Monday, 20 April 2015

Dysprosium: Saturday

Left to right: Seanan McGuire, Mike Carey, Alice Lawson (moderator), Al Robertson, and Jim Butcher.

Woke up Saturday morning not too wrecked – all things considered; the consideration being not being able to get comfortable enough to sleep properly.  We went down for breakfast thinking naively that if we arrived for 09.30 there would be no queues for food.  We were wrong.  Queuing for breakfast was a constant feature of the convention, which was surprising in that in all other respects the actual organization for sitting and serving was efficient.  However, like all things the choke point, staff leading one to a place to sit, caused a standing wave ripple that led to the formation of a queue.

I understand why the hotel went down this route, to avoid a scrum of unwashed fans rampaging through their establishment like wild steers stampeding across the prairie, but the restaurant was at the end of the day a glorified self-service canteen.  We sat with friends while stuffing our faces with too much food, which came back to bite us on the ankle later.

The first panel we went to was called Watching the Detectives.  We sat near the front in the middle of the row, mentioned for a reason, which I will come back to this later (call it foreshadowing of things to come).  We were entertained as Alice Lawson rode shotgun on a group of panelists who had interesting things to say.  In particular the stand out was Al Robertson, a new no-name author to me, who talked briefly about his first novel, called Crashing Heaven.  It has an intriguing pitch line; an accountant with a ventriloquist dummy face a world of sentient corporations where brands have become spiritual forces (so just like real life then).

I don't have a picture for the next item we went to, which is deeply ironic as it was called Modern Smartphone Photography.  It was a semi-structured workshop/talk by Chad Dixon on taking better pictures.  Susan of course was carrying her Nikon DSLR, which acquired the nickname Mjölnir during the convention, because its so large and heavy that one has to be worthy to be able to lift it up and carry it around all day.

The next item we went to was the Fan Guest of Honour by Caroline Mullan, who is a long time friend, who gave a talk called Science Fiction, UK Fandom, and Me.  She took the time to reminisce about her journey through life and fandom with witty asides, observations, and self reflection to round out what otherwise might have otherwise have been a bit of a narcissistic piece.  Caroline's talk was a testament to role of conversations she had been in during her life.  While I agree that conversations are important, my feeling is that the signal to noise ratio is often too low to sustain my interest.

What was a very nice touch came the end of the speech, when Caroline invited two singers onto the stage to sing a rather elegiac song whose title escapes me.

Two singers who go by the name Playing Rapunzel who both sang beautifully.
Then it was time for Jim Butcher's Guest of Honour talk, which turned out to be a Q&A with Charlie Stross, described as an interview in the programme book.

Charlie with Jim and his jet lag stare.
Charlie and Jim then entertained us, which just about sums it up really.  I'm not sure I can add any witty reminisces that were passed onto us, because there was a flood of interesting things said.  I should have taken a recorder or made notes, but I was too busy enjoying myself, and laughing.  I came away really liking Jim who was unaffected and open about his writing, and had a nice self-deprecating way of talking about himself.  He made me feel that it's alright to be a fan and a writer.

Left to right: Me, Roger Bell-West, Dev Agarwal (moderator), and Sean McLachlan.
After all the fun and excitement we'd been having it was then time for me to go and be on my first panel of the convention called Asymmetric Warfare.  There was some confusion over the timing of the session by the moderator, as in how long it would run, but we muddled through to the end.  I wasn't very satisfied with my performance, because had I realized we would be trailing down some of the paths that emerged, I would have prepared differently.

I know that there was at least one audience member who would have been a far better choice to have been on the panel, given he's doing his Ph.D in Counter-Insurgency Operations.  Still I had some positive feedback from one or two members of the audience which is nice.  However I think I would have been chomping at the bit had I been in the audience at the panel for the way it went off track; probably to avoid talking about the realities of modern insurgencies, with the constant call back to the American Civil War.

And no I do not think that bushwhackers in Missouri etc are a good example to talk about modern day insurgents.  While technically it was a historical example of asymmetrical warfare, they weren't fighting within a Fifth generational framework of attacking the leaders of the opposing force (as in trying to kill or remove Abraham Lincoln), which I would argue is the defining feature of the current political-military actions (think Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden etc).

I made one pithy statement about money and war,  Capitalism destroyed Communism, and now Capitalism is destroying Democracy.  To clarify my position on this and unpack what I said, because I understand this is being quoted by people, a caveat.  Capitalism is a terrible economic system, except for the fact that all the others are worse.

I'm available for hire, parties of all sizes, and I can blow up balloons too.

Left to right: Me again, Tom Parker, Jim Butcher (Guest of Honour), and Marcus Rowland (putative moderator - I helped a bit)
Due to organizational problems that the convention was having the start of The Game of the Book panel was a bit of a mess, dare I say even a bit of a train-wreck?  Tom and I both thought Marcus was the moderator, and Marcus knew he wasn't the moderator, but we could hardly ask Jim Butcher the Guest of Honour to moderate the panel.  I bullied Marcus into being the moderator, on the grounds that he was listed in the program book, whereas Tom and I were not.  Life can be so unfair.

Still, I helped Marcus to keep track of fielding questions, so ended up co-moderating the discussion with him, and this panel ended up being a lot of fun to be on.   We started off talking about rules versus fluff (the stories set in the game universe), and then moved on to telling stories about how players of games mangle the settings of the books that inspired the game.  In particular Call of Cthulhu RPG was discussed (players not making for good horror story characters), as was BattleTech, which Jim has played too (awesome or what?), and Battlestar Galactica the board game got mentioned for how it handled players being Cylons.  We also talked about Traveller and Dungeons & Dragons for providing a broad tool box for stealing settings to play in.

A good panel to be on, and I gather that a lot of people who were in the room liked it too (at least Frances Hardinge was kind enough to say so).

Left to right: Sam Stone, Ian Whates, Jaine Fenn (moderator), Marcus Gipps, and John Jarrold.
I was pretty zoned out after being on two panels, but I went to the Publish and be Damned talk, because my friend Jaine Fenn was moderating, and I knew several of the panelists.  John Jarrold was very positive and upbeat, and this was a good way to wind down from a busy day at the convention.

After this we went to eat, and then fact we'd gone the whole day without eating came back to haunt us, because effectively we had both crashed and burned.  I'd eaten too much at breakfast (as in more than I would normally eat), and hadn't really felt hungry at lunchtime.  Of course what with being on two panels, going from one item to another, we were both pretty washed out.  Should've have lunch.  Live and learn.

Afterwards we went to a room party, but when I got their there was nowhere comfortable to sit, and I had to leave to go and lie down in our room, and and take some pain killers.  My shoulders were complaining big time, and I recognized postural tension when it comes to bite me on the ankle.  Mostly this comes down to sitting in chairs that were not very comfortable, which I could cope with when younger, but now not so much.

After resting we went to the bar, talked to Jaine who was very nice to me, drank wine and chilled out before going to bed.

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