NB: There are a lot of links in here as I have tried to link to something from every person I saw over the weekend. However, I could not link to everyone mainly because I could not find a link I was 100% certain people would want shared (personal twitters etc.) If I linked you and you want it removed or (horrors of horrors) I didn’t link you and you are offended by this contact me. It can be fixed.
So, the weekend of Easter is always Eastercon time for those of a SF and Fantasy bent. An event where writers, artists and fans get together to talk, panel, display, sell and generally network amongst themselves. This year’s event was set in the sunny northern climes* of Manchester and was therefore aptly named Mancunicon and given a SF remodelling of that location’s famous Bee symbol** as a logo.
I’d decided to check out Mancunicon and see what all the fuss was about. After all, it was in the same city and I am nothing if not lazy about how far I travel. So I booked as a member of the convention with no idea of what to expect. Not only that, I decided to offer myself up as tribute and volunteer to go on panels. May have been an insane thing to do but I soon discovered that insanity was all good here…
In the weeks leading up to the event I was informed which panel I was to be sacrificed on and given contact with the other members of it. A few emails and we all seemed to be up to speed on what we were doing. I therefore turned up well prepared for what I had to do on the panel and a lot of excitement for what was to come, though still not really sure about a lot of it…
Before my panel, however, there was a whole afternoon to get through. I wandered into the Deansgate Hilton in time to register and to attend the first panel that had caught my eye – Twisting the Story with Editor Gillian Redfearn, Susan Bartholomew, David Tallerman, Chris Wooding, Sebastien De Castell and Charles Stross. A fascinating discussion ensued about a topic that I have blogged about in the past and which gave some interesting insights. Ideas such as how to make a villain sympathetic were discussed (love seems to conquer all here, I used that one myself later). Unfortunately for me, Charles Stross was employing some hi tech gadgetry to jinx camera electronics, possibly involving the binding of demons into computer circuits, which meant that every time I tried to take a photo in that room it would not expose properly. Well that or I’d stupidly set the camera wrong… My ego says it was option one because that involves being defeated by a foe with superior resources. Chances are it was option two. Regardless, I could barely get any decent photos of that panel, which is a shame. The camera was mysteriously behaving for the next panel (which to be fair was a better lit room and I had noticed the settings were messed up and was able to fix them).
The Biology in SF Panel. Not shown – Alex Lamb who is hiding offscreen
This was followed by a panel on Biology in SF. This one was lead by a group of writers who had between them more science PhDs than the average person could accumulate in a lifetime and two of them were not academics at all. When I had originally seen this in the schedule I had felt a little put out that I had not been considered for it given my background, but I judged the panel worthy and they played well to a packed house with standing room only. There was discussion of modern genetic techniques (in particular the technology that has recently been used to remove HIV virus DNA from T cells) and how Biology is now at the point where it is useful to SF, being at a point where it is still accessible to the layman while being weird and abstract enough for the wow factor without getting quite so weird or abstract as physics sometimes strays into and which only Stephen Hawkings can understand (which does somewhat limit your audience share…). The double bonus was that I could count this as continual professional development for my RL job…
Following this I went get some food and to sit in the bar and soak up the atmosphere of the event with a friend while waiting for my panel to start. It was during this time that Storm Constantine and Freda Warrington wandered in and casually claimed some seats right next to us.
You know, as if they were ordinary people and not authors who are like well known and stuff.
And that, as I was beginning to learn, was the spirit of Eastercon. There were some well known names here. I already mentioned Charles Stross, Chris Wooding and a few others above and there was also Ian McDonald (present as a Guest of Honour) and some other names who I was at that point unaware of. Award winners, best sellers, known names in SF and Fantasy literature. But there was no ‘us and them’ feeling. We were all ‘Us’ and that led to a nice relaxed atmosphere in which it was possible to have a conversation with someone about Donald Trump and forget that they have sold more books than you probably ever could.
The ‘True Love and Trophies’ Panel as taken by R.A Smith (who was standing at the back due to lack of seats)
My panel started at 7 but the usual procedure was to report to the Green room for a chat with the rest of the panellists so we can go over our plans. It was called the Green room but in reality it was more the ‘Green Landing’ – a partitioned space on the third floor of the hotel near some of the panel rooms where those taking part in events could wait before going in. The room was run by the hard working and efficient Green Room Gophers who were there to check everything was in order and all panellists had everything they needed – including the drink that was on offer for anyone doing an event at the Con.
All I can say here is I was probably making some deeply relevant and emphatic point, hence the hand blurring. Kate is clearly not impressed 🙂
I met up with the rest of the panel – the moderator Ruth Frances Long, Jacey Bedford, Kate Soley Barton and Justina Robson – and we had a short discussion about what we were going to talk about and, mainly, if we all agreed on what the brief for the panel actually meant. Then we did the panel…
And it was amazing! I was expecting a handful of people and all of those people we knew personally (R.A Smith was in the audience at my request taking photos and there were a few others I knew). However, like the biology panel, it was standing room only. OK, to be fair, the rooms were a little too small and so filled up quickly, but that was still a lot of people interested enough in ‘True Love and Trophies’ to stand at the back and to hang around outside trying to get in even though we were clearly full.
Discussions revolved around romance clichés. We touched on the ‘female gaze’ as that was the topic of a panel planned for later in the weekend the concept of using imagery designed specifically to attract female readers or viewers such as when male superheroes flex flawless musculature. Ruth posed the question about how this has affected romance literature. The inevitable and ubiquitous ‘half naked male six pack’ was put on the table (um, not literally I should add here…) and each of the female romance writers on the panel (Ruth, Justine and Jacey) seemed to have a story about how their publishers keep putting such things on there despite all requests not to. On other topics, Kate, as the reader in the group, made references to fan fiction and how romance works there. I made comments about the prevalence of ‘Happy Ever After’ and how it is ironic that the story considered the greatest romance ever by some, Romeo and Juliet, does not end happily at all. The overall theme was what fantasy and SF could learn from more traditional romance stories and I think we covered a lot of it very well in the time we had. We could have gone on longer but we were out of time. I guess we left the audience wanting more which is always good.
The evening ended with drinks and discussion in the hotel bar… Overall a good time was had by all and there will be more on this in our next instalment (stay tuned!)
*Remember, as Obi Wan Kenobi was wont to say, we mean sunny ‘from a certain point of view’ i.e. not at all sunny. I’ve discussed Manchester weather before.
**You know about the Bees yes? They are on every bin and bollard in the city. No one could miss them (well I did…). The mystery of the bees was referred to a few times this weekend. TLDR version is they refer to the industry of the city.