Dublin 2019: An Irish Worldcon

A couple of weeks ago saw Worldcon come to Ireland for the first time, and España and I were there with bells on. COMMENCE THE CON REPORT.

When I was newer in fandom I generally didn’t start with the programme, but the programme formed a big part of my Worldcon this year. I really liked the programme in Dublin! It felt big and varied, and there were very often too many options in a slot, which meant I didn’t get to see everything I wanted to (which is a good thing, I think). I focused almost exclusively on panels about tabletop gaming in the end, but with a scattering of panels on space science and other topics (I’ll give a rundown of the panels I attended and my notes on them in the penultimate section of this report, because my notes are looooong). Most days I went to programme at 10am and only wrapped up quite late in the evening.

The split site was an interesting thing. I’ve seen criticism online, and honestly the two sites were probably right on the boundary of what would’ve worked in terms of their distance from one another. The first time I made the trip to the Point I thought it was pretty badly signposted, but the steady stream of people later in the week helped with that a lot. The Point was split into three, effectively – art show/exhibits/reception spaces in the Warehouse, Odeon screens being used for programme items, and two panel rooms in the Gibson Hotel next to the main building. I was on panels in the Odeon and the Gibson Hotel and I attended a reception in the Warehouse, and each seemed to have people, although the audience for my panel in the Gibson Hotel was slightly anaemic (not sure whether the panel was too niche or the room too difficult to find). I was worried that the art show would be poorly attended as a result of it being set aside from the CCD, but the big queues for Odeon panels indicated that people were making the journey and España’s artwork did super well, so maybe my fears on that front were unfounded.

The CCD was quite close to the maximum capacity it could possibly have sustained, and I’ve seen some pretty vitriolic criticism about the access issues with the amount of queuing that was required, but I’m not sure what the answer is to that. As someone that doesn’t have any issues with my physical fitness yet, I’m not well-placed to comment. I am curious, given that Loncon 3 and Helsinki also had a lot of issues with overcrowding and queues, as to whether they handled the issue better than Dublin — if you have an opinion on this please comment below! In general I liked the CCD space other than the queues, the green room upstairs was great, the auditorium was great and the dealers’ room seemed very well suited to the space it was in. The bar was a bit crowded a lot of the time, and could’ve done with more seats and some real ale, but it was a good place to spend time and right around the corner from the games room, in which I spent entirely too little time.

George RR Martin presenting the Alfie Awards
George RR Martin presenting the Alfie Awards

On the topic of the auditorium, I should mention the masquerade and the Hugo Awards. The masquerade was really fun, and I especially loved the Captain Marvel entry which was witty and well done. I was a Hugo Award finalist this year for my work on Journey Planet in Best Fanzine, which meant that the Hugo Award ceremony was a bit more fraught than usual. We came in third and were behind Lady Business, who do good stuff, so that’s great. I was generally very happy with the winners, actually, so it was in general a good ceremony. The losers’ party was held at the Guinness Store House. The issues around the party have been discussed in great length over on Twitter (check out Abigail Nussbaum‘s Twitter thread on the topic from the time if you’re curious), so I won’t discuss that here, but as someone who lost a Hugo and was at the party, I had a good time. The problem with the party for someone who isn’t an author is that it’s filled with people who you feel a bit awkward striking up conversations with, and less filled with people on your level, so I mostly hung out with the people I knew from Journey Planet, plus Dave O’Neill. The Guinness flowed freely and the various bits of food did too, and I discovered I really like the milk stout that Guinness do.

Dublin’s social media was…not great. I tweeted various questions and suggestions for changes at them, none of which were responded to in any way — the only peep I got out of them was when they retweeted a positive comment I’d posted within 5 minutes of the post, which rather suggests that the social media team were not really actually using the social media channel to engage with the members, but very much using it as an advertising mechanism. That’s fine, I guess, but it’s frustrating and unhelpful when it could be put to much better use.

Finally, let’s talk parties. These were so much better than Loncon 3 and Helsinki, and represent the first party scene outside a US Worldcon that I’ve thought really worked. The model of having programme rooms by day become party rooms by night worked well, and in general it was a fun time. There was a failure mode — the queue to get a drink in the Glasgow in 2024 party was as big as the room, making it difficult to actually enjoy the party after you’d got your drink through no fault of the organisers — but most parties were a good mixture of people, pleasant to spend time in, and had interesting drinks and snacks (although the expense of having to use conference centre catering meant these often ran out quite early). Having the bar just down one floor meant that if you got bored of the parties you could head back, and vice versa. This felt nicer than the fan village in Loncon 3 mostly because that space was one, gigantic space with no nooks or crannies, which to me fails to capture what’s nice about drinking at Eastercon, i.e. the ability to find a little niche and settle with friends, or go from niche to niche changing context. Dublin very much captured that feeling, and the nightlife felt much, much more like a giant Eastercon than it did at Loncon 3. I liked that the bar was named in honour of Martin Hoare, who died shortly before the convention.

An image of James Bacon having a €20 note waved at him by Christopher J. Garcia
“No thank you for the moment” — James Bacon

On a more personal note, I really enjoyed the people I saw at the convention! We bumped into Alissa, Andrew, Chuck, Garcia, and Vanessa almost immediately upon getting to the CCD, and saw many people besides throughout our time. We had dinner with Garcia and Vanessa on the Wednesday night, dinner with Tobes on the Thursday, dinner with Anna, Hogg, and the Januaries on the Friday, and dinner with Tobes, Dave O’Neill, his brother and his friend on the Monday. I spoke briefly to Jeannette Ng and Dominic, and saw many other friends from British and Irish fandom besides. It was great to catch up with people, although in hindsight perhaps I should’ve tried to grab food with more friends from the USA, but there’s never enough time for that at a Worldcon!

All in all, Dublin was a really good convention. I’ve very much taken a broad overview and not gone into great detail on the social aspects, but España has covered that bit brilliantly on her blog. I’m looking forward the next Worldcon in Ireland (despite the fact that James Bacon was reluctant to take €20 from Christopher J Garcia for the next one…).

Panels I saw

The first panel I attended was the ‘Beyond Dungeons and Dragons’ panel (Gregor Hutton, Ell Schulman, Rebecca Slitt, and Michael Cule). This was a fantastic panel and I ended up taking a lot of notes. The panel highlighted places to find interesting games, like the TTRPG tag on itch.io or self-published games on DriveThruRPG, and the Indie Game Developers’ Network (IGDN). They talked about various games: Fiasco, Firebrand, Polaris, Powered by the Apocalypse, Wicked Age, 13th Age. They recommended Jenga-based games like Starcrossed and Dread; Tarot-based games like Everway and Spindlewheel; and two-player games like New Normal and Breaking Nice. They also mentioned conventions: Ropecon (Helsinki), RPG cons in Cambridge, Continuum (Leicester), Double Exposure (New Jersey), Luca, Metatopia, Big Bad Con.

‘Apollo at 50’ (Ian Sales, Jeanette Epps, David Stephenson, Geoffrey A. Landis, Mary Robinette Kowal). This panel was mostly retrospectives about Apollo, featuring (as it did) knowledgeable people telling great anecdotes about Apollo. One interesting thing was when Sales posed the question of whether Apollo was a socialist programme, and Epps took that question and had taken it straight back to NASDAQ and commercial spaceflight within two minutes — very on-brand! Someone, and I forget which of the panellists it was, pointed out that the most lasting legacy of Apollo is arguably the Apollo-Soyuz mission which was the first step to lasting international cooperation in space. Kowal further highlighted how exciting it is that the forthcoming Artemis programme is being designed around science objectives and is not as politically motivated as Apollo.

‘The impact of Kickstarter on the gaming industry’ (Ric Bretschneider, Steve Jackson, Aidan Doyle, Tom Lehmann, Brenda Noiseux) was my next panel. This focused much more on anecdotes from the panellists about the experiences they’ve had with the platform rather than looking at the wider impact of Kickstarter and how that affects the games being made. This was interesting, and there was some interesting discussion on how to engage with backers and deal with their expectations/manage their requests, but I had mostly been interested in discussion of the large-scale impact of Kickstarter on the industry in general, so I asked a question about it at the end. I was surprised about the pessimism in response to that question: Jackson said it let him bring games back from the dead, but that it would eventually kill brick-and-mortar stores, with which Lehmann disagreed. Jackson also noted that the economics of supporting countries outside the USA means that they will shortly stop shipping Kickstarters outside the US.

‘Stories from other media turned into games’ (Michael Cule, Rebecca Slitt, William C. Tracy, Marie Brennan, Keith Byrne) was interesting but I didn’t take many notes. Tracy mostly talked on videogames, but I think it was mostly a bit of a board game slant. The focus was very much on roleplaying games and videogames until I asked whether the panel had thoughts on exposition in board games and card games, and Brennan highlighted the mechanics of the different clans in Legend of the Five Rings as a form of exposition teaching you about the clans’ characteristics.

‘GoH interview: Steve Jackson’ (Colm Lundberg, Steve Jackson) was interesting, but I don’t think I took any notes at all! Hearing the story about the Secret Service raids on his company was interesting, having an audience member ask a question about the UK Steve Jackson was almost obligatory, and ruminations on the origins of the industry were very interesting.

‘The history of tabletop gaming’ (Colm Lundberg, Steve Jackson, Tom Lehmann, Helena Nash) was mostly as anecdotal as the title suggests, but there was some interesting tidbits around the current state of the industry — the question of whether the current proliferation of tie-in games and the increased breadth of themes means we’re in a bubble, for instance. Jackson thinks that a collapse is coming which surprised me with its pessimism, so I asked about it — Lehmann thinks that the hobby might be growing to encompass new perspectives and Nash thought it had permanently broadened. Jackson thinks the best we will do is plateau at a point that’s sustainable, and I take the point that infinite growth is probably unrealistic.

The panellists of the 'Artemis: Apollo’s big sister' panel
The panellists of the ‘Artemis: Apollo’s big sister’ panel (by Chad Dixon)

‘Artemis: Apollo’s big sister’ (Alan Smale, Jeanette Epps, Becky Chambers, Ian Sales, Geoffrey A. Landis) was quite a general panel about ‘why it’s good to go to the Moon’ and not much specific about Artemis until closer to the end. It was interesting though!

‘Inclusive game design’ (Ian Paul Power, Ell Schulman, Carrie Patel, Carlos Hernandez) was a good panel. I hadn’t realised it was TTRPG Non-Binary month, so that was cool. Members of the panel expressed pleasure at being able to play female characters (e.g. in Mass Effect) but pointed out that a male/female choice plays into binary genders and is alienating to non-binary people. It was suggested that you ask players ‘do you see characters you want to play’, and have people read your content for sensitivity. Hernandez shared a story where he wanted to have a coin flip mechanic but realised that might be exclusionary to some people so actually changed it to something else. This was generally a panel filled with interesting anecdotes and useful advice!

‘Narrative and storytelling for games’ (Carlos Hernandez, Carrie Patel, Nicolette Stewart, Yen Ooi) was a panel I was looking forward to but which ended up disappointing me as it talked almost entirely about videogames. In hindsight, I should have recognised this would be the case from the panellists, so that’s mostly my fault (and obviously videogames are worth discussing in their own right!).

‘The golden age of animated SF’ (Amal El-Mohtar, Edward Kramer, Mari Ness, Eliza Chan) was a panel for which I had high hopes. Unfortunately, without a moderator and (seemingly) without any pre-panel discussion, the panel meandered and didn’t really answer the question it posed, digressing into questions such as ‘what is genre?’ and ‘what is animation?’ before getting to some light discussion of the eponymous topic in the last 15 minutes. It wasn’t really anyone’s fault, but I was a bit sad about it.

My wife and I on the last day
My wife and I on the last day (by Andrew Hogg)

‘Holy forking shirtballs: The Good Place panel’ (Abigail Nussbaum, Alex Acks, Ash Charlton, Jeffery Reynolds, Ginjer Buchanan) was a lovely feel-good panel which Nussbaum introduced by saying “we’re going to talk about why this show is great until it’s time for questions”. My notes on this panel are pretty long, but in essence, there was a lot of discussion about being good for its own sake rather than for reward, and on the intersection of personal responsibility vs. trying to change systems for the better. Generally a very good panel!

Panels I was on

‘Fanzines now!’ (Phoebe Wagner, Greg Hullender, Philippa Ryder, Joe Siclari) was the first panel I appeared on. I beat my traditional drum on the topic of “why don’t more online fanzines include fan art and great design?” while subtly disagreeing with points made by my other panellists on the nature of fanzines. Hullender is from the brave new world (as editor of Rocket Stack Rank) while Ryder is an old-school fanzine fan and Siclari is digitising old paper fanzines. In general, the panel was very good-natured and I think it went well. Lots of comments-not-questions at the end.

‘DC: TV vs film’ (Dan Moren, Mari Ness, Ginjer Buchanan, Simon R Green) was the first panel I moderated and went super well. We touched on what we did and didn’t like in the TV and the movies at the start of the panel and then spent a large chunk of time discussing what the movies get wrong and what they get right before coming back to contextualise that in terms of TV and in terms of what the MCU is doing. People seemed to enjoy it!

‘The comics galaxy of Star Wars’ (Stephen Mooney and Gabriel Petersen) was the second panel I moderated and was in the Gibson Hotel, with a relatively small audience. Petersen is a huge Star Wars fan who’s read most of the Marvel comics, and Mooney has worked on the comics professionally, as well as being the only one of us who had read more than a couple of the Dark Horse comics, so they were good people to have on the panel. We split roughly evenly between discussing the business constraints on Star Wars comics (for example, making the art more and more realistic sells more copies, even if my personal preference is for more interpretative artwork). I found it interesting, so I hope other people did too!

Myself and the other panellists on the 'Forty Years of the Force' panel
The panellists of the ‘Forty Years of the Force: Fab or fail?’ panel (by Chad Dixon)

‘Latest results from asteroid missions’ (Guy Consolmagno, Bill Higgins, Michele Bannister) was the last panel I moderated, and was a really great panel. It was the only panel where I thought we could comfortably have talked for another hour on the topic, since we were just scratching the surface of what there was to discuss. Each of my panellists were very witty and well-spoken and had different perspectives, with Consolmagno and Bannister professionals in the field and Higgins a very informed layman. I was super proud of how it went.

‘Forty years of the Force: fab or fail?’ (Boaz Karni-Harel, Claudia Fusco, Jackie Kamlot) was the second panel I was a panellist on, and probably my favourite panel of the week. I was the only person who had read any of the Legends stuff, but otherwise there was a broad range of expertise and opinion. I got a bit ranty at points but my aim in doing that was to be entertaining, so I’m hopeful the audience enjoyed it. I could talk about Star Wars all day!

That’s all for now, check out my Dreamwidth if you’re interested in the more personal aspects of my con.

Ytterbium (the 2019 Eastercon)

España and I recently attended Ytterbium, the 70th Eastercon, held at the Park Inn at London Heathrow. We headed up on the Friday and left again on the Monday, and in some ways I feel like it’s the convention at which I attended (and paid attention to!) more panel items than perhaps I ever have before, which made me happy.

We arrived at the Renaissance after a pretty uneventful journey from Southampton via Woking, and we met Rae there before checking in. The Park Inn isn’t a bad hotel by any means but the Renaissance is a step above, and the rooms were very plush. The breakfasts were similarly plush; omelette station, waffles, breakfast dishes I’d never seen before alongside excellent mushrooms and sausages and freshly fried eggs. I’d recommend staying there, and I’d also say that the bar snacks were pretty good, too. The obvious disadvantage was that it wasn’t the con hotel, but it was only about a 5 minute walk down the road so that was pretty manageable.

As I mentioned, I really enjoyed the programming this year. The opening ceremony was haphazard and very Eastercon, and the Guests of Honour got amazing tees with the convention’s logo bejewelled on the fronts. This went straight into a panel on gaming and fiction which had (among others) Emma Newman and Frances Hardinge, and was a really fun and interesting panel. Some of the anecdotes told about gaming were truly bizarre, and I hadn’t realised that Newman and Hardinge are old gaming buddies.

I don’t think I made it to any other panels that Hardinge appeared on, but I did see panels with each of the other guests of honour. For John Scalzi, I saw his GoH interview, “Paranoid Politics and Fantasy”, and “The Future of Space Opera”. The three were all very different aspects of his personality — the interview had a lot of his thoughts on privilege and also thoughts on good burrito creation all had very different topics but all three were hugely enjoyable (if only to watch Scalzi shoot down attendees who wanted to give comments rather than asking questions).

The real stand-out for me over the weekend, though, was Syndey Padua — I was aware of her work as my wife is currently reading The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage but I hadn’t realised that she is, by day, an animator who worked on Iron Giant and I hadn’t realised that her research into Lovelace and Babbage has gone very much into the realm of academia. Consequently I found her GoH interview absolutely fascinating, and I found the “Mechanical Computing” panel she was on similarly extremely interesting (if you’d like a taste for what she was talking about, see this YouTube video).

In terms of the socialising, the convention was great. I got to see some people I’ve not seen for a while (up to and including as long ago as the 2012 Eastercon) and it was really great to catch up with people. Got to play a bunch of Star Wars Destiny with Hogg, and drink until the wee hours with amazing people, and properly speak to people I’ve only really known through Facebook, and generally have a really brilliant time. Especially brilliant was getting to know a few people I met on panels (especially those who I met on board game panels I describe below).

I was on a few panels over the weekend. I did two panels with my professional hat on: I moderated “Humanity in Space” on Friday night; “Black Holes at Ytterbium!” on Monday afternoon. “Humanity in Space” ended up being quite a wide-ranging look at the future of our species’ spaceflight, and the panellists brought quite a range of perspectives to the table, some of which I sympathised with more than others. My professional expertise isn’t as directly relevant to “Black Holes at Ytterbium!”, but I think I was able to bridge the gap between the astronomers and some of the lay audience effectively.

I was on two panels from the perspective of my gaming fandom, too. Those were “New Concepts in Collectible Card Games” on the Saturday and “What Makes a Board Game Good?” on Sunday. In both, I was joined by Jack Patten, who co-hosts the Standard Intelligence podcast and is an avid Magic the Gathering (MtG) player and gamer, and it was really cool to meet him. The latter panel also involved John Dodd, who is heavily involved as a floor manager with the UK Games Expo. I really enjoyed appearing on both of these! The first one focused on newer card games such as the LCGs being put out by Fantasy Flight Games and games such as Star Wars Destiny, which include cards and dice. Jack and I are, as it turns out, very good at talking to each other about games and Jack’s expertise in MtG was very useful in contextualising some of the things I was talking about in terms of LCG design. The panel on board games focused on Kramer’s rules for good board game design and we had a discussion which was quite wide-ranging focusing on different aspects of those rules which I really enjoyed (hopefully the audience did, too!).

I also helped out with two programme items to do with the fan funds (TAFF and GUFF); the first was a panel on what they are and why you should do them, which was ace, and the second was the fan fund auction — we raised something daft like £1500 for the fan funds over the course of the weekend and after a somewhat shaky start it went really well.

The last panel I was on, was on the topic of Disney and its relationships with creators (in the context of Chuck Wendig, James Gunn, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, etc.) and featured myself moderating alongside Janne and Jeannette Ng, who raised the energy level considerably and raised some very thought-provoking points. Based on an idea that came out of this panel I’ve already suggested a panel to next year’s Eastercon that I’m hopeful will make it into the programme.

Worldcon 76

We went to Worldcon and had a great time!

So we flew out to Worldcon on the Thursday morning of the convention. Our flight was supposed to leave Gatwick at 10:20, but we eventually landed in Oakland airport at around 3 or 4pm because our flight was delayed. Because we were doing a masquerade thing with Mette and Bryan, Mette picked us up from the airport and drove us back to hers, where we tried on our [redacted] and discussed our costumes for the Masquerade (still very hush-hush, at this stage), while saying hi to Bryan. Bryan was quite a way off from having his costume finished but was working eagerly on it, and Mette had basically sewn hers entirely, and had finished it on schedule. España had bought me trousers for my costume in the UK, but I needed to borrow Bryan’s boots and belt buckle, and I needed a tan T-shirt (as España had forgotten one that we’d planned to bring) and a snap-fit belt.

We eventually made it to Worldcon 76 just before registration closed, and made it to our badges and checked into our hotel, collecting a JP and a Warren on our way through the process. We headed to a nearby eatery called Café Stritch to grab a burger and some soda — the service was pretty awful but the food was alright. We ate before heading back over to the convention centre. The first job was to go through the routine for the masquerade to hit the parties. I left España to freshen up in the hotel while I headed over to the parties, which were honestly pretty anaemic on the first night — I think I went to a Japanese party of some description as well as heading to a party that was serving a lot of different types of rum (I don’t remember who ran it, but it was good!). Then España headed to the dance and I socialised some more before we rendezvoused in order to hit the hay.

On the Friday we went to get breakfast at a likely-looking local place called Peanuts, which turned out to do excellent and very cheap omelettes, before we headed back to the convention. One of the first orders of business upon returning to the convention (after purchasing a belt) was to meet up with Bryan and Mette and Warren in order to do the tech rehearsal of our masquerade entry, [redacted]. I think this was also the day that Nessa very kindly gave me a tan T-shirt she’d been able to procure, which was super useful and meant I didn’t have to go searching for that. At 3pm we went to do Loteria with John Picacio presenting, and that was super good fun, and at 6pm I went to a panel called ‘Not Hugo-nominated novels you should read’, which I was looking forward to but which was much more stream-of-consciousness than I expected (which is probably mostly on me) and also featured two excellent and interesting women accompanied by two dull and boring men (which is probably mostly on the patriarchy).

The art show reception was at 7pm, and España and I went to that, meeting a friend of hers in the process and getting to see some of the art that we hadn’t had a chance to see yet and discussing it with various people who were bumbling around. I know we went to the art show earlier in the day than the reception, but I cannot remember for the life of me when we did that. The art show wasn’t as good as the art show at Loncon 3 (this appears to be a theme), but was pretty funky. I saw a couple of bits that tempted me, but I didn’t feel the need to bid on anything in the end. I also feel pretty sure that at some point on the Friday I ate a donut, and fortunately there is photographic evidence of that occurring, so I’m not just going mad.

We went to get food at the relatively nearby Uproar Brewing Company — the service was pretty awful but the food was good. The beer was also very good, so that was a huge plus. We went with Tobes, Dave O’Neill, Chris and Nessa, JP, Richard Stephenson, and bumped into Warren Buff and Chris Hensley while we were there. This was mostly fabulous, and afterwards we headed over to the parties. Leigh Ann took us to Lance’s party and we had a drink and said hi before we went to the Belter party, bumping into Gwendolyn and Kris on the way over. We settled on the Belter party for pretty much the rest of the night and talked with many excellent people, including but not limited to Tobes; Dave O’Neill; Mette (in her Captain Scarlet cosplay); Jade and Erik; Bill Howard; Leigh Ann and Leo; Kris and Gwendolyn; Jenn Johansson and Nichole Giles and other Utah spice girls that I met in Reno and haven’t seen in ages; and others (some of those may have been at parties before the Belter, but all of them blur together in my mind…).

We headed to Peanuts again on the Saturday, which was Masquerade day. España and I went to Peanuts again for breakfast, and it was much busier owing to it being the weekend and all. We went around the dealers’ room after getting back to the convention centre, which was super fun — I bumped into Jeannette Ng and her partner Dom, and I think I met Jade Falcon, and generally had a pretty good time just meandering, looking at stuff and bumping into people! I missed Dave O’Neill’s birthday drinks in favour of having lunch with Bryan and Mette in one of the hotel’s bars and then heading up to their hotel room to start to get ready in Mette and Bryan’s room, but they let me escape briefly to go to the start of the panel featuring Mur Lafferty, Lou Anders, Jennifer Haddle, and Alexander Freed (who wasn’t listed on the programme but turned up anyway!). It was really cool to listen to stories of the publishing — I should have taken notes, but as it is I just let the awesome wash over me. One part I do remember was being surprised that Mur didn’t get to see Solo before submitting the novelisation she wrote, having to go to the cinema instead shortly before the deadline (which was just after the film got its theatrical release). The discussion of the difficulty of working out how lines would be delivered, and whether potentially funny lines would be delivered comedically or straight, was something I’d never really thought about, and I guess speaks a lot to the impact that a director can have on a script they’re shooting.

The next order of the day was the masquerade, at which we were going on as ‘A Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy’. I was Ponda Baba, España was a Modal Node (the cantina band), Bryan was two Jawas standing atop one another, and Mette was Greedo. Mette had been making the heads for a long time before we arrived in the USA and they were so fantastic in the photos, but even more so in real life — it was so eerie to see people wearing their silicone! España had made my jacket, and I had procured everything else from shops (as described above). España had also made her own jacket, and was wearing that with grey trousers and black boots. Bryan did (semi-miraculously) get his costume finished before the deadline, and it looked really good, so that was actually excellent.

I headed up to Bryan and Mette’s room and then back down to the green room to wait to go on. This was pretty interesting, as I’ve never done a masquerade before. The first thing we did was get judged by the workmanship judges, who judged the sewing of Mette and Bryan’s costumes and the heads and hands that Mette had made. Next was having photographs taken in the costumes (all taken by Olav Rokne, like the featured image at the top of this report) — the visibility in my head was fairly poor, as was the ability to hear, so there was a lot of shouting and being repositioned manually at this stage of the day. It’s not so much the eyes that are the problem — although they do limit your peripheral vision and feel a little like you’re wearing sunglasses, they’re not that bad — but it’s the fogging up that occurs once you’ve been sweating and breathing within the mask. Bryan and Mette had fit little fans to the insides of some of the masks, so the air flow wasn’t too bad once you had the head on, but the fogging up was still a huge issue.

Once the judging and the photo call was over, we ate some of the finger food, watched the stream of the masquerade coming from the main hall via the handily placed screens in the green room, and waited for our turn. It wasn’t long in coming, and we eventually got onto stage to a huge reaction — it was great! I’m hoping there’ll eventually be a video of the masquerade so I can watch the bits I missed and see our performance from the perspective of the audience. We waited backstage for what felt like aeons to get to the prize giving, and we won prizes based on Mette’s masks in both presentation and workmanship — so España and I have two rosettes each on our bookshelves as I write this.

We went back to Bryan and Mette’s hotel room to have a glass or two of wine before heading down to the parties. I don’t recall exactly what route we took through the party floors, but I do remember that we ended up back in the Belter party again, and that was super fun.

Peanuts was shut on Sunday morning so we ended up going to Peggy Sue’s diner, close to the convention centre, with JP. It was pretty good but it wasn’t as good as the breakfasts at Peanuts, and so we didn’t return to that place again. We did go to the fan fund auction briefly on the Sunday and spent some time there before realising we probably weren’t going to buy anything, and leaving again — American fan fund auctions seem to have a very different demographic and theory to British (European?) ones, and I’ve never been as enamoured. We were going to spend time in our Masquerade costumes to pose near the Han Solo in carbonite on the convention floor, and also to show people the costumes in closer detail. We got lots of attention and people took many photographs, and then the requisite photographs with Han in carbonite, and then eventually wandered back upstairs to shower, get changed, and get ready for the Hugo Awards. I queued to sign up for the Kaffeeklatsch with Mur Lafferty at this stage and most of the people in the queue were also doing that, so I was glad I got there pretty early!

We got dinner with Jean and Erik at a local Mexican restaurant, Mezcal, being very careful not to get crap on our clothes as a part of this process. It was delicious, and it was super great to hang out with Jean and Erik, both of whom are very excellent people! We saved them seats at the Hugo ceremony itself, which we also attended with Warren Frey. I was generally very happy with the winners — I enjoyed Six Wakes much more than the conclusion to the Broken Earth trilogy, which I thought was by far the weakest of the three novels, so I was a little sad that that didn’t win, and I was also a bit sad that Escape Pod didn’t win in the semiprozine category.

The aftermath of the Hugo Awards was the Hugo Losers Party, which we had managed to get an invitation to (thanks to Alissa and James). The party was located in a place about five minutes from the convention itself, and it was really good — there were many bars dotted about (as opposed to Helsinki, which while a great bar, had only one bar) and also giant dancing robots which were pretty damn cool. Jenn, Nichole and others from their gang were in attendance, as was Tobes, and Alissa, and Warren and Erika and Steven, and probably many people I am forgetting. Warren introduced me to Dan Moren, who I’ve been hearing on podcasts forever, so that was super neat and we nerded out about Taskmaster, I got to chat with Jeannette Ng and Dom for a little bit and that was really nice, and I also got to see Fia properly for the first time in the trip and chatted with her a lot, which was really lovely. All in all, this was probably my favourite night of the convention!

The Monday morning we were a little the worse for wear, and we got our shit together and headed to Peanuts for breakfast (for the third time) with JP. I switched things up by not having an omelette (as I had for the first two days), but getting a hamburger patty and hash browns instead. I did not regret my choice!

Getting back to the convention centre, España and I checked out of the hotel and left our bags with the concierge before I went to meet Jeannette and Dom to chat and have coffee (much needed!). It was lovely to properly sit and chat and we had gotten onto the subject of the different approaches of Marvel and Lucasfilm to taking the best parts of their pre-existing canons (comics for Marvel and the old Expanded Universe for Lucasfilm) and putting them into new stories in the future.

But, I reluctantly tore myself away to go to Mur Lafferty’s kaffeeklatsch, which was really, really interesting. She spoke about the Solo novelisation she’d worked on and shared anecdotes and experiences both from that, and also from the short stories she’s written in the Star Wars universe. She spoke about her name, and Six Wakes, and the Shambling Guide series, and many, many other things. It was really interesting and I was glad I went, as it was my first Kaffeeklatsch — I’ve always been a little worried that they would feel strange/creepy, but it actually felt more like a very quiet Q&A session with dedicated fans who had really interesting questions, and that was nice. I’d definitely do another one!

After that I hung out with Jason Schachat and Melissa Lopez and JP for a while, but Jason and Melissa eventually headed back to LA (us wishing them well on their upcoming nuptials!) before sleepily wandering over and hanging with Sarah Goldberg and Warren Frey and España and Bryan and Mette and meeting Juan Sanmiguel and Nancy Alegria and (possibly) others. I can’t remember everyone who was there, but I did walk a bit with Crystal and talked with her, and we eventually all decamped to a local Mexican place called Chacho’s, which I enjoyed greatly. I think the people present were me, España, Warren, Mette, Bryan, Nancy, Juan and Sarah but I don’t recall who else was present (maybe that’s the full list, although it seems unlikely).

On the Monday night we were helping at the Past Chairs’ Party, in exchange for crashing in the suite after the party concluded. Alissa and Chuck Serface were also helping out, and James Bacon and Kevin Roche and Dave McCarty and Kevin Standlee and various other luminaries of the situation were there, and once we’d stopped guarding the door things went super well. We cheerfully took advantage of the lovely Game of Thrones beers (which I checked into on Untappd) and also the giant tub of M&M’s before we crashed for the night and went to sleep.

The next morning, we went swimming in the hotel’s outdoor pool, so naturally the weather decided not to be warm/sunny/forget-me-not blue for the first time that week. We still got some good swimming in though, because we’re pro (and España did note that I currently have way, way more stamina than her — clearly going to the gym almost every day is having benefits!). After that, we took Alissa to Peanuts for our fourth and last visit before heading over to 1 Infinite Loop and Apple Park to take photos, get T-shirts and nerd the hell out. That was super fun, and I’m glad we did it. We eventually waved goodbye to Alissa from the Fairmont as she headed to the airport before we went up to the city to rendezvous with España’s brother and sister, at which point our trip transitioned from convention report to holiday.

At this stage, I will leave the story here. Look up the rest of the holiday on my Dreamwidth if you’d like to find out what else we got up to, but for now, I’m going to go outside and enjoy the good weather!

Journey Planet: The Star Wars issue

I recently had the pleasure of editing and writing for the Star Wars issue of Journey Planet at the invitation of Christopher J. Garcia and James Bacon.

The issue is a corker, featuring interviews with Tom Veitch and Timothy Zahn (the two people largely responsible for the kickstart of what was the Star Wars Expanded Universe) and contributions from Craig Miller, who worked at Lucasfilm at the time of The Empire Strikes Back, as well as an awful lot of fan writing from a huge spectrum of Star Wars fandom.

Check it out, and let me know what you think!

Follycon

Follycon has come and gone, and so it’s time for the con write-up. I’ve usually blogged about conventions on my Dreamwidth, but this time I’m going to write about it on my actual website so that I can get normal people to read it1.

So, first things first. Harrogate is lovely, and entirely too far away from Southampton. In hindsight, flying from SOU to LBA before getting the train to Harrogate would have been a lot quicker and easier, but would also have cost a lot more money (about double), so we got the train instead, going via Birmingham New Street and Leeds. The train journey wasn’t too bad, and fortunately we managed to get seats despite (rather stupidly) not having booked reservations on the train2. We arrived into Harrogate just after 2pm on the Friday, and consequently missed the opening ceremony while checking into our hotel.

I did manage to get to the convention in time to attend my first panel, which was also a panel I was appearing on. We were discussing the marriage of mechanics and theme in board games, where ‘we’ included Kieron Gillen, Adrian Tchaikovsky, and Esther MacCallum-Stewart. I thoroughly enjoyed this panel, and it was super fun to see a panel which I suggested come to fruition, especially given that the panellists were amazing and room we were in was standing only by the end. Esther did a magnificent job moderating the panel, which involved playing Rhino Hero and arguing whether it was more mechanics than it was theme, and also discussing specifically what had meant we started by leaning towards board games instead of towards video games (we mostly agreed that video games are often simulations, rather than easily distilled into mechanics in the way that board games or card games are).

The rest of the Friday night of my convention is a bit of a blur. I met up with Anna and Hogg and Liz and the rest of the third row, and we played Star Wars Destiny and drank and I said hi to many other people before I met up with Alissa and we got dinner with España at a local place called Konak Meze, which was rather good. España and I paid a fleeting visit to Colin and Jo’s pyjama disco, and I think I stayed up till about 2am, chatting with various members of the third row late into the night.

The Saturday beckoned and España and I were delighted to find that the Crown Hotel does a very good breakfast. I wasn’t a huge fan of the black pudding or the sausages but the mushrooms were the best I’ve had at a hotel breakfast ever, and the pastries and whatnot were also excellent. I managed to get to the latter part of Farah’s talk on Robert Heinlein, which has made me even more excited to read the book she has coming out, The Pleasant Profession of Robert A. Heinlein. I was on a panel immediately after that, on the topic of ‘PhDs and how to catch one’, which was (hopefully!) an interesting view into the mechanics of getting into academia for those members of the con who are engaged in doing PhDs or who are thinking about doing so. I had my first pint at this stage, and then got to catching up with Simon, Siän, Dave, Rachael, and Nicholas — I appeared on my Star Wars panel in the interim, and then headed out to dinner to eat with Rachael, Nicholas and Fiona before moderating the ‘Meet the fan fund candidates’ panel.

The Star Wars panel featured the Campbell Award-nominated Jeanette Ng, as well as James Bacon, Fiona Moore and Fred Langridge (moderator) and I think it went well. We focused mostly on diversity and the new direction the canon is taking with representing new characters, and mostly agreed (I think) that a character from the LGBTQ community would be a nice thing to add to the Star Wars movies3. The panel on the fan fund candidates was also great, as I got to meet Fia Karlsson and Marcin Kłak, and also got to know Johan Anglemark a little better (I already knew Helena, Steve and Alice pretty well!). I feel like this was a rousing success.

After the last panel, I hung out with Rae a lot before we all headed to the disco. Hogg and I neatly circumvented the disco by eating chip butties and playing Star Wars Destiny in the room next to the disco, contentedly listening to the music and chilling until our sweaty partners emerged from the dance hall and we headed back to the hotel via an amazing Yorkshire Fried Chicken vendor4.

The Sunday, we nearly missed breakfast as I had forgotten to set my alarm. We did manage to eat though, at the cost of missing the Eastercon bidding session. (The only 2020 bid are intending to go for Birmingham are Concentric, whose website is currently not so informative…!) I did manage to get to the talk by Christina Lake at noon and then the Culture Clash panel at 1:15pm, though, both of which were really interesting. Hogg got his Doctor Aphra card from Star Wars Destiny signed by Anna in this slot (which was my idea!5) and then we headed to the Kieron Gillen interview. This was fun, but I think in the future I’ll probably avoid the interviews for guests whose work I’m not as familiar with as I should be — I was hoping Gillen’s work on Marvel’s Star Wars tie-in comics would be covered in more (any) detail, but the only tidbits about that were in response to a question I asked6.

The interview was followed by the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. This was…interesting. It was clear that it was quite strongly themed around Alice in Wonderland, and also clear that it was going to have people doing various entertainment throughout. Unfortunately, these things were clear after we paid money to go along — we thought it was basically a cream tea with a little bit of stuff happening. As such, I think that if any of the people on my table had their time again, they’d probably have skipped it, as the idea of having a cream tea together was appealing but the idea of having a cream tea while watching variety entertainment was not quite as appealing. Ah well — you live and learn!

We very quickly ate dinner in between the tea party and the fan fund auction. I directed the group to a blues bar in Harrogate that has Yorkshire tapas upstairs. Initially, we were a bit dubious because the bar itself (downstairs) was full of live music fans, and also, of live music. The upstairs had loud speakers and no people and the waitress indicated they’d already stopped serving food, but fortunately the loud speakers were turned down and the kitchen was indeed still open, so we got our Yorkshire tapas. The best named dish was the tatties bravas, but every dish was absolutely delicious and the group thoroughy enjoyed their time there. We went to Betty’s tearoom on the way back to the convention and got some cake to take back to the hotel, which was fabulous.

The fan fund auction was great. Although usually I auction alongside a host of other people, this time it was, for whatever reason, mostly myself and DougS that did the auctioning. People seemed to think we made a good double act, which was nice, and we raised something like £800 for the fan funds, which was quite terrific. I had a whale of a time and also bought España a Christmas present (which I’m hoping she’ll forget before Christmas!).

After the auction I spent time generally socialising with a variety of people I’d not spent much time with up to that point. I hung out a little bit with Fia and Johan, the two TAFF candidates, and also chatted with Doug and Julia, and other people I hadn’t really been spending enough time talking to throughout the convention. It was really great to spread my wings a little and socialise properly, so hurrah!

Monday rolled around. This was very upsetting, as it was our last day. We checked out of the hotel and checked our bags in at the Majestic before the day began. We attended a few panels — I went to a couple of things with Kim Stanley Robinson on them, as I hadn’t seen him on much throughout the weekend. The reading was okay but the talk on Galileo was amazing, and I really enjoyed it. I wish he was going to release a non-fiction book, but it was all research for his novel Galileo’s Dream, so I will have to pick that up soonish.

We got the train back to Southampton with Alissa, who was staying a few days after Eastercon. I mostly played Polytopia, as I had been set onto that by the third row at the convention. The Five Guys at Birmingham station provided excellent nourishment on our way back7 and we got home safe and sound. All in all, a fabulous convention, and I’m hopeful that Harrogate will host Eastercons in the future!


  1. I figured nobody commented on my LiveJournal anymore because everyone moved to Dreamwidth, but it turns out it’s basically just as dead as LiveJournal…. 
  2. Given how bad CrossCountry Trains can be for overcrowding, this could have been a real pain in our arses. 
  3. Marvel, and Kieron Gillen, have been doing better at this than the movies have been, given that Doctor Aphra is into women. 
  4. If you’re wondering why I didn’t tell anyone about the amazing fried chicken, I did try to, but the newsletter team clearly thought it was a step too whimsical and didn’t print my review…. 
  5. I’m, like, 95% sure. 
  6. I entirely understand why the interview focused on Gillen’s original work, but I haven’t read any of that yet! 
  7. I don’t mind this newfangled trend of not having a McDonald’s or Burger King in train stations or airport terminals, but it does frustrate me when there’s no Five Guys or similar equivalent. Sometimes I don’t want sushi or overpriced pub food! Five Guys is an excellent compromise.