things I’d missed included a number of Game of Thrones references that had to be patiently explained to me.
     Unlike other conventions I’d attended, this one used the GuideBook App to list the schedule, and provide text reminders of things I’d expressed an interest in.  Something I’ll recommend to other cons, I think.  I downloaded the updates, dipped in and out of a few panels, and wound up at the Paul Cornell interview.  Those of you familiar with Paul will know that he’s jolly good value as an interviewee – a Duracell bunny who will cheerfully provide a long and entertaining answer on any of a wide variety of subjects, amusingly told and illuminated, self-deprecating and candid (oh tush! -PC).  His interviewer seemed charmingly enthralled. And at the end, Paul asked her to talk about her work, too.
     I discovered that there was a Guardian article published during the weekend that celebrated the event rather than mocked it, and drew attention to the gender balance in attendance and presentation.  It also mentioned a Klingon called Roy who, unaccountably, I couldn’t see anywhere.  Though by turning up on the final day, it seemed I’d also missed out on several other things that were leitmotifs for people’s conversations – Christopher Priest as beneficiary and critic of SF awards; ill-judged speeches; gender balance for future conventions; groats… have I mentioned the groats?
     For most of the conventions I attend, I’m there for the entire weekend, and so this has made me a bit more inclusive for people who only attend for one day – something I’ll bear in mind when I go to GallifreyOne, for example, where I notice quite a crowd of new people turn up for registration on each morning of the event.
     The Blake’s 7 panel was enjoyable, and prompted some useful questions and discussion about women writers at Big Finish and What To Do About It.  The panel was three men and a male moderator, so I was glad that Paul Cornell didn’t storm the stage at any point.  By this time, I was having such fun that I decided to stay longer than I’d intended – I didn’t drive home after dinner, but stayed on for the final panel ('From Fan to Pro' which proved amusingly indulgent for the panelists and attendees alike.  I can’t remember any other conventions where there would be a discussion of a nihilistic pitch to the My Little Pony franchise or the appropriate way to react to a fiction pitch from a future serial killer.
     But then I can’t think of any conventions I’ve been to that offered the chance to sit in the Game of Thrones throne; a conversation with Tricia Sullivan; fiction readings from paper, a laptop, and then an iPad (Paul Cornell, bang up-to-date); a presentation on the physics of TV space flight; and an origami workshop."

Thank you, Peter, and goodness, you make me blush.  And here's Grant Watson... 


"I wasn’t sure what to expect from Eastercon.  I’ve been to conventions before – many, many conventions – but asides from working on the Melbourne Worldcon in 2010 they have all been quite small with around 250-350 attendees at each one.  They’ve also all been in Australia, so I honestly had idea what kind of atmosphere or content I could expect in Heathrow.  Now Heathrow isn’t exactly the most glamorous location I’ve been to for a science fiction convention, but I’d be lying if I said my inner eight year-old didn’t get excited by all of the 747s taking off across the road from the convention hotel.
     I was also running late.  I volunteered to sit on a few panel discussions over the weekend, and also offered to give a presentation on science fiction movie posters. Unfortunately the presentation was scheduled for 1:00pm on the Friday, a day when I woke up on holiday in Wales and had to persuade my wife and best friend to drive me all the way to Heathrow Airport by lunchtime.  I arrived a little short of time, only to discover that the AV set-up of my presentation wasn’t what I had asked for.  I was expecting a small room with a laptop hooked up to a data projector.  What I got was a massive ballroom, recently vacated by guest of honour George R. R. Martin, with a dedicated media team and an inability to control the slide presentation from the front of the room.  I also discovered that I was supposed to have handed in my presentation data a week earlier.  After some exceptional last-minute efforts by the technical crew, and a delay of a few minutes, I managed to deliver the presentation – a little panicky, a little rushed, and way too fast.  I was so concerned I’d have to make up the 10 minutes I had lost that I accidentally made up about 20 minutes by mistake.  Apologies to anyone who came to the presentation.  It was not a promising start.
     Thankfully once I’d finished the panicky rush through the movie posters presentation, I had a chance to relax, slow down, and explore the rest of the convention.  It was, to be completely honest, not dissimilar to Australian conventions.  There were a few differences, of course. For one thing, British fans drink a lot more beer.  This might sound odd coming from an Australian – we’ve got a reputation for being pretty boozy people – but to be completely honest Australian fandom has quite a large number of teetotallers.  Beer just seemed to be everywhere at Eastercon; in the fan lounge, at parties, even on the discussion panels.  Another difference was the quite fabulous ‘green room’, where panelists were able to gather in advance of their
discussion and receive free drinks to take with them to their event.  This is something I want to introduce back here in Australia – it makes the most remarkable difference to the quality of the program.
     The program was fantastic.  I participated in a few that I felt went incredibly well.  I moderated a panel on fantasy in William Shakespeare’s plays with four absolutely incredible and engaging women (that was a sharp contrast to the previous day, when I found myself explaining why I thought Philip K Dick was a bit misogynist from an all-male panel to an almost entirely male audience).  I ran a videogames-themed game show with another four remarkably funny panelists.  I watched an absolutely outstanding solo presentation
about extra-solar planets.  I even got to see the 2012 Hugo nominations get announced, and personally congratulate several of the nominees.  I managed to catch guests of honour George R. R. Martin and Paul Cornell in a bunch of their items, and they were both outstanding speakers and very open and friendly to the fans.
     It was a very social convention.  I didn’t know many people going in, but I knew many more going out. On my first night I was invited out to dinner, which was lovely.  I was never short of a conversation in a
corridor.
     Travelling to another country to attend a science fiction convention is a very scary prospect, and I was delighted to find that British science fiction fandom is just as varied, opinionated, frustrating, weird, welcoming and utterly wonderful as I’ve found it to be in Australia.  It was a great experience all round: entertaining, inspiring and rewarding.  I’d recommend anyone who’s never gone overseas to a convention to try it.
     End note #1.  If you’re keen to try a convention in another country, allow me to
recommend Swancon, which is the annual Western Australian convention and very much my home turf.  It’s the longest-running SF convention in the southern hemisphere (at the same time as Eastercon 2012, WA hosted its 37th Swancon), and is very much like an Eastercon only smaller and on the other side of the planet.
     End note #2.  One of the panels in which I participated at Eastercon was a discussion of fan awards and editing fanzines.  This has inspired me to edit a new fanzine of science fiction, fantasy and horror titled
Doubleplusgood.  So if you’re reading this, and have an article, an interview, a review or some artwork, e-mail me at my gmail account – which is fanboy.  You can find more information at my blog."

Thanks very much, Grant.  (It's weird hearing myself referred to in the third person in those pieces.)

A bit of an oddity for my favourite music this week.  I've always loved Ron Goodwin's Miss Marple theme, mainly for the way in which it manages to suggest all the things required of it: old but sprightly; very English; so groovy you can dance to it even if the title character can't.  But just look at how hard everybody else as well as Goodwin is working in this near-perfect opening sequence from Murder At The Gallop...



I don't think that if I told my wife I'd just put Margaret Rutherford and Robert Downey Jr. in the same blog post she'd ask to speak to the real Paul.  I may see some of you at the opening of Sci Fi London (I'll be helping judge their short film contest this weekend) or the Clarke Awards next week.  Until then, Cheerio!

Casual Fridays: Cabin Fever

This week has, just about, been a return to something approaching a normal work week for me, with 27 pages of comics and 6600 words of the sequel to London Falling written (plus whatever else I manage today).  The prose word count would have been higher, but Caroline gets Thursdays off, and I like to hang out with her whenever I get the chance (because, of course, she works the weekends).

Last weekend I attended alt.fiction in Leicester, and was glad I reversed my decision to pull out.  (I regained my energy after Eastercon sooner than I expected.)  It's not really a convention, more a literary festival, and it serves well the punters it attracts, who are in what often feels like a fifty fifty ratio with the large numbers of creators, and so get a chance to learn, chat and hang out with them.  Useful panels were had, Emma Vieceli introduced a large number of people to the joys of comics, Adrian Tchaikovsky was funny and insightful as always, and there was one epic night out, led by Tom Hunter in evil mode, which ended up with a pile of us in the bar, including a number of delighted new writers, who I bet felt like they'd been hugged to the bosom of their genre.  I keep meeting this New Wave wherever I go, with so many new short story writers (Colum Paget, Ren Warom, Fran Terminello, Tori Truslow, Al Robertson) and first time novelists (Lou Morgan, Kari Sperring, Anne Lyle, Danie Ware, Tom Pollock, Emma Newman).  It makes one feel glad to be alive in this new dawn.  The organisers had achieved, near as damn it, complete Panel Parity too, and it was a fine thing to hear so many women's voices on panels, and to have a panel about Diversity in Fantasy which served as a useful 101 to the topic, which, judging by the blogs one reads about the event, seems to have said to a new audience that they were welcome here.  I was also very pleased that my London Falling reading was so well-attended, and that said audience included the lovely Ken MacLeod. If you're looking for a first convention, or if you're an aspiring writer, I'd recommend alt.fiction next year as a warm and friendly place to begin.

We went to see The Cabin in the Woods yesterday, which is a fine piece of work.  It'll take an effort, but because of the nature of the piece, this review will be SPOILER FREE BUT HINTING ABOUT STUFF.  (Although that will mean that those of you who haven't seen it will probably get very little out of it.)  The first thing one should say is: this is a Drew Goddard movie, directed by him and co-written by him.  I love Joss Whedon, but Goddard is very much a breakout talent in his own right, and may be seen, down the line, as the most important of the Joss stable of writers.  However, the movie does share the attitudes of what might be called Second Phase Whedon, which began at the moment Buffy looked directly at the audience and sang 'and you can sing along', the point where Whedon turned on the audience that were following him and, brilliantly, told them not to be so complacent, that if they looked to him for answers he would hurt them.  That move is something only the very good are capable of, the alternative to just lying back and lapping up the praise.  The Cabin in the Woods continues the Situationist assault of Dollhouse, then, and indeed, it seems to be the (rather wonderful) fate of actor Fran Kranz to be the face of 'come for the pop horror, stay for the critique of Late Capitalism'.  At the heart of the movie is the same feeling that powered The Hunger Games: youth are trapped in a world they never made, unable to live a natural life, whatever that might be, but instead locked into sacrificial social structures, a phobic response to being born into the grave, given to war and unfairness with no alternative.  The Hunger Games offers hope, at least in the trilogy, the prospect of one gladiator beating, even bringing down, the system.  Cabin agrees, instead, with The Prisoner: the individual under capitalism is so complicit in the horrors done on their behalf that there can be no successful revolution unless one is prepared to end the entire world, and oneself, in doing so.  (A terrorist manifesto?  Discuss.  Actually, no, don't.)  Because to protest successfully is to end one's comfy world.  This isn't a deconstruction of horror movies (which Scream already did, and a genre can really only be successfully deconstructed once, as Watchmen and just about the entire career of Captain Britain have proved), it's a complaint about their existence in a world of real horrors.  Which also makes, having its cake and eating it, for at least the first half of its running time, a show of being a really effective commercial horror movie.  That it has other plans is announced immediately, and that those other plans constitute the true horror here is announced by that sudden, Hammer-style title caption slide.  (I particularly liked the line about the gun, 'that makes it easier'.) Perhaps it is a little too swish, a little too well made.  If this were grainy and in Italian, it would feel like the great truths it wrestles to the shore had been ripped from the heart of nature instead of being expertly made up by... well, the sort of guys we see at the start of the film.  (Which is, of course, part of the point.)  And that grainy Italian version would probably have stopped with the beer party and not allowed us the very mainstream conventions that are only subverted right at the end.  And it is utterly, utterly nihlistic, letting doomed youth off the hook by saying there is nothing to be done.  And in the end these aren't really actually characters, and it stops being horror movie frightening at the moment it becomes SF movie interesting because of that.  But still, this is far far more than the teen popcorn crowd would have been expecting to find here.  And, and I hate to be gleeful about this, because that's my own complicity on show, but that far more may have gone unfound by a lot of them, judging by the reviews that concentrate on the (very fine) laughs and ironies.  This is a movie that enjoys decadence at the same time as it attacks it. It could be said to be an internal picture of the viewer, and put a bunch of those together and you've got a society.  The end is another complaint, about nausea, about living in a Godless (well, sort of, and depending on who is 'upstairs' in a not very fleshed out allusion) universe.  And as for the cameo at the end, well, if this were Scream, and thank God it's not, it should have been Jamie Lee Curtis.  But for this, all I can say is, she became what she beheld.  Get away from them, you bitch.

I should also say, having enjoyed the trailer, how clever Prometheus seems to be.  It's like someone, in the wake of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, made an effective horror movie about what Ygor did with the laboratory left behind.  The Alien is played out, a theme park attraction that fights Predator now.  But what about all this other cool stuff, left behind after the first movie, hardly used?  And the way the captions go 'from the director of Blade Runner and... Gladiator'.  Ha ha ha!  Well played, sir.

On Sunday, Pete Tyler himself, actor Shaun Dingwall, is running the London Marathon, in aid of Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research.  He's nearly at his donation target, and you can help him out on his Just Giving page here. Doctor Who fans are justly famous for their generosity, and I feel that if he can get over the line, so can we.  Go on!

I'm very much for World Science Fiction Conventions, and the core SF fandom that attends them, reaching out to embrace a wider SF fandom that's grown far beyond them, and so I'm delighted that this Orlando Worldcon bid is in the form of a manifesto about just those inclusive policies.  I think it's also important that they get away from the weekend of Dragoncon, or their efforts will be for nothing, and we'll again see especially publishers going where they can sell a lot more books.

The Girls' Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse is a collaborative project of female writers, artists and bloggers, providing a blend of useful tips and know how, with a tongue in cheek view of the end of the world.  It's also a focus for that modern trope of seeing the End as a freeing moment.  There are book reviews, music reviews, portraits of apocalyptic heroines, and the feel of a real community being built.

Having featured the expectations of five Eastercon newbies before Olympus 2012, I thought I'd check in with them afterwards and see how it went.  So here we go, post match reports from the first three of them. First up, Kathryn Peak...

'Well, for reasons of childcare I only made it to the Saturday and Sunday of Eastercon, and so, determined to pack in as much as possible, I arrived early on both days and left late and went to a lot of panels and a couple of readings. And what did I think of it? I loved it. Bear in mind, I knew nobody, I was on my own, so it could have been a rather lonely experience. But it wasn't.
     Having sat quietly at the back for the first couple of panels, I got up the nerve to start asking questions and making comments. I attended the panel on Panel Parity, and another on how not to suppress women writing SF, and I was hugely impressed with the depth of the discussions going on, from the need to support feminist approaches to SFF, to the thorny but practical question of how to get men to buy books written by women (they don’t, mostly). And I felt welcomed to these conversations.
     Beyond this, I went to a panel on fantasy in Shakespeare, just because I like Shakespeare, and a couple of panels on Doctor Who, which were pure indulgence and great fun. Towards the end of a panel on whether Doctor Who is SF (it is but not really seemed to be the general consensus) one woman at the back piped up that we were in danger of over-analysing the subject. I wasn’t the only one that laughed. Of course we over-analyse. If we didn’t, we probably wouldn’t be the kind of people to spend money trekking out to a Heathrow hotel to talk about genre. But top of my weekend I think has to be the panel on heroism in SF, in particular the moment when Tricia Sullivan got out the Bionicles. She was fabulous, I saw her in a few panels and came away from the weekend a bigger fan of hers than I was already.
     Ultimately, I think I was rather awed by the fact that I was surrounded by so many writers: people writing fan fic; those writing short stories in their spare time; the serious writers trying to get a book deal; the ones already in print. That sense of being amongst so much creative effort was overwhelming, and when I did speak to Paul Cornell I’m pretty sure I gave him my best incoherent "happy happy must dash", a veritable Tigger of activity.
     In the days since Eastercon finished I have seen a lot of comments from those who have been many times before, saying that this was the best yet, a reinvention, even better than what had been considered the best. So if I expect just as good again next year am I setting myself up to be disappointed? I don’t think so. I get a sense that those involved have raised the bar, and perhaps it takes all of us to help to clear it. I will definitely go again.'

Thanks, Kate.  (Who's on Twitter as @kathyrynpeak and can be found here. Weird to be referred to in the third person there!)  Now let's turn to Ash Farbrother...

'It's Monday the 9th of April, I'm sat on the Piccadilly Line on my way into London to run a Mario Kart Tournament at my favourite pub. My right knee is still bleeding from some ill advised dance moves, I have the mild edges of con lurg taking hold, and despite not having an actual hangover the numerous pints of Old Rosie and late night discussions/dancing is definitely taking its toll. But through this I grin quietly to myself. The grinning is not some sort of delirium caused by too many pints of fermented apple product, but because Eastercon was awesome. It was everything I wanted it to be and more and I can't wait to do it all over again. Let's skip back to the beginning.
     Upon entering the convention hotel on the Friday I was immediately struck by an air of familiarity. Not because I'd been to that hotel before but because I felt the mild buzz: the crackle in the air that said, "behold, this building contains a thriving mass of fandom". As if to prove my point to the right were people admiring the Iron Throne from the HBO Game of Thrones TV Series, and people were talking, drinking, mingling, and the air was one of quiet jubilation. People were also queuing to collect their badges and information packs, and it is to this queue that we went. It was a brief experience, well organised and efficient, and I was soon staggering away clutching my Olympus 2012 mug with complementary Cadbury's Creme Egg (which would be required for an energy boost as the event went on). We started to find our feet, working out the location of the restaurant, the various venues, and of course the Dealers' Room. The Dealers' Room was interesting, a mixture of goods and wares and books both old and new. It gave the room the air of an old curiosity shop and whilst I did not go as spend-crazy as I could have over the weekend... I did make the odd purchase or three. Despite having been away from the convention scene for some years, once the first panel had been attended I soon began to find my footing and re-entering what I think of as my "Con-Groove". I'd already earmarked a number of panels and events that interested me using paper copies of the timetable. This was soon transferred to the GuideBook app I'd downloaded to my iPhone which not only kept me up to date with changes but politely reminded me of where I was meant to be when (which I only occasionally ignored).
     I feel special mention should be given to this little application. It definitely added to making this convention one of the smoothest and most enjoyable I've ever been to. I barely needed to refer to the "dead tree" information provided to me... it was all in my pocket. The work that went into it and the way it operated was absolutely superb. Between that and Twitter I never felt totally disconnected from the event even though I was staying in a hotel a few buildings down. Bravo to the Con Committee for providing this, it definitely set a high bar for my future experiences of "end user convention experience".
     The panels were many and varied. My EasterCon started with Before Watchmen, and ended with the Podcasting Workshop on the Sunday. There were other panels that we intended to attend but as is often the way of conventions... things happened. Conversations occurred, Blake's 7 stories were acted out in photonovel form, pints were consumed, thrones were sat on, discussions on dressmaking took place. This is just the sort of thing that happens at conventions and I'm glad to say that Eastercon was no exception. The panels that tended to fall by the wayside were the Doctor Who panels I'd earmarked, a conscious decision to dip into topics that I may not be quite as familiar with. Some panels were more entertaining than others... this is not a comment on those who chose the subject, or indeed on those who hosted the panel. Some topics just gel better than others, and I feel we as an audience also have a part to play. Overall the breadth and variety of programming was enjoyable and often informative, be it large scale interviews with the Guests of Honour, or smaller fan-led discussions on more granular subjects. The venues were for the most part easy to find, and the main hall deserves special mention for being well laid out and with a nice large and well managed video-wall to the left of the stage.
     The main hall was also the venue for the Ceilidh and the Saturday and Sunday night discos. I danced, more than I think I had at any previous convention, and I did so freely and with reckless abandon... perhaps a bit too much reckless abandon, as an ill-timed knee slide resulted left me with the hole in my right knee mentioned at the beginning of this write-up, but it was worth it, and a few pints of the (also previously mentioned) Old Rosie acted as a more than adequate painkiller.
     There was something I experienced at Olympus that I don't think had ever been a key factor at Gallifrey... I learned. I learned of TV series that will in time be ordered on DVD or tracked down on Netflix. I learned of the Wild Cards book series, that I immediately tracked down a number of volumes of in the dealers room and made notes to obtain more of the upcoming reissues and future volumes. I learned of Wobblevision and enjoyed the manic experience of enacting Blake's 7 stories around a hotel and getting to "die" in front of a lift. I learned how comfortable the Iron Throne can be. I learned that it doesn't matter whether it's the Gallifrey Convention in LA or Eastercon in London, I will see the familiar (and welcome) hat and form of Robbie Bourget. And I learned how much I'd missed being at a convention, and how much I can't wait to do it all over again.
     To go back to one of Paul's original questions, I don't know if SF fandom will ever become the main fandom hat I wear, but it was certainly fun to try on lots of different forms of headgear over the weekend. Some of them I may wear again, others may be left on the hatstand of 'it seemed like a good idea at the time', but none of them with any sense of regret. My thanks to my fellow convention goers for being warm and welcoming, the Guests of Honour for being accessible and open and friendly, and especially to the Olympus 2012 team for putting on what was, to me, a first rate convention and showing an extraordinary level of care when issues did arise.
     I don't know if I'll make it to Eastercon 2013/2014, but I know I plan to return. I look forward to seeing some of you again the next time round.'

Thanks, Ash (who is on Twitter as @ravenevermore).  And finally this week, let's turn to Sarah Groenewegen...

'Olympus was my first Eastercon. In fact, it was my first SF con in a long, long time. When Paul asked me about my expectations, my response was basically about the social aspects. I knew some people who were going, so my expectation was to meet up with some old friends. I also expected to meet some new people and perhaps become friends with them. The bar, I assumed, would be a focal point, but the programme also intrigued me.
     Olympus delivered. I did catch up with some old mates, and very quickly got chatting to people I'd not met before. My favourite conversations were about Australia in the 1950s - reminiscences of a RAF fellow who'd been stationed in Victoria; riffing about a women only generation starship; and catching up with the AU world. Back when I was a young fan, I wrote what's now called AU. Got them published in fanzines in a time when the Internet was mostly US military tech. I'm fairly up with tech, but that's a vibrant, amazing space I had utterly lost track with. It was great to get a glimpse of what's happening there, and where those spaces are online.
     The programme was ambitious, and at most hours of the day and evening there was something of interest. My Saturday was delightfully feminist - and the Gender Parity panel ended up being passionate and constructive. One of my favourites, actually, of an impressive array of panels I enjoyed. Other panels I chose because of their focus on writing and each one was useful. I realise I was lucky in that the panels I went to were mostly great and with great speakers - both women and men - who knew their stuff, and were interesting, and were respectful of their fellow panellists.
     I enjoyed the experience that much, I signed up for the next one when the winning bid was announced.'

That's great to hear, Sarah.  (Who's on Twitter as @Nyssa1968 and who can be found here. Next week, we'll be catching up with the other two interviewees.

My favourite music this week comes from The Duckworth Lewis Method, to mark my joy at the start of the English cricket season. This lot are Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy and Thomas Walsh from the band Pugwash doing cricket-related songs, and they are glorious.



I may be seeing some of you at a soiree in London tonight to mark the centenary of Bram Stoker's death, and then at SWALC on Saturday.  Until then, Cheerio!

Casual Fridays: London Falling, Eastercon Rising

So, this week I have: been poisoned by a mushroom (shitake, thanks for asking, I had marks on my chest like I'd been attacked by a bear); won an award and been nominated for two others; been Guest of Honour at a truly fabulous Eastercon; seen my child for the first time; celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary (on Friday 13th!); been told the release date of my novel and the due date of the sequel (the same day as the baby!) and heard that my mother was disturbed by a badger.

Oh, and we saw The Pirates in an Adventure with Scientists, which was just continuous joy, with a very high joke-per-minute ratio, exactly my sort of wryness, and the tactical deployment of Brian Blessed.

I suspect that I'm still dreaming because of that mushroom.  Is anyone else having everything in their life happen at once?!

Ahem.

My novel, London Falling, will be released in the UK (from Tor) on December 6th.

And it'll be out simultaneously in e-book form.  That's all I know so far.  I'll tell you about a US date, when you can order it from your local book shop, Amazon links, etc, as I hear.  I've fixed a link to a video of me reading three excerpts from it (at Eastercon) to the top right of this blog, but here it is for those on feeds and things...



And here's a video from the same event of me being interviewed by Tammy Taylor (yes, her, at her first Eastercon!), in which I talk a lot about the book, as well as my other work...



London Falling is an urban fantasy novel, but I think it has a bit of an SFnal approach to it. I'd describe it as an intelligent thriller.  It's about a small group of predominantly undercover modern Metropolitan Police officers (and an intelligence analyst) who suddenly gain the ability to see the dark magic of London.  After freaking out, they decide that the only ethical course of action for them is to use this insight to keep pursuing an operation which just got terrifying, to use modern police methods against the unknown.  It feels, I think, similar in tone to a lot of my Doctor Who work: here's a bunch of people you really like, and here's them being put through sheer hell.  It's a dark book, but it's got loads of cynical police humour too.  It's a deliberately modern book, a mythology of London for the 21st Century, an adventure in a city that's literally haunted by its past and trying to escape from it.  It talks about the real world, I hope.  It's nearly in the same sub-genre as Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London, but it's a very different book.  This is the first in a series, but we're thinking of it like a crime series, so the first case comes to a solid, hopefully satisfying conclusion in this volume, and (any survivors) will be working on a different operation in the second book.

It's what I've always wanted to do.  I'm incredibly proud of it.  I'll be offering various giveaways, stunts and shenanigans in the run up to release day.  Please get involved and spread the word.

Olympus 2012, this year's Eastercon, was one of the best conventions of my life, a parade of concentrated experience of the highest order, with a brilliant programme and the kind of genre-debating-with-itself controversy that's healthy.  Last year's Eastercon felt, to me, like the last ever.  This one reanimated the brand, brought new members and energy flooding back to the movement.  To have, at one point, Game of Thrones actors fighting audience members with swords in one room, and a panel on Insoluble Mathematical Problems in the other, and to have them both packed out... that is a proper Eastercon.



The Panel Parity Panel, which I'd worried would become one big row, turned out to be a safe space, a place where people listened to each other.  There was an emphasis on feminism at the event.  The controversies that arose did so against that background, with an audience who came along for that not being willing to put up with things that might have been regarded as business as usual in the past.  For instance, here's the BSFA Awards ceremony, in which I pop up a couple of times, presenting and then, to my amazement, accepting (around the 10.30 mark)...



I broadly agree with the criticism about the nature of the presentation, but I'd like to add three things: that it all got far too personal far too quickly, when this was an organisational failure; that host Donna Scott, so ill on that night as to be hardly able to stand up, got attacked very unfairly; and that amongst all this, a great gesture from James White Award winner Colum Paget, giving back his prize so the money could be added to next year's total (he introduced me to his fellow nominees afterwards, and there they stood, the next generation of SF writers) went hugely under-reported.  We need to be able to report the positive even among the negative.  Good media reports resulted from the feminist policies of the event, as with this in The Guardian. And here's SFX's piece, and I appear in my editor Bella Pagan's rather neat photo essay for the Tor Books blog. (From that, here's me, George R.R. Martin and Bella herself... so I don't know who took it, sorry!)



One of the joys of the weekend was spending some time with George.  He's a great guest, the sort of famous author who wanders into the bar, sits down with friends and talks fannish stuff with anyone who shows up. (And goes to pubs to join groups of his fans watching the new Game of Thrones episode live.)  We had a couple of meals with him and his wife Parris, and, in secret, told them about the baby.  It's a great feeling for me to be part of a gang of writers like the Wild Cards set.  (And also revealed at Eastercon was that Gollancz will be publishing the books in the UK, and that this year I'll have a new Wild Cards story on Tor.com.)  Here's an excerpt from that panel...



It's quite a pleasure to be able to show you this stuff on video.  Streaming these was a bit of a first for an Eastercon, as was a convention iPhone app that performed brilliantly.  I'm only sorry the videos don't include a fantastic Just A Minute, where Donna Scott finally triumphed over Jo Walton (laid back and deliberate), Justina Robson (surreal) and Tricia Sullivan (glorious technicolour ranting).  My fellow Guest of Honour Tricia was indeed everything a GoH should be, challenging and flag-bearing and leading.  And Cory Doctorow was also as debonair and well-informed as always. Here are all of us saying goodbye...



And if you want to see more from the event, check out the list of videos. Panels not recorded that I was on included: a fascinating discussion on AI, with an actual researcher, Louise Dennis (who also turned out to be a major Doctor Who fan), on hand; 'Scientists and the Media' on which Caroline Mullan came out with one of the best condensed essays in panel comment form I've ever heard; and 'From Fan to Pro', where a whole bunch of us just chuntered and kept on chuntering until I realised my body had reached the finish line and had to fall over. Liz Batty's effort to put more women on panels than ever before, to make the vast majority of panels 50/50 in fact, paid off, with new contributions and new voices in every direction.

And between those panels, the intense conversations of fan bar life, the sound of the genre talking to itself, the energy of new fans, the late nights, the beer, the emotions running high.  Everything a convention should be.  I went to readings from new authors Emma Newman and Danie Ware. I had dinner with my editor, Bella Pagan, and my fellow Tor authors.  I felt re-purposed to write again, and to carry on contributing to this genre.  And, as you may have seen in the video above, I got a little emotional at John Medany saying that I was 'one of us' at the end, and giving me a crew sweatshirt.

In other news, I've recently contributed an introduction to a forthcoming book...


The Official Doctor Who Fan Club is the story of that organisation, dating back to 1971, by Keith Miller, who ran it, and is a treasure trove of original documents and set visits.  I love fan history like this, and a lot of this story hasn't been told.  Great stuff for any Who fan.  You can find out more here.

And a week tomorrow, on Saturday 21st, from 1pm, I'll be going to the fourth S.W.A.L.C., a micro arts festival at the Lord Clyde pub in London. No panels, just creators milling about with the audience, including Si Spurrier and Si Spencer (yes, in the same place!), plus live music, eats, beer, etc.  Looks like a grand day out.

Next Friday, I'll be featuring 'post match reports' from the four new visitors to Eastercon that I interviewed in the run-up.  And I hope I'll be having a quieter week.  Until then, Cheerio!

Saucer Country 2, Demon Knights 8

Which sounds like a football score.  We've been inundated with congratulations about the baby news, for which many thanks.  There are far too many to all thank in person, so please know we're very grateful.  I should point out, by the way: I've been going on about Secret Project M... that's not the baby!  (Although I guess it is in 'a medium I've never worked in before'.)  That's a real writing project which you'll hopefully hear about later this year.

Out today in the USA, tomorrow in the UK (because of the Bank Holiday), are Saucer Country #2 and Demon Knights #8, and those links take you to, respectively, four and five page previews.  The Demon Knights issue is a good jumping on point for the title, in that it's a one-off about the origins of the Etrigan/Xanadu/Jason love triangle which neatly sums up the world of the title.

On Friday I'll be posting all my video appearances from Eastercon and doing a very quick report on how it went.  Sorry for the brevity, but, erm, I'm kind of busy!  Cheerio!



Our Secret Project

So today we drove back from Eastercon, and went to the hospital, and Caroline lay down on a bed, had goo splurted onto her stomach, and had a probe rubbed over her abdomen.

And there it was, a tiny, completely still form, with a little pulsing dot at its centre.  'It's asleep,' said the doctor. 'Could you jump up and down a bit?'

So Caroline jumped up and down a bit.  It still didn't move.  So the doctor poked her stomach a few times.  The little form moved.  It squirmed.  It turned over.  It stretched.  And then it touched its nose.

The foetus is now thirteen weeks and three days old.  We don't know if it's a boy or a girl.  But it does.  It's due on October 13th (so Bristolcon probably won't be seeing me this year).  Everything seems fine.

We wanted to post the sonogram on here, but the hospital had run out of the special paper they use (the image has been saved for next time), so you'll have to wait for that.

We have names in mind already for either gender.  (George R.R. Martin said he thought Daenerys for a girl.)

It's been quite a week for us.  It's wonderful to finally be able to tell the world.  Those of you that guessed: well done!  We're looking forward to introducing you all.  Cheerio!



Hugo Nominations, BSFA Win!

I've just got back from Eastercon (short review: best ever, just incredibly great, well-organised, fantastic programme, the Game of Thrones cast fighting audience members with swords!)  It was, all in all, a revival of the brand, a new start, everything an Eastercon should be.  I hope soon to blog about it at length.

On Friday evening, we all stood in the atrium listening intently as the nominations for this year's Hugo Awards were read out.  Among mentions for many friends, there were two categories the listing of which initiated my Nomination Dance: Best Novelette, in which my story 'The Copenhagen Interpretation' has been nominated, and Best Fancast, in which The SF Squeecast has been honoured.

I'd like to thank everyone who nominated either.  I've now notched up six noms, over the years, in four different categories.  Please picture me dancing.  Only, you know, that's meant to be a good thing.

And on Sunday night it was the BSFA Awards.  I presented the Non-Fiction category (to the SF Encyclopedia), and was relaxed when it came to the category I'd been nominated in, Best Short Fiction, because I was utterly convinced China Mieville was going to win it.  To the point that I'd sort of forgotten to get nervous.  So when Cory Doctorow said 'The Copenhagen Interpretation' and my name, I was absolutely stunned.  It took me a moment to stumble on stage and ask the audience if this was a dream.  The Award itself is very handsome, a purple raygun silhouette bolted to three ancient paperbacks.  (It's the only award, as someone some, that one really should keep in a cool, dry, place.)


(Photo by Bella Pagan.)

Thank you so much, everyone who voted for me.  To get this for prose, especially, is an absolute joy for me.

Now, this week is something particularly special, and tomorrow I'll be blogging about something else that's incredible.  At some point I hope I get the chance to fall over.  Thanks again.  Cheerio!


The This Time Next Year Game: Boat Race

Huge stuff happening this week, but before I blog about any of it, time for a quick Game update.  The Boat Race was won by Cambridge, so points go to: Ads; L.L.; Soru; Uther Dean; Phil Hansen; Michael Lee; James Fairlie; RHeitzmann; David Bishop; Dean Hazell.

Leaving the leader board looking like this:

Liz: 2
Michael Lee: 2
Phil Hansen: 2
RHeitzmann: 2
Soru: 2

Ads: 1
B-Guymer: 1
C.A. Young: 1
David Bishop: 1
Dean Hazell: 1
Fizzle: 1
James Fairlie: 1
Kendersule: 1
L.L.: 1
L.M. Myles: 1
Nick Pheas: 1
Paul F: 1
Penny Heal and Jason Stevens: 1
Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre: 1
Tom: 1
Uther Dean: 1

And following the Hugo Award nominee announcements, nine of you are still in with a shot for the Best Novel question, and many more for the Best Drama Short Form.  You're all doing very well!  Cheerio!

Watch Olympus Live!

I'm rushing about the house packing my bags, ready to head over to Eastercon.  There'll be no blog on Friday (but I'll be guesting at Pornokitsch). The event is sold out, but, rather wonderfully, you can watch at home, as everything that happens in the main hall (the Commonwealth room) will be streamed on video, and visible in the frame below!

 
Free live streaming by Ustream

Isn't it wonderfully to be living in the future? I'll be in the picture above for the Opening Ceremonies, for Just A Minute at 6.30pm tomorrow (with Justina Robson, Donna Scott, Tricia Sullivan and Jo Walton), the BSFA Awards and loads of other panels.  Check out my schedule, two blogs back for details.

I look forward to seeing some of you at the convention.  Until then, Cheerio!