It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

… it just has to sound plausible


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The wrong side of the Pennines

Eastercon this year took place in Manchester, on the other side of the Pennines. I very much prefer Eastercons when they’re outside London, and even more so when they’re relatively close – and Mancunicon was only 55 minutes away by train. Having said all that…

Every Eastercon begins with travel woes, and Mancunicon was no exception. I’d booked a taxi in plenty of time to take me to the station, giving me 40 minutes before my train left. But at the time the minicab was supposed to arrive, it didn’t. And continued not to arrive… until eventually appearing 15 minutes before my train was due. This was because the current minicab operating model has a central dispatching office put out jobs for drivers to bid on. And if they don’t receive any bids, or don’t accept any of those they do receive, then you don’t get a taxi. And they don’t bother to tell you. This is not helpful. The cab driver who eventually turned up told me he’d bid on the job earlier but his bid had been rejected – otherwise he’d have arrived much sooner.

As it was, I managed to make train, although it was close. The trip was uneventful, and I then had a ten-minute walk to my hotel. Not normally a bad thing. But it was a warm day, I was wearing a coat and carrying a box of Whippleshield Books to sell. So I was knackered and soaking wet by the time I made it to my hotel room. I then met up with Tobias, who’d flown over from Stockholm, and we headed across to the Hilton Deansgate, the con venue. I sort of liked the hotel, but I’m not convinced it was an especially good con hotel. Most of the programme rooms were far too small, meaning you had to get to them really early to get a seat. The dealers were split across two rooms, which didn’t work. The hotel had only three lifts, which meant there was a queue when people wanted to head up to the twenty-second floor for book launches in the Presidential suite (which was itself too small). There was no place to sit down and relax – one  bar was pretty much standing-only, the other was laid out like a coffee-shop. And the snack food provided during the con was disgusting.

On the plus-side, the location was excellent – lots of shops and eateries within easy walking distance. And even a museum of science and technology… which I didn’t visit. And a cinema. Given better use of the Hilton Deansgate’s conference facilities – and some comfy chairs in the mezzanine bar – it would make a really good venue. Having said that, Mancunicon was a victim of its own success. I was told they’d expected 700 to 800 attendees, but actually had 950 people over the weekend. It was certainly busy a lot of the time.

I made, as is my usual practice, less than a handful of programme items. I was on one – on space opera, ‘The Stars Are Your Canvas’, with Mike Cobley, Tom Toner, Alison Sinclair, Jo Zebedee and Gavin Smith. I think the panel went well enough, although in hindsight we didn’t actually interrogate our subject much, and by the end it had turned into a bit of a nostalgia fest for certain space opera properties… Ah well. Then there were the BSFA Awards (congrats to the winners)… Oh, and I made the NewCon Press book launch in the Presidential suite too. But the highlights of the weekend were, as ever, meeting up with friends, and those free-wheeling conversations you have in the afternoons while you’re sat round a table – including one discussion on neurology, theology and Game Theory with Simon Morden and Alex Lamb; another on the various media adaptations of Dune with Adrian Tchaikovsky; not to mention all those “catch-up conversations” you have with friends that aren’t really catching-up because you know pretty much what they’ve been up to since you last saw them thanks to Twitter and Facebook status updates… Of course, there’s also meeting new people. Which I did. And seeing many people I’d not seen for many years…

Oh, and for the record, the Traveller identity card I mentioned during the space opera panel? Here it is:

patent

I also mentioned Judgment Night, the Valerian and Laureline series, The Communist Manifesto and a coin that’s flown around the Moon:

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I didn’t do so well on the social front, and went to be early on all three nights. I’d developed a bad back about a month ago, and all that standing around wasn’t do it any good. As usual, I also ate badly during the day, thanks to the poor choices available (such as the aforementioned disgusting con food). On the Sunday, I nipped to a nearby Sainsbury’s and bought lunch there. I wish I’d done it on the previous two days. Twice, I had dinner in the hotel restaurant. The food was pretty good. On the Saturday night, a group of us went to a nearby Indian restaurant. The food was good, but it was a bit too loud in there (a birthday party on the mezzanine, apparently).

I want to like Mancunicon more than I did. I think the two things that spoiled it for me were pain from my back and the somewhat feeble dealers’ room. I bought three books at the con; I usually come back with a carrier-bag full. In the past, I’ve spent hours browsing the books in the dealers’ room, but that took all of five minutes at Mancunicon. I suspect I was also hoping it would be more of a relaxacon, with places to chill out; and while many of the programme items looked interesting, the faff in actually getting a seat in the rooms put me off even trying. None of which is to say Mancunicon was a badly-organised Eastercon. On the contrary, it did extremely well – especially when you consider it was a rescue bid.

(Speaking of which, 2017’s Eastercon in Cardiff collapsed, but a rescue bid in Birmingham was announced at Mancunicon: Innominate at the Hilton Metropole at the NEC, GoHs Pat Cadigan, Judith Clute and Colin Harris. And 2018’s Eastercon will be Follycon in Harrogate, with GoHs Kieron Gillen, Kim Stanley Robinson, Nnedi Okorafor and Christina Lake.)

Oh well, perhaps I’ve been spoiled. Archipelacon is going to take a lot of beating. I did quite well with my own books (and I’m eternally grateful to Roy Gray for having them on the TTA table). It always surprises me – in a good way, of course – when people come up to me and say nice things about them I was hoping I wouldn’t have to carry a box full of Whippleshield Books back home, and happily I sold just over half of those I took with me. (The books are, of course, still available from the Whippleshield Books website here.)

In summary, a middling-to-good Eastercon for me. Mostly my fault – but also partly because the venue didn’t quite work as a con hotel. I wish I could say I came home fizzing with ideas and enthusiasm for writing projects… but I didn’t. I left at lunch-time on the Monday – it was absolutely hammering it down and I didn’t fancy walking to the station but a friend planned to order a cab… The journey home went without a hitch, and the cat at least was happy to see me and spent a good five minutes telling me off for disappearing on him. I did tell him but… Anyway, Birmingham next year – and I remember the hotel from the 2011 Eastercon… A good venue, but expensive and miles from anywhere, I seem to recall. But that’s twelve months away…


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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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