An Irish Worldcon, Part 4: Sunday

This blog post deals with my Sunday at the recent. World Science Fiction Convention in Dublin. I have previously written about my experiences on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Sunday saw me arriving to the Convention Centre somewhat on the late side. The previous couple of days were taking their toll on me, both in terms of sleep deprivation and my body revolting against the lack of wholesome food to which it was being subjected. Some sporting event meant that the Luas between where I lived and the CCD was essentially unusable, so I had to walk.

Trophy wrangling meant that I had very little time for programme items, but I did make it to an interesting panel on Satire and the Fantastic, at which Heidi Goody, Ian Grant, Ju Honisch and Juliana Rew discussed this important topic. I liked the discussion of whether satire had to be funny or not. I was also interested by the question of whether allegorical satire is something of a cop-out, in that the satirist avoids directly engaging with the real world issues by instead dealing with their fictional world. I am a bit wary of satire myself on something like that basis, as it favours smartarse nihilism over any attempt to combat problems or dismantle malign power structures. Satire can nevertheless have its uses in shedding new light on issues that are being left unanalysed. One example here is the way District 9 (and the short film that preceded it) used imaginary prejudice against aliens to highlight xenophobic attitudes in South Africa, by using vox pops of people giving out about immigrants and then editing them so that the respondents appeared to be talking about the Prawns (see also the disturbing Irish report on prejudice against culchies).

Comments at panels (as opposed to questions) are much maligned. However my friend Sam made an interesting interjection from the floor about satire going wrong and bolstering the ego of its targets rather than deflating them. Her example was Spitting Image, which apparently Margaret Thatcher loved because it made her look dynamic and authoritative. I can well imagine that while other people disliked how they were portrayed on Spitting Image and similar programmes, they liked the fact that they were important enough to be featured.

Hero of Worldcon
The satire panel sadly was pretty much the only programme item I made it to on the Sunday. Those Hugo trophies weren’t wrangling themselves and I did also spend a bit of time loafing in the dealers area, finally meeting in real life one of my social media pals. I also had the terrifying experience in the afternoon of being summoned to meet James Bacon, the chair of Worldcon. I assumed that word about The Incident had finally percolated up to him and I was about to be removed from the Convention Centre with extreme prejudice. But before I could launch into an unconvincing attempt to explain myself, James revealed that he was actually presenting me with a Hero medal in recognition of my work for Worldcon both before and during the convention. This was something of a surprise and I was truly honoured to receive the medal, which I wore with pride for the rest of the convention.

The evening saw me involved with the Hugo Awards. As with the Retros on Thursday, I lurked off-stage and handed trophies out to be given to people who then presented them to the actual winners. What happened onstage was largely mysterious to me, as although there was monitor it was too small and far away from the trophies to see much in detail. I enjoyed the poignant music that accompanied the In Memoriam scroll, even though I was unable to read the names as they went by.

As someone who has never read a book in the year it came out, the Hugo winning works were all strangers to me, but I think the most memorable moment came near the ceremony’s start, when Jeanette Ng won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (which is not technically a Hugo Award, the prize’s winner receiving a different trophy; however nominations for and the awarding of the prize work in the same way as with the Hugos, making the distinction a bit pedantic). As you know, the late John W. Campbell, editor of Astounding and Analog among other magazines was a giant of early science fiction and at the Retro Hugos he won the Retro Hugo for best editor, as I think he always does. Ng however began her speech by describing Campbell as a fascist, someone who actively strove to force science fiction down reactionary paths. That speech ignited a furore, and, while not everyone agreed with her assessment or the propriety of her making it, a few days later to Dell Magazines, the prize’s sponsor, changed the prize’s name to the Astounding Award for Best New Writer.

I had previously heard that Campbell’s political views were a bit unsavoury, though I have not delved into the subject sufficiently deeply to find out for myself whether the charge of fascism is warranted. I have seen people on the Internet saying that his more objectionable opinions are explicitly stated in many of his editorials; if readers have particular examples please let me know.

Ng also expressed her support for the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, the city of her birth.

Unmanned
From a trophy wrangling perspective the Hugo Awards ceremony went well. However, I myself experienced one untoward disaster. Somehow in all the unboxing and boxing of the trophies my ribbons got caught in all the bubble-wrap. At the end of the evening I discovered that they were gone. Sadface.

I had been invited to attend the Hugo Losers Party, in case any trophies ended up there by accident and needed wrangling. As the name suggests, this is an event for at which the Hugo losers drown their sorrows in the company of various other people, making fun of any Hugo winners who dare to show up (for the history of this event see this blog posts by Tammy Coxen). This took place in the Guinness Storehouse but the venue ran into capacity issues. By the time I arrived there were two queues of people waiting to be admitted, one for Hugo finalists and their plus ones/twos/threes, the other for lesser mortals. Rather than wait for an indefinite period, my plus one and I made our way home, which was probably the wisest course of action given how tired we were.

Popular author George R. R. Martin has in recent years generously funded and hosted the Hugo Losers Party. He has written his own account of what went wrong this year; not everyone agrees with his analysis or its tone. But the world has moved on and the event has receded into history.

Readers, this long road is nearly finished. There will be just one more short post in this account of my experiences at this Irish Worldcon.

image sources:

Master of the Hugos (File 770: 2019 Hugo Awards; photo by Olav Rokne)

Other pictures my own. See more of them here here.

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An Irish Worldcon, Part 3: Saturday

Previous instalments of my Worldcon write-up can be read here and here.

Folk Horror panelists
For me this morning began with breakfast and then a panel on Folk Horror, featuring Neil Williamson, Lisa Tuttle, Tim Major and Ramsey Campbell. If you have been a member of the Folk Horror Revival group on Facebook for some time now or indeed if you attended the 2014 Fiend in the Furrows conference in Belfast or the British Museum’s Folk Horror Revival event in 2016 (my account of which will soon be available) then some of this ground will be broadly familiar. The folk horror term appears to have been conjured up retrospectively to group three films from the late 1960s and early 1970s (The Wicker Man, Witchfinder General, and Blood on Satan’s Claw), all set in the British countryside and appearing to share themes connected with disturbing intrusions into the modern or modernising world of sinister elements from the past. The panel toured through some familiar literary, dramatic and musical works influenced by Folk Horror ideas or lumped into the genre but some of the recommendations here went beyond what is normally recommended in these contexts. I particularly liked the sound of Ghost Wall, a short novel by Sarah Moss about things going wrong when people attempt some Iron Age reenactment (which reminded me of that 1978 TV documentary about people living in an Iron Age village). Lisa Tuttle’s highlighting of the music of The Handsome Family also piqued my interest; they are one of those acts who plays here fairly frequently and are often praised but I have never properly engaged with their work.

I do wonder nevertheless how long this Folk Horror revival has left to run: can people indefinitely discuss the same three films and a whole succession of other things that to a greater or lesser degree are not strictly folk horror? For all that, I was struck by a remark of Lisa Tuttle near the panel’s close: that what is scary in Folk Horror is belief and the way the antagonists in Folk Horror narratives are consumed by a faith that is untroubled by facts or countervailing evidence. In a world where so many countries are currently in the grip of irrational politicians appealing to the atavistic impulses of their followers that kind of analysis seemed particularly on point.

No messing allowed when I met Conor Kostick.
That was pretty much it for programme items for me on the Saturday. Much of the rest of the time I spent at the Point Square information desk. The addition of a sign at the entrance to the Odeon complex telling people that the Alhambra and Stratocaster rooms were in the Gibson Hotel reduced rather than eliminated the numbers of people asking me where they were.

I did have time to wander around the dealers area in the Convention Centre, where I added to my Unread Books Mountain and met hardnut author Conor Kostick, who told me all about that LitRPG stuff that he is now involved in. I also had time for a few pints with some of my buds in Martin’s Bar (named after the late Martin Hoare, Worldcon’s bar manager). My memories are a bit hazy but I seem to recall a conversation about panama hats. Sadly I could not stay forever as I was on cat wrangling duties that evening and had to return home to attend to the needs of Billy Edwards.

Hungry Cat
More of my Worldcon pictures

An Irish Worldcon, Part 2: Friday

You can read the first part of my Worldcon write-up here.

Chuck Tingle Buckaroo
By now I had turned into one of those Worldcon weirdos who has a load of ribbons hanging off their name badge. These magic charms did not protect from the ministry of Satan, whose works meant that I failed to rock up to the Convention Centre in time for any 10.00 a.m. panels. Instead I tried to attend a panel in Point Square on The Continuing Relevance of Older SF (with the programme notes including works by Margaret Atwood as an example of what was going to be covered, which seems a bit strange as although Atwood is old she is a currently active writer whose latest SF novel is about to hit the shelves). However the room was full before I got near it, perhaps because the panel included both Robert Silverberg and Joe Haldemann, so I skipped off to another academic session (good iron law for Worldcons: you can always get into academic sessions and they are always worth attending). This saw Peter Adrian Behravesh looking at depictions of empowered women in the Persian fantastic, which was interesting but I did note that he was talking more about mythic tales than actual fantastic literature, for all that he was referring to written versions of the tales that named people had written in historical times. An interesting discussion could perhaps be had on where myth ends and fantasy literature begins.
The session also included a presentation by Katja Kontturi (the Ducktor), whom I had seen previously in Helsinki. Her thing is postmodernism in Disney comics, which are very popular in Europe generally and Finland in particular. European publishers produce their own Disney comics with minimal oversight from Disney’s central command, and some of these comics go in pretty strange directions. In Helsinki I remember her talking about a comic in which the characters start being attacked by the strip’s narration panels; here she discussed Mickey’s Craziest Adventures, which was published in 2016 but purported to be a reproduction of a tattered copy of a previously lost comic from 1965 found in car boot sale. The book sees Mickey Mouse and his pals enjoy the kind of adventure more commonly seen in the weirdo underground comix of that era. The description reminded me somewhat of Alan Moore’s 1963, while in some ways being more completely mental. I also found myself thinking of how surreal British kids comics could also be (and perhaps still are), which I think is something they could get away with because children have far less sense of the “normal” way a narrative should work.

A long stint thereafter on the Point Square information desk thereafter sapped my energy and left me unable to attend any further programme items. If you are one of the ten thousand people who came to the information desk asking where the Alhambra or Stratocaster rooms where then perhaps it was I who with a world weary sigh directed you out to the nearby Gibson Hotel. That these rooms were not in the Odeon complex but in the almost adjacent hotel was not something highlighted in the programme, so Worldcon attendees understandably found all this a bit confusing.

Unknown Pleasures
Late on Friday afternoon I was freed from the information desk and had a bit of a look at the Odeon art show, which had a lot of nice stuff. However I am not really in the market for original art and do not fully trust my own taste in that regard, so I did not put down any bids for the works, though I must admit I was tempted to throw down the five figure sum being sought for the original of the cover of one of the Gollancz SF Masterworks editions of Philip K. Dick. I then wandered back to the CCD and had my picture taken in my Unknown Pleasures t-shirt next to a poster showing the uninverted image. I was a bit surprised to not see anyone else wearing that t-shirt at the whole con. OK, I know most SF fans are not mad into post punk bands like Joy Division, but the image does show transmissions from the first pulsar known to humanity, the one discovered by guest of honour Jocelyn Bell Burnell when she was a PhD student. I was wearing the t-shirt to honour her (and because Unknown Pleasures is awesome and came out 40 years ago this year) and thought more people would do the same, but they did not.

Perhaps coincidentally, Friday evening saw me sneak away from SF fandom completely to instead hang out with music fan buds who like me are members of Frank’s APA, the amateur press association for people who like music. However sacred vows of secrecy oblige me to keep to myself the astonishing occurrences that happened during our meeting.

Keep coming back to Secret Panda for more Worldcon action real soon!

Mickey’s Craziest Adventures image source (Duck Comics Revue)

More of my Worldcon pictures, not all of which are of me

An Irish Worldcon, Part 1: Thursday

Worldcon is what they call the World Science Fiction Convention. My past form with Worldcon write-ups is not great: my account of Loncon was impressionistic and my more in-depth multi-part report on 2017’s Helsinki Worldcon remains unfinished. Nevertheless, I am now going to attempt to describe my time at this year’s Worldcon, the 77th, which was for the first time held on the island of Ireland, in Dublin. Programme events took place mainly in the Convention Centre Dublin, with spillover events 15 minutes away in Point Square.

For me this was a rather different event to the previous two Worldcons I have attended. I went to London purely as an attendee while in Helsinki I found myself doing a small amount of work in connection with the Hugo Awards, but frankly not that much. In Dublin however I was pretty busy with important Worldcon business. On the one hand I had the wonderful title of Hugo Trophy Wrangler, which basically meant that I had the key to the rooms in which the trophies were stored and spent much of the convention taking trophies in and out of the rooms and in and out of their boxes. I also did some volunteering on the information desks. Together these meant that I had far less time to attend programme items than at previous Worldcons (and when I had the time I was often too frazzled). So in a way that makes this easier to write, as less programme items attended = less programme items to write about.

The first actual panel I attended was one of the ones taking place on Thursday morning, just as the convention opened. This saw Heidi Lyshol, Robert Silverberg, Jukka Särkijärvi and Jo Walton discussing this year’s Retro Hugo finalists. As you know, the Retro Hugos are awarded for years where there no Hugo Awards. Dublin was awarding Retro Hugos for works published in 1943 (which would have been awarded in 1944 in an alternate universe in which a Hugo-awarding Worldcon took place that year). I am fond of the Retro Hugos, as many of the authors and works they honour are ones whose output appeared in the SF anthologies I read when I was first exploring the genre. This year I found myself researching Retro eligible material that people might want to nominate for blog posts that appeared on the Worldcon website; I also found links to where most of the Retro Hugo finalists can be read online, so I felt particularly engaged with the process.

If you have read the Retro finalists then you will surely agree that the stand-out work is the novelette “Mimsy Were The Borogoves“, published under the pseudonym Lewis Padgett by C. L. Moore and Henry Kuttner. Moore and Kuttner, writing either together or separately were astonishingly prolific in 1943, managing to have at least one work in each of the four fiction categories. And yet the husband and wife team are not that well known today. Robert Silverberg offered two theories why this is so. Firstly after Kuttner’s early death his agent started demanding ludicrously inflated fees for reprints of his work, which meant that it tended not to appear in anthologies and so dropped out of public consciousness. C.L. Moore meanwhile did not suffer an untimely death, but her tendency to write under pseudonyms meant that she never acquired the reputation her work deserves. Perhaps the Retro Hugos will lead to an upsurge of interest in their work.

Beyond that there was much discussion on whether voters and nominators for the Retro Hugos should approach it with the mindset of today or attempt to do so as someone would in 1944. This is an argument that came up when I was researching the Retro eligible material (I recall someone telling me that Tintin comics should not be nominated as no one in US fandom in 1944 would have been aware of it). Hugo Administrator Nicholas Whyte spoke from the floor to say that no instructions are given to voters and nominators as to how to approach their task: as with real elections they can choose themselves the basis on which they will assign their vote. My own view however is that people of today can only vote as people of today and that it is simply impossible to realistically insert yourself into the mindset of the 1940s. Furthermore, the idea that people should vote in the Retro Hugos as a fan of the 1940s would vote is dangerously American-centric. SF fandom was basically a North American thing back then, and if we are to say that the Retro Hugos can only be voted on from a 1940s mindset then the votes of those of us from the rest of the world will be deemed less valid. Nevertheless, nominators and voters for the Retro Hugos are free to choose the approach they want; members of next year’s Worldcon will be able to nominate whatever material they like from 1944 for the 1945 Retro Hugos that will be awarded in New Zealand.

I had then hoped to attend a panel discussion on gothic literature (unlike SF a genre in which Ireland has historically excelled) but it was full, so instead I found myself at a manel on the Irish oddball writer Flann O’Brien (who also wrote as Myles na gCopaleen and whose real names were Brian O’Nolan and Brian Ó Nualláin), which featured Frank McNally, Nicholas Whyte, Pádraig Ó Méalóid and Nigel Quinlan. I was impressed that they managed to get half way through their panel before mentioning the thing in The Third Policeman about cyclists who have exchanged so many molecules with their bikes that they start displaying bicycle characteristics (while their bikes start going a bit human); this is pretty much the first thing everyone learns about Flann O’Brien.

When I came out of the Flann O’Brien panel I found the Convention Centre’s narrow corridors to be getting a bit overcrowded as people leaving panels became entangled with those queuing for the next ones; Dublin was starting to run into the congestion issues that had bedevilled the beginning of the Helsinki Worldcon. Fair dues however to the Con Ops people, they seemed to have this issues under control by the afternoon thanks to assiduous queue marshalling. In the meantime I paid a visit to Point Square, where I attended an interesting session of the Worldcon academic track. Unlike the panels, academic track sessions see brainy people present short papers. Academic track participants tend to be academics and not popular authors, but they make up for their lack of fame by being able to frame interesting arguments and the format allows for the well-developed exposition of intriguing ideas. At any Worldcon I have been to the academic track events are always a highlight, and Dublin was no exception.

At this academic session I caught three fascinating presentations, with the Nora E. Derrington’s discussion of Octavia Butler’s Kindred intriguing me so much that I subsequently bought the book as a birthday present for my sister. I also liked Eliza Bentley’s discussion of past signifiers in time travel classic Hot Tub Time Machine and Sorcha O’Brien’s exploration of design elements in Firefly/Serenity (a well-known TV series and film).

Space business meant that I was not able to enjoy much of the programme after that; my afternoon saw a lot of Hugo trophy related action in the run-up to the Retro Hugos being awarded as part of the opening ceremony. That saw me lurking backstage and handing trophies to the people who handed them to the presenters who handed them to the persons accepting the awards on behalf of the actual winners (all of whom have sadly shuffled off this mortal coil).

more Worldcon write-up action coming soon!

Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore image source: (Lewis Padgett and Mimsy Were the Borogoves)

More of my amazing Worldcon pictures

TV: An episode of “Game of Thrones” (2017)

When I was on an aeroplane to Canada I took the opportunity to watch a random episode of popular TV series Game of Thrones to see what I could make of the plot. Of course, because I do not live under a stone I have some familiarity with what this programme is about, even though I have never seen a full episode. This one featured the Blondie Lady and her pals (who include the Short Guy) deciding to send a message to the Curley-Haired Guy, inviting him to join their gang. Meanwhile the Lady Who Shags Her Brother was rallying other people to fight against the Blondie Lady by warning them that, like her late father (probably a Blond Guy), she was some kind of mentalist.

There wasn’t too much in the way of gratuitous female nudity, though the Blondie Lady’s Assistant did get her kit off at some point. There was also an incident in which people on a ship were captured by pirates, I suspect for plot device reasons, while another guy had his skin cut off to save him from a repulsive disease.

It was all pretty dialogue heavy and focussed on people trying to form alliances and test each other’s loyalty. For me that was quite appealing, making it like an updated version of a classic BBC drama like I, Claudius. I can definitely see why people like this and may one day proceed with my plan to watch the very first episode of season 1 and then the very last episode of the final season so that I will know all about the Game of Thrones.

image source:

The Blondie Lady, the Short Guy and some other people recreate their favourite U2 album cover (Guardian: Game of Thrones recap: season seven, episode two: Stormborn)

Film: “A Star Is Born” (2018)

On a flight to Canada with my mother I watched this film, which is the one about Jack, an ageing alcoholic cock-rocker, played by Bradley Cooper (who also directs), who meets, discovers and falls in love with up-and-coming pop singer Ally, played by Lady Gaga. The film is a loose remake of two previous films and the plot is broadly formulaic (her trajectory is upward while his leads down into the bottom of a whisky glass, with tragedy ensuing) yet I nevertheless found it quite affecting and my hard heart was melted by the sad ending (curiously a slightly different sad ending to the one I expected, which may or may not be one similar to the Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand previous versions).

One thing I found mildly amusing was that Jack meets Ally when she is performing in a bar most of whose performers are transvestites. To me this seemed like an ironic nod to how Lady Gaga was once dogged by strange rumours that she was secretly a man (or a transsexual, or a something (you know how it is with rumours)). I was also struck by how this was a film without villains. Ally acquires a manager who is set up to some extent in opposition to Jack, but while he is a bit smooth, to me he does not come across as a bad person or as someone exploiting Ally; when he vetoes a joint tour between Ally and an increasingly erratic Jack, he is clearly doing so to protect his client. That said, his actions do precipitate the final tragedy, but the real villain here is alcoholism and Jack’s inability to moderate his drinking.

To some extent Jack and Ally are presented as inhabiting briefly overlapping musical words, his one of blues-bore country rock and hers a more pop sound. Somewhat surprisingly I did find myself thinking that Jack’s music sounded a lot more appealing than the pop stuff (though I suppose the film’s director is going to give himself the good tunes). I may have to start investing in records by Stevie Ray Vaughan and similar.

Finally readers will be pleased to hear that this film features Sam Elliot (the cowboy from The Big Lebowski). He basically plays the same part as he does in The Big Lebowski.

image source (Guardian: A Star Is Born soundtrack review – instant classics full of Gaga’s emotional might)

Podcast: “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” (2018)

This is a dramatisation by Sweet Talk Productions’ Julian Simpson of HP Lovecraft’s popular short novel of the same name. It is available to stream or download from BBC Radio 4. It is made in the style of one of those true crime podcasts that are popular with the young people, with the set-up here being that the Mystery Machine podcast people are investigating the eponymous character’s mysterious disappearance from a locked room in a secure psychiatric institution.

I think this would be fun to listen to if you if were unfamiliar with the source material, as the true crime podcast stuff is done so straight that even I at the start found myself about to look up the previous cases the Mystery Machine had been involved in investigating. But even having read the original a number of times, I found myself gripped by this. Partly the narrative takes some twists and turns that bring it along different paths to the original, with Lovecraft aficionados noticing that it increasingly draws from another of his works. Partly also there is the power of the audio drama format. Being able to hear but not see is an extremely effective device for horror, as the mind’s eye draws in the blanks in a way far more terrifying than any film’s special effects could manage. And there are some truly terrifying moments in this, like in the first episode when an old house is being explored or in particular the later episode where one of the investigators is poking around in an abandoned trailer home. The cast are also excellent, as is the appealing music by Tim Elsenburg that ends each episode.

I therefore recommend this work highly and will be keeping an eye out for future productions by Sweet Talk and Mr Simpson.

Sadly The Case of Charles Dexter Ward failed to be nominated in the Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) category in the Hugo Awards.

images (Sweet Talk Productions)