Octocon Day 3

Readers, apologies for the delay in bringing my Octocon write-up to a conclusion. In my defence let me say that I was very busy with my amazing World War 1 blog in the run up to the centenary of the Western Front armistice and then was away in Utrecht attending the Le Guess Who music festival. I also had my v important day job to attend to, but let’s be honest, the real reason this is so late is that I am a slack-ass and have spent my time in dissipation when I should be blog-writing.

If the time-lag is so long that you have completely forgotten what previously happened at Octocon then let me refer you to part 1 and part 2. And if you are too busy refer back to those, a quick reminder: Octocon is the Irish national science fiction convention, which this year took place in the Crowne Plaza hotel in Blanchardstown.

Sunday morning, I made it out to Blanchardstown too late to catch the Sunday Service, at which John Vaughan talked further about the worst films he has seen this year (possibly featuring further unsound comments on Hereditary) and rofflin’ James Brophy talked about television. I did however make it to Janet O’Sullivan’s interview with comics creator Colleen Doran, Octocon’s other guest of honour. A lot of fascinating stuff came up here, not least regarding the materiality of the craft, with Doran drawing attention to the non-durable nature of the original comics art from a surprising number of artists, which is often drawn onto paper that falls apart over time with paint that will degrade even if the art is kept in a cupboard. Although she does write comics (both for other artists and herself), Doran works primarily as an artist and I was taken by her praise for writers she has worked with like Alan Moore, Warren Ellis and Neil Gaiman; she mentioned how when Alan Moore writes very detailed instructions to artists it is because he has thought very deeply about how the comic should look, which is sadly not the case with some other writers who have also taken to providing artists with ponderously descriptive scripts.

However, the Colleen Doran interview really ramped up towards the end when the subject of Comicsgate and online harassment. I have not been paying attention to comics in recent years but it appears that all those Gamergate Sad Puppy dipshit man-babies have moved on to comics and taken to harassing comics creators. Doran noted that harassment is something she has had to deal with from the earliest days of her time in comics but that it has escalated of late as the dipshits use social media to swarm their enemies. At the same time she reports that it is somewhat easier to deal with now because the targets are able to talk amongst themselves, thereby realising that they are not being singled out for dipshit attention. It also appears to be the case that male comics creators are now receiving their own share of targeted harassment, making them suddenly aware of what their female colleagues have had to put up with for years. What is still a bit problematic about all of this is that the comics companies are pushing (sometimes requiring) the creators to establish social media presences but are being a bit slack about assisting them when they start attracting attention from the arseholes.

An unfortunate consequence of attending the wonderful Colleen Doran interview was that I missed a session on the new season of Doctor Who, but I did make it to a live recording of the CinePunked podcast by Robert JE Simpson and Rachael Kelly, at which they discussed the mid-1970s sudden and possibly coincidental appearance of three Frankenstein-related films in a short period, Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974), The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) and Young Frankenstein (1974). The last two of these are obviously homages to vintage horror and SF films while the first one was the last film of old Hammer, making it almost a homage to itself (and featuring David Prowse, subsequently of Darth Vader fame, as the Monster). I have somehow never made it to a podcast recording before and have a surprisingly limited exposure to podcasts themselves (if I wanted to hear people talk I would turn on the radio or pay attention to the people at work) so I was fascinated by the process, in particular the completely and preternaturally fluid nature of the conversation between Mr Simpson & Dr Kelly. I was also struck by their comment on how much the 1931 Boris Karloff film defined how we think of Frankenstein and the Monster, introducing tropes like the hunchbacked assistant and the Monster being stitched together from corpses (Shelley herself never describes the monster thus and is deliberately oblique as to how the Monster was created or indeed what he looks like). The problematic sexual consent issues raised by all three of these films added to a troubling and recurring theme for the weekend. That said, for me the panel never really grappled with the question of whether the roughly simultaneous appearance of these three Frankenstein-related films was merely coincidental or whether there was something in the air that caused these three works to appear in a short period (and if so what that something was). The fact that roughly the same period also the Frankenstein-themed Doctor Who story, The Brain of Morbius (1976), so maybe there genuinely was something in the Zeitgeist. But what?

Much of the rest of my time at Octocon was taken up with the Golden Blasters, which is a science fiction short film competition run by none other than John Vaughan. This year previous winners were competing for the most golden blaster of them all, with winners of the Silver Blaster (the audience award) also thrown into the mix. This allowed me to see again films I had seen at previous Octocons in 2017 and 2015 as well as some works that were new to me. Olga Osorio’s Einstein-Rosen, the winner of both Golden and Silver Blaster in 2017 once again one both prizes. It is an entertaining tale of two kids who discover a wormhole to the future outside their apartment block, an amusing mix of just about credible funny science and some disarming performances from the child actors (the author-director’s sons), it was a worthy winner. I know, you’re thinking, “A cute kids film? I think not”, but there is a genuine charm to the two boys’ performances.
Nevertheless, with my own taste for darker fare made me prefer Sleepworking by Gavin Williams, a creepy tale about a future in which people can earn extra money by renting themselves out while they sleep to perform menial tasks as somnambulists. The creepiness comes in when two of the sleepworkers start remembering flashes of their slumbering labours, with the whole thing being very evocative of the confused state of those who are never quite sure whether they are awake or dreaming. On a lighter note, I was happy to renew my acquaintance with Andrew Chambers’ The Detectives of Noir Town, a film that manages in its short length to be more than just Roger Rabbit with puppets. I was also intrigued by John Kim’s Steadfast Stanley, an animated film about a good dog in the midst of a zombie apocalypse, and found Simon Cartwright & Jessica Cope’s steampunk stop-motion The Astronomer’s Sun to be both mysterious and poignant.

The call of a pint and convivial chit chat after the Blasters meant that I missed the last proper panels and the ever-interesting round-up of upcoming cons, but I did make the closing ceremony of the convention at which Chair Janet O’Sullivan revealed two pieces of amazing news. Firstly, even though Worldcon is coming to Dublin next year, there will also be a mini-Octocon, probably a one day event taking place once more in the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Blanchardstown. The reasoning here was that for various reasons some people will not be able to go to Worldcon but will still want to get together with other science fiction fans at a smaller, shorter and more intimate event. The other piece of sensational news was that Raissa Perez (this year’s volunteer coordinator) is joining Janet as co-chair, putting Octocon into another pair of safe hands.

What madness is this?
That was pretty much it. Some people found a way of watching the third episode of the current Doctor Who series (the one about Rosa Parks). I was one of these people. The experience reinforced my view that the current Doctor Who series represents something of a levelling up by the series. Perhaps more of that anon. It also reminded me of how much fun is to be had with shared viewings of good things. And then we were off first to enjoy a meal with houseguest Nicholas Whyte and then home to feed our hungry cat.
Impatient Cat

For another view of Octocon day three, see this post by SaraWIMM.

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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.