It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

… it just has to sound plausible


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To York and beyond – Fantasycon 2014

So that was the new all-improved Fantasycon, and you know what? It was a bloody good con. The hotel was nice, if expensive, but it had an excellent real ale pub next-door and was five minutes walk from the city centre (and hence many fooderies). The company was convivial, and from what I heard the programme was successful. Okay, so the bar smelt of chlorine (which prompted me to start quoting Wilfred Owen at one point) and it was stinking hot in there on the Sunday; but at least the beer wasn’t massively expensive for a hotel (£4.40 a pint). My room was a single, and I’m just not used to sleeping in a single bed any more and nearly fell out of it a couple of times; but the room’s bathroom was enormous, almost as large as the room itself.

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And speaking of bathrooms, the gents toilets on the ground floor were like something out of Hogwarts and quite amazing – tessellated floor, marble fitments and an enormous skylight above the centre of the room.

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I spent most of Fantasycon chatting to people – old friends and new friends – in the bar and in the dealers’ room. It would be impossible to name them all, but I should definitely give a shout-out to Gillian Polack, the 2014 GUFF race winner, who had come all the way from Australia (albeit chiefly for Loncon 3, of course). I can’t recall much of what the weekend’s many conversations were about, but I remember getting a loud groan out of about a dozen people with the Saeed story one night.

The con ended with the British Fantasy Awards – congrats to all the winners – and I left for home not too long afterwards. That was a nightmare – unlike the very pleasant journey to York. A four-coach train from Edinburgh to Reading, so naturally it was packed solid and I spent the journey home standing. Fortunately, it wasn’t a long trip. The next government in power seriously needs to renationalise the rolling stock companies, and I don’t care if it means some of their rich friends end up out of pocket. In fact, I’d welcome it if they do.

Finally, no con report would be complete without a list of the books I came home with. For the second con running, I managed to purchase books only by female authors. The books by male authors pictured below were all freebies – except for the Calvino, which I bought in Oxfam on Micklegate.

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These were among the freebies available when you registered – although pretty much the entire Moorcock series was there, I already had most of them in the Fantasy Masterwork editions… but not The Eternal Champion and Von Bek (which weren’t in the Masterwork series anyway). David Tallerman is a friend and I picked up his book, Crown Thief, so he could sign a copy for me. Extinction Game didn’t appear on the freebie table until the Saturday, and I’d been intending to buy it so that saved me a bob or two. A dealer at the con was selling off a large stock of unwanted review copies all weekend for £1 each (and 50p on the Sunday), but after the dealers’ room closed for the banquet and awards ceremony, they dumped their remaining books in the hotel foyer for people to take for free – which is where I spotted The Suicide Exhibition, when my eye was caught by the Nazi eagle, flying saucer and black sun logo on the cover…

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School For Love and If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller I bought in the Oxfam on Micklegate, when Mhairi Simpson, Kev McVeigh and myself went for a wander on the Saturday afternoon. The Start of the End of it All, on the other hand, Kev picked up for me from a dealer at Loncon 3, and brought to Fantasycon.

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I decided to pick up some more of Nina Allan’s work and, fortunately, although not unexpectedly, both PS Publishing (Stardust) and Eibonvale Press (The Silver Wind and A Thread of Truth) had tables in the dealers’ room. Changing Planes I bought from the aforementioned dealer with all the review copies.

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All bought in the dealers’ room – Langue[dt]doc 1305 from Gillian herself, Mars Evacuees from the table run by Fantasycon, and vN and Walking the Tree from the review-copies dealer.

Next year’s Fantasycon is apparently back in Nottingham, but in the East Midlands Conference Centre rather than the horrible Britannia Hotel. I’m certainly considering going…


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Loncon 3 and me

As you likely all know, the Worldcon this year takes place in London. So they’re calling it Loncon, the third of that name as there were previous Loncons in 1957 and 1965. It will take place from 14 to 18 August at ExCel, which is some sort of humungous exhibition centre in Docklands. It also seems it’s going to be the biggest Worldcon so far. All of which is academic as far as I’m concerned, as I won’t be going.

I did buy an attending membership, and I volunteered to be on programme items. I was asked to be on one panel, but I turned it down. It was not a topic that interested me, or one I felt could usefully contribute to. All of which is, again, pretty much moot.

There are a number of reasons why I’ve decided I’m no longer attending Loncon 3. One of them is that I had hoped to have Apollo Quartet 4 All That Outer Space Allows and Aphrodite Terra ready for the con. But that’s not going to happen, so I think I’d better spend the time working on them. Loncon 3 is also the weekend after a metal festival, and I doubt I could recover from one in time for the other.

There are lots of people I’d hoped to meet IRL at Loncon 3 for the first time. Back in 2005, at the Glasgow Worldcon, I remember such plans failing spectacularly – but then the “voodoo board” wasn’t very effective… These days, of course, social media and smartphones make it all so much easier. Another time, perhaps. Helsinki in 2017?


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Eastercon is over

So that’s Satellite 4, the 2014 Eastercon, over and done with. It was a con of ups and downs. On the one hand, it’s always good to spend time with friends, especially ones you don’t see IRL all that often. On the other… I didn’t reckon much to the programme, the dealers’ room was disappointingly small, and the hotel isn’t all that well-suited to conventions – the main bar and function space are separated by two staircases… or a shortcut through the main restaurant.

The train journey to Glasgow didn’t start too well, but proved mostly painless. British railways are still an embarrassment, however. The ROSCOs seriously need to be nationalised, they’re robbing us all blind. I hadn’t managed to get a room in the con hotel, the Crowne Plaza, but was instead staying in the Hilton Garden Hotel about five minutes’ walk away. It proved to be the better hotel – while the rooms were small, and the en suite bathrooms tiny, they did contain a fridge, a safe and an… iMac. The hotel breakfast was nothing special, although unfortunately I managed to poison myself on the Saturday – I suspect the mushrooms. I think they must have been cooked in butter, because I spent most of the day feeling like I’d been kicked in the stomach. Lactose intolerance will do that to you.

In fact, I didn’t eat well all weekend. It was either bar food or the hotel restaurant, and there wasn’t a fat lot on the bar food menu I could eat. So I pretty much had chips. Just chips. Every day. Including a trip to Strathbungo with the Steels and Dougal. (Which happened during the Hugo Award announcement, so I watched the shortlists appear on Twitter on my phone with mounting disbelief, sitting in a car in Strathbungo, eating chips.) Bizarrely, the con ended with Hal Duncan and myself eating in the hotel restaurant on the Monday night… which is what happened the last time the Eastercon was in that hotel, back in 2006.

Other “downs” – being glass-fronted, the hotel was uncomfortably hot throughout the weekend. What is it about the UK and its inability to air-condition buildings effectively? And on one night, someone turned off the lights in the gents while I was in one of the cubicles. I was not happy.

I only managed to make three programme items, though I’d promised myself I’d be more diligent. First was the NewCon Press / PS Publishing launch. It occurred to me during it that it’s only small presses who launch books at Eastercon now. It must be several years since I last saw one of the big imprints do so. Then there was Neil Williamson’s talk about how he uses music in his writing – which managed to put one member of the audience to sleep (the second time that person has done so during one of Neil’s readings). And finally I attended the BSFA Award ceremony. It’s gratifying to see the BSFA can still be resolutely amateur – with the slideshow not always working, at least one of the list of nominees given to a presenter proving incorrect, and a plain lack of script. Still, I guess it’s an improvement on (some) previous years… I correctly called the winners in three of the categories, but I thought Christopher Priest might take the Best Novel. I certainly wasn’t expecting a tie, and while Ancillary Justice was my second favourite to win, I hadn’t thought Ack-Ack Macaque stood much chance. I’d not reckoned on the effect being on-site has, however. Anyway, congratulations to all the winners.

I spent much of Satellite 4 in the hotel’s main bar, talking to friends and meeting new people. In that respect, the convention was much like any other. I can remember the topics of only a handful of the conversations, nor can I remember everyone I spoke to. But it was nice to speak to you if I did speak to you. I do sort of recall one conversation about Apollo Quartet 4 All That Outer Space Allows, and discussing a dinner scene from something that I fancied taking off in the novella… But when I got home on the Tuesday, I’d completely forgotten in what it was the dinner scene had originally appeared. Which was bloody annoying. But then – and this is apparently how my brain works – last Sunday I was reading a short story by Margaret Atwood and it mentioned in passing Walden Pond and I remembered I had a copy of Thoreau’s book, Walden, which I wanted to read for All That Outer Space Allows because in Sirk’s film All That Heaven Allows it’s Rock Hudson’s favourite book and he shows it to Jane Wyman just before… the dinner party. Aha! After all that, it proved the most obvious answer – the dinner scene is in the movie which partly inspired the novella and which its title references. Doh.

Anyway, I digress. I enjoyed Satellite 4 for the socialising, but after the 4 am finish on the Saturday, I was definitely wondering if I was getting too old for this shit… Except one of the other people who stayed up until that ungodly hour was Jim Burns. And he has a couple of decades on me. So clearly I must be doing it wrong. Ah well.

No con report would be complete without a catalogue of book purchases. So here it is…

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My haul from the New Con Press / PS Publishing book launch: Neil Williamson’s debut novel, The Moon King; the first in the Telemass Quartet by Eric Brown, Famadihana on Fomalhaut IV; his latest collection, Strange Visitors, part of NewCon’s Imaginings series of collections; The Uncollected Ian Watson is precisely that; and Memory Man & Other Poems is Ian’s first poetry collection. (The NewCon Press titles have yet to appear on their website, so the titles link to the site’s front page.)

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Some books for SF Mistressworks: Second Body by Sue Payer I just couldn’t resist after reading the blurb – “Five hours later, Wendy’s head was fused to Jennifer’s tall, voluptuous body, and her life would never be the same!”. Queen City Jazz by Kathleen Ann Goonan, The People: No Different Flesh by Zenna Henderson, The Journal of Nicholas the American by Leigh Kennedy and A Billion Days of Earth by Doris Piserchia are all books I’ve heard of – in fact, they’ve all been reviewed once already on SF Mistressworks.

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I also collect fictional treatments of first landings on the Moon published before Apollo 11 – First on the Moon by Hugh Walters from 1960 is one such novel. The Testimony by James Smythe and The Serene Invasion by Eric Brown are both books I didn’t have and want to read.

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Finally, Paul Kincaid’s latest critical work, Call and Response.

As for Whippleshield Books… All three books of the Apollo Quartet were available in the dealers’ room throughout the con on the TTA Press table. I even sat behind the table for an hour with Jim Steel, so Roy could attend a programme item. We were not exactly mobbed. Over the entire weekend, I managed to sell around two dozen books, which was slightly better than I’d expected. I still had a 1.5 boxes of books to ship back home, however.

Next year’s Eastercon is in Heathrow, with Jim Butcher and Seanan McGuire as Guests of Honour. I doubt I’ll be going. I don’t like the site, and I’m not a fan of urban fantasy. I shall stay home and write something instead…


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So that was a World Fantasy Convention

While I rate a number of fantasy novels very highly, the genre is only about my fourth or fifth choice of reading material. So in the normal course of events a con devoted to fantasy doesn’t interest me much. Except, of course, that I’ll know quite a few people who’ll be there, and it’s one of the few opportunities I’ll get to see them IRL. Plus, this being a World Fantasy Con, there’ll also be several people present I wouldn’t normally get to meet face-to-face. Having said that, there may have been citizens/residents of 35 countries present at WFC, but it often felt like the “w” and the “r” were superfluous in the first word of the con’s name.

Anyway, fantasy or not, I bought my membership months ago, booked my hotel room, was ripped off by our railways – £93 for an open return! – and at the appointed time left home for Brighton. And this is how it went…

Thursday 31 October: catch tram to railway station with overnight bag and box full of copies of Adrift on the Sea of Rains and The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself to sell on the small press table in the WFC dealers’ room. I prefer to travel light, especially if the journey is going to take hours, but my books are never going to sell if I always leave them at home. End up sharing a table on the train to London with a woman and her three grandchildren (all under the age of twelve). To read on the train, I grabbed Michel Houellebecq’s Lanzarote. Should have known better: I read his Platform while returning home from a con and by the time I reached home the combination of British railways and Houellebecq’s misanthropy had me fuming. To make matters worse, Lanzarote includes several very graphic sex scenes, so have to hold the paperback in such a way only I can see the page. Fortunately, the colour photographs in the book depict the landscape of the titular island… It’s a relief to finish the book and start on Karen Joy Fowler’s The Sweetheart Season, which is much more appropriate train reading material…

The trip to Brighton is pretty painless. Change trains in St Pancras, get a seat on the one heading for the south coast, listen to music on the iPod, stare out of the window, read my book. There are some spectacularly ugly buildings in London. On arrival in Brighton, jump into a taxi and get driven to my hotel, the Best Western Brighton Hotel. Which claims to be one of the best hotel in the city. In the 1980s, perhaps. It is a bit rubbish. And in the tiny lift cabin, there is sign that reads “NO SMOKING ON THIS FLOOR”. Not sure how that works. After dumping my stuff, I head up the seafront to the con hotel, the Brighton Metropole, a 400-metre walk. This is only my second visit to Brighton, and my first experience of the Metropole. I register at the convention, and pick out my giveaway books from the table full of same. God’s War I already own so I ignore that. There’s a bande dessinée which looks interesting. PS Publishing have sealed their free books inside grey plastic envelopes, so it’s pot luck. Of course, I end up with Gwyneth Jones’s Grazing the Long Acre. Which I already have. (I give it away later.) I also grab David Tallerman’s Giant Thief… only to realise later he made me buy a copy of it at the SFX Weekender in 2012. The rest of the books look like epic fantasy, so I give them a miss.

Then it’s down to the bar in search of friendly faces, which I duly find. I pretty much spend the entire evening in there. I meet up with Liam Proven, who is kipping on my floor, and we go back to my hotel to dump his stuff (which includes lots of bottled ale). Later, a large party of us go for a meal at a seafront restaurant which features an opera singer. It’s nouvelle cuisine, which means it’s presented nicely but there isn’t much of it. The opera singing isn’t up to much either. But at least the company and conversation make up for both. Then it’s back to the hotel to continue drinking and chatting. I crash out at 12:30. When I look for my bag of giveaways, I can’t find it. Oh well. At one point, I am introduced to KW Jeter. After telling him how much I enjoyed his sf novels, I add that I’m not keen on “the schlocky horror books, like Mantis.” “Ah, Mantis,” he replies, ” my favourite novel.” Oops.

Friday 1 November: get up early so I can make it down for breakfast. No buffet. You chose one of three types of breakfast from a menu, they bring it you from the kitchen. I thought hotels stopped doing that twenty years ago. Not the best breakfast I’ve ever had. In fact, I don’t even bother breakfasting in the hotel for the rest of the weekend. I grab my box of Apollo Quartet books and head for the Metropole. It is pissing it down and I get wet. Make my way straight to the dealers’ room. It is pleasingly large. As well as the usual faces, there are several dealers from abroad, such as Australia’s Ticonderoga (hi, Russell) and Fablecroft. After setting out my books on Roy Gray’s Interzone/small press table, I bimble about the room but only purchase Lavie Tidhar’s Martian Sands and a copy of Keith Roberts’ Anita (which is priced much less than usual). The rest of the day is spent bouncing between bar and dealers’ room. I have a bottle of water with me, so I stick to drinking that. I don’t manage to get lunch. Apparently, there’s a second bar serving cheap food, but I never manage to find it. The Metropole is like a rabbit warren. The function space is enormous and quite a walk – up two separate flights of stairs – from the front of the hotel and the bar.

At one point in the dealer’s room, while chatting to a dealer who has a signed first edition of Dune for sale… for $7000… I’m approached by someone who wants me to sign something. It turns out to be a copy of the anthology Where Are We Going? I also later spot copies of Catastrophia and The Monster Book for Girls. There’s also another first edition of Dune for sale, but it’s unsigned. And only £3000. One dealer, Simon from Hyraxia Books, has quite a few rare genre first editions – the aforementioned unsigned Dune, plus a signed first of Neuromancer for £1200, a first of A Wizard of Earthsea for £750…

I spend the evening on a real ale pub crawl with Liam P, Charlie Stross, Feorag, Jain Fenn, Jetse de Vries and another couple of whose names I never catch. (And yet everyone wears badges at these conventions. But at least twice I go to speak to people thinking they are someone else.) I don’t remember the name of the first pub we visit, but it is quite a trek from the hotel. It is also large, busy, noisy and very warm… and I’m beginning to regret agreeing to come along. But then we find a table shortly after getting served, things quieten down and it gets much better. Our next pub is the Prince George, which serves vegan food and was chosen so we could eat there. I’m not vegan, but I’ll eat it – and it’s likely to have more dairy-free dishes for me to choose from than a non-vegan place. The beer is very nice – we’re drinking halves so we can try a number – and my falafel burger is good. We are supposed to move onto another pub, but Charlie needs to get back to the hotel, and I’ve had enough – as have two others. so we grab a taxi back to the Metropole. The other four apparently try one more pub and then return to the con. I stay in the bar until 3:30 am. Walking back to my hotel with Liam, we witness an altercation between a taxi driver and a young couple. The young man is dressed like a pirate.

Saturday 2 November: have a bit of a lie-in, don’t bother with breakfast, and head for the Metropole. Another day bouncing between the bar and the dealers’ room. And drinking water. I manage to get lunch this time – I order the soup of the day in the bar, after verifying it is dairy-free. It’s vegetable soup but I’ve no idea which vegetable. I buy a couple more books than the previous day: One Small Step, a women-only anthology published by Fablecroft Publishing, The God Stalker Chronicles by PC Hodgell, an epic fantasy about which I have heard many good things by people who are aware of my tastes, Aliette de Bodard’s On A Red Station, Drifting, and a Women’s Press paperback of Joanna Russ’s The Two of Them. I suspect I might have that last book but I forgot my wants list so I’m not sure. It turns out later I do have it. Though I see plenty of books I want to buy, especially ones where the con is my best chance of getting them at a reasonable price (and without postage & packing on top), I don’t want to  cart loads of books as well as my unsold copies of my own books back home.

Before the con, Maureen Kincaid Speller, Paul Kincaid and Jonathan McCalmont arranged a meet-up at a Brighton pub on the Saturday afternoon, but since I don’t have a smartphone I don’t know when or where. Happily, Alex Bardy does know and comes to ask me if I’m going. I say yes. In the hotel lobby, I spot Niall Harrison, Nic Clarke and David Hebblethwaite and ask them if they’re going. They say yes. The pub is located around the back of the hotel, a five-minute walk away. I spend the next few hours at “Pubcon”, and it’s probably the highlight of the weekend (you can actually hear yourself think in the pub, which is more than can be said of the hotel bar).

After a couple of hours in the pub, it’s back to the hotel for a party thrown by my agent for his clients and industry professionals. This is in a room at the top of the hotel with great picture windows. Everyone remarks on its likeness to an evil villain’s lair, but it’s dark out so you can’t see much. As I leave, an editor from Orbit sees me and says, “Ian Sales! I know you! You liked Ancillary Justice.” What price fame, eh? Then it’s along a very blowy seafront for the launch party for Lavie’s The Violent Century. This is in the tiny basement room of a pub. It is small, busy, hot and loud. I chat to a few people, have a bad pint of some real ale, can’t have any of the free food because dairy, and then head back to the Metropole. I’m hungry so I get a meal in the hotel restaurant. But it’s nouvelle cuisine again – two halves of a new potato and a pair of broccoli florets are not sufficient vegetables. Then there’s a Del Rey launch party in one of the bars, and a Jo Fletcher Books party in one of the function rooms. I spend the rest of the evening in one or the other. (The JFB one is bigger, but when Mitch Benn gets up on stage to sing it’s too close to filk for me so I make a run for it.) At one point, there is also “Corridorcon”, which is myself, Liam and David Tallerman chatting in one of the corridors, saying hello to people we know as they pass by. One of these is Jukka Halme, who stays to chat. We are talking about the recent Swecon, Fantastika, when I ask him if he knows Miikka, one of the Finns I met there. He laughs – I gather it’s a common name in Finland. Fortunately, I remember Miikka’s surname.

It is another late night. I’m mostly drinking the beer Liam has brought. He’s carrying it around in his rucksack, and for refills we go to the toilet to pour it into our glasses. At one point, I’m doing this for Simon Clark when I realise I’m getting odd looks from a man washing his hands. I recognise him as the bar manager. Oops.

Sunday 3 November: My last day at the con. I could have extended my hotel booking and stayed on until the following day, but I decide not to. I check out of my room, and head for the Metropole. The dealers’ room is closing at noon, so I have to get my stuff out. I am on my way out of the room when I get chatting to Brian Ameringen, and in the middle of the conversation spot he has a copy of Brian Aldiss’s Cracken at Critical, which is a book I want. My last book purchase of the weekend. Myself and Liam go for food at a café a few streets away that has been recommended. I have the all day breakfast – it’s basic but more than edible. I get a few blank looks when I ask about dairy-free. This prompts a conversation back in the hotel how gluten intolerance is widely- known, but lactose intolerance isn’t – despite 75% of the world’s population being lactose-intolerant to some degree, and coeliacs less than 1% of the population (by comparison left-handed people account for around 7%). I suspect this is because during the 1980s there was a fad in the US for gluten-free food as a dietary choice – even though it is no better or no worse for you than foods that contain gluten.

I’d originally planned to catch the 13:35 to London but with one thing another end up catching the 14:45. I run into Adrian Tchaikovsky in the Metropole lobby, and he’s about to leave too. But neither he nor Annie are ready and my taxi has just arrived. I see them again at the railway station, and point out to them the train to Bedford, which goes through St Pancras, is much more convenient for their change to King’s Cross. Their tickets read Victoria Station – it seems all train ticket websites assume you have to travel to Brighton from London Victoria (and vice versa)… unless you’re travelling north on East Midland Trains, who use St Pancras as their terminus. The train arrives, but Adrian and Annie are waiting for friends. I go grab seats, and sit there receiving dirty looks from those boarding because I have my bags on empty seats. But Adrian and Annie don’t make the train. Oh well. At St Pancras, I have plenty of time to catch a train home. Though they are cheaper, I’ve been caught out before buying tickets that are only valid on one train. Now I always buy open returns. It is worth the expense. As is becoming more frequent, the reservation system aboard the train has crashed. I don’t have a reserved seat but neither can I see which seats are not reserved. Turns out the one I chose is reserved. And I only learn this when there are no other seats left. So I end up standing until Market Harborough. I’m not the only one. And there are suitcases in the aisle too, making it difficult to get from one end of the coach to the other. At one point, a bloke turns up and finds his reserved seat occupied. He asks the bloke in it to move, but the bloke refuses. He claims the train staff said over the PA that since the reservation system is not working then all reservations are void. This is not true. Myself, I’d have poured my water all over the bloke in the seat. The guy whose seat it is has to go find somewhere else to sit. Dear British people, our railway net work is shit enough without you acting like knobs on the trains. If you are in a reserved seat, then vacate it for the person who has the reservation, even if the display above the seat is not working. Refusing to do so only makes you a total prick. When I reach Sheffield station, there’s a massive queue for the taxis. I eventually get home at 8:15 pm. The cat is glad to see me.

I thought WFC was a bit of a rubbish con but an excellent weekend. I wasn’t at all interested in the programme and missed it completely. I didn’t eat enough but drank too much. I’d liked to have bought more books. And sold more of my own books. I didn’t get to meet everyone I’d hoped to meet, but as well as hanging around with friends – Colum Paget introducing me to Hal Duncan: “Do you know Hal, Ian?” Me: “Yes, we’ve known each other for years.” Hal: “No, decades.” – I also met some people I only know online and some that were new to me. I couldn’t possibly name-check everyone I spoke to. I do remember lots of really interesting conversations. And lots of people asked me about Apollo Quartet 3, so I got to bore many people on the topic of the Mercury 13.

I had fun.


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Fantastika 2013

Back in April at the Eastercon in Bradford, Michael Cobley mentioned that a sf con in Sweden had invited himself and John Meaney as guests (though not as actual guests of honour). I’d always wanted to visit the country, so I said I’d go as well. I looked into it, and discovered there’d be a few other people I knew – both from cons and online – also attending, including one of the actual guests of honour, Lavie Tidhar. So I bought membership, booked my flight and hotel room, and the con even asked me to appear on a couple of programme items. Which I was happy to do.

The convention was called Fantastika, it was this year’s Swecon, and it took place in a suburb of Stockholm called Sickla.

I was originally going to write about the con in your usual con report format – a linear narrative, beginning with my arrival in Sweden, and ending with my return home. But a lot happened over the weekend, and it’d probably end up as TL;DR. So here’s a few of the more memorable incidents from Fantastika 2013 instead:

  • Agreeing to meet up with Lavie at Arlanda Airport so I could tag along to his signing at the SF Bokhandeln. But after waiting an hour in the airport concourse, he texts me that he’s already on the train, having been nabbed by his wrangler. So I make my own way to the book shop, wondering how we missed each other in the airport… only to learn later he landed at a different terminal.
  • The Arlanda Express is a modern, fast, electric train that runs every twenty minutes between the airport and Stockholm’s Centralstation. It also costs SEK 260 for a single.
  • Exiting Centralstation and discovering the map and directions I’d printed out from Google Maps were near useless. I had no idea where I was or where I needed to go. I figured out heading south was good… and when I came to water, I managed to get my bearings. From there, it was easy.
  • Stockholm is a lovely city. Very impressed.
  • After the signing, I travelled out to Sickla on the train with Jo Walton and Karin Tidbeck (the other GoHs), Lavie and Rebecka from the con committee. Lavie and I headed straight for the hotel to check in. As we approached it, a voice yelled out of a window, “I can hear you moaning from the second floor, Lavie!”. It was his agent, John Berlyne.
  • Lavie, John B and myself went for a meal later that evening in Urban Deli, a nearby delicatessen/supermarket/restaurant. I was impressed that the menu was colour-coded for gluten, lactose and peanut intolerances. Despite knowing that Sweden was expensive, I was still a little surprised by the SEK 710 bill.
  • The next day, I returned to the Urban Deli at lunch-time for a sandwich. They didn’t have any that were lactose-free, so the young woman behind the till happily fetched ingredients from around the shop to make one for me. Excellent service.
  • I had no intention of buying any books at the con, and after seeing the prices in the SF Bokhandeln was firm on that resolve. But Johan Anglemark pointed out that SAAM, a Swedish fan organisation, had brought along several thousand second-hand US and UK paperbacks for sale… at SEK 5 to SEK 15 each. I ended up coming home with seven books: five from Jo Clayton’s Diadem of the Stars series, a Mike Mars paperback, and a sf novel by a woman writer of the 1970s I’d never heard of, Gertrude Friedberg. (I also bought a copy of Karin’s collection, Jagannath: Stories, so she could sign it for me.)
  • Pretty much everyone in Stockholm uses their debit/credit card to buy things. Hardly anyone uses cash. I saw someone using  a card to buy a packet of crisps at a bar. I had taken cash with me; I ended up with half a ton of change in my pocket.
  • The people at the con were a lot friendlier and welcoming than I think would be the case at an equivalent-sized British con. I met loads of really nice people. I can’t remember everyone I spoke to, but as well as those mentioned earlier they included Steve, Emil, Miika, Nene, Anders, Thomas, Jon-Henri… and no doubt numerous others.
  • My first programme item was on at 10 pm on the Friday, which is the latest I’ve ever done a panel. The title was “Fantasy and sf worth reading”, and I think Lavie, Jo, moderator Linnéa Anglemark and myself managed to come up with a number of recent books worth reading. And yes, we did mention Ancillary Justice.
  • On the Saturday, Lavie, Mike C and John M were signing at the SF Bokhandeln, so I cadged a lift in with them, and spent an hour wandering around the old town. It was fascinating. But also really busy. A bit like York during the tourist season. Committee-member Ebba came with us and en route asked if we could pronounce the SF Bokhandeln’s address, Västerlånggatan. She said my pronunciation was “very elegant”. Not sure what that means.
  • Learning that the Swedish for “mushroom” is svamp. Which has to be the best word for fungi ever.
  • Mike C and the monster breakfast. (The hotel laid on the usual European buffet breakfast, and there was more than enough to choose from – even for me.)
  • I attended more programme items than I typically do at cons. Around half of the programme was in English. By the Sunday, I was timing how long into an item before Lavie mentioned Shimon Adaf’s name. And yet on the Sunday, in the one programme item in which Adaf was on-topic, “What sf is written outside the English speaking world?”, Lavie completely failed to mention him.
  • The con venue was excellent. The Dieselverkstaden is an old factory that has been converted into a library, cinema, climbing school, function space, bistro and coffee shop. It’s located in Sickla’s Köpkvarter, which is a massive retail park with a huge shopping centre. There was no shortage of places to buy coffee or food. (Although I never visited it, I was much amused by the name of a local Indian restaurant: Holy Cow.)
  • On the Sunday night, the dead dog party took place in a British-style pub nearer the city centre called the Bishop’s Arms. It took me four tries to order a Swedish beer called Rapa – must work on my accent.
  • On leaving the pub, after being given excellent directions by Anders, I led John B, Lavie and Icelandic author Emil Hjörvar Petersen to the Texas Long Horn steak house. Afterwards, John, Lavie and myself ended up walking all the way back to our hotel, which took almost an hour, through a mostly-deserted Stockholm. A somewhat odd end to the convention, but never mind.
  • The trip home went smoothly… right up until the moment I left Manchester Airport. The taxi to Stockholm’s Centralstation arrived early, so I ended up catching an earlier Arlanda Express to the airport. Which proved to be almost deserted. The flight was smooth, albeit a bit bumpy as we went over the Pennines. There was hardly any queue for passport control… And then I got to the railway station and had to wait an hour for a train. Which arrived early and sat at the platform for thirty minutes, but we weren’t allowed to board until five minutes before departure. The train was late leaving Manchester Piccadilly, so we ended up stuck behind a slow train… which resulted in a 15-minute delay. If you think the UK has a good railway network, you are either an idiot or you have never visited another country.

Fantastika 2013 was definitely worth every penny. I liked Stockholm a lot, the congoers were amazingly friendly, I had some really interesting conversations, the venue was excellent, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I’d definitely do it again.


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When I’m sixty-four

The Easter weekend in the UK traditionally sees around a thousand fans of science fiction, fantasy, horror and steampunk descend on a hotel somewhere in the country to discuss genre in all its forms, drink beer and generally socialise. They’ve been doing this since 1948 – but not the same group of people, obviously. This year, the Eastercon returned to the Cedar Court Hotel in Bradford, the site of 2009’s Eastercon LX. I remember Eastercon LX as a relaxed convention, and this year’s EightSquaredCon proved to be much the same. I had an excellent weekend, saw many old friends, met new ones, pretended to be erudite on a few programme items, bought a number of books, drank some beer, didn’t eat as much as I should have done, and, oh yes, I won a BSFA Award…

I’d planned to leave for Bradford around two pm on the Friday, but by lunchtime I was itching to go so I caught a train an hour earlier… which got me into Bradford around four pm. I had with me a suitcase full of copies of Adrift on the Sea of Rains and The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself, which fortunately had wheels, so I dragged it across City Square to the hotel in which I was staying, Jurys Inn. It proved to be one of those modern minimalist places – restaurant/bar and reception on the ground floor, seven floors of rooms, all very comfortable. After checking in, I texted Mike Cobley, who I knew was staying in the same hotel and due to arrive around the same time as me. We agreed to meet in the lobby, which we did, and where we sat around for about thirty minutes catching up on each others’ news while we waited for the bus to the Cedar Court Hotel.

Because the con hotel is outside the city centre, but doesn’t have enough rooms for all the attendees, most of us were staying in either the Jurys Inn or Midland Hotel in the centre of town, or the Campanile a five-minute bus-ride from the Cedar Court Hotel. The con had organised two sets of buses running between the town-centre hotels and the Campanile every 15 to 20 minutes.

We arrived in time for the small press launch in the hotel’s Conservatory. Both PS Publishing and NewCon Press had new titles, and some of them I wanted. The hour that followed was my most expensive of the weekend – I bought four titles at £20 each. I also got them signed, though the NewCon Press ones were signed editions.

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The books are all collections – The Peacock Cloak, Chris Beckett, and Microcosmos, Nina Allan, from NewCon Press; and A Very British History, Paul McAuley, and Universes, Stephen Baxter, from PS Publishing.

After the launches, it was down to the bar… which is where I spent most of the con, a not unusual state of affairs for me.

The following morning, I met up with Mike Cobley for breakfast, after which we went for a wander in a deserted Bradford city centre. We caught the bus to the Cedar Court Hotel, and I paid my first visit to the dealers’ room. I had a bunch of copies of Adrift on the Sea of Rains and The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself to drop off at the Interzone table (thanks, Roy), but I also had a bimble about the room.. Aside from the Friday night launch titles, I only bought secondhand books all weekend, and they were all by women writers.

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A selection of sf by women writers – two from The Women’s Press: Herland (donated by Kev McVeigh, thanks) and Woman on the Edge of Time. Both Walk to the End of the World and Star Rider are in The Women’s Press sf series, but these editions will do for now. O Master Caliban! has the horriblest cover art I’ve seen for a long time. Change The Sky And Other Stories is a, er, collection.

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I’d have missed these if Mark Plummer hadn’t pointed them out to me, as they were squirrelled away in a box – the three female-only anthologies edited by Pamela Sargent from the 1970s, Women of Wonder, More Women Of Wonder and The New Women of Wonder. And Millennial Women, which was a new one to me.

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Three by Marta Randall, including the first two books of a trilogy – Journey and Dangerous Games – and her second novel, A City in the North. Plus Sarah Newton’s Mindjammer, which was self-published and is set in the RPG universe of the same name designed by Sarah.

That afternoon, Mike and I were moderating a programme item on designing a constitution for a Mars Colony. I’d agreed to co-chair in a fit of stupidity, as I had absolutely no idea what to say. I’d provide some technical background, but that was as much thought as I’d put into it. The item started, Mike went into his introduction, I spoke a little about the technical challenges, and then Mike started talking about politics… and I could see we were starting to lose the audience. So I mentioned something Mike and I had actually thought of as we were climbing the stairs to the room where the item was taking place. And that triggered off a discussion which lasted for over an hour. I don’t think we reached any specific conclusions, but people seemed to have had an interesting time.

That evening, my agent John Jarrold threw his now-traditional party for clients and publishers. That was fun. I had intended to avoid the wine and just stick to beer, but I ended up having a couple of glasses without any ill effect. I ate in the hotel that night. As they had done in 2009, the con hotel laid on a canteen-style eaterie all weekend. The food was basic and a bit bland, but it was also cheap and filling. I never actually managed to get out of the hotel to eat, which was a pity.

Sunday I was on two programme items, and the first one was at ten am. The subject was “Older women in genre fiction”, moderated by Caroline Mullan, and including GoH Freda Warrington, as well as Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, David Tallerman and myself. I thought the panel went reasonably well, though none of us could think of many genre novels with an older woman as the protagonist – but Freda did mention her Midsummer Night, which qualified.

Before my second programme item of the day was the BSFA Awards ceremony. I sat on the front row, alongside fellow short fiction shortlistees Aliette de Bodard and Rochita. Paul Cornell emceed the ceremony entertainingly, but I don’t think he expected to get quite as much laughter as he did when he explained that, “BSFA… that’s what you get when you put BS together with FA”. GoH Anne Sudworth then presented the best artwork prize, which went to the cover for Jack Glass, and Freda presented best non-fiction, which was won by the World SF Blog. And then GoH Edward James took the stage to announce the winner of the short fiction category… I was so sure one of the others would win that it took a second or two to realise it was my name Edward had read out. And I hadn’t bothered to make any notes on what to say should I win. I did have a speech in my pocket, but it was by Karen Burnham, to be used in the event she won the non-fiction category. The best novel BSFA Award then went to Adam Roberts’ Jack Glass. Stephen Baxter was presenting this; he had also been asked by Adam to accept it on his behalf. Which led to a slightly surreal sketch in which Steve both presented and accepted the award.

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I then had to dash straight upstairs for a panel on Joanna Russ vs Anne McCaffery. Again, Caroline Mullan moderated, and the panel comprised Tanya Brown, Bob Neilsen and myself. When it came to doing our introductions, I said that for a week or two I’d be introducing myself as “the award-winning Ian Sales”… I have read a handful of books by both Russ and McCaffery, and I’d have preferred to have been better read in both… but given the way the discussion went it didn’t prove any handicap. There was plainly a lot of love for McCaffery in the room, and I was frequently Russ’s lone defender. I think the eventual conclusion was that Russ’s more cerebral work might have longer staying power than McCaffery’s more emotional oeuvre.

Then it was down to the bar, where I didn’t have to buy a drink all night. I caught the last bus back to my hotel at one am. It had been a good day…

… And I felt fine when I woke the next morning. Admittedly, the thermostat in my room had been misbehaving all weekend, and randomly resetting the temperature to 30 C. Which had led to some bizarrely hot nights. But I was the first in the hotel to make it down to breakfast, then I went for a walk, and then I caught the first bus to the Cedar Court Hotel… Colin Tate of Clarion Publishing had mentioned the day before there was a small press showcase in the Conservatory from 10 am to noon, and he was leaving early and so wouldn’t be able to use the table he’d booked. I was welcome to it. So I used it. I set out copies of my books alongside Sarah Newton and her sf novel Mindjammer. Also present were the Albedo One group, and Tony and Barbara Ballantyne and their new serial genre magazine Aethernet. It was freezing cold in the Conservatory, but I stuck it out and managed to sell some books.

By this point, the con was already winding down. I got a bite to eat and then just hung around in the foyer with friends until it was time to make a move.

I liked Bradford as a venue the last time the Eastercon was there, despite the split hotel thing; and I enjoyed this convention very much too. It was relaxed – somewhat colder than is usual, true; but very friendly and sociable. I saw many old friends and got to meet in person some people I knew only online. I’d need to take notes to recall all the conversations I had, the topics ranged from death metal to reviews of our own books to Chris Beckett’s fashion sense (sorry, Chris), and all points in between. Some names I remember speaking with at some length, in no particular order: John Jarrold, Neil Williamson, Gary Gibson, Mike Cobley, David Hebblethwaite, Leisel Schwartz, Cory Doctorow, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Cara Murphy, Kev McVeigh, Will and Jenny, the Ballantynes, Gillian Redfearn, Darren Nash, Roy Gray, Helen Jackson, Nina Allan, Donna Scott, Neil Bond, Alex Bardy, Johan Anglemark, Eric Brown, Paul Graham Raven, Paul Cockburn, David Tallerman, Jobeda Ali, Sarah Newton, Chris Beckett, Aliette de Bodard, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, Simon Ings, Paul McAuley, Phil Palmer, Simon Morden, Ian Watson, Andy Stubbings, Chris Amies, Jim Burns, Colin Tate, Brian Turner, Steve Baxter… and no doubt I’ve forgotten some people. Sorry.

For all that, I think I came away from EightSquaredCon with a desire to do more at conventions. Sitting around in the bar all day is not as much fun as it once was. I could attend programme items, of course; and this time I sat through one panel I wasn’t on, which is almost a record for me. While cons are social events, and an excellent opportunity to hang out with friends you don’t otherwise see, we interact daily online anyway so no real catching up needs to be done. The internet has changed the nature of friendship in that respect. I spend every day with my friends on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc, etc, and while they’re no real substitute for meeting IRL, they do make something less special of the infrequent times you do meet in person. And that was what cons used to be for. (Perhaps if I lived in London, and regularly attended events there, the same effect would apply – and would have applied prior to the World Wide Web.)

Anyway, EightSquareCon. A good con. Now I have to wait twelve months for the next one. Which will be in Glasgow, a city I’ve always liked. Roll on Satellite 4


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Postcard from the edge-lit

Once upon a time there was a one-day genre convention at the Assembly Rooms in Derby. Then it moved across the square to the Quad, a cinema complex. Then it stretched to two days. Then it moved cities to Leicester.

And left behind in the Quad a little baby convention called Edge-Lit.

Edge-Lit is pretty much what alt.fiction was back when it was a one-day convention in the Quad. It followed a similar format: two programme streams, workshops and readings; and, of course, the venue was as before. I’m not an especially big fan of the Quad, although its city-centre location is certainly convenient. But the bar/café gets extremely noisy, and there’s two flights of stairs between the bar and the programme items. Still, it’s almost a local con for me – thirty minutes on the train – and it’s a good chance to catch up with people I don’t see very often.

The trip to Derby was uneventful. On arriving at the Quad, I’d forgotten the annoyingly stupid checking-in procedure – you have to get your ticket – bought online – from the ticket desk, and then go upstairs and register with the convention. You’d think they’d have the two together. The first friendly face I spotted was Roy Gray, master of the Interzone desk in the dealers’ room. So I dumped two-dozen copies of Adrift on the Sea of Rains on him to sell, also said hello to Terry Martin of Murky Depths, and then headed down to the bar. Where I ran into Rocket Science contributor Colum Paget and Steve Poore, a member of the writing group I used to belong to.

I spent the rest of the day in the bar, with occasional trips up to the dealers’ room. This is not unusual behaviour for me at a convention. I did make one programme item: “Have the Limits of SF become blurred?”, with Jaine Fenn, Justina Robson and John Jarrold. Though the talk was interesting I don’t recall it reaching a conclusion. I also attended the raffle. I’d bought some tickets, but Roy also gave me his. The last time he did that, I won several prizes – and, on that occasion, since he’d left I kept them for myself. This time I won nothing. Sarah Pinborough and Lee Harris emceed, and Sarah was on fine form, with her self-censor firmly in off-mode.

I bought a pair of books – Carmen Dog by Carol Emshwiller (The Women’s Press edition, of course), and Wolfsangel by MD Lachlan, which Mark then signed for me (I suspect Mark has the worst signature of any author I’ve met). I wanted to buy a copy of Principles Of Angels so Jaine could sign it, but there were none to be had in the dealers’ room.

I can’t remember every conversation I had, though I do recall that some of the topics were pretty weighty, particularly a discussion with Colum on, among other things, the rambutan as emblematic of exotification in The Windup Girl. I also ran into someone I’d corresponded with many many years ago – he used to edit a magazine called Sierra Heaven, which published a story by me; you can find it here. It’s always good to catch up with people.

I’d liked to have stayed for the quiz at 9 pm, but I had a train to catch. As it was, I didn’t get home until 10:30. I was quite looking forward to a kebab as I’d had nothing to eat but a plate of chips all day. But the kebab shop was shut. At 10:30 on a Saturday night. I’ve no idea how that place makes money – it’s usually empty and the portions are extremely generous. So I made myself egg and chips, watched a bit of Download 2012 on telly and thought myself fortunate I wasn’t there (and it’s not like I actually like most of the bands performing there anyway).

And that was Edge-Lit.

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