BSFA and SFF Mini-Con – What was it like?

Yesterday was a lovely sunny day when you would expect people to be outside. Instead quite a few of us were at Imperial College attending the British Science Fiction Association’s, Science Fiction Foundation’s and Imperial College Science Fiction Society’s mini-convention at the Blackett Laboratory, Imperial College… and it sure was a good one to attend…


The guests of honour were Pat Cadigan and Brian Aldiss, and it took the usual format of two panels and two interviews.

Brian Aldiss is approaching his 90th birthday and, as you can imagine, was full of amusing anecdotes from his past. I think that writers, no matter what genre, may shy away from writing such characters into their stories because they take a lot of work, and time, to develop. There is no way I could recount those tales in detail, and hope, that in due course, someone writes a biography about him. What came out and everyone agreed on was that Brian Aldiss could not be pigeon-holed into on sub-genre, but wrote with excellence across many sub-genres.

I must admit I found Pat Cadigan the more interesting, partly because of where I am at in my writing (that’s another story for another post). The first panel talked about her Nebula winning novelette, The Girl-Thing who went out for Sushi.

Amongst many things that impressed the panel was how much world building could be compressed into such few words. Also whilst the slang was prevalent and not immediately understood, the story and where it was heading was. It also tackled subjects like transitioning and the law of transitioning (to sushi in this case), and pervasive surveillance, where in this case the reaction was that it was comforting to have around, because it guaranteed an immediate rescue would be launched if things went wrong in the the dangerous environment they were working in.

Pat herself admitted that she drew on what her friends who had transitioned told her. Pat went on to say that she had worked out that any military in space would not be as we see in many space operas with their battle cruisers etc, but rather they would be more like the coast guard, helping with rescues and doing policing activities. When she was trying to work out what forms her space-workers should take, she realised they had to deal with micro-gravity and also deal with the accelerations and therefore pressures of spaceflight. As life in the ocean was the closest we had to being weightless and also being able to deal with the pressure of the water, it was the best fit to her spaceflight and space-working needs. Further consequences were that the heart will adapt to space. Hearts in humans need to make an extra effort to pump blood upwards to the head against gravity. With little gravity in space there was no need for a skeleton to hold things in place. In space, bones would be replaced by cartilage. Given that space-workers needed to have quite a bit of manipulative dexterity, the octopus seemed to most fit the bill for a space-worker.

Now this is what I call working out your world-building!

The good news is that Pat is currently working on a follow-on novel. It is set a hundred years after this story and sounds very promising.

In her interview Pat talked about her short story, Cancer Dancers and how she had drawn on her personal experience. A lot of what she said about dealing with cancer rang true with me (my husband died of cancer). So without having read her story, I can recommend anyone having to deal with the horrible disease should read her story. You’ll feel less alone and realise that what you are experiencing are what other have in the past.

So it was a day mixed shades… Brian Aldiss’s lightheartedness, Pat Cadigan’s dealing with ‘difficult subjects’.


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