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 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

Summer theatre in Dublin

Imagine you are coming to Dublin this summer, perhaps for a giant science fiction convention taking place from the 15th to the 19th of August, and you are also interested in going to the theatre. What theatres are there in Dublin and what are they showing around then that might tickle your fancy? Here for your delectation is just such a list of Dublin theatre venues and what they have on in the middle of August.

Founded by WB Yeats and Lady Gregory, the Abbey Theatre is Ireland’s national theatre and is located close to the Abbey Luas stop on Abbey Street. By tradition it is always mired in controversy of some sort. It has two things listed for August, The Hunger (not an adaptation of the film but a new opera about the famine of the 1840s), and on its second stage, Ask Too Much of Me, a play from the National Youth Theatre.

Also long-established, the Gate Theatre is where Orson Welles made his acting debut and is located on Parnell Square at the northern end of O’Connell Street. In August the revival of Roddy Doyle’s adaptation of his popular novel and film The Snapper will be nearing the end of its run.

The Bord Gáis Energy Theatre is located across the Liffey from the the Convention Centre in Grand Canal Dock. It hosts big touring productions, which may be your thing even if they are not mine. In the middle of August the theatre will be staging The Bodyguard and Kinky Boots.

The Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar has two stages and puts on work that is generally of high quality but also a bit alternative. It also hosts art exhibitions. At time of writing they appear not to have programmed August yet.

The New Theatre is also in Temple Bar and can be found at the back of Connolly Books, Dublin’s premier communist bookshop. This is a small theatre that puts on more intimate productions. In the middle of August they are staging Skin Tight, an edgy sounding play from New Zealand, and An Evening with Great Irish Writers, a one-man exploration of the great writers of yore.

The Smock Alley Theatre can be found at the western edge of Temple Bar. In mid August they are staging The Roaring Banshees, a tale of Irish women gangsters in 1920s Chicago.

As the name suggests, Bewley’s Café Theatre can be found in Bewley’s Café on Grafton Street. It occasionally stages plays in the evenings but is best known for lunchtime theatre productions. In mid August the theatre is staging To Hell in a Handbag, which appears to be about two minor characters from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.

The Gaiety Theatre dates back to Victorian times and can be found off Grafton Street on South King Street. In August they are staging Riverdance.

The Olympia Theatre on Dame Street also dates back to the Victorian era. In mid-August they are presenting an adaptation of Little Miss Sunshine and then Tinder – A Musical Comedy.

images:

Poster from the Abbey’s opening run in 1904 (Wikipedia)

Publicity shot from 1914 Abbey production of The Playboy of the Western World (IrishCentral: Today marks the anniversary of riots over Synge’s Playboy of the Western World)