Further Notes from Newcon 4

The Guests

I attended both days of Newcon 4, plus I took more pictures than Niall, so some thoughts on the Sunday panels and the convention in general:

  • The Fishmarket in Northampton is a really nice venue – light, airy, right in the town centre, and there’s even a garden outside. Unfortunately, it’s a terrible venue for a panel discussion because it lacks certain features essential in a panel room, like walls and a ceiling. I went to less panels than I otherwise would have, because I wasn’t willing to put in the effort to listen to anything. I started watching the “Are Graphic Novels the future of Genre Magazines?” panel and gave up when I realised that no one had a clear idea of what it was going to be about, and I could go and sit in the sunshine.
  • I did make it to Iain Banks and Ken MacLeod in conversation with John Clute, which was only an hour and could have easily stretched to two. It wasn’t a typical Guest of Honour interview – as Clute himself admits, he’s not that good at interviewing unless you’re happy with a question which lasts for three minutes and confuses your interviewee, but it was a fascinating discussion. They started out with a discussion of the public persona of the author and those of Banks and MacLeod in particular, and moved to the reviews in New Worlds by Clute and M. John Harrison (Banks called it a move away from ‘cosy criticism’), and how they wanted to write the science fiction they would like. I hadn’t seen Banks speak before, and I liked how relaxed, laid-back, and most of all how funny he was.
  • The last panel was Just an SF-ing Minute, starring Banks, MacLeod, and Cornell, plus Ian Watson and someone else whose name I have forgotten but was pretty funny. An hour was possibly too long, but we did get such gems as Iain Banks channeling Ian Watson, and Paul Cornell’s whole minute on the sonic screwdriver.
  • Acoustic problems aside, it was a fine little convention which I will attend again, especially given it’s so close to home and attracts so many cool people.
  • And on a final note of fangirl squee, I met Alan Moore! Who was extremely nice when confronted with a tongue-tied person shaking his hand.
  • More pictures here.

Notes From Newcon 4

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 booklet Paul 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.