I spent yesterday at Newcon 4, a small Northampton con that punches above its weight when it comes to guests of honour. Although I missed some of the GoH stuff by virtue of only going to one day of the con. Still, I did catch:
- Science fiction non-fiction: what’s the point? Panel discussion moderated by Tom Hunter with Donna Scott, John Clute, Farah Mendlesohn, Colin Harvey, and
er, someone else who is apparently not listed in the programme bookletPaul Skevington. I thought this went rather well, actually; particularly enjoyed the discussion of reading criticism as a constructive act (Clute: reviews as documents of recovered naivety; Farah, reviews as opening a window onto a text, and as well-constructed pieces of writing in themselves). Useful discussion of canons, too, and whether or not they are a barrier to reading enjoyment, the role of multiple canons in the sf field, the difference between historical canon (i.e. lines of influence) and personal canons and critical canons. Also interesting points about what sorts of criticism are scarce, particularly criticism about fantasy and criticism about endings, and the idea that even the most basic synopsis, in that it is a partial representation of a larger work, is an act of criticism; the problem with reviews that focus on plot synopsis is that they are unaware of the choices they’re making.
- Is ‘New Space Opera’ just ‘Old Space Opera’ in fresh clothes? This one felt a bit over-endowed with authors to me, since the panel consisted of Iain Banks, Ken MacLeod, Jaine Fenn, Tony Ballantyne, Ben Jeapes, and Ian Whates moderating. As a result it tended to circle around surface points without really getting under the skin of the topic.
- Paul Cornell‘s guest of honour spot, and later, excerpts from his adaptation of Iain Banks’ “State of the Art”, to be broadcast on Radio 4 next year. (The condition for playing the excerpts at Newcon, apparently, was that the broadcast date be repeated many times. So: it’s going to be the afternoon play on 6 March, 2009, from 14.15.) I thought it sounded very promising; and the new ship name Paul Cornell has added fits right into the Culture. Other upcoming Cornell projects: a contribution to an anthology organised (and presumably edited) by Geoff Ryman titled “science and fiction”, in which sf writers were paired off with working scientists (Cornell got someone working on the LHC) and chatted until they came up with an idea for a story; and a new novel, described as being of the Buffy meets The Sweeney school of urban fantasy. If that is an extant school of urban fantasy.
All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable day, let down only slightly by the venue, which was a big, echoey hall in which if could be difficult to hear what panellists were saying. I imagine I’ll be back for the next one.