I arrived home from Glasgow last night, into a soggy London. The weather wouldn’t be worth mentioning had not the entire Eastercon weekend been like this:
That was the view from my hotel room on arrival Friday, and it was a good harbinger for Satellite4, which on the whole was sunny, expansive and relaxed. I can’t claim vast con experience, but the Crowne Plaza Glasgow is my favourite venue so far. Apart from the beautiful setting, both sleeping and meeting rooms were spacious and comfortable, and the layout and lifts meant there were no accessibility issues that I was aware of. Screens in the larger rooms allowed those at the back to see and the hard of hearing to lip-read – something which I know at least one con-goer was particularly grateful for. And food and drink provision was decent in quality, sufficient in quantity, and to my mind quite reasonably priced (granted, I’m comparing with London prices; but still).
I did a fair bit of hanging out with bloggers Lisa McCurrach and Daniel Franklin – it was great to finally meet them in person – and of course my regular con companion, Nicola Budd from Jo Fletcher Books. I think the only fly in our ointment as far as the con was concerned was the lack of a bookshop; there were a couple of independents and a vintage stall, but no central retailer. That meant no Binary or Gemsigns, or indeed most other titles, which was desperately disappointing – especially since I spoke to several people who emerged bemused from the dealer’s room, wondering why they hadn’t been able to find my books! A bookshop is customary at every con, as far as I know. The organisers have since told me that they tried hard to get one in, and it just didn’t happen – I’m not sure why – but I think the lesson for future cons is that it’s essential and needs to get nailed down early. If you’re bringing together authors and fans, you’ve got to have books!
That aside, all my events went very well. Women in Science and Speculative Fiction was a thoughtful discussion of gender-related career challenges (it was a nice bit of accidental timing that my post for Fantasy Café’s Women in SF&F Month went up the next day). Future Representation explored the lack of diverse perspectives in traditional science fiction – and concluded that this is changing rapidly, and for the better. It was standing-room-only for this, which did as much as the engagement and concern of the audience and my fellow panellists to convince me that speculative fiction has indeed turned a corner in terms of who gets to populate the futures it imagines.
That does not, of course, mean that the destination has been reached. While Mark Barrowcliffe and I were hosting Read For Your Life! on Saturday night, the Hugo finalists were being announced. That meant double nominee Charles Stross arriving a bit late, to cap off our fun, fresh and slightly risqué open-mic event with a stellar reading from his latest work in progress. It also meant I didn’t get to find out the details of category shortlists and attendant fandom angst until I was back in my room in the small hours of the morning.
The internet is alive with lengthy comment, to which I will not add; SF Signal is doing its usual excellent job of rounding it up, should you wish to dive down that particular wormhole. I will merely tell you that I chuckled heartily. Yes, there are a couple of authors known for their right-wing racism, sexism, homophobia and the astonishingly toxic vitriol they aim at any and everyone who does not see the world their way. And yes, there may be an editor or two who still supports the types of narratives they produce. But those authors are sitting on ballots next to women and people of colour, and even – saints preserve us! – women of colour. Those editors are mere specks in a sea of progressive thought; far more of the finalists are among the genre’s most vocal feminists and proponents of diversity. This is especially so in the fan categories – and they, if you think about it, are more truly representative of where the genre is now, and where it wants to be.
So I laughed at seeing the shoe so firmly on the other foot for a change. I have spent decades listening to the carping and sniping, the presumptions of unworthiness and accusations of liberal conspiracy, every time someone who was not white and/or male and/or straight made it into a boardroom or onto a best-of list. I still remember the crap I had to put up with when I was at MIT in the 80s, from people who simply refused to believe that someone like me – Jamaican, mixed-race, female – was there on merit. I am so used to being in the minority, to swimming against the tide of conservative opinion. Is it ungenerous of me to be amused by this turning of the tables?
Maybe it is. I never claimed to be perfect. And there’s still a long, long way to go. But I have to tell you, when I looked at those shortlists it felt more like a battle won than lost.
Needless to say, the Hugos were much discussed on Sunday – though not that much by me. I was too busy enjoying the con. With only one programme commitment I had time to attend Professor Andy Miah’s lecture on the science and ethics of human enhancement, and the first hour of Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell’s talk on current conundrums in astronomy; coupled with the BSFA Lecture delivered by Dr Sara Wasson the day before on realities and fictions of organ donation and tissue harvest, it left me feeling that the science component of this Eastercon had been far more extensive, robust and relevant than in my previous convention experience. And I made it to various other panels and talks over the weekend, most of which were exemplary. But I have to say that one of my absolute highlights happened at the Loncon tea party, when I was introduced to the author Richard Morgan. Regular readers of this blog and followers of my commentary elsewhere will know that I’m a huge fan of his novels, and it was a proper fangirl moment – which he lived up to by being as charming, approachable, smart and full of opinion as I could have wished.
So I had already chalked up at least one unforgettable moment before the British Science Fiction Association Awards ceremony on Sunday night. I’d been asked to present the award for Best Novel, which is quite an honour, but I’m not given to nervousness and I wasn’t expecting anything unusual: introduce the nominees, open the envelope, announce the winner. All went to plan right up to the last moment. I’m told that the look of surprise on my face was priceless.
For the first time in the history of the BSFA, there was a tie. And so I got to jointly declare the winners – Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, one of the most interesting, adventurous novels I’ve read in many years, and Ack-Ack Macaque by Gareth Powell, one of the nicest, most welcoming people I’ve met on the genre scene, and a darn fine writer to boot. It was a genuine pleasure to hand him the trophy (Ann wasn’t there; I understand that a duplicate has been commissioned, which will be sent to her).
And that was very nearly that. There was a brilliant aikido vs. karate demonstration on Monday morning by Guests of Honour Juliet McKenna and John Meaney, which I would love to see on the Loncon programme. And I had a long, lovely chat with Tori Truslow and Ludi Valentine about Nine Worlds. One con down, (at least) two to go …