Monday, October 26, 2015

Notes From a Nottingham Laundry

Hello, friends! Tex here, reporting live from a laundrette (=laundromat) somewhere in Nottingham. I'm pleased to report that the spin cycle is proceeding industriously, and that the lone sock dangling from the dryer opposite has been rescued by its owner.

Needless to say, it's been a hell of a week. 24 hours of planes, trains, and my saintly mother-in-law's automobile got me from Dallas to God's Own Country (as my dad calls it), where Dr. Robert Maslen hosted me for a discussion on "The Changing Faces of Fantasy" at the University of Glasgow. And that was... friends, it was entirely too much. More on that next week – if I write it now, it will be nothing but Oscar-clutching tears and snotters.

Right now it's pretty much just wall-eyed vegetative stupor.

But let me tell you about FantasyCon. And maybe extend that to the wonders of British SFF-lit cons generally (as I am operating on about 18% over here, and couldn't rake my fingers through this one with my usual hair-pulling intensity.)

This was my third UK con – after WorldCon in London last year and Eastercon back in April – and while that's not much of a sample size, I'm noticing a pattern. FantasyCon in particular was just astonishingly organized: every panel (that I saw) with exactly five panelists plus a moderator, every moderator prepared with questions, every panelist enthusiastic but mindful in their contributions, keeping up the conviviality without running roughshod over their colleagues. They all took questions from the audience. They all ended on time (thanks in no small part to con staff at the back of the room, flashing "five minutes" and "end now" signs as appropriate). It was like a party in a pocket-watch – and a huge departure from the wild, improvised scrum that seems to be the hallmark of so many American cons. ("Moderator? We don't need no stinkin' moderator!")

Which is not to say it wasn't spontaneous or fun. Around midday on Saturday, the fire alarm went off. Everyone dutifully gathered their things and trooped outside to the parking lot, waiting under the overcast sky with tea and portions of chips still in hand.

It was a social event, of course.
After we were allowed back in, the warm, brassy curls of a Midlands accent came on over the intercom in perfect deadpan:

"Would all FantasyCon members please be advised that the 2:00 barbecue has been cancelled."

We thought it was a pretty good joke :)

And speaking of food, it's an odd thing here. Unless someone is throwing a capital-P (usually) by-invitation-only Party, you don't see free food or drinks anywhere. Sometimes you can't even pay for it (which is more about the venues than the cons – even their sandwiches keep bankers' hours.) It's made me realize just how odd it is to expect to have food available anytime, anywhere.  No wonder the French think we're savages.

But that also means there's no culture of room parties here, at least not any that I can see. It's a huge part of the US con scene: people will spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars to spill-proof and then decorate a hotel suite, setting out a whole smorgasbord of free food and booze, and then advertise to all comers. Sometimes they're small and simple, sure – you can throw a room party with just a bag of Doritos and a cooler of beer – but they're as much a part of our conventions as league sports are to our schools, and Greek life is to our universities – and it probably looks just as frivolous and bizarre to the rest of the world.

And speaking of frivolous and bizarre, can I just say how proud I am that my publisher was the one hosting the karaoke?
So what do you do when you don't have room parties? Why, you follow standard British procedure, of course: you meet at the pub!

And god, what a great idea. Instead of wedging ourselves awkwardly between hotel beds, circulating through a stuffy, overcrowded room to try to reach the snacky-cakes on the nightstand, let's just meet at the bar and buy each other a round. Everyone's there. You can scan the crowd and find your crew and introduce people to each other in a space custom-made for the purpose. Now, if the hotel bars of the world could just be persuaded to serve cupcakes and Cheetos, we would truly be living in a utopian age...!

Well, I'm taking matters into my own hands, and heading off for the post-Soviet paradise that is Bulgaria. Wish me luck, friends:  if I can survive the customs interview, there will be a grand time waiting for me on the other side!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Great Trans-Atlantic Tour of 2015: Oh-My-God-Whytinerary!

Holy mackerel. HI there! It's been ages. How the dickens are you?

No, wait, don't tell me – I'll just come find you. I mean it. I'm mustering my all for one more grand tour this year, sowing my sunny oats all the from Eastern Europe to Newer York.  So if you live within global-melting distance of the Atlantic Ocean, there is a 30% chance of me being within 30 miles of you at some point in the next three weeks, and I vote we take advantage of it.  Here's what I got!

10/21 - 23 Glasgow, UK

You know, there used to be days when I doubted myself. Then one day, Dr. Robert Maslen invited me to speak to his Masters of Fantasy Literature students at the University of Glasgow, and I forgot how to angst. The big day is tomorrow! So, so looking forward to this – it's going to be such a good time!

10/23 - 25 Nottingham, UK

It's a myth! It's a legend! No, it's FantasyCon, which together with Nine Worlds makes up the crown jewel of the British SFF con scene. This is the nomadic home of the British Science Fiction Award – and this year, the circus has come to Nottingham.  Look me up – schedule is below the cut!

10/26 - 30 Bulgaria!

Yes. Because BULGARIA IS NICE, dammit! Actually, this leg of the trip is less of a professional venture and more of a moral obligation. From their secret underground fortress in the Balkans, 'Evil' Dan Bensen and his fiendish family are plotting world domination and eating cake – and I get to help!

10/31 - 11/3 London
Someday, I will be a big and famous author who does big and famous things in this biggest and most famous of cities. Until then, I roam wild and free: streaking through the tubes, crashing bookstores, and inveigling dinner invitations out of the locals. Watch out, London: I got an Oyster card, a Blackberry, and a penchant for misbehavior!

11/3 - 5 – Philadelphia

Okay, less Philly and more Pennsylvania in general – but I'm sure I can make time to cheez-wiz the liberty bell at some point. So excited to see Ally Bishop in her native habitat!

11/5 -8 – Saratoga Springs, NY

World Fantasy Con, like the world itself, just keeps on turning. This year, it's turned up in upstate New York, which is just fine by me: this is my first time at the convention AND in New York – and in both cases, everyone who's ANYone hangs out there. Watch me infiltrate paradise and ingratiate myself with the beautiful people!

And then, of course, I will go home to sandwich myself firmly between cat and couch, to hibernate as hard as humanly possible until March. Once more unto the airport, dear friends... once more!