Well, I’m sufficiently over my jet lag (which I’m told by several folks doesn’t exist and is purely psychological) and caught up enough on emails & busy work that I can hammer out a con report. This one was the 63rd World Science Fiction Convention, held at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre in Glasgow, Scotland from August 4th to 8th. This is a rotating convention, held in a different venue each year. Last year was held in Boston, next year will be in Los Angeles, and 2007’s will be held in Yokohama, Japan. Overseas cons usually draw less than the 5,000 to 6,000 attendees of American ones, but I’m told this year’s drew a very respectable 4,100 folks (approximately).
I arrived at 7am Wednesday morning, and forced myself to stay up 38 hours till midnight Glaswegian time so as to be on the right schedule with everybody else, whereupon I slept till 9am and felt reasonably well the rest of the week. But this was as difficult convention to work. Ordinarily, World Cons are held in one central hotel – with maybe two or three ancillary hotels, all conveniently located. I can usually plant myself in “the” bar in the evenings and trust that everyone I need to talk to will amble by at some point. But this convention, the conference center was between a river and a convoluted octopus of highways and on and off ramps, and unless you were smart enough to get into the small adjacent hotel called the Moat House (I wasn’t – it having sold out before I’d even clued in), you were a cab ride away across the octopus in one of some ten or so hotels scattered throughout Glasgow. This meant that we had to cab it to the SECC in the mornings, stay all day, and cab it back in the very late evenings, making this a very hard day. To make matters worse, the Moat House had two bars, fore and aft, functionally impossible to negotiate between without going outside, but the official “party” hotel was the Hilton a good cab ride away, so there were at least three different locations where people gathered in the evenings. This, coupled with the spread out nature of the convention, meant you really had to work to find everyone you needed to see, and, indeed, I never found several folks I was hoping to meet up with. (Additionally, there was nothing else in the way of bars or restaurants in the immediate area, so I saw very little of Glasgow despite three excursions detailed below.)
Despite all this, I did managed to locate our international authors fairly quickly, and must say that the best aspect of the convention for me was spending some real time with Ian McDonald, Keith Brooke, Martin Sketchley, and Joel Shepherd, all of whom I met for the first time. (It was wonderful to see Justina Robson as well, and John Meaney is always a pleasure). The highlight was definitely hanging out with Martin and Joel, neither of whom were anything like I was expecting. (To write such sex and action-packed, turbo-charged adventure stories, Martin Sketchley is extremely quiet, exceedingly polite, and soft-spoken. Think a mild-mannered David Byrne.) We all got on famously and I look forward to a long working relationship with all of them.
Thursday night Chris Roberson’s policy of convention bar etiquette paid off. Chris’ M.O. is to pick one member of the wait staff, treat them well (something sadly not all con attendees do), and appoint them our single waiter for the duration. This time he picked Lauren, only two weeks into the job, and by week’s end she was refusing further tips, giving us all free drinks, and serving us after hours while turning everyone else away. That's Lauren on the left, along with John Picacio, Chris Roberson, and Yours Truly. Well, Thursday night she recommended a restaurant in town, which, although they were booked up, themselves recommended The Ubiquitous Chip down a cobble-stoned alley across the street. We were joined by authors Jay Caselberg and Laura Ann Gilman (former senior editor of Roc turned novelist), as well as my good friend Paul Cornell (excellent British author, also writes for television, including Coronation Street and Doctor Who) and his wife Caroline Symcox. In addition to wonderful conversation, I must say, the Ubiquitous Chip served the only good meal I had all week. I’ve also developed a fondness for “black pudding” – to my wife’s horror when I told her upon my return. (Google it if you don’t know what it is.)
Friday afternoon, Alan Beatts of Borderlands Books (one of the finest genre bookstores in America) hosted a Pyr signing. On hand were John Meaney, Chris Roberson, and Fiona Avery. They are pictured right, along with Alan himself and John Picacio. Alan would like to make the Pyr signing a regular feature of World Con, for which I am very honored. I lived in San Francisco in 2000, and of all the things I miss about that city, attending Alan's readings and events is probably the thing I miss the most.
Friday night was an adventure in itself. I’d been asked by John Parker of MBA literary agents to join him and a group of about twelve people for dinner at a Chinese restaurant called Loon Fung in downtown Glasgow. But the adventure arrived when he phoned to say dinner was being pushed back, and could we meet him at a private party being hosted by PanMacmillan at Borders Books. The party was fun – and everyone was there, but crowded and with bad beer. However, no sooner had we (Martin and I) arrived than Parker disappeared to another party, appointing Justina in charge and asking us to follow shortly. This one was held in a private upstairs room of a bar called TigerTiger. The party was fabulous, but, of course, John Parker was nowhere in sight at TigerTiger, though our game of “chase the white rabbit” continued when he called from the restaurant to summon us on. Loon Fung was unexceptional (hence I’m not bothering to hunt up its url), but was worth it as I got to spend a relaxed hour or so outside the con talking to John Meaney and his wife Yvonne. John is still the nicest person I’ve ever met and one of the top science fiction authors working today in my admittedly-biased opinion.
Saturday morning I was on a well-attended panel entitled “Not the Hugo Panel” about who should win the fiction awards (verses who would). I was quite flattered to be asked, as my fellow panelists including Gordon Van Gelder of the Magazine of Science Fiction & Fantasy, Charles N. Brown, publisher of Locus, and Ginger Buchanan, executive editor of the Penguin imprints Roc & Ace. The general consensus was that Ian McDonald should win in a just world, and I was pleased to be able to mention our edition of his novel, along with Mike Resnick’s upcoming collection New Dreams for Old (as two of the short stories to be included therein were on the Hugo shortlist for “Best Short Story.”)
Saturday night I attended the best party I’ve ever been to at one of these things, thrown by Harper Collins’ Australian imprint Voyager. Chris Roberson, Allison Baker, John Picacio, Martin Sketchley, and Pyr & Voyager author Joel Shepherd came along. But what made it was the venue, “the Tall Ship at Glasgow Harbour,” a converted sailing vessel build in 1896, later converted to a freighter and given an engine, now a dance hall with kitchen and bar. As we boarded, we were given a pirate kit which contained pirate hats, pirate eye patches, and, for a lucky few, swords and hooks. I didn’t get the latter, but did manage to grab a necklace and some gold dubloons, which sadly were solid plastic and not the chocolate I was hoping for. (That's me with Martin Sketchley and Joel Shepherd on the left.) I was also able to catch up with English novelist Graham Joyce, and meet his wife and adorable children. I was also able to indulge my newfound fondness for black pudding (have you googled it yet?).
Sunday was a panel entitled “Where is the Heart of Genre”, addressing the question of whether short fiction or novel-length fiction drives science fiction today. I was on alongside Analog editor Stanley Schmidt (editor of the oldest running SF magazine), authors Harry Harrison and Ian R. MacLeod, and critic Paul Kincaid. Sadly, my role as moderator kept me fairly subdued, as this was a topic I felt I had quite a bit to say on. The panel went alright, but was in a huge space with a raised stage, and the combination of bright lights and four hours sleep the night before made it not as exciting as it could have been. Later in the Moat House bar, the aforementioned super barmaid Lauren came over, asked me “Can I get you anything?” and when I declined, told another drink-seeking famous author to his face, “You have to go to the bar for service!” Lauren really did make an unexceptional bar exceptional! If her boss is reading this - give her a raise!
Sunday night was, of course, the Hugo awards, made more thrilling this time by my first ever attendance of the before-hand reception and the after-hand “Losers Party”, made possibly by virtue of my being John Picacio’s date. The reception featured some really nice Glaswegian smoked salmon, along with other good finger food, and I was able to catch up with several authors, among them China Miéville, Kelly Link, Christopher Rowe, Benjamin Rosenbaum, and Ian McDonald. (Pictured left are Campbell nominee Chris Roberson and Hugo nominee John Picacio.)
The Hugos themselves were quite interesting, the SECC’s Armadillo theatre being the nicest venue I’ve yet attended the ceremony in. Authors Paul McAuley and Kim Newman were splendid MC’s, preparing an hysterical speech that attributed the awards to French writer Victor Hugo (as opposed to Amazing Stories editor Hugo Gernsback) and projecting an alternate world in which France developed the atomic bomb first due to the influence of its “fiction philosophique,” going on to dominate the world through an army of automatons who will execute any gauche enough to serve red wine with fish.
Of our folks up for awards, only Mike Resnick and Jim Burns won. (John Picacio did take a Chesley award at an earlier ceremony, for a cover he did for a Tachyon Press trade paperback). Mike’s “Travels with my Cats” took Best Short Story (to be collected in New Dreams for Old along with his other nominee, “A Princess of Earth.”) Jim Burns is the artist for John Meaney’s four novels, Paradox, Context, Resolution, and To Hold Infinity. I met him earlier in the convention, along with his agent Alison Eldred, both of whom were very nice, and they both had glowing things to say about Pyr.
But it was at the Losers Party afterwards that things got interesting. You see, Ian McDonald was up for Best Novel. Now, very predictably, that went to Susanna Clarke’s bestseller, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell. The book was Time Magazine’s pick for Best Novel of the Year, as well as the pick from BookSense. It took her ten years to write, weighs in at over 800 pages, and had sold film rights and foreign language rights in 30 countries before it even appeared in the US, so there was no way this 800-pound gorilla wasn’t going to win. (And I am very happy for Susanna that it did - make no mistake.) But up against it and River was China Miéville’s Iron Council (the finest fantasy novel I have ever read), vanguard SF writer Charles Stross’ Iron Sunrise (who also had two nominations in the Best Novella category, one of which won), and bestselling Scottish author Iain Banks, (huge in his home territory). So when I learned that River of Gods came in second behind Jonathan Strange, and trailed by only a few votes, I was blown away. This can only mean good things for Ian in future.
Poor Martin Sketchley, who had managed to sneak onto the private bus after the Hugo Ceremony, couldn’t get in the party. By the time we smuggled him out an invitation (donated by Paul Cornell), he was gone. Chris Roberson did spend the rest of the evening getting folks from the bar outside into the private room, but Martin had called it a night. I did spend a late evening with Liza Trombi of Locus and Jetse de Vries, co-editor of the new Interzone, and this proved to be one of the highlights of the whole con for me.
Monday was the Pyr panel. In attendance were Keith Brooke, Ian McDonald, John Meaney, John Picacio, Justina Robson, Chris Roberson, Joel Shepherd, and Martin Sketchley. They were all crowded onto a stage on one side of the room, with Yours Truly at a podium on the other side, and a big screen between us. The room was packed to capacity with about 60 people. I gave a talk with a PowerPoint presentation, showing our second season titles and artwork from our third season. Then each of the authors said a few words. Then we opened the room for questions. Of all the panels I sat on or attended, this was the most lively, with a lot of enthusiasm, questions, interest, laughter, and even a thunderous ovation for my rapid-fire description of Martin’s The Affinty Trap. Which - with pseudo-spoilers - went something like: “Bruce Willis’ character from the Fifth Element is interrupted in his pre-credit sequence rock-climbing vacation for his Mission Impossible 2 assignment, which is that George Bush slash Barron Harkonnen of Dune wants to send him to kidnap the empathic metaphor from Star Trek: The Next Generation. But along the way, the lead falls under the grip of her pheromones and they have wild Species 2 cocoon sex before absconding to Babylon 5. Then, when George Bush slash Barron Harkonnen kidnaps her back, Willis has to team up with the riffraff outside Judge Dredd’s Megacity for an assault on Bush’s fortress.” All delivered in one run-on sentence burst, thank you. Now breathe.
Afterwards, I talked with Steven H. Segal, publisher of the upcoming Earthling lifestyles and culture magazine, and then pronounced the con well and truly done. As everyone else was too tired to move, Allison Baker (who was horribly sick but adventurous) and I left everyone behind and heading out in a cab in search of a real Irish pub (we found two), and some real Guinness (sadly, it was being served “extra cold” everywhere now, as a ploy to attract stupid young people who won’t drink it properly room-temperature. I learned for the real stuff I must now go to Dublin, but what we found in the pubs was at least better than what the hotel bars served). Along the way, we spotted a real blue Police Box, one of only 12 still in existence, and, of course, the model for Doctor Who’s time traveling TARDIS. Chris, who refused to budge from his Moat House bar seat all day, was well and truly mortified when he learned that he missed it. Sadly, neither of us had our cameras with us so this fan-produced model of the interior shall have to suffice.
And that's all folks. All in all, it was a fantastic convention.