The title of this post is the text of a, er, text I sent to a friend on the Monday morning of Olympus 2012, this year’s annual Eastercon in the Radisson Edwardian Hotel, Heathrow, London. The Eastercon is one of the major events in British science fiction, but this year’s was especially so for me as I was launching two books: the anthology Rocket Science, and my novella, Adrift on the Sea of Rains.
Mark Harding, Mutation Press supremo, arrived at my place on Thursday night with boxes of Rocket Science. He stayed overnight and the following morning, after making my Breakfast of Champions (Vegetarian Edition), we drove to Morrison’s to buy wine for the Rocket Science launch and comestibles to consume en route, and then headed onto the M1. The journey was relatively painless, though when we hit the M25, traffic ground to a halt. In fact, it took us an hour to travel the twenty miles along the M25 from the M1 to the M4. We reached the Radisson Edwardian Hotel around two-ish.
I checked in and registered, and headed up to my hotel room to dump my bag. I’d forgotten what a labyrinth the Radisson Edwardian is. It didn’t help that I used the wrong lifts and ended up having to walk a couple of miles to find my room. Then it was down to the bar to find any familiar faces. I spent the rest of the afternoon alternating between the bar and the dealers’ room. I bought beer, I bought books. I talked with old friends, I met new friends. This is what you do at a convention. I didn’t attend any programme items that day. I always tell myself I will, and then fail to do so.
Back in 2008, the main bar was called the Polo Lounge, but it has since been remodelled and renamed the Bijou Bar. It has silver wallpaper. It was like sitting inside a birthday present. The staff were slow and mostly useless, and the drinks were expensive. On the Friday afternoon, I saw Sarah Pinborough buy a large glass of wine… it cost her £11. On the Saturday night, I bought a friend a vodka and coke and that cost £9.75. The staff routinely put a 12.5% optional service charge on all drinks bought. One pint I was served in the Atrium Bar had too much of a head so I asked the barman to top it up. He poured the entire pint away and poured a new one into the glass.
On the Friday night, a large group of us headed to a nearby Indian restaurant. A table for fourteen had been booked, but we were three over that number. So those three sat at another table. They ordered their food, received it, ate it, paid and left… before the rest of us had even received our food. Because it took two hours, I ended up having to wolf down my chicken saag (creamed spinach, not leaf), and dashing back to the hotel for John Jarrold’s party. He had laid on wine, and since I hadn’t had time to get a beer for myself, I started drinking that.
At some point during the night – I think it was about four am, after I’d been asleep for several hours – I apparently took a wrong turn after coming out of my en suite bathroom. And found myself in the corridor. Wearing my pyjamas. So I had to walk down to reception and get a new keycard. The first one they gave me didn’t work, so I had to go back down again. Perhaps they did it deliberately.
The Saturday was better. I had a proper look round the dealers’ room, and bought a number of books. In the afternoon, I was on a panel, How Not To Suppress Women’s Writing, with Amy McCulloch, Tricia Sullivan, Penny Hill, and moderated by Juliet McKenna. The preparation Juliet had done was awesome. I thought the panel went well, and from comments afterwards I understand others did too.
Saturday night, a group of us went to the restaurant attached to the Pheasant Pub. What a bizarre place. It’s like someone’s attic, but constructed of lots of little mezzanines and staircases and platforms. Happily, the food is excellent, and the service was very good. Back at the hotel, we stayed in the bar and talked. I lasted until about one am before calling it a night. At one point, I was approached by Amanda Rutter, who admitted she’d undergone something of an epiphany that day and was keen to get involved with SF Mistressworks. Since she prefers fantasy more than science fiction, I suggested she start up a sister site covering that genre. And so she has – Fantasy Mistressworks. Later, Michaela Staton decided that more recent sf novels by women writers should not be forgotten. And so she’s set up Daughters of Prometheus, a blog for reviews of twenty-first century sf by women writers.
I did not lock myself out of my hotel room that night.
Sunday was my big day – the Rocket Science launch, and then a couple of hours later, moderating a panel about the anthology. Breakfast was a joke. They put people in a corner of the restaurant, and then waiters stood around doing nothing, preventing you from getting to the food or returning to your table.
I always feel like a fraud standing up in front of a room full of people and talking – especially after seeing Juliet McKenna moderate the How Not to Suppress Women’s Writing so superbly. Fortunately – or, on reflection, perhaps not – we had brought that wine. So I did my spiel, I mentioned the Guardian review, and then introduced the writers who were reading excerpts: Iain Cairns, Deborah Walker, David L Clements, CJ Paget, Stephen Gaskell and Martin Mc Grath. Nigel Brown was also present but not reading. Afterwards, there was a massive rush to the front and we sold – and signed – lots of copies. I’m rubbish at signing – my signature is different every time, and the only thing I could think to write was “Enjoy!” We later worked out we’d sold about eighty copies of Rocket Science throughout the weekend, and about half that of Adrift on the Sea of Rains. We’ve already put in a second order with the printers for more copies of Rocket Science.
At 3 pm, I moderated ‘The Science of Rocket Science’. I’d not done any preparation for it as I was hoping the other members of the panel would do all the work – David L Clements, Martin McGrath, Deborah Walker and Iain Cairns. Happily, they did. The panel went well, and several members of the audience came up to us afterwards to chat about the topics covered. We even sold some more copies of the book.
Unfortunately, because of those programme items – and the BSFA Awards at 6 pm – I didn’t get much opportunity to eat, and ended up having a small bowl of chips in the Bijou Bar. It wasn’t enough.
The less said about the BSFA Awards ceremony the better. It was like watching a slow motion car crash – just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, it did. And then more so. Chris Priest’s acceptance speech after The Islanders won almost made up for it. (Given the response to Meaney’s presentation, I am somewhat mystified by the inclusion of Leviathan Wakes on the Hugo shortlist…)
I was disappointed SF Mistressworks didn’t win, but I’d been pretty sure the SF Encyclopedia would take the award anyway. And so it did. Afterwards, I stayed in the Atrium Bar (mostly) talking to people and having a good time. A group of us did go to the panel on steampunk and colonialism, but I found it disappointing. I spoke to someone afterwards who told me Nisi Shawl is currently working on a steampunk novel. I’m not a fan of the genre, but from the description given her book did sound really interesting.
I’m not going to name-check everyone I spoke to. I’m sure to miss some, for a variety of reasons. But the conversations were fun and interesting, though less centred around writing than I recall from other cons. I never quite felt on top form throughout the weekend, but I think I managed to get away with it on a few occasions.
My last experience of the Radisson Edwardian was not a happy one. I was there for the Eastercon in 2008, spent more money crossing London than I did getting to the city, and that spoiled my mood for the con. So much so, in fact, that I didn’t go when the Eastercon returned there in 2010. And I’d have stayed at home this year if it hadn’t been for the Rocket Science launch. But I went and, despite my dislike of the hotel, I had a good time. Probably too much of a good time. As Neil Williamson has said, it was like a normal Eastercon but turned up to 11. Too much of everything. Except food. I could have done with more food (but being lactose intolerant makes that more of a problem than it should be).
Mark and I left on the Monday after lunch. The drive home took a little longer than expected as we encountered a monsoon on the M1. Happily, we survived it. Once we’d got to my flat, Mark decided to continue on up to his home in Scotland, rather than kip over as he had done on the way down to London.
Since I’d travelled to the Eastercon by car, I’d imagined I’d buy lots more books that usual. After all, I wouldn’t have to worry about carting them home on public transport. I ended up buying twenty, many of them hardbacks. I actually found it difficult to find stuff I really wanted, though it was one of the cheapest dealers’ rooms I can remember. Anyway, here is the complete haul:
These paperbacks are for review on SF Mistressworks: Time Future, Maxine McArthur; Extra(Ordinary) People, Joanna Russ; Passing for Human, Jody Scott; Islands, Marta Randall; Starshadows, Pamela Sargent; Star-Anchored, Star-Angered, Suzette Haden Elgin; and the first two books of Jo Clayton’s Diadem series, Diadem from the Stars and Lamarchos.
And these ones I’ll read and review for Daughters of Prometheus: Homecalling And Other Stories, Judith Merril; The Maquisarde and The Child Goddess by Louise Marley; and Watermind, MM Buckner.
Some paperbacks by male sf writers. Well, one hardback and some paperbacks. But the hardback was as cheap as a paperback. The Helix and the Sword by John C McLoughlin was recommended by someone on LibraryThing. Wildeblood’s Empire is the third of Brian Stableford’s Daedalus Mission sextet. And I’ve no idea why I keep on buying Sutton’s novels as they’re early 1960s trash sf – perhaps it’s the covers.
Some hardbacks. Justice City is for the Compton collection. Einstein’s Question actually has equations in it, though it’s a novel. I couldn’t resist it. As for Osama, well, if we don’t reward Lavie Tidhar for writing books like Osama, he’ll only write the steampunk ones. And I’ve been a fan of Ian Watson’s sf for years, so a new collection is always welcome.
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April 10, 2012 at 5:26 pm
Good to see you at Heathrow, and very pleased the launch went well.
We have issues with this hotel. Two years ago, they lost our (admittedly late) reservation. This year, they couldn’t find us and for a while I feared I’d forgotten to reserve a room. Then they said “yes, we have you here” and then booked us in – and gave us the keys to another guest’s room with a similar name. It turned out that when they’d checked that other guest in, they’d erroneously ticked our name off the system.
We had breakfast problems, too. As neither me nor Cathy are particularly Morning People, we prefer to have our own table at breakfast instead of a communal breakfasting event. So we headed early (at great personal expense!)to the main Brasserie, where we were given to believe that we could take breakfast. In the past, we’ve had difficulty there, with hotel staff barring convention members from that venue. So on Day One we went in mufti and denied we were convention members. Result! Day Two, they’d rumbled us but we argued our way in. (“The food’s the same there” they tried to tell us. We knew that. “That gentleman has walking difficulties.” Yes, but the Brasserie is two-thirds empty.) Then we complained to the con organisers, who told us that the hotel had been instructed not to exercise this sort of apartheid. On Day Three, they made a token effort to get us to go to the communal area, but capitulated if faced with the slightest opposition.
So, front of house staff were not hugely effective. Housekeeping and security staff were great, friendly and helpful, however. Workers’ management, anyone?
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