Why the Graphic Novel? Panel coverage from The London Book Fair 2015

CA - Why the Graphic Novel Why the Graphic Novel? What Comics can do that Other Forms Can’t. 
The panel are very much from the literary side of the graphic novel spectrum – and understandably so. Of course the possibilities of the format have been explored by pioneers in the mainstream but the indie / literary scene is where experimentation and new methods of storytelling is encouraged. We have mainstay of the comic’s scene and Escape Books publisher Paul Gravett chairing, and on the panel: Julie Birmant and Clement Oubrerie, creators of Pablo (a biography of Picasso, Self Made Hero), Karrie Fransman (Jonathan Cape – The House that Groaned and Death of the Artist) and Paul (B) Rainey (There’s No Time Like the Present, Escape Books).

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A Panel and Chat with TPub’s Neil Gibson – The London Book Fair 2015

CA - Neil Gibson I’d been very intrigued about TPub having encountered them for the first time just before Christmas so, seeing founder, owner and writer Neil Gibson was running a panel at the LBF’s Interactive Theatre, I decided to pop along. Aside from a very interesting talk and Q&A (over headphones!), Neil was good enough to spare some time for a chat and interview afterward…

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Arabic Science Fiction: From Imagination to Innovation – an evening with Sindbad Sci-Fi

A hundred of us were gathered in the Science Museum’s Directors Suite for this year’s Arab Science Fiction event put together and hosted by Sindbad Sci-Fi: From Imagination to Innovation (part of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s Nour Festival). It’s a fantastic venue, with double tiered bookcases rising the two storeys of the room, and just the right tone for the forthcoming discussion. CA - SSF
The panel is chaired by journalist and broadcaster and science fiction fan Samira Ahmed who introduces the panellists in turn, each having a spot to introduce themselves and their work.

First up is Saudi Arabia’s Yasser (“The Jedi from Jeddah”) Bhajatt, an engineer by profession who, on a global scale, investigated the relation between a country’s science fiction scene / output and its level of scientific development. Read the rest of this entry »

LonCon3 – The whole Con, miscellanea therein and the final curtain thereof…

Note to self – try not to have a big birthday next time World Con comes to London! But what a weekend…

Fantastic four / five days wandering between the ‘fan village’, the Exhibits Hall, and then the panels I could make (see previous posts) – and also sitting in the boulevard and writing bits up. Didn’t have time to finish in the exhibits unfortunately but had an absolute blast. Here’s a bit of a run down of particular bits around the Con over the whole weekend, and also the unfortunately inevitable end of the LonCon3 – a wonderful place and time for the duration.

Here’s Hugh Norwood’s Angst-Lesspork, a tribute to a certain city of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. Hm, is that (bottom-right) a certain librarian of the Unseen University?

From the guide: Angst-Lesspork is a small model railway that draws its inspiration from and is a tribute to the Discworld books of Terry Pratchett and in particular the greatest city on the Circle Sea, Ankh-Morpork. The scene is urban with a tidal river to the front. Buildings are predominately timber-framed. Although superficially a Victorian/Edwardian townscape, many characters and architectural features give clues to the layout’s true identity. Angst-Lesspork appears with the kind permission of Sir Terry Pratchett – and pre-dates Raising Steam by a couple of years…

Other bits around was the art exhibition, other displays, dealers, and fan tables including the bids for future World Cons. Absolutely smashing stuff…

Had a fab time at the Titan Books party on Friday – hadn’t even realised there was a Tor and Jo Fletcher birthday party happening just around the corner!There’s revellers behind and aside the displays but a fine sample of science fictional works from their growing book list. Mind Kim Newman is the star of the show and gets a display to himself (bottom-right)…

Fantastic time throughout but all good things and all that… I attended the closing ceremony on Sunday which was packed.

After a review of the video that won London World Con this year, showing a montage of alien invasion and the science fictional destruction of our capital, the Chairs of LonCon3 – Alice Lawson and Steve Cooper – emerge to deliver the closing speeches. There were presentations to the guests of honour including, sadly in absentia, the dear departed Iain M Banks, to whom the Chair’s had pledged that he’d be guest of honour regardless of anything in his final days. It was a very touching moment with those who knew him well being deeply moved.

Iain M Banks 1954 - 2013

Iain M Banks
1954 – 2013

On a brighter note there was a song to sing given someone in the audience had their birthday that day, someone who’d been present at the first LonCon: Brian Aldiss.

Finally the Chairs performed the formal duty of closing the 72nd World Science Fiction convention with the pronouncement and banging of the wooden hammer, then passing it to Sally Hall, the Chair of Sasquan, the next host of World Con.

And from there, well the bar was still open and the remainder of us – of which there were many – gathered in the fan village for drinks and chat and last celebrations. The photos below are very much of that, the first three being of kids who’d acquired bubble wrap and were joined by more and adults besides to make sure that if LonCon3 hadn’t ended with the sort of big bang that would guarantee an apocalypse for London, there were certainly many little ones happening at the same time.

Which was just how we ended it.

Fantastic long weekend of celebrating the fantastical and the science fictional and massive thanks and kudos to all the organisers and volunteers who made it such an amazing convention.



Tall Technical Tales from LonCon3…

From the event programme: What kind of stories emerge from the lab when scientists gather round the campfire and have too much to drink? Will they involve exploding particle accelerators, the escape of dangerous diseases, or explain why you should never operate a centrifuge while drunk?

Having got in late (and after rather a few birthday drinks the day before) I thought I’d check out this humorous science panel, moderated by astrophysicist and observational astronomer David L Clements (Imperial College), PhD student of Molecular Biology Helen Pennington (Imperial also), Henry Spencer (astrophysicist and various other disciplines), and NASA’s Geoff Landis, a physicist and writer of SF.
Henry Spencer moves in swiftly after Landis establishes his sci-fi authorship claiming that he too has been known for such work: that his project proposals have certainly been of science in proposal though his budgets are similarly well known for being works of fiction; the result being something closer to the genre of horror.

David Clements kicks off the anecdotes, noting that observatories are at rather high altitudes which means there is less oxygen and a concurrent loss of points of IQ. On one occasion, having settled in to observatory and the tasks therein, he became aware there was something he’d forgotten. No, the data was coming in okay. Yes he’d checked the weather conditions. So what had he forgotten? Oh yes:

See it turns out the breathing reflex kicks in not because of a lack of oxygen but an excess of carbon dioxide. Humorous and informative.

He goes on to relate the time he was up the mountain cutting a part to size in order to fit it, and phoned down to sea level to have the following approximate exchange:

“Sea Level – I’ve cut this part three times and it’s still too short.”

“Come down now!”

We’re then treated to stories of up and coming scientists attempting to freeze dry a litre and a half of chloroform in a corridor (you can tell the science buffs in the room here and throughout by the collective intakes of breath and early laughter before it’s explained to the rest of us). But yes, this rather destroyed the freeze dryer and nearly filled the immediate environs with gaseous chloroform; this courtesy of Helen Pennington.
I did enjoy the image built by Geoff Landis when he’d bunged the wrong end of a tube with something particularly hazardous inside. He was found wandering around the lab sans labcoat and trousers with a load of tissues attempting to clear up. (His explanation anyway).

We’re back with Helen Pennington. Another student, she tells us, was repeatedly noticed (and thank goodness she was noticed) approaching the autoclave with something inappropriate. Are ethanol, chloroform or bleach inappropriate to put in an autoclave? (YES, according to the rest of the room!) Someone else was attempting to win the Darwin Awards on her own behalf and that of her colleagues besides by opening a centrifuge into which she’d put – and then heard break – a sample of Legionnaires Disease. Everyone in the lab required three months of heavy antibiotics. I wonder if they saw the funny side as we did. Regrettably, as Henry Spencer comes in with, Darwinian processes are statistical in nature. (You might imagine that her unwilling colleagues in the Award attempt might likewise feel such regrets.)

Oh there’s plenty more from the panel. Someone actually did manage to destroy an entire chemistry building though, I confess, the science passed me by. We hear of an explosives course in Semtin, a place which gives its name to a little substance ending with ‘ex’ rather than ‘in’, and the rather cavalier (if not inquisitive) attitude to safety of one of the instructors. (Think Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka’s attitude to being teleported by television). Also there was the Muslim lady on the course dressed in the traditional hijab attempting to re-enter the country covered in explosives residue. I got that one at least straight off.

I wasn’t quite so sure what the cause of the underground explosion was in the next story (something nuclear I think) but it blew a manhole cover straight up a considerable distance. How considerable? Well it wasn’t found – they’re pretty sure it reached escape velocity.

Then we’re on to fridges. People leaving food in fridges (next to the exciting chemicals). People leaving notes on containers in fridges saying ‘Whoever stole the sample of nitrous oxide this is not nitrous oxide.’

On a similar chilly subject we hear of a Group Safety Officer whose party trick was gargling liquid nitrogen; yes apparently it’s fine as long as you keep it moving. (It’s explained that the Group Safety Officer is usually the most dangerous person in the department because if they tell you not to do something…) But then someone else fancied trying the same but forgot that you are meant to ‘spit, not swallow’. Fortunately (!) it didn’t freeze-burn his insides. Instead, feeling the pressure building and thinking he was going to be sick, he made it to the stairwell which was essentially a twelve-storey echo chamber, whereupon he produced the loudest and longest belch anyone had ever heard.

And that’s according to scientist so they should know.

Great stuff – cheers to all who came along and contributed!

LonCon3 Friday – The Urban Fantasy: London panel…

Having read Hellblazer in my late teens it never occurred to me that the adventures of, for example, a modern day wizard would be something considered fresh and innovative; enter Jim Butcher and his Chicago-based wizard Harry Dresden, now around a decade on and a Sunday Times – as well as a New York Times – bestseller. And he’s not the only one to have success on the urban fantasy scene, a genre very much alive and ever more so in modern day London.

So what is UF and what’s going down behind the scenes in the big city? With Gollancz’s Gillian Redfearn moderating five authors discuss: Tony Ballantyne (author of Dream London and others), MaryAnn Johanson (critic and author, who came over to London from NYC three years ago and has yet to leave), Suzanne McLeod (author of Spellcrackers.com), Tom Pollock (author of the Skyscraper Throne trilogy), and Russell Smith (Author of the Grenshall Manor chronicles).The moderator opens by asking them ‘What is urban fantasy to you?’

It must have at least something of our world, Susan McLeod shares and Mary-Ann Johanson agrees: it’s about the use of the real city, and the author making it ‘alive and haunting’. Tom Pollock continues the thread talking of how cities have their own personality and, given that London is both London and all the old towns and villages that grew together to form it, there’s a great deal of personality to explore in our big city.

So what is it about cities? Russell Smith expresses a sense of authorial spirituality here and later, saying that there are more stories than there are authors to tell them. But, of all cities, what is so special about London? It’s the juxtaposition of the historic and the modern, says Mary-Ann Johanson – that and all the places in which things could be hidden. We move on to its multicultural aspect, London being a melting pot of people from all over but who, collectively, bring a flavour to the area in which they live. It’s noted that its multicultural nature has been the case since the city was called Londinium.

Dream London
Sweet Smell of Blood
The City's Son Could the authors write an urban fantasy elsewhere and where would they like to? Berlin, says Tom Pollock without hesitation, to do so being an ambition of his (it’s an apt choice, the city having been infused with years of turmoil, of the Second World War and then the Cold War, division and being united and is still a city very much in the process of becoming). For Suzanne McLeod it’s Edinburgh, a selection met with the vocal approval of the panel. Russell Smith likewise has his answer ready: ‘Unquestionably Barcelona’.Then we’re into the discussion of whether you could write an urban fantasy in a city or place without the depth of history common to such cities. Perhaps this sort of question is a red rag to a writer, and maybe any creative: can something be written if…? Yes, yes and thrice yes. (In fact Jim Butcher’s non-urban fantasy series, the Codex Alera, seems rather too random compared to the well developed Dresden Files until you realise that he wrote them as a ‘bet’ with just that in mind. A good writer can turn anything into a good book, was along the lines of what he’s supposed to have said and, when his friend challenged him on this: give me two elements. All right – Pokemon and the Roman Empire.)
Oblivion Storm

But yes, you can write an urban fantasy in a city without history, the panel agrees: the apparent conflict of such a lack will bring its own solution – and doubtless something new to the genre.



Check out more Urban Fantasy including Tom Pollock’s concluding volume of The Skyscraper Throne on our Jan-Jun 15 Urban Fantasy Page here!



LonCon3 – Second Steampunk Panel: Decontextualising Steampunk

After yesterday’s Introducing Steampunk, and given a lot of folk here love the genre, I was intrigued to see what this panel would make of it. Where the former panel were loosely aiming to end at a definition, taking in the hallmarks and issues of the genre en route, this discussion rather worked the other way. It was not so much about what steampunk is (though of course this is repeatedly touched on) as which of its features are common but not necessary for a work to be classified as such.

The panel was chaired by Ann Vandermeer, the (Hugo) award-winning editor of Weird Tales, well known for her editorial and publishing work in the genre. The others, Gail Carriger, Rjurik Davidson and Liesel Schwarz, are all established steampunk authors, whereas Patricia Ash is the editor of Gearhearts Steampunk Revue, representing more of the steampunk subculture / lifestyle side of things. The panel confirms that the movement is very much alive and, if the increasing number of conventions and attendance thereof is anything to go by, yet to plateau. Interestingly we hear that many of the stylistic steampunk tribe are not even aware of the literary side, though it’s safe to say the readers will have a strong awareness of the former, whether or not their interest extends to the wearing of costume.

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LonCon3 – The Steampunk Literature Panel

A packed room greets us late arrivals with people already having ignored the ‘No Seats, No Entry’ notice, sprawled and stood at the back and sides like Victorian underclass. The panel is made up of Girl Genius creator Kaja Foglio, East Midland author Kim Lakin-Smith, Germany’s Oliver Plaschka and Spain’s Marian Womack, all chaired by Gollancz’s Gillian Redfearn and is in full flow.

The discussion is inexorably heading toward the big ‘what is steampunk‘ question though that, and perhaps some answers, are repeatedly touched on along the way. Aesthetic is the key word, and the love of the genre being ‘playful’; other defining elements or aspects are noted as being the culture of the time: fashion, politics, manners and multiculturalism, and technology and its implications, whether or not treated with a second world twist. As the chair later wryly queries ‘Do you have to do more than stick a gear on it to make it steampunk?’

Kim Lakin-Smith

Kim Lakin-Smith

(Which reminds of the joke of: Q –  ‘How many steampunks does it take to change the light bulb?’ A – ‘Two; one to change the lightbulb and the other to put the unnecessary cog on it.’)

More questions: Are steampunk and Victoriana the same, is one a subset of the other? The panel seem happy that Victoriana, perhaps the more general love of the style of the period and it’s history, has been around for a lot longer. Though now, especially with the modern Steampunk / goth ‘tribe’, there’s a new sense of Victoriana spilling out from steampunk literature.

Steampunk Cos-play Either way, the Victorian period is the era of colonialism and imperialism. The panel debates briefly on whether they’re inseparable from the Steampunk genre – it sounds they’re happy creatively to not confirm they are, though it seems likely they will usually play a part. More interestingly the discussion moves to characters, ethnicity and nationality, how even foreign steampunk authors can be prone to locate their work in the classically British if not London locale. Gillian Redfearn also warns of the danger of unexamined steampunk, in which in the glorifying of the period the issues of race and exploitation are lost; also how less accessible steampunk works may be to non-white readers, given the colonial backdrop and societal if not racial superiority of the British of the times.
And how often are the main or strong characters therein non-British? (It’s a fair point and gets the mind working as to what new ground an author might break by building on the notion.)  On a more upbeat note a number of the panel are emphatic in their appreciation of Steamfunk, in which the African and postcolonial experience and culture is combined with steampunk; that was a new one on me and something to investigate…

Alongside that, later period offshoots of Victorian era steampunk are raised – Dieselpunk, being of the 20’s and (if I heard this right) Dustpunk of the 30’s, each with their own aesthetic, style and view of the world, partly understood through the entertainments of the time.

Oliver Plaschka alludes to the relationship of cyberpunk and steampunk and that the former was of the 80’s, representing the fears and technological developments of that decade (which makes me wonder what the future retropunk of that era might be – NewRomanticpunk? Postpunkpunk?) Then Kaja Foglio expresses her love of and interest in the pre-Victoriana period and it’s potential for similar science fictional interpretation (Enlightenpunk anyone?)

Kaja (and Phil) Foglio

Kaja (and Phil) Foglio

As we move toward the big question, which of course was never going to be categorically answered, Foglio is clear that she won’t ascribe her work a category, Steampunk or otherwise. If you give it a category, she notes, someone is just going to tell you you’re not doing it right. If she has an idea and likes it then it goes in, she says.

Besides, as a friend of hers pointed out, ‘It’s not very ‘punk’ to let people tell you how to do it.’

No arguments here.