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Back from the Microcon. No photos.

Saturday went well. I had offered to do a talk on fanfiction, since when I was deciding on a topic, Warring States had yet to be confirmed. In a fit of enthusiasm, I offered to take the 10am slot, the hope being that most people would be too hung over from the Friday night in the pub to show for the first talk (I was unable to resist the "Watt's on second" reply whenever someone asked me "Who's on first?" on the Friday). I was sadly mistaken and had a full room. I think I got through it OK, and will type up my notes into an essay some time this month.

I was followed by Paul Cornell, who raised some interesting ideas about the difference between cult and mainstream audiences. He can't talk about his work on the new Doctor Who yet, which is both frustrating and oddly enjoyable. It's slightly surreal that the tv series of DW, which as an 11 year old fan I could only know about via DWM, is now in control of people I'll have a pint with.

There followed a panel on civil war, which I think managed five minutes on the use of civil war in SF before veering off into political comments. I must turn the zombie king idea into a short story at some stage. Richard Freeman gave his annual talk on cryptozoology, with a wonderful narration of his trip to Sumatra where there are, indeed, giant rats. And some more interesting beasties. The report is also written up in the current Fortean Times, but getting to hear an imitation of the cry of the orang-pendek is mildly alarming.

Then a panel on magic and the supernatural in genre fiction. This turned out to be a recurring theme, with the question being raised why there's a shift towards fantasy/magic at the moment. Gwyneth Jones suggested that it might be the failure of the Enlightenment experiment which has led to a newfound belief in the paranormal. Science is no longer the trusted innocent thing we can put our belief into, so why not go for beasties and ghosties instead? There was also some discussion of how magic in fantasy novels has to come with rules, as a means of restricting the power of the protagonist.

Ben Jeapes then read extracts from his new novel, New World Order, which is an alt-reality set during the English Civil Wars. He can turn in stunningly evocative sentence and it's on my to buy list now. The day finished with a panel quiz, loosely based on I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue and about which I refuse to talk. Paul Cornell and I won, partially through our knowledge of Mornington Crescent, and I now think Paul Merton should be paid a lot for what he does so effortlessly on 'Just a Minute' etc. The evening was spent in pubs with the discussion veering all over the place, from my own interest in routes to knowledge to ideas about what, precisely, the Medusa myth is trying to suggest about the power of women.

Sunday began with the annual writer's group, run by Fay Sampson and Mark Leyland. I managed, yet again, to be late. I always seemed to get turned about on the University's campus, this year managing to get extra confused by the police hanging about the Great Hall. After some rather odd "vegetation sausages" and chips (in a basket) there was an afternoon of talks. Gwenyth Jones returned to the theme of story tellings and retellings, looking at why she is moving towards fantasy after writing SF.

She was followed by Nick Walters on the return of DW, then the Doctor Who panel. Walking home in the evening, I realised that at the DW panel in 2003, we had all spoken of if the show were to return in what amounted to a ritual way. This year we were talking about when as an absolute. Next year, it'll be on air. This is very very strange.

Mark Leyland did a fascinating talk on the origins of the modern fantasy novel, looking at William Morris' The Well at the World's End (etext | download) as the main influence on Tolkien, and wondering how different fantasy writing might be if Morris rather than JRR were the main influence on the genre. Hopefully this talk will see light as an essay at some point in the future (as I suspect will Gwyneth Jones').

Fay Sampson finished the main talks of the day off with a another piece looking at fantasy, and at the evolving depiction of the absolute Good in children's literature. This tied up with Mark's comments on Morris, since her first examples came from the contemporary Kingsley's The Water Babies, and ran through to Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials.

After the charity auction, and with the majority of guests having headed for trains, Richard Freeman (possibly the hardest working guest at the con) and John Hadlow ran through their top ten TV SF/F shows. Number one was rather obvious (and revealed John had been up in Liverpool the day before) but the best clip had to be from Children of the Stones, one of those odd 70s earth power stories involving chanting, bizarre music and stone circles.

As a final coda for the weekend, which ended up with a running theme about story-telling as oral tradition, I went to see Big Fish last night at the Picture House. A decent film spoilt by the need to spell things out at the end and by some oddly bland music by Danny Elfman.

Posted @ 12:10 am on Wednesday, March 10, 2004
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