Saturday 28 April was alt.fiction, a one-day science fiction and fantasy writing event in Derby. I went to the first one last year – it was good. And so was this one.
I nearly didn’t make it. The day before, Amazon had rejected my debit card on an order, so I rang my bank. They assured me there were no problems with my account. Saturday morning, the cash machine “retained” my card. I rang the bank again, and ranted at them. Apparently, my account had been marked “contact lost”, as correspondence had been returned. Surely my conversation with the bank the day before surely qualifies as “contact”? I later learned the returned correspondence had been sent to an address I’d vacated three years ago – and I’d never told the bank I lived there. Someone definitely screwed up somewhere. Still, it’s my own fault: only a couple of days before, I’d told a friend that I was happy with my bank and had experienced no problems with them…
I ended up using my credit card to withdraw cash. For some unknown but slightly prophetic reason, I’d decided to fetch money earlier than planned, so the delay didn’t actually result in me missing my train. I still arrived at the station with plenty of time to spare. There were a lot of blokes on the platform drinking tinned lager. Football fans. That was a bit worrying. For one thing, it meant the train would be full. When the train arrived, I managed to get a seat. It was reserved, but not until the next stop. And there was always a chance the person who’d booked it wouldn’t show. But they did. So I spent the rest of the trip standing.
alt.fiction began at noon, and I’d calculated that my travel plans would get me there no more than ten or fifteen minutes afterwards. I actually arrived at the Assembly Rooms at 12:05. I handed over my ticket, got my badge. I’d expected to see some familiar faces, and the first one I saw was Christian Dunn of Solaris. In the bar, of course. Over the course of the afternoon, I met the rest of the Solaris team. I spoke to a number of people throughout the day. It was good to catch up with friends, including some I’d not spoken to for many years, and also to meet new people. Topics of conversation were entirely normal and relevant, unlike at Contemplation: SFX‘s two new rival magazines, SciFiNow and Death Ray (are those really the best titles they could think of?); writing techniques with George Mann; the uncollected short stories of Peter F Hamilton; why tagging is a fundamentally flawed concept with Jyoti Mishra and Tony Ballantyne; book-selling with Brian Ameringen; novelisations with Tim Lebbon; and various other subjects I can’t recall. All this took place in the bar. Happily, the drummers who had been practicing behind a partition last year weren’t present.
I only made it to a single programme item – Iain Banks reading from his new Culture novel, Matter (due out next year). Probably because I was still in a foul mood from the cash-machine shenanigans that morning. In that sort of mood, my short attention span is even shorter, so I knew I’d not last 60 minutes listening to a panel. In that respect, alt.fiction seemed less successful to me than last year. That’s entirely my own fault, of course, and doesn’t reflect on the organisers. It was certainly a bigger event than 2006 – a longer programme, and more big names as guests. And more people attended too. I’ve only myself to blame for not making it out of the bar. And for my poor book-haul – a mere two books. A first edition of M John Harrison’s Signs of Life from Cold Tonnage, and Terry Bisson’s Fire on the Mountain in paperback from Porcupine Books. Well, okay, I can blame the poor book-haul on a reluctance to spend cash due to an inability to access my bank account because my debit card had been swallowed by an ATM. So it was really the bank’s fault.
I left straight after Banks’s reading. Taxi to the station, a cup of dangerously hot coffee from whatever food franchise they have in the concourse, and a 20 minute wait for a train. I got back home around half past nine, in plenty of time to meet friends who were out drinking in the town centre. This was in a “trendy” pub called Bungalows & Bears – and no, I’ve no idea what the name means. Given that, and the two new sf magazines mentioned earlier, I’m tempted to think people have lost the art of naming things… A good name is important. SciFiNow, Death Ray and Bungalows & Bears are not good names.
I forget what time I left the pub, but it was late. I ended up walking for over a mile before I managed to flag down an empty cab. I finished off the day with a doner kebab – all I’d had to eat that day since a sandwich from M&S on the train to Derby.
A… mixed day. My mood probably spoiled alt.fiction for me – or rather, my bank probably spoiled alt.fiction for me. I enjoyed myself there, but I think I would have done so more if it hadn’t been for the cock-up with my debit card. Who said money can’t buy you happiness…?
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