An Interview with Sandra Newman

Sandra PictureSandra Newman’s fourth novel, The Heavens, is just out from Granta and Grove Atlantic. We think it’s a remarkable book, and we’re not alone. The New York Times has called The Heavens “heady and elegant … a chameleon, a strange and beautiful hybrid.” says, “How rare and wonderful it is to find a book that surpasses already high expectations.” The Washington Independent Review of Books praises the book for its humour and style, but above all for its knack for portraying the unstable reality of its two central characters. Vector recently got the chance to chat to Sandra about her writing …

The Heavens is literary speculative fiction with a kind of alternate history / time travel premise. One strand of the novel is drawn from the life of the early modern poet Emilia Bassano Lanier. The other strand portrays a strange, shifting present-day which (just like the world we live in) both is and is not the world we live in.

So at one point in the modern day strand, the main characters Ben and Kate kind of break up via watching Terminator 2 together. Do you think that’s a real thing? – that a movie can kind of have a whole conversation for you?

I once went to a play with a theater critic I had friend-zoned, and the entire play was about sexual frustration and thwarted love, and as the curtain went down and we applauded, he said to me, “If your aunt Wanda was just eaten by a bear, you go to a play and the first line is, “Poor Wanda never saw that bear coming.” And this is absolutely true.

That is really great. Although he did have probably most of the play to hone his line. I feel like I would have some draft in my head about Uncle Verner getting spooked by a scorpion, and it wouldn’t sound funny and I would just abandon the whole sorry witticism. Do you discard unfinished projects?

Yes and no. I have a lot of abandoned projects, but I keep trying to revive them. For instance, the first chapter of The Heavens is based on a short story I abandoned five years before I started writing the novel.

The Heavens, like Terminator 2, is a time travel story. In this case, that means a story pervaded by the confusions among different people’s versions of reality.

So even though time is out of joint, The Heavens feels really timely. The bits set around 2000 evoke our current era of fake news and filter bubbles. At the same time, of course, the novel evokes other, not necessarily malign, ways that fiction and storytelling can shape past, present, and future.

In the context of Ben and Kate, the conflicting realities sometimes made me think about gaslighting, and that attempt to control the present – to control a person in the present – by controlling the past. I wonder what you think about the relationship between fiction and gaslighting?

Fiction is never gaslighting because when you read fiction, you are alone, so if you argue with the fiction, you always win. That’s one of the nice things about fiction. It can only mindfuck you up to a certain point, and then you just close the book and get angry about it, and you automatically win the argument. Except sometimes when the fiction is really, really right in a way you can’t deny no matter how hard you try, but then it isn’t gaslighting, it’s just right.

The Heavens is also about dreams, like literal dreams that happen when you sleep. Do you think we’re too passive about our dreams? Should we have aspirations about how we want to dream? Should we follow our dream dreams?

I guess in theory we should since dreams are such a large part of our lives, and the potential seems so great. But we probably don’t care enough about our dreams because we don’t remember them, just as we don’t care enough about most people’s lives because they won’t be remembered by history.

Heavens Granta Mindfuck

Even though the novel is quite intensely about Ben and Kate, it’s also a real ensemble novel. You meet all these other fascinating marginal figures. And partly you get to know Ben and Kate through their relationships with these other people (although, because of Kate’s weird temporal status, she isn’t really inhabiting the same social ontology as Ben).

Can you tell us about some of the gang? Like Sabine and José and Oksana? I really liked Oksana, for example … I felt sort of compelled and confused …

I guess Oksana is an artist who had the misfortune to be born in the body of a woman without any money, and she’s playing that hand of cards as well as she can. Her importance to me might be that people don’t write about that person enough. I’ve met many versions of Oksana in real life. I might be a version of Oksana, actually.

I think there’s something about her that comes from the fact that being a female artist tends to get warped into sex work of some kind—there’s a very long history of that—and also that female artists tend to have the focus put back on them, especially when they’re young; people want it to all be autobiographical, and many artists end up playing up to that. You get a lot of self-portraits, a lot of performance art, a lot of memoir.

Oksana is a person who’s come out of all of that, and as the world around her gets more and more unforgiving, instead of being able to transcend that and turn it into something powerful, she’s broken by it.

There’s that moment when Oksana wants to honour her birthday by charging any man who wants sex with her a thousand dollars …

This is a real thing someone I knew did when she became 46. And incidentally when he learned about this, my father said to my stepmother, “I should have done that. I could have made three thousand dollars.”

How about José? What’s his deal?

José is based on two real people I know. One of them is a writer so I can’t name him because people who know him will know exactly what I’m talking about, and he’s a José type of person so everyone knows him. Anyway, he has that kind of Aw-shucks thing going for him, and he’s a successful Latino writer and part of his success is a Real Male thing because he was a college athlete and all that. But he’s also so nice!

And the other person was a guy named Jim who was a marine who was involved in a grassroots Democratic organization I was a member of, and Jim really was treated as an important celebrity because he was a marine who really fought in Iraq, and he also was a really nice person, and he was also, inevitably, really good-looking. I always remember him making a pretty ordinary joke once, and this other guy laughed so hard at the joke, like inappropriately hard in a way he wasn’t in control of, and it was obviously about male dominance hierarchies, and Jim himself looked really embarrassed.

And then Jim kind of vanished, and the other grassroots Dem guys randomly decided he had been a police informer all along, who had joined the organization to spy on them. But I could never determine why they believed this except that Jim stopped being their friend, and it hurt everyone’s feelings.

I mean, I said a lot of dumb shit to Jim too. I am not above that stuff. I make a total fool of myself at every opportunity.

I recently met a lantern-jawed astronaut, it was really really dire. What about Kate’s parents? They really seemed to me like – this maybe sounds silly, but – somebody’s parents.

OK, so Kate’s parents are just a representation of good parents. They are based on real people (real Hungarians, as it happens) but the bottom line is that they’re the parents of someone else, the ones you meet and they’re so great you can’t even imagine what it would be like to have such great parents, and yet somehow their kid still manages to be annoyed by them. And even that is great, because you then make the extra step of imagining being able to take those parents for granted.

Tell us about rich people in The Heavens.

In The Heavens, the only really rich person we meet is Sabine, who is a good person. This goes against everything I myself feel about rich people, but sometimes you write things just because you are tired of yourself and want to give other people’s ideas a chance. And after all, the novel does start in a utopian world, so maybe in a really utopian world, rich people too could be really good people. And who am I to say? I haven’t met all the rich people. Maybe lots of them are real gems.

And then there’s William Shakespeare. He’s a character too, although kiiind of also a collaborator or something. This is not the guy’s first rodeo, but this time feels different. In so many of the examples I can think of – Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Neil Gaiman’s Dream Country, Terry Pratchett’s Lords and Ladies, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World – I get the sense that some kind of deep patterning in Shakespeare is being avidly endorsed, even when the work claims to be subverting or transcending.

Yes, some intertextual interventions do clap back at The Bard in various ways – Jeanette Winterston’s The Gap of Time, Margaret Atwood’s ‘Gertrude Talks Back,’ maybe? – but I feel like whatever their critiques, and despite their supposed mischief, they almost always gravitate toward some kind of reverence or mysticism. They want to participate in some kind of greatness that Shakespeare embodies or symbolises. Somehow, though, I think The Heavens genuinely escapes that gravity.

Well, I genuinely don’t believe in greatness, and I feel that the belief in greatness and the striving after greatness is really pernicious (which is one of the themes of the book). So in The Heavens the Shakespeare character is obviously very smart but otherwise relatively normal, and possibly a little lopsided as a person because his talent is so out of proportion to the rest of his character. I feel some sympathy with the need for the idea of greatness; we don’t want to believe it’s impossible for a person to rise above the common herd.

How did you find the historical research? How was it researching Emilia Bassano Lanier?

Emilia is pretty easy to research because there are a very few books about her and her family, and all the information is there. But Elizabethan England in general, and what it was like to live there, was a nightmare to research. It was just an endless slog of research. Would it be probable for this person to speak to that person in that tone? What did they have for breakfast? Who were the servants in a country house? What might servants have felt about their employers? What did things smell like? Etc. Each scene felt like a gigantic risk because there were so many details you could get wrong, and there are so many people who spend their lives studying the period.

I wonder if the little glitches serve a valuable function too? That speedball of joy and fury you might get, as a historian or literary scholar, from mildly inaccurate historical fiction set in your period? Arguably in The Heavens you have a get-out clause, because many of the early modern episodes are not quite in our timeline …

I’m also vaguely reminded of M. John Harrison’s squib about ‘the great clomping foot of nerdism,’ although that related to worldbuilding secondary worlds. He was writing about worldbuilding and storytelling again quite recently …

John Harrison is one greatest writers of our time, in my opinion. I can understand why he’s not more popular, because he’s over the heads of a lot of people, and he’s not tying things up in a bow in any way. The baggy and confusing plots he uses have never been popular in English language fiction, either, outside of science fiction, though in Russian fiction, for instance, they’re pretty common. Anyway, I think he’s one of the only living writers I’ve encountered who introduced me to fundamentally new ways of thinking about the world instead of just adding little details at the margins or expressing familiar things well.

Heavens USA ButterfliesSo, the fantastic is often thought to be a space where we work out social anxieties and obsessions. And the same fantastic tropes actually get reworked again and again according to how those anxieties and obsessions shift.

What do you think it is about time travel that speaks to the present moment? Or, do you think the time travel trope of the past was doing something different? If today’s time travel trope could travel in time to meet the time travel tropes of the past, what would they say to each other?

Time travel has meant more and more to us as we become more frantic to fix our world and more conscious of the incompetence of our attempts. I mean, the idea of time travel has always been that you go back in time and do something wrong (step on a butterfly) and when you come back, history is ruined; or you go forward in time and realize that everyone in your time was making terrible mistakes that lead to a world of Eloi being devoured by Morlocks.

The genre is about how humans make mistakes and ruin history, and we are incapable of doing anything right. Even if you go back to kill Hitler, it somehow makes things worse. It’s all about how our attempts to do the right thing are doomed. Another common theme in time travel is that the time travelers have to avoid changing anything of any significance, because it will create a paradox. Basically, when we think of the possibility that a human might alter history, we quickly become convinced that they’re going to fuck everything up even worse. And yet in our own present, we are constantly trying to alter history, and urging others to try, which I guess is because we’re already messing things up just by being here (stepping on butterflies) so we have to scramble desperately just to minimize the damage.

Though I guess occasionally the protagonist of a time travel narrative just travels back in time to have sex with a hot Scotsman. So that’s another possibility of the genre.

Was The Heavens a time travel story from the start?

Yes, this story was always a time travel story. It started as a time travel story where the protagonist travels back in time to have sex with a hot Scotsman, except instead of a hot Scotsman, it’s Shakespeare. Then it turned into the other kind too.

Forgiveness can be another way of sort of changing the past, or trying to. Can you talk about the relationship between time travel and forgiveness?

I guess according to the novel, no matter how many times you go back in time to fix things, there is no forgiveness because you are still the same flawed human being. And so the novel’s answer is to relax and forgive the world for not being good enough and forgive yourself for not having saved it, because there is nothing else and there never was.

I can’t think of any time travel narratives from Emilia’s time. Do you know if there were any?

I don’t think there were? Weirdly, the idea of time travel seems to have actually been invented in the Eighteenth Century and only to have really taken hold in the Nineteenth. It seems like such a core concept to us, but it’s a very rare example of an idea that (I’m pretty sure) doesn’t appear in literature until a certain date.

I guess unless you count generic ‘visions of the futures, delivered via dream’ stuff. So, one bit of Shakespeare which seems to haunt The Heavens is Horatio’s ‘purposes mistook / fall’n on th’inventors’ heads.’ This is a major theme, right? And maybe partly the problem comes from wanting to save the world in the abstract? That can lead to all kinds of fearful and anxious thinking.

Free will can only exist if you have a magical understanding of the world. So in the novel, the time travelers have something that is similar to free will, or seems similar; they are the only ones who can really alter the path of history in an otherwise deterministic world. But later on, their egotism somehow turns out to pervert whatever will they might think they have. Maybe their choices are determined by self-interest, and no matter what they think they’re doing, that is basically what is happening.

It’s sort of a messed-up version of what we all often find when we try to be altruistic. But really, I’ve always been concerned with the issue of free will. Because it seems to me that it’s obviously an illusion, unless you believe in some supernatural origin of the self, a self that can come from outside of the chain of cause and effect, and alter it. Which makes each person a little deity of a sort, who is creating things ex nihilo. And I think that’s an interesting idea, but it’s hard to see how it fits into our ordinary conception of reality.

And if it coincides with God’s will, then that on the one hand feels a bit convenient, but on the other hand, whatever, what even is God? No version of God is conceivable without arriving at a lot of preposterous places conceptually.

Do you like time?

No. I’m an introvert so I would like there to be a non-time option where nothing happens at all.

I was hoping in the last part, we could talk about one or two of your other works? You’re the author of at least four novels, a memoir, a book of literary criticism, and articles and essays. Your last novel before The Heavens was The Country of Ice Cream Star.

I have this penetrating observation that The Heavens and The Country of Ice Cream Star are quite different books. For example, The Heavens isn’t just a taut bittersweet philosophical tragicomedy of manners with time travel. Whereas The Country of Ice Cream Star isn’t just a YA post-apocalyptic dystopian epic. So I guess my question is … is there anything special that the two books have in common?

The Heavens is partly about the state I was in when I wrote The Country of Ice Cream Star, when I did not primarily live in the “real” world other people were living in. And had no particular wish to return to it.

The Country of Ice Cream Star is mostly written in your own constructed variety of English. It’s a kind of future evolution primarily of African American Vernacular English. I was interested in something you said in an interview somewhere, that AAVE is probably objectively the best English going …

I really believe AAVE is the most vital and intelligent and aesthetically sensitive use of English now. It’s really dynamic and it changes rapidly and is more open to constant invention than most other forms of English. It has the words and idioms everyone else wants to steal. I feel like this is so obvious I find it hard to defend as a proposition, but I do still encounter people who call AAVE “uneducated” English and it completely boggles my mind. It’s like being a person who thinks French people speak French because they’re too dumb to learn English.

I wanted to ask about your article, ‘What kind of person makes false rape accusations?’ I encountered it in the context of your short Vox piece on Kavanaugh, but the article was something you’d already written, right?

I became a false rape accusation geek because it gradually became clear to me that people said a lot of poorly researched or completely baseless stuff on the topic, and it got on my nerves. So I started researching it until I came across some actual information about who was being falsely accused, and why, and what happened when a false accusation was made. I mean, I just became obsessed with it for a while and wouldn’t let it go.

Finally, I realized it had never been put together into an article. I mean, it was one of those geek moments where you suddenly realize you’ve inadvertently become the person on Earth who knows the most about this subject by a pretty wide margin. So I put it together into an article, which took me an extraordinarily long time because it’s a complex subject and I’m not that great at nonfiction. And then it took a really remarkably long time to find someone who would publish it.

One of the main things I found was that people who make false rape accusations are really extreme characters. It’s not a mainstream thing to do; it’s a serious crime, and it’s generally committed by the same people who commit other crimes: teenagers, addicts, sociopaths, career criminals. The awkward thing is that these groups are also more likely to be victims of real rape. For instance, false accusations are relatively common in the prison system, but real rapes are incredibly common in the prison system too. It’s not a simple issue.

And there are lots of other counter-intuitive things about it. But really more research has to be done into this topic. I had to get most of my data from studies that were designed to discover something else, and produced information about false accusations as a by-product.

You revealed a novelist’s secrets How Not To Write a Novel, co-authored with Howard Mittelmark. But when will you reveal a writing coach’s secrets in How Not To Write How Not To Write a Novel?

Obviously I am the last person to advise anyone on How Not to Write How Not to Write a Novel.

And what do you feel are your biggest challenges as a writer?

Definitely paying the rent. All my other challenges are child’s play by comparison.

What actually is advice? Any advice, not just writing advice.

I guess advice is a kind of fiction. When you ask for advice, you’re asking someone to tell you a story about how they would solve your specific problem if they were you. So they tell you a story about a character loosely based on you in the form of advice, and you think about the story, and see if you find it convincing.

Sandra, thank you so much!

You can read an extract from The Heavens hereSandra Newman is the author of five novels: The Only Good Thing Anyone Has Ever Done, (shortlisted for The Guardian First Book Award), CakeThe Country of Ice Cream Star (longlisted for the Bailey’s Prize for Women’s Literature), and The Heavens. With Howard Mittelmark she co-authored How Not to Write a Novel. She has also written The Western Lit Survival KitRead This Next, and a memoir, Changeling. She lives in New York.

This interview was partly conducted using time travel.

Ali’s 2018 Pick: The Tea Master and the Detective

Aliette de Bodard, The Tea Master and the Detective (Subterranean Press)

Reviewed by Ali Baker as part of our 2018 Round-Up.

Image result for tea master and the detectiveI have admired Aliette de Bodard’s writing since I was given a copy of Servant of the Underworld close to nine years ago. That novel and its sequels are fantasy mysteries featuring Aztec high priest of the dead Acatl, as he solves crimes that affect the balance between the mortal realm and the supernatural realm. De Bodard’s Dominion of the Fallen series is urban Gothic fantasy set in Paris after a magical war. Both of these series feature both full-length novels and shorter works. Her Xuya fiction, however, is all shorter works, including The Tea Master and the Detective, a stand-alone novella set in a far future world (Xuya) where China and Vietnam are global powers.

This novella is an ideal starting point for new readers, as it does not need a great deal of knowledge about the Xuya universe. It is another mystery story, inspired by Sherlock Holmes, where Holmes is the scholar and scientist Long Chau, and Watson is the sentient mindship The Shadow’s Child. Like Watson, The Shadow’s Child is a military veteran, surviving the aftermath of a harrowing conflict. She barely makes a living blending brews to help people cope with the pain of existing in deep space. Into her shop comes Long Chau with a proposition: she needs to collect a corpse floating in space, for research purposes. Reluctantly The Shadow’s Child agrees to help Long Chau — after all, the rent is due — and the two travel to deep space, both facing their traumatic pasts.

De Bodard’s worldbuilding is beautifully rendered, from the ingredients of the brews that The Shadow’s Child creates to the technology of the Xuya universe. This novella is a wonderful jumping off point for readers new to De Bodard’s science fiction, who have some treasures ahead.

Ali Baker is a lecturer in Early Childhood Studies at the University of East London and a researcher in children’s fantasy literature. She is the Programme Chair of Eastercon 2019, Ytterbiumcon.

Con Report: Octocon

Ian Moore reports back on Octocon, Ireland’s national science fiction convention, which this year ran in the Blanchardstown Crowne Plaza hotel from 19 to 20 October. This write-up originally appeared at Secret Panda.

I recently attended Octocon, the exciting Irish national science fiction convention. Octocon is the other extreme to huge conventions like Worldcon, being an intimate affair taking place over a weekend rather than a five-day event involving thousands of attendees. If you have been to more than one Octocon you will recognise a lot of the attendees and panellists, with there being considerably more overlap between these two categories than might be the case elsewhere. The programme is multi-tracked but not massively multi-tracked. So Octocon is basically a boutique convention and would suit people who like neither crowds nor a surfeit of choice in the programming.

Due to unpleasantness Octocon this year has moved to the Crowne Plaza Hotel, just beside the Blanchardstown Shopping Centre. The location suits it as Blanchardstown Shopping Centre is itself a strangely artificial place, like something out of a JG Ballard novel; in the near future, we will all live in Blanchardstown Shopping Centre. The hotel meanwhile felt like a pretty swish spot, with well-appointed function rooms and a large open space that served as a light and airy dealers’ room. I don’t know what the two birds in the lobby made of the Octocon attendees but they probably see all sorts.

Day 1

A cat issue meant that I was late out on the Friday and missed the opening ceremony. I did however catch The Trance Mission Diaries, which was a performance piece by O.R. Melling with electronic music by Cha Krka. This was something of a work in progress as the goal is for it ultimately to include considerably more advanced elements like holograms and singing as well as the projected visuals and electronic music accompanying Melling’s narration. I enjoyed it but found the narrative difficult to follow, which I think was as much down to my own tiredness and it being the first thing I encountered at the con. Nevertheless, the narration and music worked well together and I look forward to seeing how this work develops.

Following that I attended a film-related panel featuring John Vaughan and Robert JE Simpson comparing and contrasting the 1960s gothic horror films of Hammer with the contemporary oeuvre of Blumhouse. The contention was that the business model of the two companies is similar: spewing out somewhat trashy films made on relatively modest budgets but hoping for at least some mainstream success, perhaps throwing in an occasional more serious film to gather some critical respectability. I was at something of a disadvantage here being almost entirely unfamiliar with the works of Blumhouse, and the big unanswered question for me was whether that studio has developed any kind of consistent aesthetic in the way that Hammer did. I was also left reeling by the panellists’ anti-Hereditary comments, which did remind me of some reviews that suggested it was a horror film for people who are not true horror fans.

For me Friday ended with a panel on how we as fans deal with things we like that have changed, particularly when the change moves things on from what we liked about them in the first place. This kind of thing is sometimes framed negatively (i.e. discussions of butt-hurt racists saying that they will never watch a Star Wars film again now that an Asian actor has appeared in one or people moaning about the Doctor becoming female). However, I think that there are times when fans are right to abandon a property (while obviously being wrong to harass persons involved in its production); e.g. two of the three Star Wars prequels were completely terrible and anyone who saw them and decided that they were done with Star Wars was making a reasonable decision, while no true Trek fan should waste their time with the recent Star Trek films. Also, people do just grow out of things sometimes.

Star_Trek_William_ShatnerThe changing canon panel also had me thinking about how much a thing has to change before it is no longer the same thing. The panel discussed whether the character of Iron Fist should have been portrayed by a white or Asian character in the recent adaptation of the comics (in which Iron Fist is white but playing a character that in our enlightened times might perhaps be more appropriately presented as Asian). I have no familiarity with Mr Iron Fist but I was reminded of the periodic discussion of whether James Bond could be played by a black or female actor; my own view on this matter is that in this case such changes would so far deviate from the core of the character as to essentially make it an entirely different one with the same name (though I must add that I do not give a shit about James Bond and his misogynist antics and would be happy for the character to be played by Leslie Jones, edgily re-imagined as an American ophthalmologist).

For me though the most fascinating thing that came out of the canon panel was C.E. Murphy mentioning the Kirk-Drift theory, this being the idea that the popular conception of original series Star Trek‘s Captain Kirk as an alpha male dipshit shagger is essentially a mass delusion. Further investigation brought me subsequently to Erin Horáková’s development of this idea and its consequences in a piece she wrote for Strange Horizons, which I encourage all readers to investigate.

Day 2

New friends

Saturday morning saw me first of all working on the Octocon reception desk, where we dealt with registering convention attendees as they arrived. If you arrived at Octocon on Saturday morning then maybe mine was the friendly face that greeted you (or the surly jobsworth who couldn’t find your reservation). I made friends with some pandas who had come to the convention to examine Octocon’s Hugo trophy.

Shady customers

The morning also saw me make my debut as an Octocon panellist. As part of my efforts to promote the World Science Fiction Convention that is coming to Dublin next year I took part in a panel intended to drum up enthusiasm for volunteering at Worldcon. It turned out we were rather talking to the converted as almost everyone present was already volunteering for Worldcon, but this did allow us to gang up on the others. If anyone reading this is not a Worldcon volunteer then I encourage you to get involved, as volunteering is fun, a way of meeting people, a way of giving something back to science fiction and a way of seeing the inside of what will be the biggest science fiction event to ever come to Ireland.

More time on the reception desk and then my own interest in lunch meant that the next event I attended was the guest of honour interview by Octocon chair Janet O’Sullivan with Pat Cadigan, an American science fiction writer who now lives in England. I was not previously familiar with her work (which is more a reflection on me than on her as I am a slow reader and am unfamiliar with most writers). I found the interview fascinating, as any question would set Cadigan off on a stream of anecdote that would lead very far from the initial starting point. I particularly liked her favourable recollection of Robert Heinlein, someone who now is perhaps unfairly and simplistically pigeon-holed as a right-wing ultra, but whom she recalls as a very generous character. I was also touched by the particularly star-struck question from a member of the audience and Cadigan’s gracious response.

Cadigan also mentioned having previously attended some class of event called a relaxacon. I don’t know what these are but I want to go to one.

Not the Monster panel

As you know, this is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and with it the birth of science fiction. Octocon had an entire programming strand engaging with Frankenstein’s legacy and I now found myself attending a panel discussion on the Monster’s perspective. This got a bit “could it be that we are the real monster?” but I was struck by the discussion of consent issues (e.g. Frankenstein’s Monster badgering him to create a Lady Monster for him, taking for granted that she will want to be his mate). More general discussion of how a simple shift of perspective can make monsters appear like victims led to an interesting recollection by one panellist of a story they read once about people in the remote past fighting Trolls, where the reader realises that the Trolls are the last Neanderthals being hunted to extinction; it occurs to me now that another work of this kind is I Am Legend, the 1954 novel by Richard Matheson, where the book ends with the protagonist’s realisation that he is a monster to the vampiric new humans (I wish I had thought of this at the panel and established my remembering-things-about-books-I-have-read credentials by mentioning it). I was also reminded of various works in 2000 AD by Pat Mills, where his writing was very evocative of the non-human mindset of dinosaurs and other monstrous creatures.

Of the panellists’ own works, Sarah Maria Griffin’s take on Frankenstein, in which a brainy teenage girl attempts to build herself a boyfriend, sounds like it might have a Christmas present date with my niece.

The last programme item I made it to on the Saturday was the Vault of Horror. This is always a highlight of Octocon but it is also an event that is hard to describe in a way that does not make it sound a bit rubbish if you have never experienced it. The Vault sees John Vaughan playing snippets from a terrible film and drawing attention to the film’s awfulness. He does this in a way that is actually funny rather than being some smug guy making fun of other people’s attempts at making films. This year he reported that he has almost run out of terrible films but then he had found a terrible Gerard Butler vehicle called Geostorm with which to delight us. He also provided us with the sad news that due to a progressive illness he will not be in a position to continue serving up the Vault indefinitely into the future, but he will next year be bringing the Vault to Worldcon and presenting one of the most terrible of the films with which he has previously charmed Octocon. Are you coming to Worldcon? Then you will come to the Vault, you will.

I sadly ate so much food for dinner at this point (a recurring theme for me at Science Fiction conventions) that I was too disgustingly full to enjoy the Monsters Ball and left early, thinking that next year is definitely the one where I find some kind of easy cosplay outfit to wear.

Octocon day 3 report coming soon.

Putting the ‘Irish’ into An Irish Worldcon panel image source (@jc_ie on Twitter)

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