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 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

Finding the other Retro Hugo finalists online

In Dublin this August the Hugo Awards for the best science fiction and related stuff from 2018 will be awarded. Dublin will also be awarding Retro Hugos for material from 1943. In a previous post I linked to where most of Retro Hugo finalists in the novel, novella, novelette, and short story categories can be found online. But what of the other categories? Sadly here things seem to be a bit more difficult, but there is still more than nothing that can be looked at online for free.

Best Graphic Story

Readers will I think struggle to find some of the finalists in this category. Jack Cole’s Plastic Man #1: The Game of Death is available in full on the Digital Comics Museum for online reading and downloading. Steve Dowling’s Garth is downloadable from the blog British Comic Compilations (the Garth 001 download contains the material from 1943).

They seem to be the only finalists readily available in full online. The blog The Wonders You Can Do has an interesting post summarising and analysing Wonder Woman #5: Battle for Womanhood (by William Moulton Marsden and Harry G. Peter), complete with some illustrations. The Black Gate blog meanwhile has an illustrated summary of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon: Fiery Desert of Mongo. Hergé’s The Secret of the Unicorn is available in many libraries and all good bookshops; a summary with sample illustrations can be seen on Tintin.com. Your local library may also have the 1969 edition of The Collected Works of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, which contains Philip Nowlan and Dick Calkins’ Martians Invade Jupiter

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

Heaven Can Wait and Münchhausen are both available in full on YouTube. The Internet Archive meanwhile appears to have Batman, Cabin in the Sky, and Phantom of the Opera. And OK.RU has A Guy Named Joe.

Better quality versions of these films may be available from commercial streaming services.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

The Ape Man, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, Der Fuehrer’s Face, and Super-Rabbit are all available on YouTube. The Seventh Victim is on Dailymotion.

That leaves I Walked With a Zombie, for which YouTube has just a trailer. It might be available from commercial streaming services.

Best Professional Editor, Short Form

Here are links to what the Internet Speculative Fiction Database lists the finalists as having edited in 1943. Have a look at each issue’s table of contents and see if it tickles your fancy. If you have infinite time, consider popping over to the Internet Archive to skim some of these issues.

John W. Campbell Jr.: Astounding Science Fiction & Unknown Worlds

Oscar J. Friend: Thrilling Wonder Stories

Mary Gnaedinger: Famous Fantastic Mysteries

Dorothy McIlwraith: Weird Tales

Raymond A. Palmer: Amazing Stories & Fantastic Adventures

Donald A. Wollheim: The Pocket Book of Science Fiction

Best Professional Artist

Samples of Hannes Bok‘s art can be seen here on the blog Monster Brains. Readers can also check out his illustrations to Robert W. Chambers’ “The Yellow Sign” in the September 1943 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries.

While primarily famous for her saucy covers for Weird Tales, Margaret Brundage appears to have had a fairly quiet year in 1943, producing just the one somewhat tame cover then. A Google image search gives a broader look at her career.

Virgil Finlay‘s work can be seen on the covers of the March 1943 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries and the February & May 1943 issues of Super Science Stories. Finlay is also noted for his interior art, examples of which can be seen in his illustrations for C.L. Moore & Henry Kuttner’s Earth’s Last Citadel (separately a finalist in the Best Novel category).

Unless you have been living under a stone you almost certainly are broadly familiar with the illustrations Antoine de Saint-Exupéry created for his own book The Little Prince, but if you need a refresher check out this post on the blog Faena Aleph.

J. Allen St. John‘s work can be seen on the covers of the January and February 1943 issues of Amazing Stories.

The art of William Timmins can be see on the covers of the February, June, and October 1943 issues of Astounding Science Fiction.

Fanzine and Fanwriter

FANAC.ORG is an amazing archive of fan stuff of yore. The people that run it created a portal page for fanzines from 1943 there, and there you will find links to scans of the finalists in both of the fan categories.

In case you can’t remember, the best fanzine finalists are:
Futurian War Digest, editor J. Michael Rosenblum
Guteto, editor Morojo (Myrtle R. Douglas)
The Phantagraph, editor Donald A. Wollheim
Voice of the Imagi-Nation, editors Jack Erman (Forrest J Ackerman) & Morojo (Myrtle Douglas)
YHOS, editor Art Widner
Le Zombie, editor Wilson “Bob” Tucker 

The Best Fan Writer finalists are:
Forrest J. Ackerman
Morojo (Myrtle Douglas)
Jack Speer
Wilson “Bob” Tucker
Art Widner
Donald A. Wollheim
 
So there you go. With voting in the Hugos and Retro Hugos closing on 31 July, this does not leave much time to research your ballot.

In the meantime, here is another picture of my cat, with SF books in background:

More cat action

edited with a link to a download of Garth and information on where Buck Rogers: Martians Invade Jupiter can be found (information provided by Ambyr), and also to correct an error in the listing of the nominees in the fanzine category.

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

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 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.

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.