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. 

My panels at Follycon

Easter is nearly here, and that means it’s also nearly Eastercon. This year, Eastercon is Follycon, being held in Harrogate (at the Majestic Hotel) for the first time in half a century. I’m lucky enough to be appearing on a few panels through the weekend, and I thought I’d list them here.

Games: Story Versus Mechanics

Boardgames (and RPGs) all have mechanics, and most of them have a story or theme. Which matters more to players’ enjoyment? When do they work well together? What happens when are they at cross purposes?
Esther MacCallum-Stewart (M), John Coxon, Kieron Gillen, David Tallerman, Adrian Tchaikovsky
Friday at 4pm

I suggested this panel after playing a few games with most excellent mechanics and a few games which dismally fail to capture the feel they’re going for. I’m excited by the bloody stellar panellists which are going to talk about it.

PhDs and How to Catch One

Work on a doctorate can vary widely depending on the discipline, the environment and the individual. Our panellists compare notes. Please do not ask if there’s a doctor in the house.
Edward James (M), John Coxon, Christina Lake, Rachael Livermore, Judith Mortimore
Saturday at noon

I got asked to be on this one, it sounds like an interesting topic and a good thing to discuss for members of the convention considering moving into academia.

The Revolution in Star Wars

The reinvigorated Star Wars franchise moves on with The Last Jedi, which reconsiders many of the traditions of Star Wars. Our panel compares the new direction with the old and tries to foresee the future. Midichlorians need not apply.
Fred Langridge (M), James Bacon, John Coxon, Fiona Moore, Jeannette Ng
Saturday at 4:30pm

I’ve been agitating for a Star Wars panel at Eastercon for ages now, so I’m very happy to see this on the programme! The Star Wars panel at Helsinki turned at least half the people queuing away, so there’s clearly demand for intelligent discussion on the topic.

GUFF and TAFF: Meet the Candidates

The Going Under / Get Up-and-over Fan Fund (GUFF) and Transatlantic Fan Fund (TAFF) fan travel funds both have races under way right now, to send delegates respectively to the Antipodes and North America. But who are the people competing (in the nicest possible way) to be those delegates, and what’s all this fan fundery about anyway? Find out who wants to go where, why, and how it all works in a combined candidate interview.
John Coxon (M), Johan Anglemark, Fia Karlsson, Marcin “Alqua” Klak, Alice and Steve Lawson, Helena
Saturday at 7pm

Fans of rhlstp will enjoy at least one of the questions I pose in this discussion.