I always come home from conventions feeling mentally refreshed but physically drained. It’s the near-constant input of ideas in conversations and programme items. And so too – in part – for alt.fiction in Derby this weekend just gone. This year’s was the fifth alt.fiction, but the first time it has stretched over two days. It was also my fifth alt.fiction, and I thought it worked well as a weekend event.
I am not, I admit, the target market for alt.fiction. It’s the workshops which draw most of those who attend, and they don’t interest me. The general programme is usually of more interest, though being a fan primarily of sf I don’t bother with the fantasy and horror items. Unfortunately, this year the item which appealed most was on at 10:00 am on the Saturday, and I didn’t time my arrival appropriately. One item I did attend was Al Reynolds’ GoH speech. He said at one point during it that, in common with a lot of writers he’s spoken to, he had a period of childhood illness, and it was the enforced inactivity of that which prompted his love of books and reading. I wonder how true that is. It’s certainly not what happened to me. I was ill several times as a kid, with the usual diseases: chicken pox, measles, German measles… But I’d been a voracious reader from a really early age (and before discovering science fiction, it was mostly books about marine mysteries, such as the Marie Celeste).
I dragged Al Reynolds and Keith Brooke along to the raffle, promising them it was worth attending to hear Guy Adams in full flow. I’d seen him MC the raffle at Fantasycon last year, and very entertaining he was. I also won some books. At alt.fiction, the raffle was presented by a double act comprising Guy Adams and Sarah Pinborough; and they were indeed highly entertaining. And I won some books too. A cardboard box full of Angry Robot’s releases to date in 2011, in fact. I gave away several to friends – while the new editions of KW Jeter’s steampunk novels, Infernal Devices and Morlock Night, are very attractive books, I already have earlier editions of both. And some of the fantasy or horror novels simply don’t appeal to me. But Dan Abnett’s Embedded definitely looks like it’s worth reading (I asked him to sign it for me). The other books were: a Kaaron Warren; Guy Adams; the third book of Andy Remic’s Clock Vampires series; a couple of urban fantasies; the second book of Ian Whates’ City of 100 Rows; Aliette de Bodard’s Servant of the Underworld (which I bought at the Eastercon); and some others. I also received a copy of Lavie Tidhar’s The Bookman in my registration pack, but gave that away as I’d bought a copy at the Eastercon.
In the year since the last alt.fiction, the coffee shop / bar in the forum of the QUAD had been refurbished. Before it’d had soft sofas and low tables; now it has 4-seater tables more suited for a coffee shop / restaurant. Unfortunately, this meant that the room now contained only flat surfaces, and so the acoustics were terrible. When the place was full, you could barely hear the person next to you for the background noise. Which, of course, did not stop us talking.
I’m not going to be able to name everyone I spoke to over the weekend, but it was good to catch up with some people I’d not seen for a while, to meet in person for the first time some people I know only online, and to meet people I’ve never met before. I spoke a lot, and some people actually listened to me. I also listened to lots of people speaking. I don’t think the ideas bank was quite as well stoked afterwards as it was at the Eastercon, but then the nature of the conversations at alt.fiction, a writing-oriented convention, are sure to be different anyway. To be honest, it’s only a day later and I can’t remember many of the conversations I had. But they were all good, interesting and enjoyable, and if I was in the habit of name-dropping I’d thank all those I chatted to by name.
I caught the train home on the Sunday evening feeling tired and brain-dead. The following morning, the day felt weirdly silent as I travelled to work – since the previous two days had been so filled with noise and conversation. I don’t think I heard more than a dozen words spoken from the time I awoke until the moment I arrived at the office and sat down at my desk. I think the world will continue to feel strangely quiet for another day or so. Perhaps we should adopt that as a standard of a convention’s success? Certainly, using it alt.fiction can be said to have succeeded very well.