BristolCon seems to go from strength to strength as each year passes by… and this was no exception to that pattern. This year it seemed better organised and more roomy, which I attribute to things being moved round a little bit so that the flow of people through the ‘foyer’ became easier. Good on the organisers for recognising the problem and finding a way around it.
Also this year show parity between men and women, in terms of panel membership – both panelists and moderators, and also in the readings done between events. The fact that BristolCon can attract so many volunteers for the super-organiser to manage this, is a reflection of the good reputation the Con has.
Like previous years I could not be three or more places at the same time, so could not go to all streams, and had to pick and choose. I naturally concentrated on the more sciencey side of science fiction.
My first choice was the ‘Call Me Rosetta’ panel about the issues surrounding possible first contact with alien species. The debate veered from discussing ‘how do you actually talk to aliens that are so different from us e.g. will they have the same ideas as us?’ through ‘what alien actions would we consider intimidating?’ to ‘what problems are caused by the vast distances across which we or aliens have to travel to make contact?’. I have heard most of the comments elsewhere, but it is good to have them all concentrated in the short space of 45 minutes. It makes you focus on the issue. As to whether aliens exist, well, almost certainly at the microbial level within our Solar System (Titan, a moon of Saturn was mentioned a couple of times). Beyond that? There were too many unknowns, let alone unknown unknowns.
I then attended a Guest of Honour interview. This was Ken MacLoed of Star Faction fame, interviewed by Jaine Fenn. As is usual with interviews, we got the why this novel was written or how that novel came about. Perhaps for me the two most interesting aspects were how much philosophy Ken had read as a youngster that went on to influence his science fiction, and that his latest novel, Dissidence, included differentiated between soft and hard AI.
The next event I attended had me on the panel, entitled ‘Uncanny Valleys of the Mind’. It was all about sentient AI and whether science fiction had got their representation right. The wide variety of views amongst the other panelists really made that panel zing (even if I had not been on it). There was a discussion about whether AI could become sentient, and the general consensus was that sentient AI would emerge, rather than be programmed.
I was absolutely delighted to attend the lunch break’s book launch – this year it was Amunet by Robert Harkess. Dressed all in splendiferous steampunk finery, Hhe read out a passage. I remember in the dim and distant past critiquing it at the draft stage
If you are into fantasy with a strong leaning to the Victorian era, you will definitely enjoy this book.
The final panel I attended was ‘Under the Covers’, which talked about how important covers were and how to get them right. Needless to say one author on the panel complained about the design of their first book’s cover, which was commissioned by the publisher, only to find the artist was in the audience. One of those all too human moments that happen in life, which made everyone chuckle. We also found out why it was, at least in the past, a bad idea to have a predominantly green cover. (Basically the green tended to turn blueish because the yellow was susceptible to destruction by sunlight.)
As I noted earlier, there were other panels – these tended to deal more with the fantasy end of the speculative fiction spectrum. So there was something for everyone.
However, one of the joys of going to a convention like this is meeting friends. They came from all parts of the country and a jovial time was had by all. I’m looking forward to next year’s BristolCon already.
PS Andy Bigwood, one of the artists in the artist room, had a 3-D printed model of the BristolCon icon!