Back from Ad Astra, full of energy and creative ideas! Temporarily I’m also a bit stunned, as usual, by the combined knowledge and creative skill of all fans coming together in one place. I’ll take the opportunity to write a little bit about conventions, what they are and how to find them.
When I talk about conventions, I always mean the fan-run conventions — those arranged by commercial interests don’t count in my book. A science fiction convention (as usual, I include fantasy and horror in my extremely wide definition of science fiction) is a meeting place for fans and pros, planned and run by fans because they like making things like this happen. The main thing is to get people to interact. You don’t “buy a ticket” to a convention, you become a member. This is something experienced fans often like to point out to newcomers, but you might have to attend a couple of conventions before you really get into it.
At a convention you can expect a varied program. The usual ingredients are panels, readings, maybe even lectures or presentations, movies if you want to get away and relax for a while, a masquerade where people show costumes they have made (some of them walk around in them all day), filk singing, workshops, competitions, and perhaps other things I have forgotten at the moment. There is usually also a dealers room, where you can buy books and other things. The con suite is where you go to sit down, have a snack and talk to people. At night there might be parties. Most conventions (at least on this continent) are held at hotels, and some people like to hold room parties. Great fun!
There are invited guests, but many of the participants in the program are fans like you and me who bring their own interests and expertise and share it with others. You will also have the opportunity to volunteer for helping out with something, from an hour or two watching a door or moving chairs, to spending the whole convention serving drinks. This is a great way to get to know people, especially if you are a bit shy and don’t talk to strangers in the con suite.
It’s usually possible to get to talk to the authors and other guests, at least if you are lucky to run into them. At smaller conventions it’s easier to meet the guest of honour and buy him or her a beer, while they might just disappear at a larger convention. At least it’s always possible to see them on a discussion panel or at a reading, and perhaps ask a question or two.
What have I missed? What would you like to know? Use the comment function and leave your questions if you have any.
Some conventions within reasonable distance in space and time:
- Eeriecon, April 18 – 20, Niagara Falls, New York
- Polaris 22, July 11 – 13, Toronto, Ontario
- Con*Cept, October 17-19, Montreal, Québec
- Anticipation SF, August 6th – 10th, 2009 (NB, next year), Montreal, Québec
Eeriecon seems to be a relatively small convention with literary focus (they promise lots of face time with the author guests). I would go there if I could afford it! Polaris is a “media con”, with actor guests (but authors as well) and more focus on tv-series and movies. Con*Cept seems to be a relatively broad convention with good literary program, I don’t know much about it. And Anticipation is The World Science Fiction Convention in 2009, an event you must not miss!
And if you happen to be interested in science fiction folk singing — filk — there is a convention already next weekend: Filk Ontario, Missisauga.
The Hugo Award nomination list is out. Check it out to see which works the members of the World Science Fiction Convention (that is, those of the fans that bother to send in nominations) like this year.
The shortlist for the Arthur C Clarke Awards was also recently announced.
One of the important science fiction conventions in Europe is the British Eastercon, held over Easter weekend. The British Science Fiction Association also has a literary award, and here is a live report from the awards ceremony (there seems to be no official list on the BSFA web site yet.
Few have missed that Arthur C Clarke passed away last week, the last remaining part of the three big names in science fiction (Isaac Asimov and Robert A Heinlein the other two, of course). SF Signal has collected links to online fiction (and video), and also links to other people remembering Clarke.
At our last meeting I mentioned that I’ll be on some panels at the Ad-Astra science fiction convention (the weekend after Easter), and one of them is going to be about steampunk. So, what is steampunk?
Imagine a dirty dickensian setting, think about brass and clockworks and black iron and steam engines, add some astonishing advanced versions of this kind of heavy and visible machinery (mechanical computers maybe, or steamdriven robots, or cities on railway tracks, or something). Mix in some magic — dirty and mechanical — if you like. And don’t forget the airships! Victorian retro-futurism, usually with a twist of some kind.
This is just to give you an idea of the ingredients, but I refrain from trying to wrap it together to any kind of proper definition of this subgenre — clever people already spend lots of time on definitions.
Yes, it can be a bit nostalgic, often romantic, but also political and edgy.
SteamPunk Magazine is a publication that is dedicated to promoting steampunk as a culture, as more than a sub-category of fiction. It is a journal of fashion, music, misapplied technology and chaos. And fiction.
Some reviews of random steampunky books, some of which I have read:
- K.W. Jeter: Morlock Night
- Tim Powers: The Anubis Gates
- Michael Swanwick: The Iron Dragon’s Daughter
- Ian R MacLeod: The Light Ages
There is of course a Wikipiedia article if you want to dive deeper into steampunk things.
Do you have any steampunk favourites, or thoughts about steampunk? Leave a comment!
Last Tuesday we had our regular meeting over warm drinks at the café. We talked briefly about the story we had agreed to read (“The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate” by Ted Chiang), but noone present (except me) really liked it. It’s always interesting to see how different reactions people can have to the same story!
P:s summary of the story made me think of the New Wave (and in particular of the Michael Moorcock story “A Dead Singer”). It turned out that not everyone was aware of this movement in fantastic literature, and we discussed genre history for a while.
We also talked about different awards, and what different types of books are favoured for them. I’m not sure if we had any conclusions, but MS decided to keep an eye on the Hugo nominations when they come.
When we talked about what to read for next time we discovered that some of us read way more than others. M has no problems with reading 4-5 novels a week, while I struggle with finishing 3 or so in a month — and P is still reading Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. We decided to read whatever we want, and make the next meeting a general recommendation and discussion meeting where we can tell eachother about things we have read recently.
Our meetings are sadly short, and after one hour we broke up. M and I continued to The Copper Penny and talked about time travel while watching American Idol.
The next meeting will be on April 8, if we don’t get any ideas before then.
I have decided to post here at least once a week, so if you come here on Mondays you will find something new and hopefully interesting.
The March meeting will be on Tuesday (March 11) at 7 pm, and the meeting place is Second Cup on Princess Street. We might continue from there to some other place, so don’t be too late! (Not more than an hour anyway.)
As you may remember, we are going to talk about the story The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate. We might also talk about anything else we have read from the Nebula nomination list: the final nomination list is online with links to many of the stories.
We will also decide on future activities, and what to read for next month.