Alex Holden (alex_holden) wrote,
Alex Holden

Interaction debriefing

Interaction wasn't merely my first Worldcon, it was in fact my first con of any kind. When I first heard about it, I mainly wanted to go so that I would have a chance to meet some of my favourite authors in person (who knows, maybe some of the talent would rub off ;). I didn't know anyone before I went, I don't drink, I don't generally go to parties because I find that I don't fit in, and I'm not very good at socialising with strangers. Since for many people the main point of conventions seems to be to meet up with old friends, socialise in the bar, and go to late night parties, you might think that I must have hated it. Well, no. Actually I enjoyed it a lot. I'm already considering going to next year's Eastercon and trying to work out if I could afford to travel to next year's Worldcon. Read on to find out what I got up to at Interaction.


4AM: Got up, finished the last minute packing, got a lift to the train station from my Dad.
12PM: Arrived at the SECC, checked in, then set off to Cairncross house with my (very heavy) luggage. Got a bit lost and walked much further than I needed to, but got there in the end. Dumped my luggage and headed straight back to the SECC.
1PM: British Worldcon Orientation for Professionals. OK, so "professional" is rather a stretch for me- "fan and wannabe writer" is more how I would describe myself. But I learnt a few things at the panel all the same. Harry Harrison said the reason he was on the panel was longevity - he went to the very first Worldcon somewhere around the year dot. Apparently he hates it when people come up to him and say things like "My father told me to read your books, Mr Harrison" or even worse "My grandfather told me to read your books." Gay Haldeman told us we need to make sure we get two hours of sleep and six meals a day - or was it the other way around?
2PM: So, Private Spaceflight is Here. Aleta Jackson told us the reason they're building cheap rockets is because they want to retire on the Moon, and to give us the opportunity to come along for the ride. XCOR was the only company represented on the panel (I think there should have been at least one other but he didn't turn up), but they did a decent job of describing their competitors. Another point they made was that part of the reason there's so much secrecy around the US private spaceflight companies (Armadillo is the exception here) is because their rockets are technically classified as munitions and so there are various restrictions on how much they are allowed to tell foreigners about what they are doing, and they can only take American interns.
3:30PM: Opening ceremony. Entertaining, but it did drag on a bit with all the speeches and clapping. The Clyde Auditorium was officially renamed the Starship Armadillo. Which is, after all, a far more sensible name for the place. At the end, we were urged to follow the Pied Bagpiper of Glasgow through to a big empty space with SECC staff lined up along the walls. I was discreetly searching for cover and an exit route because I was half expecting the staff to suddenly pull out submachine guns and kill us all, but they actually just served a lot of wine and orange juice, and people stood around drinking while I watched from the side of the hall wondering what the point of it was. After about ten minutes watching everybody drinking and talking I got bored and left. I can't remember what I did for the next hour or so, but I think I spent some time wandering around the hall where people were advertising their own cons. Eventually I walked back to Cairncross House, did some food shopping, had something to eat, perused the program, then returned to the SECC.
7PM: You can't copyright my DNA, can you? The point was soon made by the panel that the title of the panel was wrong and the description was misleading. The discussion was actually about the circumstances in which it's possible to patent gene sequences, what the implications of this are, and about how the politicians who make the legislation don't understand the issues so end up making stupid compromises. Some stimulating comments from scientists in the audience.
8PM: Sexual Just a Minute. Definitely the funniest panel I went to. The competition between the American guy on the left and the South African guy on the right (sorry I can't remember their names) was hilarious. I provided the "end of round" whistle. I knew it would come in handy for something one day...
9PM: SF Trivia for Chocolate Quiz. I was totally outclassed by the rest of the audience here. Not only do I have a very poor memory for trivia, but I hadn't even read most of the books the questions were about. Even when I did know the answer, somebody else would always get there before me. I did manage to shout out one right answer that nobody else knew, but because I was sat at the back, the panel didn't hear me over the regulars at the front who were shouting out wrong answers, and they went on to the next question.
10PM: I'm Sorry I Haven't an SFing Clue. Somewhat entertaining, but in hindsight I probably should have gone to "Disgusting Ideas in SF" instead (I couldn't decide between them so, being lazy, I picked the one that was the nearest to where I already was). Part of the problem here for me was that I just don't "get" the original Radio program - I've never found it particularly funny - and the SF version wasn't much better for me.
11PM: Walked back to Cairncross. Again. My feet were pretty tired by the time I arrived.


A bit before 7AM: Woken up by a row of bin lorries parked outside with their engines running. Had breakfast, read a bit, met the other members of Cairncross Breakfast Club when they got up, set off to the SECC nice and early so I would get there before the crowds.
About 8:30AM: Arrived at the SECC and went to check my email in the web area. Discovered that everything is closed until 10AM, which is also when the first panel I want to go to is on. Whoever organises these things: please consider that some people would like to check their email at quiet times. I managed to check my email once during the whole con, and I had to skip a panel I wanted to go to to do it. If there had been free open WiFi the problem wouldn't have been as bad- I could have brought my iBook with me and used that while sat in the concourse.
10AM: You've Plugged _What_ into It? Excellent panel where several of the members tried to outdo each other with their geekish credentials - how old the first computer they worked on was, etc. Cory Doctorow made some comments I agreed with about the general crappiness of the SECC not allowing us to run free open Wifi.
11AM: Character vs Science in Hard SF: A very interesting discussion (to a wannabe writer like myself) between several bigname authors and a bigname editor. I think the main conclusion arrived at was that the title was badly chosen- good hard SF incorporates both character and science.
12PM: Clones, Children or Countless Lives. It took me about ten minutes to find the room this panel was in. It turned out to be a windowless broom cupboard on the first floor of the moat house hotel. By the time I arrived it already had probably a hundred people crammed in like sardines. I ended up standing at the back jammed into an uncomfortable position between an electric buggy and a table. The discussion was lively and very interesting, providing much food for thought about what kind of a future we might be heading towards once people figure out how to upload a human mind into a virtual reality world or a cloned body.
1PM: You Killed Off the Old People: Depicting Older People in SF. This panel was also more interesting than I expected it to be. I've been looking forward to reading John Scalzi's Old Man's War once it comes out in paperback for quite a while, and after hearing him on this panel I'm even more excited about it. He mentioned a sequel being in production too. Some interesting points were made about the difficulty of selling stories which feature elderly protagonists. Brian Aldiss made some interesting comments about the different ways that he percieves the world now he is an old man compared to when he was younger.
2PM: Not Letting Research Get in the Way of Your Imagination. The interesting thing about this panel was that the subject was about avoiding research, but without exception the authors on the panel all described going into great detail in their own research- in other words, if you want to do it right, there is no researching short cut. One point that was made (I can't remember which author made it) was that for them, the research was the fun part. Writing novels was in some ways just a thing they did to justify spending months learning interesting new things. I think it was this panel where one of the authors (maybe Ken Macleod?) described researching how to pilot a submarine into a harbour by phoning up the navy and asking whoever answered the phone, who passed the buck by putting him straight through to the admiral in charge of the base (who was pleased to help once he learned why he wanted to know). The point was made that research scientists (and specialists in general) usually love to talk about their work to somebody who is researching for a novel, so you shouldn't be scared of looking them up and asking them what you need to know.
3PM: Went back to Cairncross and had something to eat.
5PM: Secret History of Ansible. This was another item where it took me a few minutes to figure out where the room was. It turned out to be hidden in the core of Starship Armadillo. An interesting lecture by the inimitable Dave Langford about the history of Ansible (who went on to win two more Hugos at the awards ceremony). He told some interesting anecdotes I hadn't heard before about the year the L Ron Hubbard society sponsored the Worldcon, and about a feud between Dave and an author I probably shouldn't mention over something he wrote in Ansible (apparently he had to reprint a censored version).
6PM: Race, Migration, and Refugees. For me, this was probably the dullest I went to. Ian McDonald had a few interesting things to say, but the least I say about the rest of the panel the better. I think maybe I misunderstood what the topic was supposed to be about.
7PM: Challenges For New Writers. In theory, this panel should have been right up my street, but it mainly repeated stuff I've already read many times before (about avoiding procrastination, etc).
8PM: Reductio ad Absurdum presents _Lucas Back in Anger_. The highlight of the con for me. A hilarious spoof of the Star Wars saga. I thought a few of the jokes fell a bit flat (particularly the incontinent stormtrooper and the Groucho Marx scene), the audience sing-along failed because the words appeared on the screen _after_ they'd been sung, and my Kazoo didn't work. Despite all that, it was still one of the funniest things I've seen for a long time. In a way I wished it had been about an hour longer with the new trilogy treated the same way as the old trilogy instead of as a spoof Abba musical (maybe I would have enjoyed it more if I'd been able to sing along).


About 7:30AM: Got up, had breakfast with the CBC, walked to the SECC.
About 9AM: Arrived at the SECC, sat down on the balcony over the concourse to read a book and wait for something to happen. There were plenty of other early-birds like myself around.
10AM: Skipped the New British Space Opera panel so I could queue up to get 15 minutes of time on a PC to check my email.
10:30AM: Wandered around the dealer's room. Didn't buy anything.
11AM: I Have Seen the Digital Future and It is Full of Fans. Oddly I don't remember much about this panel. Patrick Nielsen Hayden arrived late, then chatted with Charlie Stross for an hour about Livejournal and blogs and stuff.
12AM: How Do We Reinvent Time Travel? This was pretty interesting. Kim Stanley Robinson said he'd proposed a panel talking about timing (pacing of writing etc.) so they'd put him on a time travel panel even though he'd never written a time travel story. At the end he actually did give a very brief (and quite interesting) lecture about timing. Harry Harrison talked quite a bit about his novel, Technicolour Time Machine, and Stephen Baxter talked a little about his writing too. Connie Willis didn't turn up, so Kim Stanley Robinson kept making jokes about how she will be arring later (earlier) when she fixes her time machine. I later learned in another panel that the reason she didn't turn up was because she'd double booked a meeting with her editor to explain why her latest book is overdue.
1PM: Mapping your World: Creating the Back Story. Unfortunately when I decided to go to this panel (thinking it would be useful for a wannabe writer), I failed to notice that it contained some bigname fantasy authors whose work I've never read (I rarely read fantasy). As a result it was packed with fans of those authors who weren't very interested in learning how to create a back story, and the discussion was mostly along the lines of how the back stories of various fantasy stories I've never read were developed.
2PM: Wandered around the dealer's room for a while. Again. Still didn't buy anything.
2:30PM: Got Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross to autograph the PDA I read eBooks on (including Cory's various novels and Charlie's Accelerando). Continued to wander around the dealer's room. At some point I think I subscribed to Locus, then went off to the concourse to sit down and read.
3:30PM: There were three interesting sounding panels scheduled at the same time here. Trilogy Middle Book Problem, On Augmented Reality, and "The Long Tail": Economics of a Post Scarcity World. I chose the latter. The discussion itself was pretty interesting, but unfortunately there was a loud Filk session going on in the next room and the partition wall seemed to be made of cardboard or tissue paper or something, which meant it was pretty difficult to hear what the panel was saying much of the time. Cory Doctorow was in the audience, but he probably should have been on the panel considering he seemed to know much more about the topic than anybody else in the room.
4:30PM: I think I went back to Cairncross to get something to eat at this point.
6PM: Fannish Currency: Whuffie, Egoboo and Chocolate. I'm struggling to remember very much about this panel. I know Cory talked a bit about Whuffie and why he doesn't really think it's a good idea (it penalizes people who do unpopular, but necessary, things).
7PM: I have no idea what I did in this time slot. I don't think I went to a panel and I know I didn't go back to Cairncross. Maybe I just sat and read for a while.
8PM: The Masquerade. This was a totally new experience for me. I've never been to anything like it and I'm not really into fashion or clothes shows in real life. I enjoyed parts of it- the Iron Costumer, Sue's (frostfox) stories about her manic cat and managing to break a hotel, the Terry Pratchett and Silence of the Lamb sketches, the Zombies, and the Death chaos costumes. Other parts were less interesting, and the endless clapping got a bit tiresome. I ducked out after Iron Costumer (I thought Sue looked great as a slightly curvier version of Marilyn Monroe), as did quite a few other people, because I didn't really have any interest in finding out who had won, and didn't want to have to keep on clapping until both hands snapped off at the wrists. Would I go to another Masquerade? If they have an Iron Costumer event, maybe. Would I take part? Definitely not.


8:30AM: Woke up by noises in the corridor to find that my mobile phone battery had died unexpectedly in the night (I use my phone as my alarm clock). Went to breakfast with the CBC. alexmc graciously offered to charge my phone for me in the newsletter area.
10AM: AI: the Aliens We Make? I have quite a limited recollection of this panel. I do remember Charlie (autopope) talking about efforts that scientists are currently making to replace part of a lobster's brain one neuron at a time with a computer simulation, and Cory pointing out that the technique is flawed as we have no way of knowing that we have a complete and perfect simulation of the behaviour of any given neuron.
11AM: I took some time out from the panels to visit the art show. There was definitely a lot of impressive work there, though I had somehow expected it to be a bit bigger. I was sad to find that even the cheapest artworks for sale were out of my price range.
12AM: The British Boffin: An SF Stereotype Dissected. I've been meaning to buy Francis Spufford's book for quite a while, but somehow never got around to it. After this panel, I went to the dealer's room and bought a copy (autographed by the author, as it turned out). Some very interesting stuff about how quite a few countries have their own, different, stereotypes for engineers and scientists.
1PM: Making the Hugos. An interesting lecture by Peter Weston about how he makes the Hugos (the rocketship part, not the base). For reference, they're a gravity fed zinc-aluminum die casting with two removable cores for the fins, polished and plated with nickel and chrome. There's a tapped hole in the bottom which has a UNF thread. He told an amusing anecdote about a Worldcon team who didn't realise they had to make the bases themselves, were unable to find UNF screws to attach the bases to the Hugos, and were unable to find an Imperial allen key to tighten the screws. Peter used a Windows based laptop, which demonstrated its enterprise-worthiness to us on a regular basis by popping up annoying error messages on screen throughout the presentation.
2PM: When I Were a Lad, We Used to Dream of 64K. I honestly didn't notice that Terry Pratchett was going to be on this panel when I decided to go to it. The room was packed. I think the audience was a fairly even mix between computer geeks like myself who were there for the discussion, and people who had just gone to see Terry Pratchett and didn't have a clue what the discussion was about. As it happens, I am a big fan of Terry's as well as being a computer geek, which made this one of the most enjoyable panels I attended. There was the usual funny banter about who started out with the computer with the least number of bytes of RAM, Simon Bradshaw confessed his addiction to old HP calculators (something which I'm ashamed to admit I share), Terry told us about his early experiments at automating his house with a Sinclair ZX80, Simon Bisson (sbisson) told us about the ancient hand-me-down computers that were donated to his school, and there was some interesting discussion about Sir Clive and how he may have signed a pact with the devil which caused him to design a succession of perfect products each with one fatal flaw.
3PM: I went to the science museum across the river. I was rather disappointed with it actually. The building looks huge outside, but it seemed pretty small inside, and it was all hands-on science demonstrations. Fun for kids, but not so fun for someone like me. I also would have liked to go up the tower, but wasn't willing to pay the extra £6.50 or so it would have cost. Definitely not a patch on the Greater Manchester Museum of Science and Industry.
5PM: An informal discussion on the future of the book on the floor of the Fan Lounge. I mainly went to this because Cory had mentioned it on BoingBoing and it sounded interesting the way he described it, but I found it a little disappointing because most of the discussion, what little of it I could hear over the background noise, went rather over my head. I was expecting the talk to be about what technologies will eventually replace paper books, but it actually seemed to be more about the definition of the word "book" and whether a description of a mission in an MMORPG would qualify as a novel (what does it matter- who would buy such a boring story anyway?). But I did have an interesting chat afterwards with one of the other participants about the DMCA/EUCD and how it applies to cracking DRM on eBooks so you can read them.
6PM: I think I went and got a hot dog in the concourse, and sat down to read while I ate it.
7PM: Up the Walls of the World. For some reason this was the only panel on at this time, and even so it was fairly lightly attended. I don't know what everyone else was doing (going to the Hugos an hour early to get a good seat maybe?). It was an excellent panel about people who collect stuff and how they store it all. Probably the most interesting panellist was Guy Consolmagno, a Catholic priest who lives in the Vatican. Apparently he has taken a vow of poverty, and as part of that he only has a single bookshelf. That means he has to think very hard about which books he most wants to keep, because when he gets a new one he has to get rid of an old one to make room for it. He mentioned that authors often give him personally autographed copies of their books, and he feels obligated to keep them as a result even though it might mean eg. giving away his only copy of SIASL. He also talked about his "day job" - looking after the Church's large collection of meteorites - and about the vast archives underneath Vatican City, most of which will never be filled because they were built shortly before computers made a lot of the paperwork involved in running the Church obsolete. Apparently the most common storage method for books in the fannish world is Ikea shelves. I feel a little weird admitting that in fact I've never been to Ikea, and I built my bookcase myself from solid pine in a woodworking night-class (it is too small, of course). Some interesting discussion about the best way to order books in a library (this is apparently a religious issue).
8PM: The Hugo awards. Far too much clapping and ceremony for my liking. The introduction was pretty funny. It was based around the idea "what if the Hugos were named after Victor Hugo, not Hugo Gernsback" - and talked about how the French were now the dominant world power due to their winning the first world war in a day as a result of plans for "La Bombe Atomique" having been published in Victor Hugo's Fiction Scientifique magazine. A few of the jokes went a little over my head, but it was funny all the same. Some of the people I voted for won, some didn't. It was funny watching Dave Langford going up for his second Hugo holding his head in amazement that we'd voted for him yet again. Nice to see Charlie Stross finally win a shiny rocket, even if it wasn't Best Novel.


10AM: Why does the Left Like Military SF? Joe Haldeman and Harry Harrison both had interesting things to say about their (conscripted) terms in the army, how it affected their writing, and about the different kinds of military SF. Moshe Feder (sandial) talked about his time spent editing non-SF military stories and about how he wants to work on more military SF.
11AM: Subverting the Traditions of Fantasy. OK, I admit I did the fanboy thing here and went to a panel I wasn't really interested in because an author I like was on it (in this case, Robert Rankin). Unfortunately there was no sign of him, or even any explanation of why he wasn't there. I don't remember a whole lot about what was discussed because I wasn't paying much attention, but I think it basically centred around "what traditions of fantasy?" and "what constitutes subversion of them?"
12AM: Medical Hazards of Space. This was another panel that turned out to be more interesting than I expected it to be. Jack Cohen was particularly erudite. Some interesting discussion of how ovaries can be internally mounted while testes have to be external in order to operate at a low enough temperature. Also talked about what went wrong with Biosphere 2 (the concrete in the building sucked carbon dioxide out of the sealed atmosphere) and why we should be pushing for lots more Biosphere type experiments on Earth before we try to colonise space.
1PM: It was getting close to the end of the con by this point, so I decided I had better have one last attempt to buy something in the dealer's room. It actually turned out to be fortuitous that I left it so late because quite a few of the booksellers had started to offer significant discounts, and I ended up buying half a dozen books for less than it would have cost me earlier in the con.
2PM: Fan Room Closing Ceremony. A funny "interpretive dance" sketch about somebody who obviously attended a whole different con to me involving lots of drinking, parties, and lying-in all day, followed by a lucky-dip prize-giving ceremony with various strange categories. Afterwards I went up to Dave Langford and asked him to sign my copy of "The Space Eaters." To say he appeared happy that a stranger had asked for his autograph would be a gross understatement.
3PM: Closing Ceremony. This was a lot like the opening ceremony in many ways, except it was shorter and didn't have the weird "civic reception" thingy afterwards. The hall was rather packed, and I somehow ended up sat to the left of a bloke with two free seats to the right of him who, instead of simply moving along one seat to make room, shoved his bag between us then jammed his elbow into my side for the entire duration.
5PM: Set off back. Probably the most enduring image I have of the con is the Starship Armadillo framed in the window of the train, receding into the distance. That was when I realised that it was really over and I would have to go back to work the next day.
10:30PM: Arrived home after having spent the last hour trying to read while sat across the carriage from an insane screaming kid.

Hmm. I seem to have used the word "interesting" rather too much in that report.
Tags: conreps, cons, worldcon
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