Of Worldcons And Other Matters

As promised, David’s sent along an update from Worldcon. Sounds like a blast — wish I could’ve been there. Full text after the break.



Of Worldcons And Other Matters

Okay, I did promise to blog during the World Science Fiction Convention, but sheer exhaustion kept me from the task. Travelling across London in packed trains – Highbury to Stratford (with a ten minute wait), to Canning Town, to Prince Regent and back – ain’t no fun, and after a day spent wandering about the gigantic aircraft hangar that’s the ExCel centre, I had little energy for anything when I got back here. Mike (Cobley) was staying with us for the duration, and he can vouch for how tiring it all was. Oh, and if you haven’t read Mike’s books then do. It’s big screen space opera of an intelligent and humane kind. The Humanity’s Fire trilogy.

So. What can I say? I both enjoyed and didn’t enjoy it – it all depended on what time of day it was, what was happening about me, and lots of other factors. I didn’t watch as many panels as I planned, but I did meet a lot of old writer friends, and even got to shake hands with George R R Martin. Of which more later.

Highlight of it all was doing my hour and a half long panel with Brian Aldiss on the Sunday – with me basically throwing questions at him and letting him tell the packed room anecdote after anecdote. That was just great fun, and I don’t think I’ve heard an audience laugh so much for years. Brian is 89 now, but you wouldn’t believe it. He’s still as sharp as a pin and tells the most wonderful stories, always with a hilarious punch-line. And what did we talk about? His time in Burma as a young man; science fiction in the fifties (and his friendship with Kingsley Amis); New Worlds and Mike Moorcock; and more, much more. And at the end we kept the next item waiting a good fifteen minutes as Brian signed everything in sight!

Talking of signings, I went to mine with the usual author-like belief that if one man and his dog turned up I’d be lucky. Only… I got to my signing station, pulled out my seat and looked up to find… a queue! A good couple of dozen fans, not including the dealers, who stood waiting with their suitcases full of old and rare editions. So thanks guys.

Believe it or not, my old friend Mike Cobley kicked off the whole convention at ten o’clock on Thursday, where he stepped in to chair a Tolkein Society session, acting as moderator and keeping the panel on track whenever it seemed likely to drift. It was a good start.

Not so hot was Friday morning’s offering, ‘Constructing Genre History’, a slow-paced and unfocused panel. I count myself a genre historian, having written half a Hugo-winning text book on the subject, and unfortunately there was nothing new put forward here. What I’d argue is that so long as no one has written either a new history or has extended TRILLION YEAR SPREE, we’re not going to have any real sense of where Science Fiction has been these last 25 years. I’d volunteer for the job, only… I’ve not got ten years of my life to spare reading up on all the new authors and genre movements. No. I’ve got CHUNG KUO to finish before that.

The best panel I went to was one which had Cory Doctorow and Kim Stanley Robinson on it – THE PLEASURES OF A GOOD, LONG INFO-DUMP – taking part in a big hall that must have held three hundred, maybe even four hundred fans. Now I’ve not always got on with Mr. Robinson in the past, but I take my hat off to the man. He talks intelligently and well…., very erudite and amusing. It was a genuinely thought -provoking panel, with Kim Stanley and Cory Doctorow playing off each other’s ideas. It was great stuff. Exactly what you pay your money for.

A lot of the convention, however, was spent bumping into old friends or eating massive lunches from the Fine Chicken Company, whose barbecued chicken I heartily recommend.

Oh, and coffee… endless coffee.

The friends? Gary and Annette Kilworth. Lisa Tuttle. Chris Evans. Chris Priest. Ian McDonald. Andy Sawyer. Leroy Kettle. Oh, and more…

The thing was, there were lots of panels that, from the programme, looked attractive, and very often they clashed. An example?  Governing The Future – Thursday 16.30, running against The Retrovision of JJ Abrams, at the same time, and clashing with Ideology versus Politics in Science Fiction.

This happened time after time, through every day, with often 15 to 20 programme items there to be chosen from. You might call this an embarrassment of riches, but it was actually a bloody nuisance. There was simply no way you could get to see all the things you wanted to.

Anyway. What else did I get to see? One item I didn’t want to miss was Guest of Honour, Malcolm Edwards’ interview session with Chris Evans and Stephen Baxter – two writers Malcolm has edited in the past. It was a good overview (with on screen pictures) of Malcolm’s life in science fiction publishing – mainly with Gollancz. It interested me, because I was there for a great part of it, in the side-lines, so to speak. Malcolm gave me my first job in SF, reading the SF slush-pile for Gollancz and writing reports, as well as comments/editing notes on novels by writers like Frank Herbert, Thomas M Disch, Fred Pohl, and many others.

Most fun non-programme event was my publisher, DelRey’s party, at which all of the displayed books vanished within five minutes of the party’s opening. I signed another half dozen and spent the next two hours chatting with various people. And then there was my reading on Sunday, after the Aldiss event. Fifteen people turned up. Yeah, well, it was a half five start and a lot of people were probably getting food and drink. But all of those who turned up got a big surprise. They came thinking I was going to read something from CHUNG KUO, and instead they got the opening of ROADS TO MOSCOW. I enjoyed reading it to them and we gave out cards to… fifteen new fans of ROADS.

Four days on and I’ve been following up on contacts I made at the Worldcon. I’ve sent copies of EMPIRE out to people who didn’t know it existed, so we ought to be seeing some more reviews in due course. I’ve also been trying to find homes for various projects of mine and, coincidentally, may – by total luck – have another big deal in the offing. I can’t talk about it just yet, but it put a big smile on my face yesterday when I heard.

Boy does this job require patience.

Okay. I think this is enough for now. Next on the agenda – sometime later this evening – I’ll address myself to the Gaza situation and the feedback and exchanges on that. It’s not something to contemplate while you’re feeling knackered, which is why I’ve left it for a time. But I’ll say at once that Kaneda is probably right in saying I ought to have addressed both sides in this argument. But let me come back to that. It simply isn’t fair not to give the matter some attention.

David    21 August 2014


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