19 April 2012

Alt.Fiction 2012

Alt.Fiction is much smaller and more relaxed than Eastercon. It's held in an arts centre (in Leicester this year) and the selection of panels and workshops available cover various aspects of SF fandom and writing.
This was my 3rd Alt.Fiction, and the first time I've been for more than a single day. I go to Alt.Fiction by myself and always end up having some good chats with people. My first one was great as it was where I met my first con-going friends and therefore led to good things and great people.

This year I attended a steampunk/alternate history workshop run by Kim Lakin-Smith, which taught me that there are many more 'punks than I had realised. I also learned that sticking a giant squid into a writing exercise is a popular move.

There were various panels, that are sadly starting to blur together a bit (in fact the main way I'm able to definitely distinguish them from Eastercon ones is the size and decor of the rooms). The most interesting were the 'Not Another F*cking Elf' panel, which looked at Tolkienesque tropes and the use of elves in different forms. 'Extremely Dangerous Fairy Folk' saw a discussion about the forces that exist outside of our understanding and how they can be used, but must be respected. 'Diversity in Fantasy' was very interesting and provided much food for thought.

As with most cons it's the social time that really makes the weekend. I'm glad to say that I saw and spoke to many great people I know from the internet and other cons. I didn't socialise as much as I'd intended to, by the evening my cold was in full swing and I found that sitting in one place for long periods of time was the easiest option. Having said that, I did have some great and interesting conversations, so I don't have any regrets.

One moment of hilarity that sticks with me was seeing a member of the Unbound Video Editions team react with shock when a giant image of their face appeared on the big video screens in the bar.

I want to thank all those who provided great conversations and great programme items. With special thanks to those who were sympathetic and aided me during my sneezing and sniffling.

11 April 2012

Eastercon: Olympus 2012

This was my second Eastercon, and my first where I actually stayed nearby and went to bed late most nights. This means that I'm fairly tired now, and also that some of my recollections are a little hazy, especially post-Saturday.

My experience was of a fun, interesting time spent among friends. I was happy almost the entire time and was lucky enough to avoid the problems, issues and drama that involved others

I felt much more relaxed this time around. It helped that much of the weekend was spent with a group of convention friends, who I now consider to be good mates. In that respect the weekend was brilliant, because even when things got weird, or embarrassing or dull there were people there experiencing it with you.
I did talk to various other people I'd hoped to meet/catch up with (and may have babbled a bit at times, but those I babbled at nodded and smiled and seemed, at worst, bemused). I suppose I could have tracked down more people, but I didn't feel much urgency to do so. With 1,400 people in one place you aren't going to catch (or even see) everyone, and rushing about would probably have made the weekend less fun. I managed to have conversations with a couple of authors I really wanted to speak to, and comported myself in a coherent manner, so that's a plus.

I liked that there was much more emphasis on fantasy this year. The military SF theme worked last year, but it's not something I particularly seek out, whereas I love Fantasy.
I went to quite a lot of panels, covering diverse topics, here's a selection of the events that made up my Eastercon.

Mike Shevdon's archery demonstration was the first programme item I saw and it was entertaining and informative (us geeks do love a bit of knowledge with our fun). I know little of archery, but feel much more informed now. I'm also definitely going to see Pixar's Brave when it comes out in cinemas -I was already tempted, but now it's a must-see. The great thing about conventions is that you can go up to people in the bar later with follow-up questions and have a chat.

As a group we ate at the Pheasant, a pub and restaurant which was a short walk from the hotel. On our first visit we thought it looked a bit pricey, until we saw the portions. On our second visit some of us -me included- had starters instead of main courses, it was a wise move. Much enjoyable dinner conversation was had there.

Saturday morning saw three fascinating panels in a row.
-The Sufficiently Advanced Magic panel was so interesting. Great points were raised and the panelists were all involved in the debate and I came away with much to think on. I'm not too fussy when it comes to magic systems and like to see different ways of doing it, I think the discussion covered the range pretty well. There was also discussion about historical technology levels and how that will affect magic is secondary worlds. The only issue was that I couldn't see everyone who was speaking. I think this was one of the best panels of the whole con.
-The How pseudo do you like your Medieval panel was very interesting and it was good to hear about author's research methods and how they approached history. Juliet E. McKenna's point about historiography was brilliant! People often don't realise how history interacts with and is coloured by the present day.
-The Gender Parity panel was also good and brought up many things that did need to be said. It certainly gave me food for thought and again had rather excellent panellists who were all totally engaged in the debate they were having. Things have clearly improved (which is good) but more improvement is needed. It was good to see that there were plenty of men in the audience. It was also nice that the discussion did not become about blaming, it was more about recounting experiences and looking for improvements.

I was not impressed by the disco, it too long to get to the rock and metal, by which point I was so tired.
However special mention must go to Jaine Fenn for her dancing. We were so impressed by her that some of us made sure to go to a panel she was on next morning. She had dark glasses and much orange juice, but still made some good (if croaky) points.

Sunday saw more interesting panels, although there were a few I didn't manage to attend because I was too tired.
The Nature of Heroism panel was interesting and raised some good points. Of course an hour can only serve as an introduction to such a topic. I've heard people express a range of opinions that about the way this panel went, and typically for me I can see where people are coming from, even when their opinions vastly disagree.
I think Tricia Sullivan raised an excellent point that did need exploring, about women often being excluded from heroism because it is focused on the arena of combat. I think the way she did it lost her some audience support, especially in moments when it felt like she was targeting other panelists who were not in disagreement with her. For me it felt as though she was being negative and blaming certain works/subgenres, when a more positive approach (naming good examples, suggesting ways of increasing visibility) might have opened up the topic more. Having said that I was still impressed by various things that were said, especially Tricia's initial point that what makes a hero is context. I'm also planning to find out more about moderator David Anthony Durham who did a fine job and sounds like he has written interesting books.

I was at the BSFA awards, which were themselves fine. The intro caused much controversy, but for me I think it was overly long, embarrassing and only funny for those in the know. I suspect it was designed for a smaller, more specific audience, and I just had the feeling of being on the confused side of a generation gap. Also I started plaiting my hair out of boredom.

The last panel I attended on Monday was Dystopian YA, which was another panel where I couldn't really see who was saying what. I wish I had taken some notes, as various titles and authors were mentioned which I should mention to the Teenage Reading Group I co-run at work. Again all the panelists made good points and some great stuff was said about our own society (centred mostly around UK and US, but this was acknowledged and briefly discussed) and how dystopian and YA fiction represent that.

Over all a good time. I'm really, really hoping I can go to the next one.