The 2014 edition of BristolCon has come and gone. As far as I can tell, most things went according to plan. The only obvious issue was that the evening quiz was cancelled because quizmaster Nick Walters took ill and had to go home. There was, of course, a great deal of frantic paddling under the surface, but Jo hasn’t had to kill anyone so we are doing OK. I mostly took a back seat this year for a variety of reasons, so I can take no credit for a job well done and am very grateful to all of the hard working people who made the event such a success.
This year we had official programming on Friday evening in the form of an open mic reading session. It went reasonably well, though personally I found five minutes to be a very awkward length. Almost everything I wanted to read clocked it at just over 6 minutes, and as a result people got a very old piece of Homer FanFic that I’m now tempted to re-do because I’m sure I can make it better (not in the least because it was originally written more as a screenplay than a story and thus is almost devoid of description). If anyone wants to see how the story ends, it is online here.
Having said that, it is important that we train people to stick to 5 minutes because the readings that we do between panels can’t be longer, else the whole program schedule falls apart.
The Guests of Honour were all fabulous. I would have bought some Julian Quaye art if I had any wall space left. Emma Newman did a live Tea & Jeopardy, except with her as the guest and Gareth L. Powell as the host. All peril was entirely mild, and tea was provided. Jon Courtenay Grimwood was a delight, as always. His next novel, which has been delivered, will be set in Russia in the 1980s, but the book I’m really looking forward to is Thrones & Powers, which has been described as, “a magic realist crime novel set in heaven, hell and Mexico City”. Jon says it needs more work. I can wait. A bit.
Talking of GoHs, next year’s honourees will be Jaine Fenn, who did a fabulous reading this year, and Jasper Fforde. Jasper also did a reading, which was from his current work in progress. It is set in a world in which humans hibernate, and if I understood it correctly the central character is a Sleep Marshall, someone whose job it is to stay awake during the winter to keep an eye on everything. Later in the day I was lucky enough to be at the same bar table as Jasper and our resident biologist, Dr. Bob, as he quizzed her on the biology of hibernation.
Talking of Dr. Bob, she did a great talk on Alien Sex, by which she mostly meant the weird and wonderful ways that real animals deal with reproduction. Side-blotched lizards are my new favorite animal as they have five genders, though only two sexes. That’s three distinct types of males, and two distinct types of females.
We also had a superb presentation from Dan Lunt of Bristol University on the climate of Middle Earth. Tolkien, either by luck or a great deal of meteorological knowledge, managed to create a world whose climate is very believable. If you’d like to learn more about climate modelling of imaginary worlds, including a paper written by Radagast for the Journal of Hobbitlore, go here. The paper is available in Elvish and Dwarvish as well, but apparently Radagast’s Elvish is terrible so that translation is not recommended.
I moderated two panels: one on music & writing; and one on steampunk. Both seemed to go well. The music panel featured Gunnar Roxen, who has the unusual distinction of having been a baby asleep in the next room while Queen were recording “Bohemian Rhapsody”. I got to quote Roxy Music. I did not try to sing.
The steampunk panel immediately dismissed the idea that all steampunk is glorifying the British Empire and went on to provide lots of fine examples of it not doing so. It is perfectly possible to write genre fiction about Victorian England and do social commentary at the same time. After all, what is Jane Eyre if not a romance novel whose plot is driven by the social gulf that divides Jane and Mr. Rochester? And of course it is possible to write steampunk that is not set in Britain at all and doesn’t feature any British characters.
I saw very little of the Art Show and Dealers’ Room, that I was enormously pleased to see Forbidden Planet table feature hardcover copies of Airship Shape & Bristol Fashion alongside Jeff VanderMeer beautiful new Steampunk User’s Manual. Thanks to sales at BristolCon, Airship Shape has now gone into profit, if only by a few pounds. I guess that means I’d better do some more paper books.
Given current debate on the less than welcoming nature of some SF&F conventions, it is worth spending a bit of time asking how we did. There were certainly plenty of women in evidence. To my knowledge, no one was harassed or made to feel unwelcome. There was a good balance of genders on panels, if not perfect panel parity (which is hard to do if you have 5 people per panel). The Alien Sex panel definitely qualified as LGBT programming. We had a panel on “Discoverability and Representation”, and the steampunk panel was also pro-diversity. I saw at least three people in wheelchairs, and at least two visually impaired attendees, so hopefully we are doing OK on accessibility. What I didn’t see was any non-white people; which means we were down on previous years. Given that the Afrofuturism season at the Watershed is still going on, that’s rather sad.
Next year’s BristolCon will be on September 26th. The much earlier date is a result of a decision by the British Fantasy Society to move FantasyCon to October. Why they should want to do that is a mystery to me, but if they want to compete with World Fantasy and leave us with a nice slot free of major events (save for Illuxcon, which will sadly draw Jim Burns away) I’m not going to complain.