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FantasyCon 2014

This summer has been such a whirlwind of conventions, I feel like I hardly had time to recover from one before the next was upon me. It didn’t help that I developed a nasty case of con crud right after WorldCon, which is why I never got around to blogging about the fab time I had there. However I’ve finally managed to catch my breath, so here’s my review of this year’s FantasyCon, held in York.

In a word (well, three): Best. FantasyCon. Ever.

Now admittedly I have a soft spot for FantasyCon anyway, because it’s where I pitched The Alchemist of Souls to Marc Gascoigne of Angry Robot, back in 2010. It’s also known for its awesome disco, of which more later. But this year the BFS, led by the redoubtable Lee Harris, delivered a fantastic convention worthy of our national genre organisation.

Firstly the venue, the Royal York Hotel, was far superior to the Britannia hotels of previous FantasyCons (albeit wickedly expensive to stay in!). Thankfully it’s conveniently placed just outside the city centre, right next to the railway station, so attendees on more limited budgets could stay elsewhere without major inconvenience. The central location also provided plenty of choices for eating out, and the opportunity to pop into the beautiful city centre if you needed a break from the convention.

Another nice touch was that instead of the goodie bag containing a couple of random paperbacks, there was a table piled with books from which one could choose (there was still a goodie bag, but with only the programme and a few small items). This was great, because at past FantasyCons I’d mostly ended up with horror books (yuck!), whereas this year I scored copies of The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie and Gideon’s Angel by Clifford Beal, both of them novels I actively want to read.

More importantly, the programme was excellent. In recent years I’d more-or-less stopped attending panels at FantasyCon because they retrod the same old topics I’d heard discussed a dozen times, but there was much more variety this year. Perhaps because of Guest of Honour Kate Elliott’s presence, there were lots of panels on different aspects of worldbuilding, which is a subject very much on my mind at the moment as I work on my new secondary world setting. My own panel, But Does it Make Sense: the Economics of Fantasy Worlds, with Kate Elliott, Kari Sperring, Tom Pollock and Leila , had a packed audience despite being at 10am on Saturday morning, and to be honest we could easily have talked for another hour about what turned out to be a fascinating topic.

Samurai McKenna demonstrates what to do when a peasant (Adrian Tchaikovsky) tries to grab your katana!
Samurai McKenna demonstrates what to do when a peasant (Adrian Tchaikovsky) tries to grab your katana!

Another topic that needed more than an hour was The Pen vs the Sword, in which four authors and practising martial artists – Juliet McKenna, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Fran Terminiello and Clifford Beal – talked about sword fights in fiction and demonstrated some cool moves. The panellists and audience ended up relocating to the (closed) bar next to the auditorium for more demonstrations – in fact our only complaint was that the panel should have been a demonstration with discussion, rather than a discussion with a few demonstrations, because it’s much easier to talk about the realities of fighting when you’re able to show it.

It wasn’t all serious panels, either. In addition to the ever-popular Just a Minute hosted by Paul Cornell, on Saturday evening I attended a live edition of Emma Newman’s podcast Tea and Jeopardy, where she interviewed screenwriter Toby Whithouse. I don’t know if they recorded it, but if not, it’s a shame – because now you’ll never know why the audience had to pretend to be chickens singing the Doctor Who theme…

And then there was the disco. This year we had a new DJ, my own editor Marc Gascoigne, who dipped into his vast record collection (and believe me, it’s big – I’ve seen it!) to bring us a mix of tracks from across the decades that left us exhausted but happy. An appropriately geeky highlight was 1988 No 1 hit single, Doctorin’ the TARDIS – complete with official dance. At first, most of the people still on the dance floor from the previous song gave this one a go, but it turned out to be a bit trickier than they’d expected, and soon there were only eight or ten of us dancing. For eight whole minutes. By the end, my legs were like jelly, but boy was it fun!

Next year, FantasyCon moves back to Nottingham, though thankfully not in the shabby Britannia Hotel. I shall be signing up as soon as my bank balance has recovered from this year’s expenses!

Nine Worlds 2014

This weekend (8th-10th August) I was at Nine Worlds Geekfest, a British convention very much in the mould of CONvergence. 2014 is only Nine Worlds’ second year, so it’s something of a work in progress, but it still manages to be one of the best of the UK circuit.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the convention is the programming. In addition to a strong books track, there were tracks on comics, games and various other fandoms (including steampunk, cosplay, Doctor Who and Joss Whedon), and even one for knitting – a welcome surprise, given my recent (re)take-up of the hobby. Some of the tracks were inevitably a little sparse, but with so much variety there was always plenty going on to choose from. Read more

CONvergence 2014

Q: What do you get if you put together 6000+ SFF fans, a bunch of outstanding organisers and a great venue? A: CONvergence, a regional convention that’s been running in Minnesota for the past 16 years (and hopefully will continue for many more).

I first heard about CONvergence back in 2012 from then-Angry Robot editor Lee Harris, and as I have a number of writer friends in the Midwest it seemed like the perfect choice for my next US convention. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to go in 2013, but I was determined to make it this year – and I’m very glad I did. Read more

Convention schedule update: CONvergence

This morning I got a nice surprise in my inbox: details of my schedule for CONvergence in Minnesota! I have two panels, one fairly serious, the other…not so much :)

Saturday 5th July

10pm Loki Can Rule Me Any Day – an exploration of side characters who have become fan favourites

11.30pm Science of Sex It’s a necessary biological function – what more can we say about it?

I winced a bit when I saw how late they were, but hopefully I’ll still be operating somewhat on UK time so it will only feel like early evening. I hope to see some of you there – if you want a book signed, just ask! (Preferably not when I’m eating/in the loo/otherwise busy…)

A look back at WFC 2013

The World Fantasy Convention came to the UK this year for the first time in a couple of decades, and expectations were high, especially since US authors were coming over to meet fans, promote their latest books or just see a bit of the UK alongside their convention schedule. Given that I registered back in 2011 when tickets first went on sale, you can imagine I was pretty excited by the time November came around! Read more

Convention report: Nine Worlds Geekfest

Nine Worlds Geekfest is a brand-new convention that was launched earlier this year via Kickstarter. I was one of those sponsors, because a) it looked like a cool event and b) I knew I wasn’t going to be able to attend WorldCon in Texas, which left my summer looking rather empty. I’m very glad I did so, as it turned out to be a fantastic weekend. Read more

Edge-Lit 2

On Saturday I was a guest at Edge-Lit 2, an SFF literary convention held in Derby. I’d been to the previous year’s event and also to an iteration of AltFiction that was held at the same venue, so I was really looking forward to it.

Whilst I only did one panel this year, it was momentous in that it was my first time moderating. Luckily I already knew most of the panelists (see names in photo), so that helped to make it a more relaxing experience. I had sensibly prepared some notes beforehand (OK, at 11pm the night before, when I couldn’t sleep for nerves/excitement!), so it wasn’t difficult to get the ball rolling. Read more

Eastercon 2013

I’m a bit later with this report than intended, mostly because I had so much fun at Eastercon I was too exhausted to process it!

This was my third Eastercon, and whilst last year’s was memorable for very personal reasons, this year was pretty good too. I’d been a bit doubtful about the location, as the convention venue was mainly a conference centre and had few bedrooms, meaning most people had to stay in city centre hotels about two miles away, but a constant flow of free minibuses meant that this was only a minor inconvenience. A bigger problem, as with Birmingham, was the lack of good places to eat within easy walking distance; the conference centre provided a relatively inexpensive buffet at lunchtime and in the evening, but the food was about the quality you expect from cheap mass catering. Fortunately we found a US-style diner over the road, where the food was excellent (though the service was very slow). However, enough about logistics – what about the convention itself?

There was a good selection of panels and of course the traditional Saturday evening live screening of the latest Doctor Who episode, complete with bags of jelly-babies (and a few technical glitches, so I’ll probably watch it again on catchup TV). A great new addition to the programme was the “genre get-togethers”, which were a series of informal book-signing-and-mingling-with-the-authors sessions. This was also an opportunity for authors (or their publishers) to give away books to interested readers, rather than putting them into goodie-bags at random only to be thrown away. Angry Robot kindly supplied me with a box of The Alchemist of Souls, so I was able to give some away at the get-together and the rest soon disappeared from the “free books” table on Sunday!

I was on three panels, the best of which was probably “The Changing Portrayal of Gender and Sexuality in SFF”, which moderator Penny Hill turned into a cozier discussion format than the usual “five people behind a table” panel, with lots of contributions from the audience. I also went to a couple of other panels: one on non-Western SFF, and a flash fiction contest featuring my friend and fellow Angry Roboteer Emma Newman (below).

Cory Doctorow, Roz Kaveney, Emma Newman and Paul Cornell being introduced by Lee Harris
Cory Doctorow, Roz Kaveney, Emma Newman and Paul Cornell being introduced by Lee Harris

Emma won the contest, and my side of the room won the quiz that Lee had put together to keep the audience entertained during the writing, so our plan for world domination continues apace. Also, it appears that I know more Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang lyrics than the average SF geek, which is maybe not something to boast about!

The non-Western SFF panel also gave me an excuse to talk to Stephane Marsan from Bragelonne, a French SFF publishing house, and we ended up having a long chat in the bar about Asterix, European children’s TV in the 70s (remember the Czech Mole cartoon?), and Kenneth Branagh’s Othello (filmed in Italy, with French actress Irene Jacob as Desdemona). It wasn’t all networking, though; mostly I just hung out with old friends from previous conventions (Sarah Newton, Emma Newman, Mike Shevdon, Adrian Faulkner, et al) and made new ones, or at least met people I already knew online (e.g. Brian Turner from SFF Chronicles). It was a lot of fun as always, if exhausting, and I’m now I’m really looking forward to the rest of my conventions this year, especially World Fantasy in Brighton.

Now, I really must go and sign up for Eastercon 2014…