Bristolcon 2014

Another year, another Bristolcon. Now into its sixth year as a Science Fiction and Fantasy convention, it seems to be going from strength to strength. Admittedly this year, it was more biased to the fantasy end of the spectrum, but that is only fair given last year it was the heavily weighted towards science fiction.

Like the previous Bristolcons I attended, it has two streams of panels and a kaffeeklatsch room. So there is chance to pick and choose the panels you want to attend.

The first panel was one of those discussions that could have easily gone on into a second session about the discoverability and representation. There was talk about the Amazon effect – basically the set of algorithms that Amazon uses to identify best selling books, which are then promoted more than any other books, which in turn leads to more sales. It makes it harder for new independent authors to get a look in.

[It’s at this point I have one of those ‘lightbulb moments’… the Amazon algorithms could be quite simply altered to allow more independent authors to be promoted under certain circumstances, say for 10% of the promotions being put forward to readers looking for a book to read. But Amazon don’t do this. Why? It would not surprise me if maximising Amazon profit was behind this lack of slightly more sophisticated algorithm. I suspect if Amazon rivals put this into their algorithms, they would start taking customers away from Amazon, particularly those who want a change from reading the same old type of thing they’ve been reading for ages.]

However, there is a form of Amazon effect seen in many bookshops. The display tables feature books the bookshops thinks will sell well. The issue of the lack of women writers being promoted seems to be still ongoing. Although science fiction and fantasy is seeing an extreme of this, other genres appear to suffering the same effect. Juliet McKenna has previously pointed out these issues, backed up by statistics.

So what about Independent writers trying to be discovered? There are publishers trying to get good new writers onto the scene, but their best option to get noticed still seems to be by word of mouth.

The second panel I attended was common writing problems. All the panelists gave what I call sound practical advice to the questions asked, like how do you get over writers’ block or what happens if a minor character takes over your story? Well worth attending if you were have difficulties in getting your story on the page.

After lunch I attended the fully booked kaffeklatsch on how to get an agent ably run by Jacey Bedford. She went through her history with agents and then through the process of getting an agent. Even she noted that there are very few science fiction and fantasy agents in the UK compared to the USA. It came as a surprise to me that she had a list of about 100 agents she could apply to a couple of years back – yes they were mainly in the USA. She then went through the process of how to apply to an agent. Again, all good sensible advice – like don’t write in green ink on pink paper unless the agent asks for it. Overall a very helpful session.

This was followed by Amanda Kear’s (Dr Bob’s) talk on ‘More Weird Sex’ where she compared the odd sex lives of real animals on Earth and found the equivalents written about in science fiction. It was those Mexican lizards and their the different strategies of how the golden/blue/yellow males attracted females that really was complicated. The golden male lizards were aggressive, having large territories where they could have several females. The blue  male lizards guarded their single females, while the yellow male lizards scurried around trying to find females to have offspring with. It turns out the the aggressive golden lizards tend to beat up the blue males, but the blue males having only single females to look after keep a look out for the yellow lizards and ward them off. Meanwhile the yellow lizards could easily attract one the golden male lizard’s females while he was busy elsewhere.

The final panel I attended was Past Lives, Future Visions. This was the poorest of the panels I attended, but nevertheless good, which goes to show that Bristolcon, though one of the smaller cons, is high quality. There was talk about the Game of Thrones being based on various parts of history, where were those pivotal moments in history (e.g. what happened if Richard III had NOT been killed on the Battle of Bosworth), parallel universes and alternative histories.

In between panels, I met a lot of friends, old and new. The atmosphere was friendly and happy. And I certainly enjoyed myself.

My thanks go to all the people who organised and helped out at Bristolcon to make it the success it was. Well done, all of you!



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