So last weekend the World Science Fiction Convention rocked up at the Excel centre in East London. As a British scifi writer, it would be rude not to attend something so close, so I took the bus down from Oxford on Thursday and had a fun few days chatting with writers, attending panels and enjoying the awesome sights of the con, like the incredible jawa to the left (complete with glowing eyes and Utini! sound effects.
There were all kinds of cool things - giant games of Pandemic! and Ticket to Ride, cool artwork and science displays, and many many many geeky things to buy. I was staying in a hostel and trying to stay light, so the only thing I picked up was a copy of the board game Coup, which is a quick little game of cards that combines aspects of Poker and The Resistance, in a Dune-esque setting. You have two cards in front of you, face down, with different roles possible that do different things (Duke earns 3 coins in Tax, Assassin kills someone else's card for a cost of 3 coins, Countess cancels Assassin, etc). You have to state which card you're using, but you can bluff. If someone challenges you on it, the loser has to sacrifice a card, and if you lose all your cards you're out. It's a simple game, but it's a fun little 15 minute palette cleanser between larger games.
Among the biggest draws for a lot of people was George R.R. Martin, who did several panels on Game of Thrones, as reading a piece from the new 'World of Ice and Fire' book. I didn't see all of it as I was in meetings, but there were the appropriate numbers of grisly deaths, as well as an admission of guilt over how late the next book is!
I also went to a fascinating panel discussion between Christopher Priest, who was nominated for the 1983 Granta 40 writers under 40 feature, and Naomi Alderman, who was nominated for the same honour last year. It was interesting to see two great writers of genre who are on the border with literary fiction talk about the divide and how the gatekeepers of literary fiction will select works of genre fiction (like 1984 or the Handmaid's Tale) and decide they are 'literary', but then use the worst examples of scifi and fantasy to dismiss it.
Naomi Alderman used a wonderful example of how great speculative fiction can be to address topics that 'realistic' literary fiction struggles to address without our inbuilt biases getting in the way. In the movie Starship Troopers, Paul Verhoeven wanted to look at how it was like for the kids growing up in the Nazi youth, being indoctrinated against the 'other' (the bug aliens), and become a militarised and intolerant society. If he'd written a realistic film addressing the same topic, we as viewers would have been unable to get the association of the kids as Nazis out of our head, and all of the time we would have been unable to concentrate on Verhoeven's point (that it's really easy to be sucked in) because of the inbuilt association of evil. But in a scifi setting where we don't immediately leap to that conclusion, it's not until Neil Patrick Harris' Gestapo-like character appears at the end to enslave the brain bug that our mind really makes that Nazi connection and we get Verhoeven's point, that what can start as an innocent nationalistic pride can end up being something much more subversive and dangerous.
I also had some great meetings at Worldcon for the sekrit projekt, which is finally almost at the stage that I can talk about it. We've lined up some incredibly exciting things that I can't wait to show the world in a few months' time.
Listening To: My Morning Jacket - Circuital
Reading: Defenders by Will McIntosh
Watching: Fringe, season 5
Playing: The Last of Us Remastered, Assassin's Creed: Black Flag (on my shiny new PS4!)