Tag Archives: SF

Eastercon Glossary for the convention newbie

As Eastercon is this weekend, I thought I’d do my bit for “paying it forward” and assemble a glossary of terms for the convention newbie.

It can all seem a bit much on your first visit to a con; these are the basic salient points I’ve picked up in the few short years I’ve been attending them.

Alcohol — popular/quasi-ubiquitous social lubricant.

Ale, Real — subspecies of Alcohol. Deceptively powerful; tread lightly if inexperienced.

Badges — everyone gets one, signifies membership of the con. Initial Newbie feelings of foolishness over wearing what may seem to be a glorified name-tag soon evaporate once you’ve had some Alcohol and forgotten the name of the new friend you’re currently talking to.

Bar — if you’re meant to meet someone but you can’t remember where, there is a good place to look. Even if they’re not there, Alcohol will be; also high incidences of Rambling Conversation/Arguments.

Committee — the foolhardy brave and hard-working people who volunteered to create, organise and run the con. If you [are introduced to]/[stumble over] a member of the Committee, thank them effusively and buy them a drink. They will invariably deserve it.

Dealer’s Room — initially populated by people who will be slightly disconsolate about having shelled out a lot of money for an insufficient space, but who over the course of four days will become immensely happy at having emptied your pockets and their boxes of stock simultaneously. Some con-goers have claimed it is possible to attend a con and not buy anything from the Dealer’s Room; no one believes these people.

Drinking Game — a game that involves drinking. May be connected (however loosely) to sf-nal themes, e.g. Blake’s Seven drinking game, wherein (allegedly) one has to keep drinking until the program becomes watchable; this is essentially a race against the clock, as the bar will have to close at some point.

Ellison, Doing An — committing behaviour with which most people cannot get away with, and which those who can almost certainly shouldn’t. Basically – if they’re not your own, don’t touch them without being asked.

Fen — plural of fan; also a regional geographical feature of Norfolk.

Filk — discovering too much about this early on could quite possibly put you off cons forever, or make you an instant convert. Your mileage may vary. This phenomena is statistically likely to intersect with Hair, Facial.

Gopher — there can never be too many of these; see Volunteering.

Guests of Honour — famous people whose names you’ve seen on book spines and television credit rolls. Will appear on Panels and at other events … sometimes the Bar, also.

Hair, Facial — very popular among older male Fen; comes in a sometimes astonishing variety of styles and colours.

Internet — increasingly popular and useful consensual hallucination, used in the planning and running of (and waffling about) cons and — probably, thanks to free wi-fi this year — in the settling/termination of Rambling Conversation/Arguments.

Jokes — omnipresent, multilayered, sometimes inexplicable even to their creators. Just laugh anyway; it’s good for your health.

Keys, Room — losing these is not recommended. However, acquiring someone else’s may be considered a great success in the right circumstances.

Lecture, George Hay Memorial — lecture given by a genuine science-y type person on a (usually) genuine science-y type subject. Generally very interesting, though this year there is another event occurring at the same time that you may wish to consider attending instead. Ahem.

Literature Stream — Panels and events about books and stuff.

Masquerade — in no other event will you find such vast potential for simultaneous horror, humour and spectacle … excepting possibly the sort of events where unusual mushrooms are popular.

Media Stream — Panels and events about telly and stuff.

Newbie, Being A — not something to worry about, although it may all seem a bit much at first. Syndrome curable by Volunteering … and/or joining in with a Rambling Conversation/Argument.

Ops — The emergent controlling sentience-nexus of the con, and a place to head if you need help. The people here may well be stressed, so be nice to them. The people here may be Smofs, so be nice to them. The place to go for Badges and Volunteering.

Panels — talking-head type events with an informal talk-show/debate structure. Not to be mistaken for Rambling Conversation/Arguments (although may devolve into one, and quite possibly emerged from one that occurred the year before).

Quizzes — often based loosely around popular Radio 2 formats with an sf-nal theme. Warning: some Rambling Conversation/Arguments may [emerge from]/[be mistaken for] Quizzes; some Quizzes may [emerge from]/[be mistaken for] Rambling Conversation/Arguments.

Rambling Conversation/Argument — could be about anything, though sf-nal topics dominate statistically. Almost as omnipresent as Alcohol; some scholars suggest a locational correlation in these phenomena, but rarely stay focused on their research for long.

Room Party — much like any other party, only taking place inside a con hotel room; Scandinavian variety noted as being particularly legendary.

Seven, Blake’s — seriously, why?

Smofs — you may see one of these, or even a number at once, but you’ll never be sure. Not to be confused with the little blue guys with white hats … unless you’ve been to a Scandinavian Room Party.

Third Row Fandom — is watching you masturbate.

Turbulence — Met Office predicting lots of it in the Heathrow air traffic region; possibly in connection with large pockets of hot air generated by Orbital panellists and/or Rambling Conversation/Arguments.

Underwear — be sure to take sufficient for the whole weekend. Unless you never wear any, of course.

V — UK sf TV show whose retrospective popularity, though strange, is infinitely more explicable than that of Blake’s Seven.

Volunteering — there’s a lot of organising, lifting’n’shifting, child wrangling and fetch’n’carry work to be done at a con; why not pitch in and help by becoming a Gopher? Great way to meet other Fen (and sometimes Guests of Honour) and make Smofs happy.

Who, Doctor — the scheduling is not fortuitous this year, much to the disappointment of the Media Stream. Buying Paul Cornell enough drinks might lead to impromptu plot-point denouements, however. Or something equally funny. 

Xenu — this really isn’t our fault at all; don’t let journalists tell you otherwise.

Yeti — appearance of genuine cryptozoologicals in the Heathrow region is highly improbable; be sure to double-check (politely) that you haven’t in fact spotted an example of Hair, Facial – especially if you have been consuming Alcohol in the vicinity of Filk.

Zaphod Beeblebear — you’ll know it when you see it.

[ Please note that the author will not be held legally or ethically responsible for any social faux pas committed as a result of reading this document, and that if you find yourself being offended by anything contained within it, it’s almost certainly meant as a joke.

Except the Blake’s Seven stuff. That really is rubbish, I’m afraid. 😉 ]

Norman Spinrad freewares his latest unpublished novel

For those of you who don’t follow Warren Ellis’s blog*, I’ll pass on the news that the redoubtable Norman Spinrad has decided to release his latest and as-yet-unpublished novel, Osama The Gun, as free-to-read sections online. [At time of posting, that link is giving a 503 error thanks to the inevitable Ellis-readership Zerg-rush, so bookmark it and try again later.]

Apparently, Spinrad believes that he can’t get the novel published because of its political content. That fact, combined with the title, is certainly enough to pique my interest.

I think the greatest grin-inducer of this story is the idea of a former SFWA president cheerfully putting his work up on Scribd … 🙂

[* Yes, I know, the body-mod posts can be a bit frightening, even to a body-modder of sorts, but still …]

Science fiction, sub-genres and the consensus of definitions

Ah, the sweet taste of vindication … or at least, the satisfaction of seeing someone else agree with your own hypothesis by result of their own reasoning. Mondolithic Studios asks rhetorically whether science fiction is still a distinct genre:

I think what confuses some people is the fact that Science Fiction isn’t really a distinct genre unto itself anymore. It’s mutated into dozens of sub-genres and movements, liberally exchanged genetic material with Fantasy and social satirism and burrowed into the internet in the form of hundreds of thousands of scifi and fantasy-oriented blogs, galleries, fanzines, vlogs, podcasts and short story webzines.


A new life in the off-world colonies!

I’d add metaverse platforms like Second Life to that list; it’s early days yet, but Jason Stoddard and Eric Rice are leading the pack on this one, and I’m confident we’re going to see new ways of telling stories (genre or otherwise) emerging from virtual worlds in the next few years.

And let’s not forget the mash-up projects; the first one that leaps to mind is Jeremy Tolbert‘s Dr. Julius Roundbottom site, where he’s combining ‘shopped photography and clockpunk vignettes and feeding them out over RSS just like a blog. [Disclosure – Jeremy is a good friend and co-blogger at Futurismic]

Then there’s Pete Tzinski, who’s delivering his ongoing God in the Machine story as a serial, just like Wells and Conan-Doyle did, but on the web instead of in magazines. Or Don Sakers, doing the same thing with a novel. I can’t vouch for the quality of the material, because I’ve not read either of them yet – but what I can say for certain is that these people are out there using the web as a delivery system for fiction in new (or new-old) ways. People are often dismissive of pioneers until the first successes appear on the new frontier – and appear they will.

Sub-genres as suburbs

But back to Mondolithic again:

You could think of traditional Science Fiction as the built-up, established, older city core, and Sprawl [Fiction] as the rapidly expanding literary suburbs young writers are fleeing to in search of more elbow room to test out new ideas. So people who assert that “Science Fiction is dead” are looking at where scifi used to be and missing the bigger picture completely. Science Fiction has changed out of all recognition and if you want to think of that as a crisis, it’s a crisis of diversity rather than a morbidly existential one. [my bold]

This reminds me of my genre ghetto analogy; the Mondolithic writer has reached a very similar image, although he’s come to it from a different angle. And that angle reminds me of my floating point variable analogy – if I might be so vain as to quote myself:

For me at least, it’s that simple. A book is not, in and of itself, science fiction. But it may well partake of science-fictionality (science-fiction-ness?) to a lesser or greater extent – and that extent is, at least partly, determined by my perception of the book in question, as well as my perception of the canon of works that inform the term ‘science fiction’.

I could also delve back into my analogy to the sub-genres of rock music, but I think everyone’s heard enough of that by now. And why belabor the point? After all, I’m not saying anything that far smarter and more qualifier commentators aren’t saying too. Lou Anders on the steampunk resurgence:

…a visit to Wikipedia shows how large the canon of steampunk really is, including a lot of alternate history, much of Tim Powers, and labeling a lot of classic fiction as “proto-steampunk” in the same way PKD and Bester are sometimes said to be proto-cyberpunk.

So, is steampunk a niche of a niche of a niche? Or is the real age of steampunk just beginning?

I’d argue it’s having a high moment right now, but it will never die completely – and nor will any sub-genre, ever again. This is the internet, baby – everything here will last forever, or at least until civilisation as we know it collapses.

Sub-genre definition by consensus

But to close, I’ll just reiterate that sub-genre is in the eye of the beholder. Damon Knight’s adage is an enduring one, and filters down into the subdivisions with the same power it had at the top of the pyramid – in other words, steampunk means what you point to when you say it.

And it’s the debate over these definitions that, in my opinion, keeps genre fiction alive – if we care enough to debate the labels, that’s a sign of vigour. And debate we do, as Kathryn Cramer observes while riding flank on some Wiki wars:

Since there are not commonly shared theories of literary genre underpinning the evolution of these [Wikipedia] articles, they tend to devolve into something reminiscent of the end game of a game of life when the little groups of pixel enter a repeating pattern; cycles of argument about whether a work or writer is or is not hard sf, as if this was as easy to decide as something like nationality …

I’d suggest the fluidity of definition is actually a good thing, at least as far as literature is concerned; floating point variables, as mentioned above. (But then I’d also argue that nationality is a much more fluid concept nowadays, too.) Consensus is morbidity.

But the take-home point is this – as the chap at Mondolithic observed, science fiction is far from dead. It just appears to have gone through a metastasis.

Friday Photo Blogging: Portsmouth as it once was

Here’s one for the history buffs! This is chart from the manuscript collections at the Royal Naval Museum where I work, that shows the layout of Portsmouth as it was in 1726:

Map Of Portsmouth 1726

As you can see, there was a lot less then than there is now. If my estimates are correct, the Hall Of Mirrors (my humble abode) would be somewhere in the midst of what is labelled as ‘The Great Morass’ (bottom left, almost out of shot – it’s a big chart). That could be taken as still being true in a metaphorical sense …

Full-time flashback

And speaking of morasses (is that a real plural?), my schedule has been a bit of a swamp this week; as I think I mention last week, I’m currently covering for the colleague with whom I job-share, which means I’m working full-time hours.

Having only been part-time for just under six months, I’m astonished at home quickly I’ve become accustomed to having more time on my hands … and how effectively I’ve managed to fill it all up with other work! Suffice to say that getting all my blogging, reviewing and interviews done this week has been a bit of a marathon effort, and I’m very thankful for the forthcoming bank holiday.

Scribblings delivered and pending

Over the last weekend, I wrote three articles – an introduction to Second Life (for D+PAD), a report on the SFF Masterclass I attended back in June (for Vector), and a piece on why anyone taking a potential career as a writer (or other sort of artist) needs to have their own website (for Focus). The Focus piece I consider to be an especially good result for me – as the “writers’ magazine” of the BSFA, that’s a fairly prestigious publication to be appearing in.

This week I’ve already knocked out three CD reviews (which I did last night, because the albums themselves took a while longer than they should have done to work their way through the postal service), and spent some time chatting on the phone to Tony Wright, who you may know as the frontman of semi-defunct Britrock heroes Terrorvision. He now has another band, Laika Dog, who have a new album in the pipeline … so I got to speak to him about the decay of the corporate music industry, and rock and roll as a vocation rather than a career. Lovely chap, great interviewee.

Interviews in the pipeline include the legendary David Yow (formerly of The Jesus Lizard, now frontman for Qui); Mark Meyers from Pox, a band who share history (and former members) with Belgian alternative heroes dEUS; history-obsessed UK post-rock outfit iLiKETRAiNS; and (way off in October) the mighty Oceansize. I may not get paid for any of this yet, but I certainly get to talk to some interesting people!

Apparel received

I don’t buy T-shirts anywhere near as often as I used to, but the urge still takes me from time to time. When I heard a friend was going to see the inimitable Tool at Brixton Academy this week, I asked him to pick me up a shirt while he was there; by sheer coincidence, my official WordPress T-shirt (that I had totally forgotten I ordered) arrived by mail the same day.

RockTee vs. GeekTee

So, choices: do I dress rock, or do I dress geek?

I know, I seriously need to get a life.

Books and magazines seen

Well, this is the third week in a row that an issue of F&SF (October/November 2007 this time) has arrived in my letterbox – which I take to mean I won’t be seeing any more until around December or thereabouts.

I’m definitely going to switch to digital when my current sub expires – I know it’s not the magazine’s fault, but the delivery is incredibly irregular. Plus that way I’ll get to pick and choose which issues to take.

A busy week for books:

  • Ascendancies – The Best of Bruce Sterling – the long-awaited (and, as always, beautifully made) Subterranean hardback that collects the highlights of Sterling’s career. I shall be saving this one for when I take some time off work, so I can just devour it in a day or so.
  • Queen of Candesce by Karl Schroeder – next review job for Interzone, and sequel to the excellent Sun of Suns.

And from SF Site (after a journey from Canada of over a month’s duration, according to the postmark):

  • Land of the Headless by Adam Roberts – well, it’s a Roberts, so I’m expecting high literary values. I nearly said “I expect it’ll be clever”, but I know that annoys him
  • Human Is? – a Philip K. Dick Reader – PKD is one of the huge self-assessed gaps in my sf-nal knowledge. I know loads of his work second-hand (through reading frequent reviews and references to them), but I’ve not read a number of what are considered to be his most seminal works – so this should be an enjoyable (and long overdue) education.

All this serves as a reminder that I’m hideously backlogged on books to be read and reviewed. Once this full-time intermission is over at the day-job, I think I’ll need to take a week off from music reviews (and possibly my increasingly rare and truncated visits to Second Life) and just attack the book pile to whittle it down to manageable proportions.

Actually, the more I think about it, the more appealing an idea that becomes …

[Side note: one of the books above came with a press release that described its author as “… one of the best writer’s (sic) in the field.” Come on, guys, you’re marketing literature here – surely you should be proofreading for the correct use of apostrophes? If any publicists require a new copywriter, my email is in the sidebar to the right …]


Well, that’s about it for this week. I can hear the silent yet clarion call of Meat Balti (Madras Hot) from a few streets away, so I shall venture forth to purchase (and subsequently consume) The Friday Curry.

In the meantime, enjoy your weekend (and extra day, if you’re a Brit) – I’m not even going to bother mentioning the weather, because doing so hasn’t helped at any point in the last few months. So, regardless of location or climate, have a good time doing whatever you’re doing. Hasta luego!

Winning Mars – Jason Stoddard is giving it away

As already noted at T3Aspace and reported by Gareth L. Powell, Jason Stoddard has decided to release an entire unpublished novel for free under a Creative Commons licence. Winning Mars is an expansion of the novella by the same name that appeared in Interzone #196.

Winning Mars by Jason Stoddard

Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I should point out that Jason and I are friends, that he helped me out by building my concrete compound of doom in Second Life for me (and made a fine job of it too), and that I may have started this habit by convincing him to release his short story “Fermi Packet” in a similar fashion.

But in case you’re thinking that means you should take my recommendation with a pinch of salt, bear in mind that as well as being published in Interzone (more than once), he’s also sold short stories to Futurismic, Talebones, Darker Matter and Strange Horizons, among others.

What I’m trying to say is that this guy writes great science fiction, and that Winning Mars will be well worth your time. At this price (you know, like, free), how could it not be? All he asks is that you let him know what you though of it after you’ve read it, positive or negative.

So, what are you waiting for? Download the PDF of Winning Mars now, while stocks last!

[Cross-posted to Futurismic]