We couldn't get a cheap hotel near the venue so stayed in Travelodge London Bank in the middle of London. We originally wanted to stay in a Japanese Coffin Hotel but fancied a smaller room. BOOM. It was bijou, is all I'm saying. Also about as hot as midday on Mercury.
LonCon was about 20 minutes on the Docklands Light Railway, with a change of trains halfway, so that was fine. When we got there the registration queue of which we had heard Terrible Things had vanished. That's the nice thing about arriving after lunch. Pausing only for vital business like chatting to Alison, Nic, Abigail and Emma and standing in front of a Tardis, we jumped straight into our first panel.
Over the next three days we didn't get into everything we wanted, but we did pretty well, and a good half of the panels I saw were very stimulating. The other half ranged from pleasant-but-unsurprising to frustratingly stalled discussions. Fortunately the panel I participated in was one of the enjoyable ones. (At least from our perspective. Who knows what the audience made of it.)
Friday 15th August
Panel: Developing LARPs - World vs Character
Adrian Tchaikovsky, Russell Smith, Ian Sturrock, Christi Scarborough, Sam Webb, Ed Fortune
Our old University LARP friends (and writers) Ed and Russell were on this panel, with author Adrian Tchaikovsky moderating. Quite interesting, though I haven't LARPed in so long it feels like another life. Appropriately.
Signing: Elizabeth Bear
Janet fulfilled her long-time ambition to chat to one of her favourite authors, who was lovely. It's one of the nice aspects of the con that there was time to genuinely interact with authors, which in many ways is far more rewarding than getting them to write a dedication in the front of their novels. (Bear has written tens of novels but so far I've only read 'New Amsterdam' and 'Range of Ghosts', both of which are enjoyable. 'Ghosts' is particularly impressive.)
Panel: Liveship Trading: Fantasy Economics
Dev Agarwal, William B. Hafford, Robin Hobb, Juliet E McKenna, Max Gladstone
Lots of discussion about portraying trading in ways that are intrinsic to the geographical and political setting. What trade items have value and why? Local goods like butter providing women with a degree of economic independence. Also the economics of information and, via Max Gladstone, the ways in which every story can be viewed through the lens of economics as a web of character needs and their ability to obtain them.
Panel: The Girls Who Waited
Russell Blackford, L. M. Myles, Sarah Ash, MaryAnn Johanson, Jack Bowman
(Why) are there no female time travellers? Not the best panel this. Hampered by expository moderation and that thing where the audience just start listing old TV shows. Some obvious conclusions that time travel stories are a sub-set of the wider lack of agency afforded to female characters, rather than being specifically problemmatic. Some anime pointers, and Liz Myles entertainingly geeked out about Crime Traveller.
Panel: Medieval Languages and Distant Vistas: Using The Past in Games
Emma Newman, Ada Palmer, Mel Phillips, James Swallow, Lauren M. Roy
Janet attended this while I did...
Panel: Beyond Bechdel
Kate Heartfield, Kate Elliott, Jed Hartman, Julia Rios, JY Yang
All agreed the Bechdel test was effective in opening eyes, less useful as a pass/fail test for individual dramas. Abigail questioned (on twitter) what more there really was to discuss under this heading, and that was definitely why the panel drifted into more general discussion of the under-representation of gender, race, sexuality and disability and particularly the inherent obstacle when each 'minority' has only a single token representative. Discussion of the plaudits given to Pacific Rim, which does one thing right in having a major, non-white female character, but plenty wrong.
Quiz: Universally Challenged: Scientists vs Writers
Amanda Kear, Charles Stross, Nik Whitehead, Brian Milton, Juliet E McKenna, Christine Davidson, Michael Davidson, David L Clements, Ken MacLeod
Janet watched this while I boozed and waffled in the fan village. She remains baffled as to how none of the panelists recognised the quote: "You don't seem them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage."
Saturday 16th August
Up early for a dip into the Strange Horizons brunch where we met and re-met various lovely people and had much too brief conversations before I headed off to the Green Room for...
Panel: 2014 Hugos: Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
Ashley Pollard, Iain Clark, Jacey Bedford, Abigail Brady, Saxon Bullock
My turn at being a panelist. A fun romp through the nominees, focusing mainly on 'Day of the Doctor' and Orphan Black, and therefore being utterly wrong about Game of Thrones winning. There wasn't really time to discuss each nominee in great detail but we had a lively chat and everyone had something interesting to say. Even though we were a panel of Who fans I was pleased that we got the chance to rave about Orphan Black whose nomination was well-deserved and certainly brought the show to my attention. I also chipped in on Continuum and Person of Interest which I'd have liked to see nominated (it turns out from the stats that an all-Who shortlist was more likely than other series getting in on the act, which is a shame as the nominations are a fantastic tool to bring things wider attention.)
My wife, who predicted that Game of Thrones would win but was not on this panel, would like me to reiterate my Wrongness at this stage.
Panel: "Your 'realistic' fantasy is a washed out colourless emptiness compared to the Rabelaisian reality." Discuss.
Kate Elliott, Nic Clarke, Edward James, Kari Sperring, Jenny Blackford
A discussion of the many complexities of historical societies that get ironed out in fiction, and largely a discussion of misapprehensions about the power held by women throughout history (positive and negative). At one point we got a kind of round-robin overview of divorce in various Celtic, Greek and Arabic cultures. Very knowledgeable panelists in their fields, including our friend Dr. Nic.
Signing: Paul McAuley
We couldn't get into couple of panels here but took the opportunity to go to a Paul McAuley signing (alongside Brian Aldiss in this photo) at a dealer table. We both very much enjoyed McAuley's novel 'Fairyland' many years ago, and Janet has read much more of his besides. (We also got to see him on our very last panel of the con.)
Panel: Full-Spectrum Fantasy
Max Gladstone, Jennifer Stevenson, Keffy R. M. Kehrli, Amal El-Mohtar, Mary Robinette Kowal
I felt this one was wrong-footed by inviting audience questions up front and structuring the discussion around them, plus the sheer breadth of the topic. There was a great deal of focus on depictions of disability in SF as 'curable' (a trope that may be more prevalent than I'd perceived) and of depictions of mental illness, and less on other aspects. Having said that, the panel were able to make some smart contributions on a topic that probably didn't go where they expected.
Panel: Meet the New King, Same As The Old King
Joe Abercrombie, Rjurik Davidson, Delia Sherman, Peter V. Brett, Juliet E McKenna
Entertaining discussion examining whether tropes of 'rightful kings' returning are still relevant compared to other models of government and popular uprisings. The panel had generally sought to undercut or subvert the idea of 'good' rulers even if deploying them, and Joe Abercrombie was amusing on the subject of cabals and banks.
Panel: Saving the World. All of It.
Victor Fernando R. Ocampo, Yasser Bahjatt, Irena Raseta, Aishwarya Subramanian, Naomi Karmi
This was late in the day and could have flagged, but turned out to be a fascinating and above all very funny conversation with genial moderation. Discussion focused on depictions of the apocalypse in film: both the US (and New York) centrism of films, and the ways in which other parts of the world do or don't tend to produce their own apocalyptic fiction. Some droll observations about how American films tend to feature other parts of the world as cameos or shorthand stereotypes at best, while with the exception of Japanese cinema there didn't seem to be a lot of end-of-the-world filmmaking outside the US. It was noted that the Phillipines tend to be a place Kaiju relieve themselves (!), Israel has no tradition of apocalyptic fiction despite having the actual mountain Armageddon, while Aisha talked about Hinduism which conceives of a cyclical universe rather than there being an 'ending' to the world (therefore their zombies all get better...) Sorry if I've mischaracterised any of that!
Masquerade (end of)
We dove into the end of this frankly bewildering sub-culture of costuming, kitsch and performance art. Some really lovely outfits. Some hilarious ones. Some baffling ones.
Sunday 17th August
Panel: The Spies We (Still) Love
Nicholas Whyte, Elizabeth Bear, Gillian Redfearn, Stefanie Zurek, Tim Phipps
A great panel, well-moderated, with smart contributions on spy dramas from the 1960s through to the present day. Elizabeth Bear's love of '60s TV was obvious, and Tim made some thoughtful observations around the thematic shift in spy dramas since the 1990s reflecting distrust in the government. Ended with the usual grab bag of random observations posing as questions from the audience.
Panel: Why Are Alien Languages Inherently Human? An Experiment
Paul March-Russell, Bettina Beinhoff
A real departure, this was mostly an academic experiment (with disclaimers to sign and everything) in which the audience was played snippets of various real and constructed languages and had to rate them in terms of dimensions like pleasantness, naturalness, familiarity. Everyone spotted Klingon, but the other conlags were surprisingly indistinguishable from real world languages. The only downside was that the talk at the end was curtailed quite severely due to lack of time.
Panel: What Do You Mean You Don't Watch ... Sleepy Hollow, Continuum or Elementary
I only had time to attend Emma's sales pitch for Sleepy Hollow, which was fine as that was the reason I went along (since I watch two of the three shows). Starting with the season one promo was understandable but really ate into the time. Fortunately Emma had a chance to be knowledgeable and enthusiastic afterwards about a show that is biblical, diverse, silly, horrific and satirical. Hilarious moment when Emma described heads being bent backwards but said that it wasn't a violent show. Sadly I had to leave before the Continuum section as it's a great show and I was interested to see what was said.
Reading: Scott Lynch (Janet)
While I was watching Emma, Janet demonstrated a pleasing bit of chutzpah in managing to bag the last chair in the room for this reading by finding it leaning against the wall and unfolding it. Given how stringent the fire safety staff were being at the ExCeL centre, this certainly saved her from being chucked out of the room. As a result she got to hear Scott Lynch read part of his new, unpublished novel. She loved it.
Signing: Max Gladstone
We rendezvoused for a chat with the very personable Mr Gladstone who was happy to chat at length and sign his book to boot. Another great experience. I must get around to reading 'Three Parts Dead', which Janet raves about.
Panel: The Gendered AI
Charlie Jane Anders, Abigail Nussbaum, Nic Clarke, Michael Morelli, Jed Hartman
One of the most satisfying panels I attended in the whole con. A wide-ranging but meaty debate about if and why AIs have gender, citing examples from 'Person of Interest' to 'Her', 'Caprica', 'Ancillary Justice', the Culture Novels of Iain M. Banks and many more besides. I'm particularly fascinated by the idea of gender as a limitation imposed on AIs by their creators to make them more relatable (and isn't that how gender roles are imposed on all of us?) rather than something which an AI would identify with or find useful or meaningful.
Panel: Imagining London: History and Fantasy
Laura E. Goodin, Clifford Beal, John Clute, Elizabeth Hand, Anne Lyle
A discussion of how London has become mythologised, even in some ways a genre or genres in its own right, and how its longevity and unknowability is particularly conducive to this. Some smart points about part of this phenomenon being the simple marketability of London as a brand overseas, but a lot of other interesting stuff (often from John Clute) about the emergence of London as a character in its own right since Victorian times. This was my first experience of Clute, and he didn't use a single word I had to look up. I was relieved.
Panel: "We have always fought": Warriors vs Llamas
Jeanne Gomoll, Rachel Coleman, Kristina Knaving, Liesel Schwarz, Rebecca Levene
A slightly disappointing trot through the obvious in terms of the ways in which women's historical roles as warriors or leaders are ignored, but also the ways in which women's traditional, non-masculine kinds of achievement are not seen as important in mainstream, patriarchal readings of history. Paraphrased quotes: "When talking about unusual historical women you must be more sure of yourself because people will challenge you, because they feel that it is unrealistic.", "James Cameron casts women more often than most action directors - but having a single strong female protagonist is still a problem.", "Equality is not just about great women succeeding, but when even mediocre women get to go as far as mediocre men." Janet took many notes about interesting books to explore, so worth attending for that alone.
Panel: Botanical Conquistadors
Helen Pennington, Paul McAuley, Howard Davidson, Paul Abell, Rita Gruenbein
As with Saturday, another late panel that could have been unpromisingly dry but turned out to be hilarious. Helen Pennington was a fabulously deadpan moderator, taking the panel through an ever-escalating thought experiment about terraforming other worlds. Best quotes: "I'm not sure I like the idea of predatory Tardigrades...", "So we're saying that our giant Water Bear overlords have come to find us.", "I think we just built the Alien home planet." (I just know I've seen Helen Pennington somewhere before but I can't place her. Answers on a postcard.)
The 2014 Hugo Awards Ceremony
You may have seen some coverage of this. A big, nay huge, event with glossy presentation that nonetheless managed to show the two Doctor Who clips simultaneously in a bewilderingly non-linear spectacle that resembled a Steven Moffat season finale. Which should no doubt have clued us into the triumph of Game of Thrones over the various Who-related contenders for Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form. [I like to think that we weren't so much wrong on the panel as reflecting a deeper, less accurate kind of truth.] We snarked and tweeted our way through the ceremony with Tim and Kate then went and boozed with lots of good people until the last train home.
Actually until just *after* the last train home, leaving us stranded on a DLR station with the website insisting there were several more trains and the station insisting that no there bloody weren't. Taking the steps down to the street revealed an unpromising hinterland of dark city streets. Fortunately the website redeemed itself and directed us to a bus stop and some bus connections back to the hotel. We staggered in well after midnight, and left LonCon behind us.
An amazing experience.