So on Saturday I wandered over to Imperial College, because the student science fiction association was putting on its annual fest, Picocon, complete with invited writers. And I really wanted to hear Paul Mcauley, of whom I am a fan. I don’t know how many Americans have hung out at Imperial, but it’s the functional equivalent of hanging out at MIT or Cal Tech. Now imagine the kids there who read lots of science fiction, and you’ve got the idea. The day went well, except for, well, the other writers, of whom there were two. Each give a little talk for an hour, and Mcauley’s was the most interesting–writing a novel backwards. He described how he came to write his two most recent novels–The Quiet War and Gardens of the Sun (both highly recommended). What he did was start out looking at all those great pictures of Saturn’s moons that were being sent back from the Cassini Solstice Mission. So Mcauley started wondering how could people live on these moons? Some have water–or ice on top of water. How about live volcanos? Saturn turns out to have lord knows how many moons–at least 30. They keep finding more all the time. Anyway, Mcauley worked out how people actually could live there–and then had to come up with the plot that got them there in the first place. If you think tax dodge, as he said, you’ve more or less got it. Well, not really. Still, out of this Mcauley conjures up wonders–it’s great space opera.
The other writers speaking didn’t quite cut it. Kari Sperring was pretty neat, I think, teaching early Welsh and Irish history in real life (under her real name), and her talk was ok, and I suppose I might read some of her stuff sometime, which is fantasy sent in 18th century France. But she sort of blew it in the panel discussion. Juliet McKenna, on the other hand, made me not want to read her stuff at all, but she sure talked a lot during the discussion. And what was the discussion? Pretty much “Steampunk–threat or menace.” None of it was helped by the cheerful admission by most of the writers (except Mcauley)–Sperring and McKenna, and two other women fantasy writers, I think, whose names were vaguely familiar–that none of them really knew what it was, hadn’t read much steampunk at all, but were all sure it glorified the Victorian era and was a fashion statement at the same time. Mcauley looked vaguely bored and/or embarrassed, but didn’t really have much to offer other than some good stories that may or may not have been related to the topic. All of this rolled merrily over the student organizers, who were cheerful and good-natured throughout, and clearly know how to organize a potentially interesting day, if they had more potentially knowledgable people to discuss the topic at hand, I left before it ended, since it was degenerating into sheer verbiage. So good luck with next year.
I did learn something very cool, though, which is that London has put together a proposal for the World Science Fiction convention in 2014. How neat s that? So I’m going to sign up to help out. You can too. Website here.