Eastercon 2017 (Innominate) report

I'm pondering moving to Dreamwidth. Meanwhile, here are some ramblings about my time at Eastercon.

Panels attended:

  • From LGBT to Quiltbag - I don't think I was very awake, so can't remember much about this.

  • Dinosaurs in Fact & Fiction - a very entertaining talk. Though I recognised the Scrotum humanum fossil, so saw that joke coming...

  • Military & Combat Writing Q&A - a humorous collection of gripes, anecdotes and useful tips.

  • SF Infrastructure & Engineering - wasn't quite what I was expecting from the blurb, which mentioned undersea communities and maglev trains. The topic became all about megastructures. So it was an interesting hour, but not as useful as I was hoping.

  • Author Reading: Marion Pitman & Joanne Hall - great readings by both, as usual.

  • Neurodiversity in SFF - this was two mini-panels rolled into one. Both speakers were very good.

  • 3D Printing, Biology, Materials Futures by Dr Debbie Chachra - a high speed tour of potentials and possibilities in this new tech. Enjoyed this a lot. Though I must say I was one of the few people to notice beforehand that it was the George Hay Lecture. They needed to make that clearer in the prog grid and read me.  (I never did find the BSFA Lecture).

  • Doctor Who. Yeah I know it's not exactly a panel item... Had a nice chat with the lady sat next to me while waiting for it to start and we swapped book recommendations and books to avoid.

  • Author Reading: Anton Marks. I'd read one of his science fiction-with-magic books years ago (In The Days of Dread), and had a nice chat with him in the dealer's room the day before, so went along to hear an except from his forthcoming Young Adult novel: Prince of Alkebulan. I'll look out for it when it is released.

  • Satellite pub quiz - it was all going so well until the music round. I'm still convinced that was NOT the Torchwood theme tune. Unless Miracle Day had different music...?

  • Biohacking - I hadn't intended to go to this, but was glad I was persuaded to!

  • Eastercon Site Selection. A very entertaining spoof bid, and I really like the idea of the low income registration costs and the accomodation bursary. BUT why oh why oh why did it have to be scheduled against the SEVEN NEW PLANETS SQUEEEEE! panel?

  • Supporting Black Creators - Anton Marks and Peter Kalu interviewed each other. Both great speakers, invoved with lots of interesting projects.

  • You Want A Revolution? My first experience of The Panelist Who Talks Over Everyone Else. The moderator did his best to subvert the hijack and there were other panelists with strong opinions, so overall it was a good experience.

  • Vorkosigan's Law - both funny and informative.

  • Genre, Fanfic and Community. Good discussion and Q&A.

  • The Future of Eastercon. Lots of good - sometimes heated - discussion, and a couple of action plans: (1) to make a former Eastercon Chairs 'mailing list' for current committees to use as a source of collective wisdom, and (2) 2017, 2018 & 2019  Chairs to put their heads together to sort the Art Show storage, upkeep and logistics problems.

  • The Power of Parasocial Relationships - a terrfic topic, touching on lots of fascinating (and emotionally wrenching) stuff. On the downside, however, The Panelist Who Talks Over Everyone Else was the frakking moderator and WOULD NOT SHUT UP. I really wanted to hear what the psychologist's answer to some questions was, but he got in half a sentence before she talked over him (and everyone else, but Pat Cadigan was having none of it when she was speaking!). Also she when she turned to him, she made a "you are the token male" joke Every. Single. Time. On the upside, I'm glad I'm not the only person in the universe to have written Silver Brumby fanfic as a child! Also there was a very brave young lady in the audience who told us her story. I still get tears in my eyes thinking about what she said.

  • Prospecting Futures: Expert SF Readers - a brief guide to very interesting project by Amy Chambers. She is looking for SF fans to talk about how reading SF has altered/caused/impacted their view of the future. Lots of discussion about how the word "expert" in her initial pitch was off-putting (sounded like she was after an academic or literary critic). Also discussion about how Margaret Atwood might not have been the best author to pick as an example book to read (the reason was her supervisor who wrote the grant proposal loves Atwood's books).

Also lots of chatting in the bar and fan room to people, including some I hadn't seen for aeons. Met some nice new people. Scattered Bristolcon flyers like confetti!

You know all those Dr Who tapes which were wiped?

Aeons ago the BBC wiped various tapes, including Dr Who, to save money. I just found one.

I'm cataloguing old David Attenborough quarter inch audio tapes - mainly from Zoo Quest and Tribal Eye. And I've just come across one which has this crossed out on the box: 531 DR WHO "F Episodes 4 & G" The F and G are my best guess, since those have been overwritten at least twice! The words A Little Machine, 7 1/2 IPS overlap on side? may also refer to Dr Who.

After that, the tape seems to have been used for something called Lost Peace. And after that for Zoo Quest - recordings of indris in Madagascar.

Fun with Coreldraw and RPG maps

I have a new addiction - mucking about making contour lines look more 'realistic' on maps I'm drawing for military science fiction RPGs. I want game maps which look like proper topographic maps, not like fantasy novel frontispiece maps. I'm using CorelDraw and making the initial pile of contours is dead easy. But then I can spend DAYS titvating things! :-)

This one unexpectedly developed a canyon and a delta...


I've axed the Night's Black Agents RPG campaign

Context for those not already in the know: I've been running Night's Black Agents, which is spies versus vampires. I'd been doing a certain amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth, because the player group is so risk averse that they'd managed about half a dozen sessions without actually finding out that vampires exist. They've seen some weird supernatural stuff (bloke on street who could be seen thru camera lens but not with the naked eye) and had a fight with a couple of ghouls. But they steadfastly refused to speak to anyone who had the potential to be even moderately threatening. So after that first supernatural encounter they haven't even talked to the non-vampiric NPCs who have a direct link to the Big Bads or Medium Bads... such as gang members, or security guards at a fur farm, or bodyguards for a Russian mobster. They've talked to rival gang members and to corrupt cops who are turning a blind eye to drug dealing, but not to any of the main conspiracy.

By the way, the first thing the PCs were sent to do was to retrive A SUITCASE NUKE from a minion of the Russian mobster. I keep prompting them with "You still don't know why the Russian mob stole a suitcase nuke from Iranian terrorists" but they (with the exception of one player) won't do any investigation which might involve them actually bloody TALKING to people. They'll hack bank accounts, they'll sneak in when the NPCs are out and bug their office, they'll sit on a church tower a mile away watching people through sniper scopes. Me having them find dead bodies of people hidden in the office basement... or indeed the 'still alilve but won't be for long' body of someone being bled out in a secret lab STILL didn't trigger a desire to grab a minion and use any of the spy interrogation and intimidation skills they have coming out their ears to ask "What the hell is going on?"

So I moaned at them they were being risk averse.

The response? They start planning to kidnap the Russian mobster. Hurrah! At last! I think. But barely into the planning session it morphed into 'let's assassinate the Russian mobster'. Two of the players took my moaning about them being risk averse to heart and met the mobster, saw vampiric powers, got into a knife and sidearm fight with his minions, etc. Great.

Unfortunately the other 2 dialled the risk aversion up to 11. They positioned themselves 1000 yards away from the action - so no risk of having to engage in a physical, mental or social conflict with an NPC. They insisted on using long range weapons (sniper rifle, explosives on remote detonator) - so they can damage the NPCs but the NPCs can't damage them. They got rid of their perfectly adequate sniper rifle & explosives, and replaced them with uber damage versions... and whinged when I wouldn't give them anti-tank weapons.

Night's Black Agents is supposed to be James Bond/Spooks versus vampires, with schmoozing rich NPCs, going undercover to infiltrate organisations, having punch ups in dark alleyways, parkour pursuits across the rooftops and car chases thru city centres. However, these players apparently want to play some sort of combination of American Sniper and Nuke The Whole Site From Orbit. So I've canned the campaign and asked them if they want to play a military science fiction game instead. I have tons of stuff where claymores and anti-tank weapons will advance the plot rather than derail it.

Random Update

Life seems to be very busy at the moment. Previous few weeks have included:

  • Armadacon

  • Visiting Stockport to see keith_martin, then a day trip to Manchester.

  • Seeing various films at the cinema: Dr Strange, Arrival, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them. (Interestingly the cinema in Manchester was much cheaper than the ones in Bristol by several quid).

  • Playing Only War RPG. I have re-done my character, as it is one of those games where you have to have played it to understand how to create a character who can walk and chew gum at the same time.

  • Running Werewolf the Apocalypse RPG. Missing a couple of players due to floods and transport woes.

  • Running Doctor Who RPG. The players stole the engine of a centuries old, decrepit void ship from the cybermen. What could possibly go wrong?

  • Playing Waggle Dance the boardgame. I really like it. My friends also like it but don't like the 'random special ability' cards. I'll be playing the 2 player version with my brother when he's here over Xmas, so we'll see how that works.

  • Wrestling with the new Bristolcon website. This year there is a new interface for paying by paypal and a 'registration' process, which is supposed to capture all the data we need. So far in testing it has done weird things (like refusing to give membership numbers if 1 person buys 2 memberships). I'm not convinced that this new system will be less work for me when maintaining the membership list. e.g. all the people who pay by cash or cheque now have to be entered manually on 2 webpages AND added to the spreadsheet, instead of just the latter.

  • Adding random bits to various writing projects (mainly the RPG stuff), but not actually finishing any of them!

Meanwhile, the BBC's promise to tell everyone if they have/haven't been accepted for voluntary redundancy by 30th November might have slipped to 8th Dec. I say might, because no-one will actually confirm or deny this, but it was kind of implied in an email about something else entirely. 

Armadacon 28 - con report

Thoroughly enjoyed Armadacon last weekend. I admit that I usually go to Armadacon mainly to see the other regular attendees. I liken the con to a family wedding, where only the relatives you actually ENJOY talking to have turned up.

But this year the guests were also terrific. The panels with Nev Fountain and Rob Shearman were fantastic Dr Who themed geek outs, while both Colin Baker and Michael Jayston entertained us with tales of shenanigans from the theatre and television. It was also interesting to hear actors' perspectives on the way television has changed in the last few decades (no rehearsal time any more!). David Wake was also as entertaining and informative a speaker as usual, and he won the Masquerade by simultaneously appearing as both Colin Baker's Doctor AND the Valeyard. And Andy Lane did a great presentation on writing, with an ongoing in joke that Stephen Moffat never writes or calls him any more.

Following on from it's success last year, Friday night was Armadacon Unplugged, organised by Roz and David. This year I recited 2 poems (The Horses by Edwin Muir, and The Ambulance Down in the Valley by Joseph Mallins), read an excerpt from my short story in the Para Animalia collection and led the singing of Alien Encore by Leslie Fish (the plot of the Alien movie to the tune of What Do We Do With A Drunken Sailor).

I rediscovered The Horses by Edwin Muir when it was read on Radio 4's Poetry Please. I recognised it as something I'd heard at school, and I think it is probably the evolutionary ancestor of my Horse Chosen roleplaying game.

Things which annoy me in novels #2: Secrets not revealed in internal monologue

I remember ranting about Dream Sequence a while back, so I guess this is rant number 2!

Imagine a viewpoint character in a novel has, or knows, a Secret. For instance:
- I am the True Heir to the Kingdom, living under a false identity so that my evil usurping Uncle does not hunt me down and kill me.
- I have the mutant superpowers and must keep them secret from the Government or they'll hunt me down and kill me.
- I know that the CEO of my company has stolen billions from the pension fund. If he suspects I know he'll probably hunt me down and kill me.

I don't object to the character having the Secret. I DO object most strongly to them having viewpoint scenes where they think about The Secret as a concept, rather than thinking about the facts/actuality of the secret as they do with any other bloody thought in their head. Basically, the author is trying to conceal the Secret from the reader, presumably so they can have a big reveal later. But it is REALLY ANNOYING when character think things like "If my wife knew my secret, she would leave me" rather than "If my wife knew about my mutant superpowers she would leave me".

Authors - stop constructing your damn books like a TV series! If we're in the character's head, tell us the damn secret.