BristolCon 2016

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

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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!

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Bristolcon 2015 – Another Success

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I thoroughly enjoyed Bristolcon 2015. It’s one of those nice friendly small local science fantasy cons – if you can call going on for 300 attendees small! And I know a lot people who attended weren’t local either!

One of the reasons for this success is the hard work done by the organisers behind the scenes to make it all run smoothly on the day. They start the year by organising guests and ghost of honour and build up to it. A BIG THANK YOU to all those involved to make things run smoothly, and an especial thank you to the organising committee who coordinate things (despite the best efforts of traffic snarl-ups and other similar gremlins to make things otherwise).

Bristolcon has two panel streams and a kaffeeklatsch room. So obviously I can’t report on everything, nor did I try to rush around like a mad idiot trying to get to everything – a mistake in previous years.

I attended Crossing the Genre Boundaries, which discussed the implications of literary writers coming into the genre and winning the prizes. The general feeling was that, whilst the literary works were indeed beautifully written, they tended to have less emphasis on what makes a science fantasy book genre specific. There was concern at the ‘watering down’ of the genre. But – yes there was a big BUT – science fiction is now the genre to be writing. Look at the way the film industry is concentrating so many films in this area. In the end, whilst it is nice to win prizes, the financial impact for the author tends to be minimal, with one exception. If you win a short story prize, you are looked on far more favourably by publishers if you are pushing to get a novel published.

Personal Note: Having seen what technology is around the corner for our society, our society is going to need all the help it can get to cope with it. This includes writing science fiction to introduce people to what they can do. And even then, science fiction is going to need all the help it can get – and that includes the use of literary techniques to help explain what the tech is doing and how it is going to change society.

I then stayed for half of the the Libraries, Past, Present and Future (because I had to be somewhere else). The panel reminisced about their libraries of the past and their favourite libraries in science fiction. What I found interesting was a lot of the libraries tended to come from the fantasy end of the genre, rather than the science fiction end. Hm…

Next up was me running a workshop in the Kaffeeklatsch room on ‘Real Technologies Futures Report and Discussion’. This was a report back on the Future Technologies Summit in London held on the Thursday and Friday beforehand, followed by a discussion and workshop to develop a story line based on the report. I was rather pleased that it was a fully signed up workshop – and I have a suspicion that a local builder will be using some of the technology I talked about in his work, and someone else was going to take the ideas of another technology away to help her personally. 

Lunch followed with a calming down after all the workshop excitement. (You’ll be hearing more about this in due course, said she with a evil grin!)

I attended the talk by Professor Ian Stewart on Time Travel and Real Physics. After introducing us to how time travel science fiction stories came about in science fiction, he took us through the issues of the faster than light limitation, black holes, white holes and the impact of quantum physics on trying to build a faster than light travel machine.

Having other stuff to do, I didn’t do anything until I was up on the panel, Faster Than Light moderated by Gareth Powell (though we did not get up to any monkey business). We went through the various faster than light themes in fiction and edged a little bit into reality. All I’m going to say is that I hope I gave the audience some interesting thoughts (said she with another evil grin).

The Reboots panel where amongst the fun questions were some serious questions. What sticks in my mind is that everyone agreed that a reboot should not be done unless there was something fairly different about the reboot e.g. going from black and white film to colour film, and the basic characters should remain the same.

The evening was light-hearted entertainment – quiz and film.

I met and caught up with a loads of friends in between times. And that is part of the beauty of Bristolcon… it has room to let you do just that!

Bristolcon next year will be going back to its normal October slot – October 29th. Keep that date! Be there! It’s fun or as they say up t’north, it’s a grand do.

Bristolcon 2015

The programme for Bristolcon 2015 on Saturday September 26th has gone live and can be found here.

I will be appearing on a panel 1800 – 1845 in Programme Room 1…

Faster Than Light

If we can go anywhere, any time, what are the implications? FTL Travel will come at a cost: financial, political and socio-economic. How do you choose an FTL system, and why? Our panel fill in the stars on a google map of the universe. May include really cool spaceships!

with Gareth L. Powell (Mod), Dean Saunders-StoweMisa BuckleyRosie Oliver and Steven Poore

And… wait for it… I will also be running a kaffeeklatsch / workshop 12:00 until 12:45:

Real Technologies Futures Report and Discussion

The report will be from a Technology Futures convention which will be held in London on the Thursday and Friday beforehand. So this stuff will be hot off the press. Spaces will be limited and I suspect that there will be a sign-in sheet at the front desk. They may even put one on-line – not sure about this. After the report, I hope to have a discussion and/or exercise as to how to apply this to science fiction. [The exercise is dependent on the time available.]

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So that was 2014 SF-wise

It’s that time of year when Christmas is upon us and we look back at what we’ve achieved during the past 12 months. As happens with most of us, not as much as we planned or hoped for, but one or two unexpected surprises put into the mix.

The year started out with a lot of promise, having two short stories published in succession. And then nothing until December. The last would have been November, had it not been for the unfortunate SpaceShipTwo crash on 31st October, which killed the co-pilot and badly injured the pilot. At the time it was due to be published there was a lot of speculation that the cause was a fuel leak. My story started out with a potential fuel leak on and experimental spacecraft. So out of respect for the family, friends and work colleagues of the pilots, its publication was delayed until December. You can find Tyrell’s Flight here.

The spring saw a couple of nice surprises. The first was my first semi-pro sale of a short story to Ian Sales’ Aphrodite’s Terra anthology. Hopefully this will now get published next year. The second was C.A.T.’s 4th novelette getting an honourable mention in the Writers of the Future contest. I got a nice little certificate, which I’ve now framed. I suspect for various reasons this will be the only certificate I’ll get from that illustrious organisation.

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Of course I was there at Loncon3 in August – where else would I have been – and I was actually on a panel alongside the more famous writers like Adam Roberts, Hannu R and Elizabeth Moon. For me the highlight was Friday evening’s concert by the symphony orchestra. They played all the expected pieces and of course we heard the first public performance of the piece in memory of Iain M Banks, may he rest in peace.

The other con I attended was of course the local Bristolcon. This year I did not put myself forward for any of the panels etc as I wanted to let others have a chance to do the talking and commenting. Nevertheless, I had a thoroughly enjoyable day catching up with old and new friends.

Other activities included readings at the Bristol Fringe in March and September, the latter being on the theme of The Kraken Rises anthology. I also helped run a Fun Palaces science fiction workshop at the start of October and can only hope that everyone enjoyed their time down at the Watershed in Bristol.

What of next year? Well it looks like it is starting out much the same as 2014 did with two short stoires being published in quick succession. After that, who knows?

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!

 

BristolCon – 5

Frontage of Bristol Temple Meads railway station.

Frontage of Bristol Temple Meads railway station. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yes, today was the day BristolCon – Bristol’s science fiction convention – was on at the Doubletree Hotel not very far from Bristol Temple Meads railway station… and what a super-duper con it was. My only regret was that I had to return home early to give some TLC to a sick pussy cat (but the really really really good news this week is that she’s not got cancer).

The organisers deserve a huge round of applause for their organisation – these events take a lot of planning and work to ensure everything runs smoothly.

It is primarily a convention for writers and artists to share their tips, pass on their wisdom, debate about the future holds for science fiction and fantasy, and above all giving everyone a chance to meet old friends and make new ones.

The day started out well, taking the train from Bristol Parkway to Bristol Temple Meads. I briefly chatted to someone catching the same train (but going to Plymouth), who mentioned that Bristolcon had been mentioned on Radio Bristol this very morning! Talk about coincidences. This con is really getting famous!

The programme of panels of serious discussions, with one or two more light-hearted subjects. Whilst they only have two programme streams, I could only attend a limited number.

First up was Creating a Culture – Building a Working Fantasy / SF Society, ably chaired by Dev Agarwal. The panelists generally agreed that world building was like an iceberg – you only see a small part of the world the author has built in a story – it’s the part that has a direct effect on the story. Other parts may have an indirect effect, but they are not relevant. Another interesting point was that once a world was built and published, publishers liked their authors to return to the popular works. Take the Culture novels by Iain M Banks as an instance  – the only thing that hangs them together is the world they are built in.

Next panel was My World is Not Your Sandpit. It was a debate about fan fictioneers taking authors’ worlds or characters and writing about them. The general conclusion was they shouldn’t do it unless they had the authors permission. Why? Well authors have built their worlds and they are more than likely to want to write more about it. the trouble is that when they do, they could contradict some of the world building the author has in mind, thereby throwing the author completely off the story altogether. A case was cited where one author had built a popular world and was writing more about when a fan-fiction writer wrote someone that the author had a completely different take on. That author could not continue writing in that world. Very sad. So if you are writing fan fiction, get the author’s blessing to do so (unless, of course, you are doing it as an exercise in complete private to try to improve your own writing – and then it should remain completely private).

The pre-lunch panel was all about The Evolution of Genre. There was talk about Zombies becoming popular in depressions and vampires in boom times. YA SF was considered more progressive and experimental than adult SF. But what would become popular in the genre in the near future? Whilst people speculated, nobody really could say anything certain as it depended on what the readers would be interested in.

The fourth panel I attended was Routes to Publication – Small Press Publication. General consensus was that small press publishers are not in the business to get rich quick. Those small press publishers that are lucky enough to find popular author tend to find the big publishers will take that author onto their books. However, the small presses are likely to take more experimental novels that the big ones.

The final one I was a panellist – my first time ever as a panellist – on How Science Got its Groove Back. I hope I made the subject interesting for the people attending. Certainly the others on the panel did, and the chairman thought the discussion could have gone on for a lot longer.

And finally afterwards, C.A.T. got his except read out to I’m glad to say a fairly full room. C.A.T. feeling very contented…

So as you can see, it was a very interesting con panel-wise… and in-between I attended the book launch of Looking Landwards produced by Newcon Press. Looking forward to reading the stories.

Altogether a very interesting con and well worth attending….

Purrr….

Bring out the champagne – Guard Cat is here!

The third in the C.A.T. series – Guard Cat – is published and available from all good e-book stores, including the publisher, TWP Press and Amazon UK.

Just when C.A.T. thinks life on Triton Base is back to normal, an old love interest from Commander Zacman’s past shows up. And if that’s not bad enough, she brings with her a very special kind of robo-cat, A Mark 4 female Guard Cat with an alluring tail and a set of whiskers that are shockingly dangerous. She’s one screaming mean feline that will teach him the meaning of love and the consequences of partaking in such human of endeavors.

The Mark 4 female Guard Cat is based on the British Wild Cat … why that, you may ask?

My grandmother grew up in the wilds of Northumberland (in the UK). There she made friends and tamed a real British wild cat. The story goes that this wild cat would not let any man near her, except the one who became my grandfather… it’s a true family story… such things are legends made of!

My thanks go to Terry Press for bringing out this wonderful story into the big wide world!

And yes I’ll be reading an excerpt from it at Bristolcon next Saturday as the organisers have been kind enough to give me a reading slot!

Guard Cat Full Detail