Octocon 2019

Information
My write-up of this year’s Worldcon is almost but not quite complete. Since then I also attended Titancon/Eurocon in Belfast, but rather than write about that or my last day at Worldcon I am now going to leap ahead to a discussion of this year’s Octocon, which took place a week ago. This is the Irish national science fiction convention, normally taking place over a whole weekend but this year reduced down to one day, partly because some of its big programme items had temporarily migrated to Worldcon, notably the Golden Blasters (a competition for short science fiction films) and the Vault of Horror (man with cropped hair and stick shouts at audience members while playing scenes from bad films). This year’s Octocon was pitched as a quiet post-Worldcon catch-up for Irish SF fans and also as a con for people who are averse to enormocons. As with last year it took place in the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Blanchardstown, with Janet O’Sullivan and Raissa Perez co-chairing.

After the opening ceremony, the first programme it, I attended was the Sunday Service, in which Janet O’Sullivan and James Brophy presented a rofflesome recap of the year in SF. This unfortunately served to remind me of how thanks to my boring World War 1 blog and time spent doing Worldcon stuff I largely missed all the big picture films they mentioned (though frankly I was also washing my hair every night I otherwise had free to see the latest superhero film).

Next I found myself attending a panel on the Fae in popular culture. There always seems to be a fair bit of Celtic fantasy Leprechaun fairy stuff at Octocon; this year it was the overall theme of the convention, with a number of programme items touching on the fair folk. In response to a question the interesting point was made that Ireland’s greater wealth of hidden people lore exists mainly because it was extensively written down in the Middle Ages. It was also noted that this year marks the 60th anniversary of the release of Darby O’Gill and the Little People. Suggestions were made that people might want to investigate Dúchas, the Irish digital folklore project, and perhaps even volunteer time to assist in the transcription of items from its manuscript collection.

A panel entitled Preserving Nature in SFF Futures looked at ecologically themed SF, something which has been on trend for a while and which I suspect we will be seeing more of in years to come. The subject can be a difficult one, with it being very easy to just fall into writing dystopian grimness. One good point from the audience was that narrative conventions tend to focus on individuals but combatting the ongoing climate crisis requires collective action, something a bit more difficult to represent in fiction. There is also the danger of pushing people into the slough of despond by painting such a convincing picture of the horrors of climate collapse that they are left feeling helpless and without agency.

A couple of fictional works were mentioned at that panel that I though might be worth investigating. Peadar Ó Guilin mentioned Stephen Baxter’s novelette ‘On the Orion Line’, where perpetual war with aliens arises from humanity’s depletion of resources and need for continuous expansion to maintain its civilisation. John Brunner’s The Sheep Look Up deals with near future civilisational breakdown due to ecological collapse and resource depletion (in a manner perhaps similar to Harry Harrison’s brilliant Make Room! Make Room!). The commercially unsuccessful film Downsizing was mentioned as one that attempts to look at the personal implications of the approaching end. Even The Hunger Games was cited both for its warnings that economic and political systems can be hard to remove (but also its prescient suggestion that one girl can make a difference).

I do find myself wondering whether the fundamentally depressing nature of climate collapse fiction means that readers will tire of the subgenre. I was struck previously by Morgan Hazelwood’s write-up of a Worldcon panel on Hopepunk, another emerging subgenre, in which writers offer at least some kind of light at the end of the tunnel. There is obviously a danger of switching from helpless despondency to complacency, but I think to make action possible to avert or minimise ecological catastrophe there needs to be some sense that the situation is not completely hopeless.

A writery panel on Suspending Scientific Disbelief looked at how far SFF writers can get away with flying in the face of established scientific fact. However one interesting point for me was when the panelists were invited to bring up examples of scientific facts so bizarre that they would be hard to include in a story. My favourite one mentioned was by Edmund Schluessel, who revealed that the resonating frequency of the cable in a space elevator is related to the resonant frequency of the planet it lifts from, so by twanging the cable one could make the planet explode, or something like that. More generally the point was made by Michael Carroll that while a good plot can survive bad science, there is only so much scientific implausibility the reader can take before they go “Ah here now come on”. I was also interested by the panelists’ mention of The Martian (book and film), in terms of how it dealt with the psychology of the abandoned astronaut and not just the purely physical stuff (which sadly has been somewhat superseded by scientific discoveries since).

And then to a panel on Romance in SFF. I’ve always liked romantic plots in SF and fantasy genres, at least in theory, as they suggest that the human characters are more than just problem-solving automatons. To some extent though I thought this panel talked more about romantic fiction (a separate genre) rather than SFF with romantic elements. Several of the panellists write romantic fiction, a genre with its own set of conventions (one of which mentioned being the Happily Ever After ending). My feeling however is that the appearance of romance in SFF does not require an adherence to romantic fiction genre conventions: the romance in SFF can mirror the romance in real life, where people aren’t always looking to live happily ever after or do not always manage to, and so on.

Nevertheless, the discussion of romantic fiction was fascinating. It is not a genre with which I have much familiarity, but I was struck by Ruth Long’s discussion of the idea people keep having that they could start writing Mills & Boon novels as a way of turning a quick buck. Long does not (I think) write Mills & Boon novels herself but she noted that for a writer they present some pretty unique challenges, with a rigid house-style and required set of characters and plot elements within which a writer is meant to produce something that the book’s readers will not consider a rehash of previous novels. That came across like a form of constrained writing akin to that practiced by Georges Perec and those Oulipo people. I was also reminded of a BBC News article some time back about Roger Sanderson, the one man who has successfully written for Mills & Boon, which provided further insights into the world and its readers’ expectations.

There was some discussion of what counted as examples of good romance in SFF, with Han Solo & Princess Leia being held up as the gold standard. I’ve always found that one of the more tiresome elements of the original Star Wars films, but I’m not sure whether that is because I find it reactionary or whether it is because fundamentally I can’t identify with Han (this in particular may be a romance designed to appeal to girls). For contrast, in my notes I quickly listed the first appealing romantic SFF plots that occurred to me, and here they are:

– Tarrant and Servalan in Sand, an episode of Blake’s 7 written by Tanith Lee. Notable for being one of the few moments in which the Servalan mask slips.
– Eowyn and Faramir in Lord of the Rings. Sad people find each other.
– Laurie and Dreiberg in Watchmen. OK maybe this is a problematic fave, but it is interesting as an example of how the dorky guy getting the girl does not actually resolve his problems and instead leads them down a whole rabbit hole of deeply problematic behaviour.
– K (as played by The Human Corgi) and Joi in Bladerunner 2049. Sad love between two non-humans, at least one of which may not actually be self-aware.
– The unnamed space traveller and the girl he left behind in ‘Spirit of the Age‘, by popular band Hawkwind.
– No spoilers, but a significant part of the plot of now somewhat forgotten film Strange Days is driven by the romantic travails of the male lead.
– Buckaroo and giant pound coin in Pounded By The Pound: Turned Gay By The Socioeconomic Implications Of Britain Leaving The European Union. Love is real, despite Brexit.

And then to Irish Sidhe 101, a talk by Lora O’Brien on the folklore, traditions and history surrounding the fairy folk in Ireland. Lora O’Brien describes herself as a Draoí (not a Druid) and has what might be called neo-pagan beliefs, including that the fairy folk have a real existence. She was also rigorous in her reference to the history of manuscript sources of information about beliefs surrounding them. I was struck by her mention of the Saga of Fergus Mac Léti, a very early manuscript that has descriptions of a class of little person somewhat similar to kitsch modern depictions of Leprechauns, but different in that they were associated with coastal areas and the sea; to me this illustrates how cultural beliefs shift over time.

Billy Edwards update
The last full panel I went to looked at how the terrifying stories of yore find themselves transformed over time into cute bedtime stories. Disney was particularly blamed here, with that studio having so taken over fairy tales that for many people the Disney version is what they think of as the definitive version of the story (this is not always a bad thing perhaps, given how fundamentally unpleasant the original version of Sleeping Beauty is, which must surely be the case for other stories as well). When the panelists were asked about stories or monsters from other traditions that might be worth retelling or recycling things went into pretty bizarre territory. Mention was made of some monster from Swiss folklore that was a giant cow’s udder covered in eyes, which sounds like something from the worst nightmare of HP Lovecraft (sadly I can find no pictures of or references to this online).

The con ended with the closing ceremony and round-up of upcoming events, at which it was announced that after many years of chairing Janet is stepping down, with Raissa chairing alone for next year, which will be Octocon’s 30th anniversary. I then had to return home to attend to the needs of my cat, who had made a surprise appearance in The Observant Octopus. She is still basking in her new-found fame and has completely lost the run of herself.

image sources:

Woman with great hair fleeing gothic house (The Pulp Librarian, Twitter)

Pounded by the Pound (Goodreads)

Helpful Cat

Theatre: “Gym Swim Party”

I do not go to the theatre as much as I ought to, but recently I found myself attending a performance of this play in the O’Reilly Theatre, which was being staged as part of the Dublin Fringe Festival. Gym Swim Party was co-written by Danielle Galligan and Gavin Kostick (my old friend and quaffing partner) and co-directed by Eddie Kay, Megan Kennedy & Louise Lowe. That is a lot of co-directors and I think it might be testament to the kind of show it was, as the production interspersed the more usual actor dialogue stuff with movement and dance elements. The initial premise of the piece was that two rival gym chains were locked in a battle for supremacy over Dublin’s fitness scene and had decided to settle things once and for all in a fit-off that saw their instructors compete in a variety of activities. This part was the least play-like and did feel a bit like you were watching an actual dance-off (partly thanks to the pumping music of a kind that I understand to be played in gyms (a class of establishment I do not frequent)) only with people doing step aerobics rather than dance as such. This bit was great, all high energy and basically fun-to-watch buff people do physical stuff.

I was thinking initially that maybe the whole show would be the contest, which could have been fun but maybe difficult to sustain (also sweaty for the actors), but one of the chains eventually crushed the other, absorbing their business and leaving its gym instructors to beg for new jobs with the victors. At this point audience members with a classical education were beginning to twig that there was some kind of Trojan War referencing going on, both in the names of the characters and the losing company being called Trojan Gyms. And in fact as the post-face-off part of the show unfolds it becomes apparent that this basically an adaptation of Agamemnon by Aeschylus. You will recall that this is the one about Agamemnon returning home from the Trojan War with new concubine Cassandra (spoils of war) only to be murdered in the bath by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover (thereby fulfilling a prophecy that he would die neither on land or at sea). In this one Aggie and Cass (still some kind of weird prophet) have fallen in love; he plans to divorce his wife Clem (played by Danielle Galligan) to be with her, but he meets his doom in the jacuzzi.

Now, you may ask, does the world need more retellings of Greek myths? My own view is that they are great stories and they are worth recycling. This production is to be saluted for setting it in the present day but not trying to make it Relevant – there is no suggestion that the Trojan War is a metaphor for Brexit or that Aggie is an analogue of Donald Trump or that the whole point of the thing is to Make Us Think about some contemporary issue. There are maybe some problems around the edges, like the way it goes for the resolutely kitchen sink setting but then retains the mythic idea of Cass as a seer thanks to an encounter with the Sun God. They also made no attempt to shoehorn the Trojan Horse into the story and I was struck by how Helen does not appear and is only alluded to obliquely when Clem mentions being the less attractive sister. Frankly though the energetic exuberance of the production had me thinking that it would be churlish to quibble.

image source:

Gym Swim Party (Dublin Fringe Festival)

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.

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)