Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Eastercon

Well, that's Eastercon over; and a fucking good con it was too, marred only (for me, anyway) by Scotland's godverdamnt new anti-smoking legislation in combination with the fricking Baltic wind blowing down the Clyde which on numerous occassions had me shivering pathetically like a puppy in the rain. I mean, I'm sure it's all very wonderful for those of you who think yer gonna live forever (you're not -- hah!) on yer diet of bran-juice and carrot-based meat substitutes or whatever the fuck you healthy people eat, but I go to cons to survive entirely on a diet of stout, Bloody Marys and cigarettes for a few days in order to maintain my svelte and limber greyhound-style physique. And now... now because of the evil (so evil, in fact, that I suspect the pernicious influence of the Swiss) conspiracy of non-smokers to save their own lungs from my pollution (the cheek of it!)... now I have to shiver my ass off in the unseasonally cold April wind and rain. I blame it on the car-drivers (especially the Swiss car-drivers). So I make their clothes smell funny and increase their chances of a slightly earlier death by a fractional percentage that's actually inside the margin of error, according to the studies, and therefore statistically insignificant. They kick off global warming, switch off the Atlantic conveyor system and risk plunging Scotland into a new Ice Age! What's a few years off yer life as opposed to, well, forever off the future of the human race, I ask you? Am I wrong here? I mean, am I wrong here?!?!

Oh, OK, don't answer that.

Anyway, in all seriousness and nicotine-fiend grumblings aside, I have absolutely no complaints about the con whatsoever. I had a great time and anyone I talked to seemed to be saying the same thing, with a few folk making noises about "the best con EVAR", or words to that effect (for me that's still WFC, I'm afraid, but Eastercon was still pretty fucking good). I can't honestly say I saw much of the programme, mostly attending panels because, well, I was on them, but that was mainly because I was too busy getting shit-faced with friends old and new to drag myself away from the great craic in the bar.

Highlights of the con?

Well, it all kicked off a bit early for the Glasgow mob on the Thursday before, with the mass reading in the Ingram bar in town. As it turned out it wasn't that great a venue. The staff were thoroughly lovely and it was jolly good form of the Resurgence of Trout fan group to share their space with us (and all kudos to Mike Gallagher for being the one who got off his arse and made the effort to organise it); it was just unfortunate that the space being open and right next to the quiz machine, the surrounding hubbub made it difficult for the audience to hear the more soft-spoken readers, and kinda distracting for the readers themselves. But, hey, ye live and learn, and next time we won't be so curtailed in choice of venue because we won't be bound to a specific date. It was a sterling effort by all involved that just didn't quite come-off properly due to the background noise of a busy bar. Hell, I still enjoyed meself and met some new folks (like Jakob Schmidt of the German online magazine Alien Contact, and a very nice couple, Paul and Sam who'd been to Worldcon as their first con and decided to give Eastercon a shot) as well as chatting away to mates from the SF/F scene. I even managed to not miss my train back to Hellwinning (where I was looking after me folks' dog) and (better still) not find myself desperate for a piss whilst still half an hour from me destination. Result!

Next morning, having made it back up to my dearly-beloved West End, dumped the laptop and the parka (the midday sunshine having suckered me into a false sense of security), I wandered down to the Crowne Plaza and set about my customary scoping-out process:

a) Find bar.
b) Find registration.
c) Register.
d) Dump superfluous bumf from goody bag.
e) Don badge.
f) Buy drink.

From here on in, I function in what is scientifically termed "con mode". This generally involves talking shite and getting pissed at the bar, the only difference to this now being a relatively new development: sporadic excursions to these things they call "panel items" (an interesting concept hitherto only understood in the most abstract sense) where people will actually sit and listen to me talk shite and get pissed in a function room. Those lovely green room people even provide free beer to encourage aforesaid talking shite. Bravo!

Actually, in truth I did make a cursory skirmish round the dealer's room to buy a book before buying beer, as if to fool myself into believing that this was actually about, like, literature and stuff, you know, rather than a four-day party. And I even made it to Liz Hand's reading and Q&A session which was fucking excellent. Liz read from GENERATION LOSS, a section set in the main character Cass's wild times as a photographer in the NY punk scene of the mid-to-late 70s -- so right up my street in terms of subject matter and performed brilliantly, with Liz going into a solidly New York accent that really made the voice come alive and made the whole thing utterly captivating. I'm now so looking forward to reading this book (and I know a good few non-SF-readers who'll be getting raved to about it, I'm sure, as they'll love it to bits, without a doubt... or deal with the Wrath of H/Al). So, all in all, I did manage to get a few proper con things in before settling down to an afternoon of helloagains and howyadoins. Oh, yes! And they had my book in the Dealer's Room, which led into nice wee chat with Iain Elmsley (I hope I've spelled that right) of, um, *mumble-mumble* Books while I picked up Johanna Sinisalo's NOT BEFORE SUNDOWN.

Friday evening then kicked off with the launch of Neil Williamson's short story collection THE EPHEMERA (Elastic Press) which was followed by a quick taxi dash into town for the Pan Macmillan party in Borders where I got to sign a few VELLUMs, NOVA SCOTIAs and EV#9s. Also did an interview in a corner of Borders for MJ, who was filming the whole con for Glasgow Uni Student Telly... and had to face my drunken blatherings. What's the book about? It's about 180,000 words, says me. A big bunch of us -- including the ever-lovely Peter Lavery and his merry band of Stef, Rebecca and Simon (a scurrilous rogue if ever there was one, which is to say a man after my own heart) -- all grabbed pizza together, then headed back to the con. Hmm, I think Alan Campbell (the new kid on the urban fantasy block) had joined us by then, but I couldn't really tell you who was all there.

At some point in the evening, now comfortably esconced in the hotel bar, I even had my first impromptu signing -- i.e. actually had someone come up to me outside of an organised event and ask me for my mark on me book. Unless my memory of Worldcon is just too patchy (which is, of course, a strong possible) I'm pretty sure this was my First Time. And, yes, it was fucking good. I know it's shallow of me but, hey, what's not to like about egoboo?

I'm not sure when they evetually kicked us out of the bar, but I do recall the perenial con-process of Finding A Resident With A Keycard In Order To Buy More Wine, and the bartender who served me my Murphys the next morning seemed to find it remarkable how much wine I consumed (Me: "Well, it wasn't just me."... Barman: "Hmmm."). Poor guy apparently made it home at 6 and had to be back in for 12, and was somewhat shocked by the experience. I'm guessing he wasn't working at the hotel during Worldcon.

So... Saturday. Had a few beers then headed off to my first panel item -- about whether the centre of SF is at the margins, chaired by Zara Baxter, with Geoff Ryman, Johanna Sinisalo, Elizabeth Bear and meself mostly gabbing about *not* being the Other. Geoff made a particularly fascinating comment about "Queer Time" which really wowed everyone, the theory being that queer writers often do this fragmented discontinuous thing with chronology, making weird non-linear (transtemporal?) connections that maybe(?) reflect a sort of dissociation from the linearity of familial living. Apparently it came from a thesis which used his work as an example and after an initial "nah" reaction he found it really intriguing. I was sitting there with jaw open, thinking "man, I do *exactly* that!" Is it a solid theory? It was certainly intriguing.

From then on the panel had some really interesting contributions from audience members (in particular, an Italian translator in the audience whose name I can't recall) which led us off into a discussion about non-English-language writing as the real margins. I think we all thought there was a risk of doing a "same old, same old" clunk-click panel on the Other the way it's been done a thousand times before and wanted to explore more than that. Hell, I'm more of a minority as a smoker than as a faggot, I tend to feel these days.

The rest of the afternoon was largely spent in the bar, where I managed to jump onboard a planned expedition for curry and then, having moved seat to talk to others, entirely forget and hence not get any food until some point in the evening where the bar's sausages and mash became an absolute imperative.

Made it to the BSFA awards, which is *good* as I'd arranged to pick up the art award for Ken Brown in the event he won it. He didn't, but the prizes for short story and novel going to Kelly Link's "Magic for Beginners" and Geoff Ryman's AIR respectively was some consolation. That was followed by the TAFF party and Interaction Thank-You where much free wine was consumed and a grateful donation made before eventually returning to the hotel bar for more Murphys. Caught the Raagnagrok set and really loved their mad post-rock stuff. The addition of Gary's cane (him having done his back in) brought some very drunken imitations of the monster from Young Frankenstein ("Pu'in' onna 'itz!") as well as the rebirth of the pernicious Doctor Tesla, with his floppy-eared fluffy bunny rabbits of doom (personally I still say you're better off with an ARMY OF KILLER BEES!!!... but nobody seems to believe me.)

Sunday saw my earliest panel, at eleven in the morning, which necessitated a quick excursion up to Argyll Street for a bottle of Irn Bru, so I could form some sort of vaguely coherent thoughts in the company of Elizabeth Bear, John Clute, and Maureen Kincaid Speller, with Niall Harrison moderating. I'm still not convinced my thoughts were actually that coherent but I tried; maybe I made some small contribution. They should probably have got Graham Sleight as he was much more compos mentos (is that spelled right? fuck it) and pertinent with the comments he made from the audience.

I have no idea what I did between that and the next panel, at 5:00, but as a stab-in-the-dark, I'd say it involved drinking in the bar. Other than that "con mode" renders the details blurry and disconnected. I can't remember if I (finally) got round to giving Jakob the interview he was looking for Alien Contact, or if that was the Monday morning. Maybe it was the follow-up interview for Mandy's GUST team (where they tried vainly to get more sense out of me than they got at the Pan Mac party). I spent a good wee while in conversation with Gillian Redfearn of Orion, who I blagged a copy of Scott Lynch's THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA from a wee while back.

Come to think of it, I'd meant to blog that actually -- that I'd read it and, yes, it is a *lot* of fun. I thought it was hugely enjoyable. The lead character cuts a roguish dash -- with all the swagger and the spark of Errol Flynn in his heyday (I'd say Burt Lancaster to give it full Crimson Pirate kudos (and that's saying something, man, cause as far as I'm concerned it's a toss-up between that and Pirates of the Carribean for best pirate movie ever) but he's not yer beefcake-type, more of yer wily hustler (no, not *that* kind of a hustler)). And as far as plot goes, you've got all the twists and turns of a twisty-turny thing.

Anyway, fuck, I don't fucking know when the hell I talked to who vis-a-vis Sunday afternoon. Really, I wasn't that drunk, though, not at that point. It's just... Queer Time. Yes, that's what it is! Queer Time. Yes... Moving swiftly on... the Let's Trash The Whole Tired Genre panel was fun -- Jon Berlyne, Graham Sleight and meself, with Justina Robson moderating (with much dry wit) giving a pretty wide range of opinions. Needless to say, I was clearly there to play the Bad Man and say, yes, let's blow this fucker to bits, we want Infernokrusher, Strange Fiction, Indie Fiction, Pop Modernism, etc., etc., so I did my bit; but I think we all actually agreed that SF wasn't that tired at all if ye look at it as more than a marketing label. Oh, and Richard Morgan said some really nice things about VELLUM as an example of being able to do poncy literary stuff that nevertheless didn't treat the reader like a piece of shit they'd stepped in (i.e. giving a "rollercoaster ride" rather than the metaphorical finger to them). Fuck, I should have asked if he'd put the "rollercoaster ride" in writing! D'oh!

What else? What else? There were the spangly blue cowboy hats bought by Stef, Rebecca and Simon at some point which led to some dodgy singing ("Rhinestone Cowboy" and "Stand By Your Man"). Did I start that as a substitute for "Born Free"? Was that bad of me? Do I care? Heh

But was that before or after the Edinburgh Writers' Bloc reading? Fucked if I know. But, yeah, there was the Edinburgh Writers' Bloc reading. It was, as always, great entertainment, but I had to bail out after the first half as listening to folk read was by that point too sedentary by far. I could feel meself going from laid-back to lethargic so I thought fine beer and fine craic would be a more sensible option at this time of the evening.

From then the night descended into more chaos, the most notable event being the GUST team deciding that they wanted payback for my complete inability to give anything even remotely resembling a useable interview ("You really want to get me when I'm sober." "That's not going to happen during the con, though, is it?" "Um... no."). I wasn't worried about the black gaffer tape binding my wrist to my knee, being lithe enough to raise both high enough in order to drink my beer. I was equally unconcerned when the gaffer tape was subsequently used (the full roll this time) to bind me to my chair (it still didn't prevent me drinking... hah!) like some sort of fetishist Prometheus. Only the necessity of a fag break made this situation untenable, and meant I had to wriggle free in my best Houdini-style escapology routine. It subsequently occured to me that I have now been peace-bonded at a convention. Yes, my drunkenness is a lethal weapon. And your puny bonds cannot hold me, you fools.

Also black gaffer tape draped like seaweed over a leather jacket is tres Vivianne Westwood, you know.

Monday was the typical Monday of an Eastercon, the gradual drifting off, the goodbyes that mean you just slip slowly out of con mode, all the wishing it would just last a little bit longer, just a little bit. Still, this was the day when we discovered the joys of a book that could well rival TOUCHED BY VENOM for mirth-inducingly weird sex: an old Belmont paperback picked up by Jim Steel in the Dealer's Room, a little gem from 1970 with the title RUNTS OF 61 CYGNI C. What can I say? The one-eyed runts with their sexual idyll, the lists of, well, anything that could conceivably be listed all thrown in to get that word-count up to 60K, the provision of at least one measurement of temperature / mileage in every paragraph, the way that gives the prose and dialogue its... unique style, the pulsing panties, the "simple, silly, silver-fingered robot" with its inability to correctly measure breast size -- they just don't make 'em like that anymore. The book is worth it for the breast-measurement scene alone (with measurements given in both centimetres and inches, of course). I just regret that it wasn't me who bought it, and that I didn't buy the equally promising Turkey-Shootable classics found in the Dealer's Room. Like the one about the 20th Century feminist woman cryogenically frozen and awoken in a world unprepared for her dangerous irrationalism. Or the one which promised the most mind-bending novel you'll ever read, with a list on the back of "other books you'll dig". Or the one with the copy that described its contents as "proper science fiction, not that silly nonsense you get in comic books." Yes, (the catchphrase of Monday quickly became) this is proper science fiction. It has science in it! And fiction!

But anyway, yeah, gradually people started drifting off and, after a quick foray into the carvery in the hotel's restaurant, eventually it was the Dead Dog Party. I did get to chat with Liz Hand for a bit in the evening, which was great as a) she's a totally lovely person; and b) it gave me the opportunity to say how great her reading was. I'd picked up her CHIP CROCKETT'S CHRISTMAS CAROL and had it with me, so I was also totally chuffed when she personalised it for me.

But, man, I can't remember everyone I talked to, briefly or in more depth. It was just one of those cons with a really friendly atmosphere. Hell, even the no-smoking thing meant I ended up chatting to total strangers whilst shivering in the cold outside. All in all, it was fucking great. If I didn't see that much of the programme it wasn't because the programme didn't interest me -- just that I was having too good a time chatting away to someone or other. Fuck it; I'd kinda decided in advance that I wanted to spend more time gabbing than I got at Worldcon. So it worked for me.

And now it's down to work. I've got a copy of the Del Rey VELLUM now (yay!). I've got the edits from Peter Lavery for INK, and stuff on its way from Jim Minz (eek!). I've got a preview of Alan Campbell's SCAR NIGHT which I started reading today in order to recuperate a bit first (half-way through it already). I've now got the research book for FUR that I was waiting on. I've got a short story / metafictional essay I started in the meantime. I've got travel arrangements for Wiscon to make. I've got a web-site to set up. I've got the Paisley Beer Festival coming up this week.

Hmm. Paisley Beer Festival. Wiscon. I think I should get my name on the liver transplant waiting list just now. Ah well. Onward, I say!

6 Comments:

Blogger Joe Gordon said...

Ah, it was you we watched by the banks of the majestic Clyde leaning into the wind and trying to light ciggies - we thought you were a mime doing the walking against the wind thing as we sat in the bar, our pink lungs free of fag reek and our noses therefore more able to distinguish the various aromas of the real ale... Seriously, great con, caught up with a bunch of folks but bummed I didn't run into you while I was there.

4:27 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very entertaining -- get yourself some milk thistle tablets.

Neal Asher

1:15 pm  
Anonymous Ian Sales said...

And here is the evidence of the gaffer-taping incident:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/38494536@N00/132445659/in/set-72057594113138216/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/38494536@N00/132445660/in/set-72057594113138216/

1:16 pm  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

Joe: Yeah, I didn't realise you'd been at the con until someone mentioned it on the Monday (Sunday maybe?) after ye'd left. Bummer.

Neal: Irn Bru and a couple of Anadin Extra. That's all ye need.

Ian: I like the Duncan Does Doherty one meself:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/38494536@N00/132446722/in/set-72057594113138216/

2:41 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, the hangovers aren't hurting you enough yet -- it'll come.

Neal Asher

11:57 am  
Anonymous iotar said...

>> Caught the Raagnagrok set and really loved their mad post-rock stuff.

Jolly nice of you to say so! More of our drones here: http://www.raagnagrok.co.uk

10:42 am  

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