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

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

Finding the 1944 Retro Hugo finalists online

Soon in Dublin the winners of this year’s Hugo Awards will be revealed, including the winners of the Retro Hugo Awards for science fiction published in 1943. This year unfortunately there is no voters packet for the Retro Hugos. However most of the publications in which the finalists appeared are available on the Internet Archive, where they can be read online or downloaded by Hugo Award voters. See below for links to where the various works can be found. Voting closes at midnight on 31July, so get reading.

Novels

Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber, Jr. can be found in the April 1943 issue of Unknown Worlds.

Earth’s Last Citadel by C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner originally appeared in the April 1943 issue of Argosy, but it was subsequently reprinted in the July 1950 issue of Fantastic Novels.

Gather, Darkness! by Fritz Leiber, Jr. can be found serialised in the May, June and July 1943 issues of Astounding Science-Fiction.

Das Glasperlenspiel [The Glass Bead Game] by Hermann Hesse (originally published by Fretz & Wasmuth) is readily available from bookshops and libraries.

Perelandra by C.S. Lewis (originally published by John Lane, The Bodley Head) is also readily available from bookshops and libraries.

The Weapon Makers by A.E. van Vogt was serialised in the February, March and April 1943 issues of Astounding Science-Fiction.

Novellas

“Attitude” by Hal Clement appeared in the September 1943 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction.

“Clash by Night” by Lawrence O’Donnell (Henry Kuttner & C.L. Moore) appeared in the March 1943 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction.

“The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” by H.P. Lovecraft originally appeared in the collection Beyond the Wall of Sleep from Arkham House and is now readily available from bookshops and libraries; it can also be seen here, on the H.P. Lovecraft Archive.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was originally published by Reynal & Hitchcock and is available everywhere.

The Magic Bed-Knob; or, How to Become a Witch in Ten Easy Lessons by Mary Norton was originally published by Hyperion Press and can possibly be sourced from bookshops and libraries.

“We Print the Truth” by Anthony Boucher appeared in the December 1943 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction.

Novelette

“Citadel of Lost Ships” by Leigh Brackett appeared in the March 1943 issue of Planet Stories.

“The Halfling” by Leigh Brackett appeared in the February 1943 issue of Astonishing Stories.

“Mimsy Were the Borogoves” by Lewis Padgett (C.L. Moore & Henry Kuttner) appeared in the February 1943 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction.

“The Proud Robot” by Lewis Padgett (Henry Kuttner) appeared in the October issue of Astounding Science-Fiction.

“Symbiotica” by Eric Frank Russell also appeared in the October issue of Astounding Science-Fiction.

“Thieves’ House” by Fritz Leiber, Jr appeared in the February issue of Unknown Worlds.

Short Story

“Death Sentence” by Isaac Asimov appeared in the appeared in the November 1943 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction.

“Doorway into Time” by C.L. Moore appeared in the September 1943 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries.

“Exile” by Edmond Hamilton originally appeared in the May 1943 issue of Super Science Stories. That appears not to have been uploaded to the Internet Archive but the text of the story can be seen here and here.

“King of the Gray Spaces” (“R is for Rocket”) by Ray Bradbury appeared in the December 1943 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries.

“Q.U.R.,” by H.H. Holmes (Anthony Boucher) March 1943 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction.

“Yours Truly – Jack the Ripper” by Robert Bloch appeared in the July 1943 issue of Weird Tales.

I will do another post with links to where people can see some of the finalists in the other categories. In the meantime, Jeff Vandermeer once said that you should always include a picture of your cat in social media posts, so here is Billy Edwards.

Patrolling the mean streets of Dublin city.

more cats

1943 Science Fiction and Fantasy Art

As you know, the World Science Fiction Convention is coming to Dublin this year. At this the Hugo Awards for science fiction (and fantasy) works produced in 2018 will be bestowed, but so too will the Retro Hugos, for works produced in 1943. I wrote blog posts for Worldcon on eligible 1943 material, as an assistance to nominators. One of these posts included a list of professional artists who had produced eligible work in 1943. Because I was unsure of the copyright situation regarding hotlinked images and did not want to set the intellectual property cops onto Worldcon, I did not include any pictures in that post. However I do not really care about the copyright cops coming after me, so here are those Retro Hugo eligible artists again, this time with samples of their work. Unless otherwise stated, the images are either from the Internet Speculative Fiction Database or from Galactic Central (which was in turn linked to from the ISFDB).

Many science fiction and fantasy artists of 1943 earned their living creating covers for magazines, some of which could be pretty lurid.

A. R. Tilburne: Weird Tales, January 1943, Weird Tales, September 1943, & Weird Tales, November 1943

Earle K. Bergey: Startling Stores, June 1943 Captain Future, Summer 1943, & Thrilling Wonder Stories, April 1943

George Gross: Jungle Stories, April 1943, Jungle Stories, February 1943, & Jungle Stories, Summer 1943


George Rozen: Planet Stories, Fall 1943 & Planet Stories, May 1943

Harold W. McCauley: Fantastic Stories, May 1943, Amazing Stories, May 1943, & Fantastic Adventures, June 1943

J. Allen St. John: Amazing Stories, January 1943 & Amazing Stories, February 1943

Jerome Rozen: Planet Stories, March 1943

Lawrence: Famous Fantastic Mysteries: December 1943

Margaret Brundage: Weird Tales, May 1943(pretty tame by Brundage’s usual standards)

Milton Luros: Astonishing Stories, February 1943, Future Fantasy and Science Fiction, February 1943, & Science Fiction, July 1943

Robert Fuqua: Amazing Stories, March 1943, Amazing Stories, April 1943, & Amazing Stories, August 1943

Robert Gibson Jones: Fantastic Adventures, February 1943, Fantastic Adventures, March 1943, & Amazing Stories, November 1943

Virgil Finlay: Famous Fantastic Mysteries, March 1943, Super Science Stories, February 1943, & Super Science Stories, May 1943

William Timmins: Astounding Science Fiction, February 1943, Astounding Science Fiction, June 1943, & Astounding Science Fiction, October 1943

Mervyn Peake would subsequently gain a measure of fame as the author of the Gormenghast novels, but in 1943 he was attempting to earn a living as an artist. His eerie illustrations for an edition of Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner appear to be Retro Hugo eligible.
(image from Mervyn Peake, the Official Site)

Children’s book illustrations might also be the kind of thing that appeals to Retro Hugo nominators. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry‘s own illustrations for The Little Prince are a big part of that book’s appeal. Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree would not be the same without Dorothy M. Wheeler‘s illustrations.
(Antoine de Saint-Exupéry image from Faena Aleph, Dorothy Wheeler from The Enid Blyton Society)

Boring disclaimer: this list of Retro Hugo eligible artists is not definitive and there may well be other, better artists whose readers’ own researches will uncover.

A short note on “A Brilliant Void”

Yesterday I went to an event in Hodges Figgis based around A Brilliant Void, the anthology of Irish classic science fiction edited by Jack Fennell. Fennell himself was there, as were the authors Deirdre Sullivan and Ruth Frances Long and Dave Rudden (who chaired the panel). A Brilliant Void was commissioned by Tramp Press after the publication of Irish Science Fiction, Fennell’s academic study of the genre here.

If I think of Irish science fiction I think of writers like Bob Shaw or C.S. Lewis (although Lewis is best-known for his Narnia books of children’s fantasy, he did also write an odd SF trilogy involving trips to Mars and Venus and then an authoritarian takeover of Britain). More recently there are works by literary authors that dip into the SF world (e.g. Kevin Barry’s The City of Bohane, set in a technologically regressed future, or Éilís ní Dhuibhne’s The Bray House, in which a Swedish archaeologist travels to an Ireland devastated by a nuclear accident). There is also a host of young adult books which, as an old adult, I suspect are not for me. Overall though science fiction seems somewhat marginal to the Irish literary tradition, with the energy that might otherwise have gone into it instead ending up in gothic fiction or works based on Celtic mythology or Leprechaun folklore.

This book shows that bubbling under there was always a strain of Irish writing dealing with science fiction topics, albeit in stories that sometimes ended up being otherwise classified. Fennell reported that misclassification was particularly common with works by women writers. At an early stage in the book’s gestation, it was decided to gender-balance the authors but apparently this was initially a real struggle as there just did not seem to be that many science fiction works written by Irish women. However on investigating works classified in other genres he was able to find so many works that in the end A Brilliant Void boasts more stories by women than by men. The tendency to classify science fiction books by Irish women as Celtic romances or similar may reflect a biased assumption that women cannot be into all that scientific stuff.

One question from the floor drew attention to the apparent greater frequency of SF writers coming from Northern Ireland. Long’s response to this was interesting, as she suggested that post-independence the nation-building project pushed writers of non-realistic fiction towards material based on Celtic mythology. Our friends in the North faced no such strictures and could happily set their work in the future or on other planets. It may not be coincidence that Lewis and Shaw (at least in my limited exposure to his work) did not feel obliged to set their work in Ireland or to deal with Irish subjects. I also wonder though whether the greater industrialisation of the north-east might play a part here: if you live near where they built the Titanic it might be easier to imagine characters in your novel building rocket ships.

I have started reading the anthology and already in the first story I feel I have gained from attending the talk. William Maginn’s ‘The New Frankenstein’ (1837) ends with the words “Then I awoke, and found it was – A DREAM’, words which so often feel like the author has played a tiresome trick on the reader. However, Fennell had noted in the discussion that in the Irish poetic tradition of the 19th century dreams were not seen as imaginary but as portents, so the ending effectively doubles up the grimness by revealing to the narrator that he will most likely have to relive the terrible events of the story.

I am looking forward to reading the rest of the book. The stories are mostly from the 19th and early 20th century, with only three of the fifteen from after 1922 (all three of which are translations from Irish-language originals). Apart from Fitz-James O’Brien and George William Russell the authors are all unknown to me, though the panelist bigged up Dorothy MacArdle so much that I feel embarrassed not to recognise the name.

Readers might also be interested in the Short Guide to Irish Science Fiction that Jack Fennell has made available through the website of Dublin 2019, the World Science Fiction Convention that is next year coming to our city.

image source:

A Brilliant Void (Tramp Press)

Octocon Day 2

New friends
Octocon is the Irish national science fiction convention, which ran in the Blanchardstown Crowne Plaza hotel from 19 to 20 October this year. I have already written about what I encountered there on the Friday here.

Saturday morning saw me first of all working on the Octocon reception desk, where we dealt with registering convention attendees as they arrived. If you arrived at Octocon on Saturday morning then maybe mine was the friendly face that greeted you (or the surly jobsworth who couldn’t find your reservation). I made friends with some pandas who had come to the convention to examine Octocon’s Hugo trophy.

Shady customers
The morning also saw me make my debut as an Octocon panellist. As part of my efforts to promote the World Science Fiction Convention that is coming to Dublin next year I took part in a panel intended to drum up enthusiasm for volunteering at Worldcon. It turned out we were rather talking to the converted as almost everyone present was already volunteering for Worldcon, but this did allow us to gang up on the others. If anyone reading this is not a Worldcon volunteer then I encourage you to get involved, as volunteering is fun, a way of meeting people, a way of giving something back to science fiction and a way of seeing the inside of what will be the biggest science fiction event to ever come to Ireland.

More time on the reception desk and then my own interest in lunch meant that the next event I attended was the guest of honour interview by Octocon chair Janet O’Sullivan with Pat Cadigan, an American science fiction writer who now lives in England. I was not previously familiar with her work (which is more a reflection on me than on her as I am a slow reader and am unfamiliar with most writers). I found the interview fascinating, as any question would set Cadigan off on a stream of anecdote that would lead very far from the initial starting point. I particularly liked her favourable recollection of Robert Heinlein, someone who now is perhaps unfairly and simplistically pigeon-holed as a right-wing ultra, but whom she recalls as a very generous character. I was also touched by the particularly star-struck question from a member of the audience and Cadigan’s gracious response.

Cadigan also mentioned having previously attended some class of event called a relaxacon. I don’t know what these are but I want to go to one.

Not the Monster panel
As you know, this is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and with it the birth of science fiction. Octocon had an entire programming strand engaging with Frankenstein’s legacy and I now found myself attending a panel discussion on the Monster’s perspective. This got a bit “could it be that we are the real monster?” but I was struck by the discussion of consent issues (e.g. Frankenstein’s Monster badgering him to create a Lady Monster for him, taking for granted that she will want to be his mate). More general discussion of how a simple shift of perspective can make monsters appear like victims led to an interesting recollection by one panellist of a story they read once about people in the remote past fighting Trolls, where the reader realises that the Trolls are the last Neanderthals being hunted to extinction; it occurs to me now that another work of this kind is I Am Legend, the 1954 novel by Richard Matheson, where the book ends with the protagonist’s realisation that he is a monster to the vampiric new humans (I wish I had thought of this at the panel and established my remembering-things-about-books-I-have-read credentials by mentioning it). I was also reminded of various works in 2000 AD by Pat Mills, where his writing was very evocative of the non-human mindset of dinosaurs and other monstrous creatures.

Of the panellists’ own works, Sarah Maria Griffin’s take on Frankenstein, in which a brainy teenage girl attempts to build herself a boyfriend, sounds like it might have a Christmas present date with my niece.

The last programme item I made it to on the Saturday was the Vault of Horror. This is always a highlight of Octocon but it is also an event that is hard to describe in a way that does not make it sound a bit rubbish if you have never experienced it. The Vault sees John Vaughan playing snippets from a terrible film and drawing attention to the film’s awfulness. He does this in a way that is actually funny rather than being some smug guy making fun of other people’s attempts at making films. This year he reported that he has almost run out of terrible films but then he had found a terrible Gerard Butler vehicle called Geostorm with which to delight us. He also provided us with the sad news that due to a progressive illness he will not be in a position to continue serving up the Vault indefinitely into the future, but he will next year be bringing the Vault to Worldcon and presenting one of the most terrible of the films with which he has previously charmed Octocon. Are you coming to Worldcon? Then you will come to the Vault, you will.

I sadly ate so much food for dinner at this point (a recurring theme for me at Science Fiction conventions) that I was too disgustingly full to enjoy the Monsters Ball and left early, thinking that next year is definitely the one where I find some kind of easy cosplay outfit to wear.

Octocon day 3 report coming soon.

Putting the ‘Irish’ into An Irish Worldcon panel image source (@jc_ie on Twitter)

See also:

Octocon website

Another view of Octocon Day 2, from blog name of Not Another Book Blogger.

Octocon Day 1

I recently attended Octocon, the exciting Irish national science fiction convention. Octocon is the other extreme to huge conventions like Worldcon, being an intimate affair taking place over a weekend rather than a five-day event involving thousands of attendees. If you have been to more than one Octocon you will recognise a lot of the attendees and panellists, with there being considerably more overlap between these two categories than might be the case elsewhere. The programme is multi-tracked but not massively multi-tracked. So Octocon is basically a boutique convention and would suit people who like neither crowds nor a surfeit of choice in the programming.

Due to unpleasantness Octocon this year has moved to the Crowne Plaza Hotel, just beside the Blanchardstown Shopping Centre. The location suits it as Blanchardstown Shopping Centre is itself a strangely artificial place, like something out of a JG Ballard novel; in the near future, we will all live in Blanchardstown Shopping Centre. The hotel meanwhile felt like a pretty swish spot, with well-appointed function rooms and a large open space that served as a light and airy dealers’ room. I don’t know what the two birds in the lobby made of the Octocon attendees but they probably see all sorts.

A cat issue meant that I was late out on the Friday and missed the opening ceremony. I did however catch The Trance Mission Diaries, which was a performance piece by O.R. Melling with electronic music by Cha Krka. This was something of a work in progress as the goal is for it ultimately to include considerably more advanced elements like holograms and singing as well as the projected visuals and electronic music accompanying Melling’s narration. I enjoyed it but found the narrative difficult to follow, which I think was as much down to my own tiredness and it being the first thing I encountered at the con. Nevertheless, the narration and music worked well together and I look forward to seeing how this work develops.

Following that I attended a film-related panel featuring John Vaughan and Robert JE Simpson comparing and contrasting the 1960s gothic horror films of Hammer with the contemporary oeuvre of Blumhouse. The contention was that the business model of the two companies is similar: spewing out somewhat trashy films made on relatively modest budgets but hoping for at least some mainstream success, perhaps throwing in an occasional more serious film to gather some critical respectability. I was at something of a disadvantage here being almost entirely unfamiliar with the works of Blumhouse, and the big unanswered question for me was whether that studio has developed any kind of consistent aesthetic in the way that Hammer did. I was also left reeling by the panellists’ anti-Hereditary comments, which did remind me of some reviews that suggested it was a horror film for people who are not true horror fans.
For me Friday ended with a panel on how we as fans deal with things we like that have changed, particularly when the change moves things on from what we liked about them in the first place. This kind of thing is sometimes framed negatively (i.e. discussions of butt-hurt racists saying that they will never watch a Star Wars film again now that an Asian actor has appeared in one or people moaning about the Doctor becoming female). However, I think that there are times when fans are right to abandon a property (while obviously being wrong to harass persons involved in its production); e.g. two of the three Star Wars prequels were completely terrible and anyone who saw them and decided that they were done with Star Wars was making a reasonable decision, while no true Trek fan should waste their time with the recent Star Trek films. Also, people do just grow out of things sometimes.

The changing canon panel also had me thinking about how much a thing has to change before it is no longer the same thing. The panel discussed whether the character of Iron Fist should have been portrayed by a white or Asian character in the recent adaptation of the comics (in which Iron Fist is white but playing a character that in our enlightened times might perhaps be more appropriately presented as Asian). I have no familiarity with Mr Iron Fist but I was reminded of the periodic discussion of whether James Bond could be played by a black or female actor; my own view on this matter is that in this case such changes would so far deviate from the core of the character as to essentially make it an entirely different one with the same name (though I must add that I do not give a shit about James Bond and his misogynist antics and would be happy for the character to be played by Leslie Jones, edgily re-imagined as an American ophthalmologist).

For me though the most fascinating thing that came out of the canon panel was C.E. Murphy mentioning the Kirk-Drift theory, this being the idea that the popular conception of original series Star Trek‘s Captain Kirk as an alpha male dipshit shagger is essentially a mass delusion. Further investigation brought me subsequently to Erin Horáková’s development of this idea and its consequences in a piece she wrote for Strange Horizons, which I encourage all readers to investigate.

That was my Friday evening at Octocon… come back soon to see what I experienced on the Saturday. For another view of Friday at Octocon, see this post on the Not Another Book Blogger blog.

image sources:

Whose Canon Is It Anyway panel (@Frazerdennison on Twitter)

James T. Kirk (Wikipedia)