26 April 2011

Illustrious - Eastercon 2011

So here is the promised convention post, which I cannot wriggle out of as my husband has already said I'll be doing it on his blog (The Citadel of Davegotsu). This will be a long one, and probably fairly rambly.

We cunningly decided that as the con was taking place in the city where we live, we would save much money by going in each day on the train rather than paying for a hotel.
This was in many ways a good idea as it meant we could get our own food from home each day - I spent 3 days living on ham sandwiches and snacks, but it was inexpensive.
However it did mean leaving before 11pm each day or risk walking around the outside of the NEC, so less opportunity to hang around through the evening. Also it meant we had to cart everything we wanted in with us. So pros and cons (haha - that was totally unintentional), but I think future con attendance will not necessary be in Brum, so it'd be a moot point anyway.

Following the detailed instructions in Illustrious PR3 (made slightly redundant by conveniently placed signs) we made it to the hotel, registered, and went to first-timers meeting. This was useful and informative, and I discovered the meaning of various terms, including GAFFinate. I also learned that the con was in fact a mini Real Ale festival, which is impressive and all, but not so relevant if you're allergic to beer.

After first-timers there were 3 events all in one room - Opening Ceremony, Great Women in SF and Guests of Honour Panel.
We went to get food in the Fan Dining Room, only to discover small portions and an alarming shortness of burgers (I'm allergic to burgers as well, but even so I was surprised by the shortage - I mean we got there before everyone in the big queue). We decided to fend for ourselves in the coming days, which explains all the ham sandwiches.
In the evening we saw Saxon and Emma - who are fun people that I met at Alt.Fiction last year. They introduced us to further fun people Sam and Charlotte. We went to an interesting talk about writing groups, and my other half went to a science-y panel.

Getting in on Saturday involved a walk outside in the sun. It was so warm outside that the air-conditioned hotel felt positively chilly.

The Mirror Universe panel was funny as panelists created mirror versions of audience suggestions.
The example was Paddington Bear, I don't know if the panelists were aware that it had already been done by a fella called Keillor Robertson in a small book called A Bear Called Euston.
My own suggestion was a Mirror Universe Royal Wedding, which seemed to result in an annual royal sacrifice, possibly decided by the public using a TV phone-in style voting system. And perhaps a race to Westminster Abbey in which the first (or perhaps last) there married the bride.

I bought various books from Angry Robot. I really should take those off my Amazon list, my birthday is in less than a week. Then we went to eat lunch by the lake. The hotel was lake-adjacent, but smelled faintly of sewage.

Another panel discussed whether Star Wars changed Science Fiction to Speculative Fiction. A variety of views raised, including those who did not like Star Wars, but I did not find my own view on the subject challenged.

After that there was the first episode of the new Doctor Who series. Luckily we were in the room just round the corner from the screening and joined the queue fairly early on. Said queue continued along the corridor, out of the sight of the door, then snaked back along the same corridor and past us, towards the lobby. It made moving along the corridor difficult. It also meant we were quite a way ahead of Paul Cornell, who you'd expect should have been nearer the door.
I'll talk about Doctor Who episode.

After going in by bus and train (which meant less walking) we split along gender lines and I attended the Women In SF (v. Fantasy) panel. I was again impressed by Kari Sperring's wit, enthusiasm and eloquence. I must read some of her books. Freda Warrington's terrible statistics were suitably terrible. From looking at the general stock at work there are certainly plenty of gender-neutral/discieving author names. The panel gave me plenty to think about, and various things to look up and read.

The Diana Wynne Jones Memorial was a panel rather than the advertised reading. It wasn't quite as I expected. There was clearly much love for Diana's work, but there was some focus on class and gender - important topics, but not necessarily what I think of when reading her work. There were times when the literary criticism side of thing hi-jacked the conversation a bit. It was generally good -I was further impressed by Kari Sperring- and I found myself wanting to reread many of Diana's books, not sure when I will get chance. At the end I managed to buy Changeover, one of her novels I'd never tracked down before, and had a DWJ-based chat.

The New Wave of Post-RTD TV SF&F was cryptically named, but as my friend Saxon was on the panel we decided to attend. It turned out to be about TV. Post-Buffy British TV, especially Being Human, new Who, Misfits, Primeval, even Demons and Hex were mentioned. It was lively and entertaining, if a little meandering.

The BSFA Talk, subtitled Classics and SF, was fascinating. Given by Gideon Nisbet who lectures at the university (and indeed the department) I used to attend - from talking to him later I discovered he started working there just after I left.
He spoke about fandom and classics, about how it's now acceptable to be interested in SF in certain academic circles. About how looking at films and TV and books about ancient myth and history is not only allowed, but now a valid and expanding part of academia. This was fascinating and makes me think I should have been paying more attention to what's happening in Classics over the last 4 years. He examined the work of C. J. Cherryh, something else I may have to read.

After this there was a period of hanging in the bar and talking to people. Gideon and I spoke about the university a bit. He and Ros Kaveney told us about the illustrations of Edward Gorey, which form the visual basis of the Gloom card game. Then there was much discussion and speculation about A Game of Thrones in its televisual and literary forms. This was very exciting.
After that I ended up playing Martian Fluxx with some children and a parent. I did not win, but it was Fluxx, so that was hardly my fault.

We went to a book reading by Aliette de Bodard (whose stories I've read and enjoyed in Interzone) and Simon Morden. I certainly should find her novel, and perhaps read some of his short stories.

I got a bit dressed up for the Admiralty Ball, although it did mean changing in the loos, so I didn't doll myself up much (although I was smart enough to chose the loos with lights, as opposed to the goth-loos). I had a mask and parasol I almost never use, and a dress and girly shoes that I rarely use. It only occurred to me later that I had a suitably nautical -and far more comfortable- outfit I could have worn. It's unusual for me to get all dressed up and pirate is my fallback costume, so I'm sure there will be a later opportunity for that outfit.

The announcement of the Hugo Award nominations was exciting, even though we couldn't successfully link up with Seattle (unless Norwescon had in fact been taken over by aliens who communicated through audio feedback and blips). The Hugos are like the Oscars and so it was pretty cool to be there. Yet more books to read though. The nominations can be found here.

I had to be in early(ish) for a short one-on-one Writing Workshop. It was a little intense, but helpful and very positive. I feel fairly spurred on now.

Nuke from Obit: it's the Only Way to be Sure was a fun panel and one that came up with a wide variety of ideas for invading other planets, from the amusing to the scary.

After that I was at a panel on Self-Promotion. Some of the panelists seemed rather wary of it, which is reassuring because I honestly don't think that writers necessarily are brilliant at PR. I know some who are, and they are lucky sods, I suspect that writers are often fairly introverted.

The bulk of the afternoon was spent sitting at the bar talking to people, which was most enjoyable. I played Pirate Fluxx, which went on for a while. And once the 'Talk Like A Pirate' card had been played our throats did ache and our words be punctuated by periodical 'Aaargh!'s.

All in all a good first con and a fun time.
I suspect I've used the word interesting far too many times here, and now I'm tired. So I shall stop.

15 April 2011

Eastercon 2011

I'm going to my first ever convention next weekend!
I am quite excited, especially now they've posted the programme online.

I don't know many people who are going (besides my husband obviously), most of the familiar names on the membership list are acquaintances or authors.
I'm hoping I won't do any clinging-to-the-wall, which I can do if I'm not stern with myself. I've only been told good things, especially in respect to how friendly people are and how many interesting people you meet.

I expect I'll do a report afterward. I'm hoping I'll be a bit more fired up then. Lately I've felt a little like I'm idling and I think I need something fun and interesting to jolt me out of it.

12 April 2011

2 Edwards and a Henry (and a mysterious big cat)

Further English monarchs.
Pictures from my history mug, info mostly from David Starkey's book Crown and Country, although I've read other things as well.

Henry III
He became king at 9 years old, but ruled until he was 56, which is probably why he isn't drawn as a child. He was dominated by more forceful men throughout his reign. He let his in-laws and half-siblings run riot and the barons disliked him almost as much as they had his father (King John, the much hated king who signed the Magna Carta).

Of course the real question is, why does he have a leopard? Maybe it's a cheetah? Maybe it's a lynx? It's certainly not a house cat. Why is it there? Starkey doesn't mention it, but there must be a reason! Does anyone know?

Edward I
Known as the Hammer of the Scots (pictured without hammer, or Scots), Edward was a strong king who made himself incredibly popular with his people. He established regular parliaments as a good way of raising taxes for his various wars. These wars involved removing the Welsh princes, fighting the French, and taking the Stone of Scone from the Scots. He was pretty obsessed with conquering Scotland, hence the nickname. He didn't subdue the northern nation, but he did cause them a lot of grief.

Edward II 
Edward lavished money and attention on his special favourites, who became figures of hate among the barons. Like his father Edward II tried to invade Scotland, but failed miserably. His wife Queen Isabella -fed up with marital neglect- eventually joined with her lover to seize the crown for her eldest son. Edward II was the first king to be deposed, after which he was locked away and quietly murdered. Poor guy.

Previous Monarch Posts:
Early Normans
Anarchy and early Plantagenets

4 April 2011

Cyberabad Days

This book is a sequel to BSFA-winner River of the Gods. I haven't actually read the previous book, but now I think I definitely should. Ian McDonald is an author I'd been thinking of reading for a while, but I'll admit I only read this book because my boss was commenting that it hadn't had many issues.

Cyberabad Days by Ian McDonald
The book is made up of seven stories, all set in India during or around the 2040s.
The stories capture the feel of the settings, from quiet, isolated villages, to bustling, noisy cities. I thought it felt pretty authentic and well-researched, although I'm far from an expert on India or its culture. The book is about futuristic changes in technology but it is always clear that these changes are rooted in a traditional society with a varied history. Indian words are used, but they are explained either within the story or in the context of their use. There is also a future vernacular that includes words like robotwallah and dataraja.

The contrast between the poverty of poorest and the luxury of the middle and upper classes is massive. I liked that McDonald took account of the fact that advances in technology can drastically widen the gap between rich and poor. In our own society the digitally poor are can get left behind, McDonald extrapolates this to create a massive divide.

There is a fairytale feel to some of the stories, especially The Dust Assassin, Little Goddess, and The Djinn's Wife. There is a sense of wonder to some of the technological changes that take place in the book, enhanced by the way connections are drawn between tech and mythology, between future and past.

The Stories
  • The first story is set against the background of the conflict(s) that break India into a variety of separate states. A young, robot-obsessed boy idolises the anime-influenced teens who control battle mechs.
  • A western boy in a gated development is introduced to an advanced VR evolution game and the real India beyond the walls by his friend Salim.
  • A sheltered heiress is used as a weapon in her family's war against a rival corporate family.
  • A young man gets virtual help in his quest to find a bride in a society where men outnumber women 4 to 1.
  • A little girl is chosen as a temple goddess until she becomes a woman. Temple life doesn't prepare her for finding her own place in the world.
  • A famous dancer falls in love with an artificial intelligence, but a relationship with a disembodied entity has its own problems.
  • A story of genetically engineered super-children and rapidly advancing computing technology.