It’s November, it’s Nottingham, it must be Novacon, the annual convention for SF fans. It was actually my first time and only my second visit to an SF/Fantasy convention after my brief visit to the Worldcon in London in the summer. Novacon is a regular event, this was the 44th, and for a lot of the attendees it was an important event in their year. As it happened I could only get there for one day, the Sunday, which was a pity as I think I missed some of the best sessions.
My first impression was that it was an event for middle-aged bar huggers as a considerable proportion of the delegates had apparently attended all the previous 43 Novacons. But looking closer there were a good number of women, younger fans and even families – O.K. one family. Things ran smoothly, evidence of a well-oiled mechanism performing familiar tasks.
The main purpose of my visit was to link up with the folk from Elsewhen Press, in particular, Peter and Alison and the ever-smiling Deirdre, but also their keen group of authors. It was great to see that Elsewhen had the biggest and most visible stand in the dealers’ room and fantastic to see the array of publications that Peter and Alison have published since they went into the business. As I was sizing things up for the launch of my fantasy series, Evil Above the Stars, in the new year, it was good timing that I arrived in time for Elsewhen’s new publication session. This was the launch of Chris Nuttall’s new volume, Necropolis, in his historical magic fantasy series. There was a good attendance and fun was had by all thanks to the free drinks. I am looking forward to a similar affair at Eastercon!
I managed to fit four more sessions into my day. The first was a discussion on “Girly Sci-fi” with an all-female panel. The discussion looked at the current fashion for “strong” women leads, as in The Hunger Games series, compared with the weaker(?) females of yore and the Twilight series. With “strong” often meaning adopting male attributes of aggression and violence, the developments weren’t uniformly welcome. As the lead character of EAtS, September Weekes, is a 16-year-old girl with issues, thrust into a position of power and authority, I found the discussion interesting and look forward to reviews of the first two volumes, Seventh Child and Power of Seven.
Next there was a discussion on the expansion of Print-On-Demand publishing, with a very good contribution from Elsewhen’s Peter. It answered some of my prejudices. Then there was a gem – screening of the 1957 Soviet film “The Road to the Stars” which began with a history of rocketry, focussing mainly on Tsiolkovsky of course, but then launched into a fantasy on the future of spaceflight (hopelessly wrong, of course). Finally, I attended the Awards ceremony – the Nova awards are among the most sought after in SF fandom (certainly the trophies based on a Ray Bradbury spaceship are well worth competing for). Actually most of the session was taken up with drawing raffle tickets.
It was an enjoyable day although I realised that I had not heard much in the way of discussion or criticism of actual SF stories, novels or films. Perhaps that was my fault in not spending enough time at the bar engaging in conversation. My imminent publications are more fantasy than SF which is a bit of a mystery as my first love has been SF. I started on Asimov, Heinlein and Clarke, moved through Brunner, Niven and Cherryh and now, having lost Banks, look out for Reynolds, Baxter and Mieville – to name just 10 of my admired authors (there are lots more – don’t ask me to name a favourite.) One topic that did get mentioned was the current preponderance of dystopias. I think it’s quite easy to envisage everything falling apart whether through disease, war or self-inflicted environmental disaster. Once civilisation has been fractured, the population almost eliminated, and technology lost, the “world” of the novel becomes a simple desolate wasteland where a few survivors struggle for existence. How much more exciting to work out a future where things actually work – however crooked or unfair the society may be. Here civilisation must be self-consistent and have a past, a present and a future. That was what I liked of the best of Banks’ Culture and Reynolds Chasm City novels to name but two. I see that the second of Ann Leckie’s “Ancillary” series is out in paperback so I have some reading to look forward to.
Painted Ladies: A Jasmine Frame Story is available in paperback or as an e-book from all booksellers including Amazon