It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

… it just has to sound plausible


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In the deepest water

At 8:15 on the morning of 23 January 1960, Jacques Piccard and Lieutenant Don Walsh, US Navy, climbed into the pressure sphere of the bathyscaphe Trieste, and sealed the hatch. Less than ten minutes later, they were descending towards the floor of the Pacific Ocean, towards the floor of the deepest part of the Pacific Ocean: Challenger Deep.

Challenger Deep is 35,994 feet (10,971 metres) deep. If you put Mount Everest in it, there would still be a mile of water above the mountain’s peak. It is a slot-shaped depression, about one mile wide by four miles long, in the floor of the Mariana Trench. There have been only three descents to Challenger Deep. The Trieste‘s was the first, and the only one to carry human beings. Two remotely operated vehicles have also been there: Kaikō in 1995 and Nereus in 2009. Given conditions on the floor of the Mariana Trench, this is hardly surprising. Down there in the hadal zone, the pressure is close to seven tons per square inch, the temperature is around two degrees Centigrade, and light itself cannot reach. Yet there are creatures living there.

Seven Miles Down by Jacques Piccard and Robert S Dietz is the only book written specifically about the Trieste and its descent into Challenger Deep. The Trieste was invented by Piccard’s father, Swiss professor Auguste Piccard, who was apparently the inspiration for Hergé’s Professor Calculus. Piccard senior was one of those scientist-inventors who no longer seem to exist. In the 1930s, he built a balloon with a pressurised gondola, and ascended into the stratosphere, the first person to ever do so. A decade later, he turned his attention in the opposite direction, and invented the bathyscaphe, or “deep boat”, in order to study the depths of the ocean. It operates much as a balloon does, although using gasoline, which is lighter than water, rather than air. His first such vessel was the FNRS-2, named for the Belgian Fonds National de la Recherche Scientifique, which financed its construction and early operations. It was later sold to the French Navy, who upgraded it to the FNRS-3. The Trieste, however, was privately funded.

I forget where I stumbled across mention of the Trieste‘s descent to Challenger Deep. I was aware of it, of course; but knew little beyond the fact that it had happened. I certainly didn’t know that this year was its fiftieth anniversary. I remember watching the BBC submersible drama series The Deep, which featured a drilling rig on the floor of an ocean trench some 20,000 feet below the sea-surface. While The Deep wasn’t very good (nuclear reactors do not explode), I thought a crewed facility on the floor of the deepest part of the ocean might make a good location for a short story. So it might well have been that which inspired me to look up the Trieste

… at which point I discovered that there’d been very little written about the descent. Last year was the fortieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landings and a number of books were published to celebrate it. This year was the fiftieth anniversary of the Trieste‘s descent and there’s been… nothing. In fact, the only things I could find proved to be contemporary with it: an article from Life magazine written by Walsh (see here), and Seven Miles Down by Jacques Piccard and Robert S Dietz. And the latter has apparently never been reprinted since.

source: Wikipedia

The book is actually more a history of the Trieste, and Piccard’s involvement with it, than it is a blow-by-blow account of the descent to Challenger Deep. The opening chapters cover the FNRS-2 and -3, the difficult time Piccard senior making his dream of a bathyscaphe reality, and the early dives. There is mention of Otis Barton and William Beebe, who invented the bathysphere and pioneered direct study of the deep ocean using a submersible. About halfway through the book, Dietz joins the story. An oceanographer attached to the US Navy’s Office of Navy Research and based in London, he helped persuade the US Navy to buy the Trieste and put Jacques Piccard under contract. During the second half of the 1950s, the Trieste made some thirty-five descents, piloted by Piccard and carrying scientists as observers. These were initially in the Mediterranean, and later off the coast of California. It was not until 1959 that a request was made of the Chief of Naval Operations to authorise “bathyscaphe (Trieste) operations (Project NEKTON) in the Mariana Trench, between November 1959 and February 1960″. Permission was given, a new and stronger pressure sphere was ordered from Krupps of Germany, and once that was fitted the Trieste was shipped from her base of operations in San Diego to Guam. She made six descents to various depths in the South Pacific before Piccard and Walsh made their record-breaking dive to Challenger Deep.

source: US Navy

Much of Seven Miles Down is written from Jacques Piccard’s point of view, although he does hand over the narrative at various points to Dietz. The prose is workmanlike but readable. Piccard maintains a nice balance between technical detail and his own impressions and experiences. It makes for an interesting read, although the prose doesn’t really come alive until the chapter on the descent to Challenger Deep. The technology involved is perhaps not as fascinating, and nowhere near as complex, as that in the Apollo programme, but the descents were every bit as dangerous – in Challenger Deep, there were 200,000 tons of water pressing on the Trieste‘s pressure sphere, for example. If Piccard had miscalculated the amount of gasoline needed in the float, or iron shot used as ballast, the bathyscaphe might never have returned to the surface. In fact, they were very lucky: during the descent, Piccard and Walsh heard something explode but could not work out what it was (on previous dives lights, a camera, and stanchions had all imploded). It was only during the ascent that Walsh spotted that the window at the rear of the antechamber had cracked. If it gave way, they could not clear the water from the antechamber and entrance tunnel and so would be unable to exit the sphere. They’d have to remain inside it for the five-day journey back to Guam and dry dock. Fortunately, the window didn’t break.

An appendix gives the technical specifications of the Trieste, and lists all sixty-five dives made by the bathyscaphe between 1953 and 1960. After the descent to Challenger Deep, the Trieste returned to San Diego but did not dive again. In 1963, she was modified and then used to search for the missing submarine, USS Thresher. She underwent numerous modifications and upgrades over the years before eventually being retired in 1980. She now resides at the National Museum of the US Navy in Washington DC.

Here’s an excellent video by Rolex about the Challenger Deep dive:

Finally, this year the X Prize Foundation announced a $10 million prize for the first privately-funded submersible to make two crewed descents to Challenger Deep. And yes, I did write a science fiction story set in a crewed base in Challenger Deep. It just needs a little more work before I start submitting it…


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Another obscure British sf masterwork

Among the books recommended to me by others for inclusion on my list of British sf masterworks (see here) was A Man of Double Deed, Leonard Daventry’s debut novel, and the first book of the Keyman trilogy. Daventry is forgotten now. He wrote seven science fiction novels between 1965 and 1980 – the last one somewhat ironically titled You Must Remember Us…? – but his books are neither in print nor especially easy to find. Which is a shame, as there are worse authors from that period still in print, whose deathless prose continues to clog the bookshelves of Waterstone’s and other book shops.

The title character of A Man of Double Deed is Claus Coman. He is a keyman. This means he is a telepath, and one of a handful of such people, who operate something like secret agents and something like Special Branch, on an Earth a century after an all-out nuclear war, the “Atomic Disaster of 1990″. Coman is something of a throwback – he lives in a house in Old Peckham, not in a giant apartment block, and he smokes like a chimney, even though the habit is illegal. He is also, we are told on the first page, “old-fashioned in other ways also, being content with two women only”. These two women are Jonl and Sein, and Coman is bonded to them – again, something considered old-fashioned and slightly dubious.

Coman returns to Earth after adventures on Venus – several of his previous escapades are mentioned in the novel – to find something strange going on. The youth of 2090 have taken to murder and suicide. It’s almost an epidemic. The only solution the World Council can conceive is a “War Section”. This is an area, preferably on another planet, in which the murderous teenagers and young adults can be left to their own violent devices. The Council is meeting shortly to consider implementing such a War Section, but the leader of the Council, Marst, is being influenced to vote against the proposal by a conspiracy. Coman’s boss, Karns, asks him to travel to the Fifteenth City, a holiday destination built above a line of islands in the Pacific, to persuade Marst to change his vote. Marst is apparently under the influence of a pair of “jokers”, telepaths who oppose the keymen but fortunately possess much weaker abilities. Coman and his two wives travel from the Twelfth City (London) to the Fifteenth City. Shortly after their arrival, while at a swimming-pool, Coman identifies one of the jokers, a woman called Linnel. He seduces her – Jonl and Sein are not happy about it, but they trust him. With Linnel’s help, Coman manages to prevent the conspiracy.

The plot summary above probably doesn’t quite illustrate how odd this novel is. Superficially, it resembles an ordinary piece of science fiction tosh from the 1950s or 1960s, with a superman hero, a supporting bevy of beautiful subservient women, and a future Earth which in no way resembles the Earth of the time of writing but still feels horribly dated. But that would be doing A Man of Double Deed a disservice. It’s a much better book than that.

Coman is such a strange hero, for one thing. He is a dour intellectual, but not a misanthrope. He is not a man of action, but is often called upon to behave like one. There’s something of the World War II RAF officer in him, a combination of education, arrogance, pragmatism, and a grudging respect for others. He is his own biggest critic, but extremely private with his criticisms. He is very British.

Nor are the women of the story, Jonl, Sein and Linnel, characterless females. On the contrary, Jonl could become a keyman herself, but does not wish to do so on principle. Sein is more stereotypical a female character. She loves Coman, and longs for a baby. She gets her wish in the end, and it’s a result all are happy with. Linnel is a femme fatale, but an insecure one who falls for Coman’s singular charms, but refuses to bend entirely to his will. These three are not, I hasten to add, brilliantly-drawn female characters, or even especially realistically-drawn ones, but they are a good deal better-realised than is common for genre fiction of the time.

A Man of Double Deed is a novel in which principles play a large part. At several points in the story, Coman, Karns, Marst, or Coman’s cyborg friend Deenan talk about moral and legal principles, and these are well-written and well-argued pieces of dialogue. They are not the usual political or moralistic crap you’d find in most genre novels, and which doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, this is solid, well-presented, intelligent argument. It makes for a refreshing change.

Perhaps the invention on display in the novel is not especially high, but the writing is solid, and even occasionally good, the characters are drawn well, and the plot comes to a satisfactory end… even if not everything is explained. What, for example, was the conspiracy which had hired the two jokers? Why did they not want a War Section? Nevertheless, A Man of Double Deed is an interesting sf novel and doesn’t deserve to be forgotten. In fact, I think I’ll hunt down the other two books in the trilogy, Reflections in a Mirage and The Ticking is in Your Head, and read them.


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Books from my collection: Phillip Mann

Phillip Mann was born in the UK but has been resident in New Zealand since 1969. Between 1982 and 1996, he wrote nine well-regarded science fiction novels. He’s had nothing published since, although Wikipedia claims he is working on a new novel. I hope so.

His first, fourth and fifth novels. The Clute and Nicholls Encyclopedia of Science Fiction calls The Eye of the Queen, Mann’s debut novel, “an accomplished novel of First Contact”. I remember picking up a paperback copy of it in Birmingham in the mid-1980s. First edition hardback copies of it are hard to find, and correspondingly expensive. Fortunately, I recently found one being sold on eBay for a reasonable price. Pioneers, “his best novel to date” according to the Encyclopedia, is about a team of two genetically-engineered humans exploring the galaxy who return to a much-changed Earth. Wulfsyarn tells the story of the captain of the Nightgale, a starship in the Mercy fleet which vanished on its maiden voyage, and returned a year later with only its captain aboard.


Mann’s second and third novels were the diptych, The Story of the Gardener: Master of Paxwax and The Fall of the Families. It’s a space opera, of sorts. There are no giant spaceships, or huge space battles, but it’s set in a galaxy populated by a multitude of alien races, all of which are dominated by humanity. And just waiting to rebel…

His last four books were the alternate history quartet, A Land Fit for Heroes: Escape to the Wild Wood, Stand Alone Stan, The Dragon Wakes and The Burning Forest. In these, the Roman Empire remained in Britain, there were no Saxon invaders, and the British Isles now consists of Roman garrison towns scattered across a countryside of primordial forests containing communities of Celts. I reviewed the first two books for Vector, the critical journal of the British Science Fiction Association, and thought they were excellent.

Damn. Now I want to reread all his books…


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British SF Masterworks redux

After all the comments on my list of 50 British science fiction masterworks, I decided to revisit it. There were several authors I’d inadvertently left off – and no, I’ve no idea how I managed to miss Paul J McAuley (sorry); but he’s on there now. There were also a couple of books I listed which, on reflection, were either too peripheral to the genre, or not really masterworks. The Durrell stays on, however, because a) he’s my favourite writer, and b) it features a number of sf tropes.

Brian W Aldiss claims in Trillion Year Spree that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is the first science fiction novel, but I prefer to date the genre to the appearance of Amazing Stories in 1926. So Shelley goes. But it would be criminal to produce a list of British sf masterworks without including one by HG Wells, whose “scientific romances” were certainly an ancestor of sf (and many were reprinted in Amazing Stories, anyway).

I’ve also changed Lessing’s entry from The Memoirs of a Survivor to the Canopus in Argos: Archives quintet, as each of the five books in it are more substantial than my original choice. I’ve added Christopher Evans, Geoff Ryman, Ted Tubb, Mark Adlard, Eric Frank Russell, James White, Colin Kapp and Douglas Adams (bowing to public pressure there). Some of the books may not be masterworks per se – the Kapp series, for example, is more notable for its eponymous Big Dumb Object than it is its prose, characterisation or plot. Tubb, of course, was best known for his 33-book Dumarest series, but I’ve seen several positive mentions of The Space-Born, a generation starship story. James White probably wrote better books than the one I’ve chosen, but it’s the only one of his Sector General novels to appear on a any kind of shortlist – the Locus SF Novel Award for 1988 (which was, admittedly, a shortlist of thirty-three…).

So I have made some changes. And somehow the list has grown to fifty-five books.

1 – The Time Machine, HG Wells (1895)
2 – Last And First Men, Olaf Stapledon (1930)
3 – Brave New World, Aldous Huxley (1932)
4 – Nineteen Eighty-four, George Orwell (1949)
5 – The Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham (1951)
6 – The Death of Grass, John Christopher (1956)
7 – No Man Friday, Rex Gordon (1956) – my review here.
8 – The Space-Born, EC Tubb (1956)
9 – On The Beach, Nevil Shute (1957)
10 – WASP, Eric Frank Russell (1958)
11 – A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess (1962)
12 – The Drowned World, JG Ballard (1962)
13 – Memoirs of a Spacewoman, Naomi Mitchison (1962)
14 – A Man of Double Deed, Leonard Daventry (1965)
15 – A Far Sunset, Edmund Cooper (1967)
16 – The Revolt of Aphrodite [Tunc, Nunquam], Lawrence Durrell (1968 – 1970)
17 – Pavane, Keith Roberts (1968)
18 – Stand On Zanzibar, John Brunner (1968)
19 – Behold The Man, Michael Moorcock (1969)
20 – Ninety-eight Point Four, Christopher Hodder-Williams (1969)
21 – Junk Day, Arthur Sellings (1970)
22 – T-City trilogy [Interface, Volteface, Multiface] Mark Adlard (1971 – 1975)
23 – The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe, DG Compton (1973) – my review here.
24 – Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C Clarke (1973) – my review here.
25 – Collision with Chronos, Barrington Bayley (1973)
26 – Inverted World, Christopher Priest (1974)
27 – The Centauri Device, M John Harrison (1974)
28 – Hello Summer, Goodbye, Michael G Coney (1975) – my review here.
29 – Orbitsville [Orbitsville, Orbitsville Departure, Orbitsville Judgement], Bob Shaw (1975 – 1990)
30 – The Alteration, Kingsley Amis (1976)
31 – The White Bird of Kinship [The Road to Corlay, A Dream of Kinship, A Tapestry of Time], Richard Cowper (1978 – 1982) – my review here.
32 – SS-GB, Len Deighton (1978)
33 – Canopus in Argos: Archives [Shikasta, The Marriages Between Zones 3, 4 and 5, The Sirian Experiments, The Making of the Representative for Planet 8, The Sentimental Agents in the Volyen Empire], Doris Lessing (1979 – 1983)
34 – The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy [The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Life, the Universe and Everything, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, Mostly Harmless], Douglas Adams (1979 – 1992)
35 – Where Time Winds Blow, Robert Holdstock (1981) – my review here.
36 – The Silver Metal Lover, Tanith Lee (1981)
37 – Cageworld [Search for the Sun!, The Lost Worlds of Cronus, The Tyrant of Hades, Star-Search], Colin Kapp (1982 – 1984)
38 – Helliconia, Brian W Aldiss (1982 – 1985)
39 – Orthe, Mary Gentle (1983 – 1987)
40 – Chekhov’s Journey, Ian Watson (1983)
41 – In Limbo, Christopher Evans (1985)
42 – Queen of the States, Josephine Saxton (1986)
43 – Wraeththu Chronicles [The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit, The Bewitchments of Love and Hate, The Fulfilments of Fate and Desire], Storm Constantine (1987 – 1989)
44 – Code Blue – Emergency!, James White (1987)
45 – Kairos, Gwyneth Jones (1988) – my review here.
46 – The Empire of Fear, Brian Stableford (1988)
47 – Desolation Road, Ian McDonald (1988)
48 – The Child Garden, Geoff Ryman (1989)
49 – Take Back Plenty, Colin Greenland (1990) – my review here.
50 – Wulfsyarn, Phillip Mann (1990)
51 – Use of Weapons, Iain M Banks (1990)
52 – Vurt, Jeff Noon (1993)
53 – The Time Ships, Stephen Baxter (1995)
55 – Fairyland, Paul J Mcauley (1995)

So that’s the new list. I still intend to read and review some of the more obscure books – and have already done the Rex Gordon (see here). Those books I’ve written about on this blog now have links beside them – some are full-blown reviews, some are just a paragraph or two in one of my Readings & Watchings catch-up posts.

Now let the discussion begin.

Again.


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An obscure British sf masterwork?

Several of the authors I included in my fifty British SF Masterworks list (see here), I’d not actually read. And with good reason – they’re more or less forgotten. One such author was Rex Gordon, the pen-name of Stanley Bennett Hough, born in 1917, who wrote nine science fiction novels between 1953 and 1969. Of those novels, the best-known is perhaps No Man Friday (or so I was reliably informed). Second-hand copies of the book are relatively easy to find – both under that title and under its US title, First on Mars – so I bought one. And read it. (Incidentally, Gordon’s The Worlds of Eclos was published in the US as First to the Stars, and his The Time Factor as First Through Time; there seems to be a pattern there…)

Gordon Holder is the narrator of No Man Friday. He is an engineer at Woomera, Australia, where Britain carried out its rocket and missile programme during the 1950s and 1960s. Determined to beat the Americans into space, the British engineers secretly build a rocket to take them to Mars. They sneak orders for the parts they need onto the account lines of officially-approved projects, and build the rocket inside a disused water tower. It’s a peculiarly British way to do it, working within the system, hiding in the bureaucracy – rather than fighting against it, one man versus the overbearing government, as would happen in an American novel.

No Man Friday is not an especially scientifically accurate novel, although Gordon is careful to maintain a plausible tone. The rocket, for example, carries a crew of seven, and clearly owes more to the pointy rockets of the science fiction of the period than it does to the contemporary Redstone launch vehicle of NASA (one of which would put the first American, Alan Shepard, into space six years later).

En route to Mars, Holder has to leave the confines of the rocket to fix a deflector-plate which is causing the craft to spin. On his return, something goes wrong and the outer and inner airlock doors are both opened. Everyone inside dies. Only Holder survives, because he’s still wearing his spacesuit. Gordon has clearly thought about what it would be like to wear an inflated spacesuit in a vacuum, and describes the difficulty of performing tasks in such a suit – although he didn’t anticipate the damage to fingernails that modern-day astronauts apparently experience on EVA (see here).

The rocket crashes on Mars, but again Holder survives. Given that Gordon had no knowledge of the surface conditions of Mars – the first Mars lander would not be until 1971, when the Soviet Mars 3 managed to transmit data and pictures for 22 seconds; and the first successful landers were the US’s Viking 1 and Viking 2 in 1976 – nonetheless, he manages a reasonably believable Martian surface, not unlike, say, the Atacama Desert.

Holder manages to use the wreckage of the rocket, and its surviving equipment, to manufacture both water and oxygen. He builds himself a sand scooter, and goes exploring. But wherever he goes, it’s all the same: an endless red desert, populated only by strange Martian cacti and the over-sized termites which feed on them. He even experiments with the plants, trying to find some method of preparation which will make them edible and nutritious.

Then he discovers evidence of some larger animal – he has already guessed that the low gravity and air pressure would result in creatures larger in size than earthly ones. This creature proves to be humanoid in shape, but its behaviour demonstrates it is clearly not intelligent. But the giant centipede creatures, the size of buses, which feed on the corpses of the humanoids and communicate via biological light-organs, definitely appear to be.

Holder sets out to follow the giant centipedes, and eventually discovers their nesting area. He attempts to communicate with them…

Fifteen years later, a US rocket lands on Mars, and its crew are astonished to see a human approaching their craft on foot. Holder has survived as a favoured pet of the giant centipedes. He explains this to the Americans, telling them that the Martians will only allow one rocket per year to land on the Red Planet. The Americans reply that the system is unworkable, not least because the Soviets are planning their own mission. Holder tries to return to the Martians, but is unable to do so – some strange barrier prevents him.

No Man Friday clearly owes a lot to Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and, in fact, references that book a number of times. Not having read Defoe, I can’t say how close the parallels are. No Man Friday is also a very explanatory book, as Holder takes an interest in his strange surroundings and in discovering how to survive in them. He explains what he does, and why. The prose is strong throughout, and Holder is an engaging and thoughtful narrator. The flora and fauna on Mars Gordon invents sounds mostly believable, and the giant centipede Martians are otherworldly enough to feel alien – especially given the hands-on engineering tone of the rest of the novel.

No Man Friday is quick, fun and interesting, without being glib or ridiculously fanciful. It’s very much a “hard” science fiction novel of its time, but also very characteristically British. There’s no mistaking No Man Friday for an American sf novel. That’s where much of its charm lies. And, yes, it does belong on the British SF Masterwork list.


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Undersea habitats, full stops and low humour – a little more on Fantasycon 2010

It occurred to me reading my last post on Fantasycon 2010 that the convention was more than just the hotel and the books I purchased. I spent the weekend in the company of a couple of hundred people, all of whom are interested enough in genre fiction to spend a weekend dedicated to it in a hotel. So I really should mention a few of those people. Unfortunately, my memory is not what it once was – well, obviously, it’s still a memory, but it’s no longer as effective as it once was. Or at least, no longer as effective as memory insists it once was…

I arrived at the con around mid-afternoon – it’s an easy journey for me to Nottingham. There weren’t many people about but after about an hour sat in the bar I spotted my first friendly face: Mark Harding. He admitted he’d been in the hotel since the night before. Over the course of the evening, the bar began to fill with con-goers. I spoke with: Mark about projects we were each working on; Gavin Smith, author of Veteran, about role-playing games, underwater holidays and technical diving; Allen Ashley about Catastrophia and collaborations; Neil Williamson and Andrew Hook and Jasper Kent, author of Twelve and Thirteen Years Later, about writing… and no doubt other subjects, and with other people. See above re memory.

Most of Saturday I spent in the bar and in the dealers’ room. When I wasn’t browsing through the stocks of the various dealers, I was chatting to Roy Gray on the Interzone table. Andy Remic turned up for the day, as did Mark Charan Newton. Andy finally saw my review of Ian Whates’ anthology Conflicts in Interzone. In response to my comment on his story, he asked, “What’s wrong with low humour?” Nothing, Andy. The review of Conflicts generated a couple of conversations over the weekend (that might even be ironic…) – it was interesting seeing how different people preferred different stories. But that’s the nature of anthologies. I also chatted to Colin Harvey, author of Winter Song and Damage Time (which was launched by Angry Robot at Fantasycon; as was Andy’s Soul Stealers), some of the Angry Robot people, Chris Teague of Pendragon Press, Gary Couzens (who’d attended the Worldcon in Melbourne), and a few members of The T-Party, a writing group in London.

After we got back from the Thai restaurant, we waited for the banquet to finish so we could attend the awards ceremony. But we discovered that would mean standing up for the duration as all the seats were taken by those who’d attended the banquet. So we went back to the mostly-deserted bar. Which soon filled up, once the awards ceremony was over. I remember an interesting conversation with Terry Edge about writing workshops and the way in which rules of punctuation are often broken by successful writers. I lasted until about midnight before calling it a day.

The Sunday was a much quieter day and, like the day before, was spent mostly in the bar or dealers’ room. I forget how I spoke to and about what, although I do remember discussing poetry with Gaie Sebold. I’d planned to leave about three p.m., but the raffle took longer than I’d expected, so I didn’t actually catch a train until 4:40 p.m.

That was Fantasycon (redux): a series of conversations on a variety of topics (most were writing-related), some of which were lubricated by beer, some not. I don’t generally attend programme items – I keep promising myself I’ll go to more of them, but I usually fail. Because I enjoy sitting in the bar, chatting to friends and meeting new people.

And buying books, of course…

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