London days 2-5

Fri 8/15 – London

Step count: 8,976

Awake 7:30 before 8:00 alarm. Had a breakfast never seen before in human history: Greek yogurt and Cocoa Puffs — an experiment that will not be repeated. Thinking about the fact that I would have to speak for 15 minutes solo about Orphan Black, decided to write up some notes for it; this took about an hour. Wandered exhibit hall for a bit; had lunch with Vylar Kaftan. Orphan Black presentation went well, I think (did get several compliments on it later in the con). Talked with Nancy McClure after the panel, and made a lunch date for tomorrow. Ran into Kate, used my drink chit from panel just past to get her a glass of milk from the green room to thin out her mango lassi from lunch. Went with her to very interesting “Scientists Without Borders” panel, then a nap, from which I awoke in time for the 2-person play “Mastermind” (though Kate elected to stay in bed longer). The play was rather good, though I’m not sure whether or not I liked the ambiguous ending (is that irony?). Brief chat with Lettie Prell on way to next panel “Imagining Fantasy Lands: The Status Quo Does Not Need Worldbuilding,” which was a good panel though it didn’t cover any new ground for me. Headed for art show after that, but it was just closing.

Hung out in fan village hoping for a bite to eat before the SFWA reception but Catherine Crockett got the last dish of noodles from the China worldcon bid, alas. Talked with her and Amy Thomson for a bit before heading off to the reception. The path to the reception involved walking through an enormous, completely empty hall, climbing three flights of stairs, and walking down a ridiculously long corridor (with occasional views into an even larger hall containing a bouncy castle and some kind of maze) before reaching an anonymous conference room. Food consisted of about 4 varieties of crispy snacks, but there were plenty of good people (many of whom I hadn’t yet seen at the con, including Carl (Charlie) Allery, Cat Sparks, and Ken Brady) and it wasn’t dark, overcrowded, or too noisy.

After the reception, we trekked back to the Fan Village for our 9pm dinner rendezvous with Fran Wilde at the TARDIS. I talked with Charlie Jane Anders while waiting for Fran. She showed up with some friends of hers I hadn’t met before, or not much (I didn’t get their names, but I did get their Twitter handles: @amergina, @zanjan, @ELBlackEdits, and @KgElfland2ndCuz) and we trudged the ExCeL Centre’s 900-meter length* to a Chinese restaurant nearby. This was the first time in days I’ve been outside of the convention center and hotel at all, though apparently we were still on convention center property. The restaurant was having a big party with karaoke and we figured we wouldn’t get in, but decided to ask; the waiter said he’d check, then vanished. We were just about ready to give up and leave when he appeared from around the corner of the building and said yes, they’d seat us in a banquet room. He led us around back, through a gate, down some stairs, and through twisting corridors to a small but nicely-appointed room. The waitress did not seem pleased to see us, and the sound of rattling mah jongg tiles came to us from another room nearby, but once we ordered the food came remarkably quickly and was very good. Excellent conversation too.

After dinner we spotted the Tor UK party on the terrace of the bar next door and decided to crash it. Kate bailed but I stuck around until I was chilled through. To bed around 1am.

* While looking that figure up I discovered that ExCeL’s peculiar capitalization is because it stands for Exhibition Centre London. Which means that whether you call it ExCeL London or ExCeL Centre you’re being redundant. Also, it’s owned by the Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company.

Sat 8/16 – London

Step count: 8,366

Awake 7:30 before 8:00 alarm. Dawdled a bit getting down to breakfast and had some trouble finding a table. A big difference in crowd level between 8:20 (half full) and 8:50 (line out the door). Didn’t want to wait in the line for hot food, so had yogurt and muesli for breakfast.

After breakfast, back to the room to update yesterday’s notes and blog my Orphan Black write-up, then headed out to the con. Voted in site selection; toured art show. Artist Grace Goldeen Ogawa told me her mother said to tell me how much she liked my story “Pupa” on StarShipSofa. Browsing the exhibit hall, I witnessed Charlie Stross fail his saving throw vs. Shiny — twice in less than a minute! Talked in dealers’ room and fan village with Fran Myman, Gail Carriger, Anne Leckie, Foz Meadows and others. Waited for Nancy for lunch but she was a no-show (I later learned that she was delayed by train issue) so I wandered down the Boulevard and wound up having chicken tikka masala with Elizabeth Bear, Scott Lynch, and John Chu. The Boulevard, with its fast-food counters and shared seating, is soulless but actually functions well, like the Coffee Garden in the Columbia River Red Lion of sainted memory; you can easily see and join parties of your friends (and, unlike the Coffee Garden, this doesn’t mess up the service).

After lunch I moderated panel “The Province of All Mankind” featuring former cosmonaut Anatolii Artsebarskii. This panel was in one of the larger rooms and was about half-full (because of the large number of attendees, almost every program item I attended or appeared on was full or nearly so, but this one was a last-minute addition to the schedule and didn’t appear in the printed program). If moderating the average panel is like herding cats, moderating this one was more like driving a 40-mule team. I’ve never had to deal with a translator before… wow, what a challenge. Whenever Anatolii had the floor he would speak for about a paragraph, which took several minutes with the translation. With that, and considering that most of the audience was probably there specifically to see him, I structured the conversation around him, extracting questions from his statements to pass to the other panelists before handing the ball back to him. We were also fortunate to have a 15-year-old British young woman on the panel, who provided an interesting and remarkably hard-headed perspective on the topic question “what drives us to pursue our childhood dreams of space?”

From there I went straight to my kaffeeklatsch, which I was surprised to find had 8 people signed up (out of a maximum of 9), none of whom I already knew other than Lynne Ann. I think I gave good value for money. Hung out in dealers’ room for a bit after that, then realized it was time for a nap. But back at the room I faffed around with notes, email, etc. and had just gotten around to lying down when Kate showed up for a nap as well. Woke up just in time to head off to a book launch where we were to meet up with Maureen Speller and Paul Kincaid for dinner. It was in the same space as the SFWA reception but even further down the long long corridor (why??? All the rooms are the same and none of the ones we passed seemed to be in use). Socialized there with a variety of Brits including Dave Langford, Joseph Nicholas, and Judith Hanna while waiting for Maureen to get out of a panel.

Eventually we headed off from there with the intention of going until we found something edible and eating it. Settled on Lebanese restaurant Reem Al Bawadi — at least that was what Yelp called it and what it said on the plates, though the signage outside called it something else. Long wait to be seated, but it smelled great and had been recommended by Giulia de Cesare so we stuck it out. Once we were seated and ordered, the food arrived very quickly and was absolutely delicious. The four of us shared falafel, ful, fattoush, and 2 orders of the grilled kafta and it left us pleasantly full. We also all tried a refreshing salted yogurt drink called ayran. At the end of the meal they brought us perfect little bites of baklava. Delightful conversation too.

Paul and Maureen bailed as we passed their hotel on the way back to the con, having had a long day. Heading for a play called Hallucinating Shakespeare, we ran into Ctein who was heading the same way, and caught up with each other as we walked the half-mile length of the ExCeL. By the time we got to the other end we realized we were pretty knackered as well and decided to make an early night of it. Back to the room 9:30, to bed by 11.

Sun 8/17 – London

Step count: 6,665

Awake 7:00 before 7:30 alarm (it’s a gift, I guess) for our 8:00 breakfast appointment with Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden. We talked about our travels and great museums we have known, and they shared with us the news that they would be Guests of Honor for the Kansas City Worldcon (just a few minutes before the official announcement). After breakfast I spent an hour looking at the day’s program and decided not to blow off the con.

The first panel I attended was “On The Blogs: Bloggers Discuss Their Roles in the World of YA.” Looking for book blogs? Google “book blogs” — your readers will too, and the first ones you see there are the popular ones, the ones your readers will also see first. They do come and go rather frequently. “The Internet is taking up the slack in our high school educational system” — review blogs show kids how to consider a text and write persuasively in a way they are not even allowed to in school. When sending books for review to book bloggers, read the guidelines, be direct and honest, don’t oversell yourself, be nice, have an introductory paragraph about yourself and the book, don’t include manuscript in initial email (unless guidelines say so), say thank you, be flexible about submission times (send as far in advance as possible), start chatting with bloggers on Twitter or the comments in their blogs to find out who’s who and what they’re interested in, offer a guest blog post if the blog is open to that. Blog tours aren’t that useful unless you’re Holly Black; interviews are better. Look for bloggers who are entertaining and insightful. Don’t argue with reviews, or request that a bad review be taken down. Remember that bloggers talk to each other, and to publishers.

Next I stood in line for the hall to open for big panel “Iain M. Banks, Writer and Professional.” Panelists’ anecdotes made me even more sorry I never met Banks or even saw him speak. “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

Unfortunately I had to leave the Banks panel early, because I was appearing on the next one: “Should We Trash The Planet on the Way to the Stars?” Moderator Hayden Trenholm and panelist Paul Abell introduced themselves as Canadian; I claimed to be “Canadian in spirit.” They both agreed that the premise of the panel was silly; I stated (as a joke) that I would be taking the devil’s advocate approach and arguing in favor of trashing the planet. Paul told me to turn in my almost-a-Canadian card. The premise of the panel was indeed silly, and no one actually advocated trashing the planet; we spent the panel talking about motivations and priorities for space travel and what costs (financial, environmental, etc.) we’d be willing to pay as a society for it. Greg Benford: “Those who do not learn the lessons of statistics are doomed to become one.” Full house, good panel.

Had lunch in the Boulevard (chicken sandwich) with Jim Kelly, Rick Wilber, Michael Blumlein, and Michael Swanwick (another Kansas City GoH, as it happens). Attended the Clarion West party in the fan village; visited the creepy-crawlies in the exhibit hall (I mean a display of insects, not the dealers). The Girl Genius radio play was tons of fun and I recommend it highly. After that, ran into Jo Walton on the Boulevard and wound up having tea with her and Michael Swanwick. She compared the Chicago Worldcon hotel to a brain with a stroke; workarounds are required. Of course it’s actually two brains forcibly joined together (now there’s a story idea…). Later Cory Doctorow joined us. Me: mostly listening.

Dinner arrangements were… complicated… but eventually we wound up with Kate Schaefer and Glenn Hackney at the same Chinese place as Friday (this time at a table right by the door) and had a perfectly decent meal. For some reason at this con the cat-herding around arranging meals was much more difficult than even the usual Worldcon. Still, we did manage to have at least decent food with good friends at most every meal. Though not, today, with another Kansas City GoH.

Back to the con in time to catch most of the Hugos. Very pleased with the results; ceremony was pretty good too. Afterwards, Mary Robinette Kowal was a class act as usual, showing up in the Fan Village and taking pictures of people holding her Hugo. To bed about midnight.

Mon 8/18 – London

Step count: 10,241

Awake 7:15 before 8:00 alarm. Joined Lise Eisenberg and Alan Stewart (Australian) at breakfast (yogurt and muesli). After breakfast, blew off con in favor of Docklands Museum. Ran into Amanda Baker on DLR, already heading home from the con. The museum had many excellent exhibits, many of which were relevant to my next novel; we only did half of it before lunch time.

Walked around Canary Wharf looking for lunch but everything we saw was too plastic (but still, the place looks great considering it was completely destroyed by the Daleks just a few years ago.) so we got back on the DLR and took it back to the museum for Tale of India near there, which Kate had found on Yelp earlier. We were the only people in the restaurant, never a good sign, but the food, when it came, was excellent: pumpkin curry with lamb; garlic dhal; okra; lemon rice; naan. After lunch, Kate went back for the second half of the museum, while I returned to the con (despite a hang-up on the DLR). Exhibits and dealers were already closed down, but the fan village and program continued. I talked with Jeffrey Carver on the Boulevard and Dave Clements in the green room (having popped in to use my one remaining drink chit).

I headed for the “Ruling Party” panel (Charlie Stross), but the line was clearly too long to fit in the room so I bailed for “The Scientific Culture” (Dave Clements), which I enjoyed greatly. “I don’t see my job as looking for Truth, I see it as building models that fit the data better and better.” — “This business of knowing more than most people about something can lead to arrogance.” “*cough*surgeons*cough*” “*cough*physicists*cough*” — Scientists work within multiple cultures (academia, industry, government, medicine, military, etc.) so what is “science culture” anyway? It’s a kind of matrix. Industry is actually more cooperative and less cutthroat than academia, which tends to pit individual researchers against each other (as opposed to industry, which tends to have teams working toward a common goal). — Science offers an occasional “I am the first person in human history to see this” experience which is unique and addictive. Geologist: “I can touch a billion-year-old rock and feel myself a very small part of a very big story.” Astrophysicist: “I can’t touch them, but I can look at some very old things.” Other astrophysicist: “My things are older than your rocks.”

Next panel was “How Space Missions Happen,” which was largely anecdotes, and of course plenty of puns from Jordin Kare. “It’s the end of the world… con.” — Space funding is “politics first, finance second, science and engineering third;” “everything comes from luck and personal contacts.” — NASA wanted to do everything “faster, better, cheaper” but engineers know it’s “pick two one.” — Geoff Landis worked on an instrument to make fuel on Mars but the mission was canceled when Mars Polar Lander, based on the same design, failed. The spaceframe did eventually fly (under the name Phoenix) but all the science instruments were scraped off and replaced by new ones. Geoff got a T-shirt: “My spacecraft went to Mars and all I got was this lousy T-shirt.” — “NASA is a collection of fiefdoms, each with its own budget — it’s amazing how little the director actually controls.” — The “Triana” mission was initiated by VP Al Gore and was mothballed for 12 years after Gore lost in 2000. It’s now scheduled to launch (under a new name) in 2015 but nobody’s left who knows how it works and it all has to be reverse-engineered. — There’s a revolution happening now with 10cm “cubesats” which can be piggybacked on other missions effectively free… “but there’s no such thing as a free launch.” Cubesats cost less than the Xerox bill for big satellites, meaning that failure isn’t a disaster. “In the computer industry, failure is not an option… it comes bundled with the software.” Most cubesats are built by students, who work cheap or free. — It’s extremely difficult to launch a satellite to orbit a gas giant’s moon. The Europa Clipper mission has been repurposed as a Jupiter mission with Europa flybys because it’s so much easier to do it that way. — It takes ~5 years to develop a satellite, 10-30 years for a major mission (e.g. space telescope).

During that panel Kate and I decided (via text message) to order carry-out from the fabulous Lebanese restaurant and take it into the fan village where Donya White, with her broken kneecap, was encamped. When we called the restaurant to place our order, they insisted on a phone number but then were apparently unable to comprehend Kate’s US cell phone number when she gave it. Apart from the problems of the international prefix, I figured that they just couldn’t understand a number stated in groups of three, three, and four digits — I took the phone from Kate and gave them the digits in pairs, and they accepted that. I know that I have great difficulty comprehending a phone number when it’s stated European-style in pairs (or, even worse, as two-digit numbers e.g. “seventeen” instead of “one seven”).

Ran back to room for coat, cash, and phone charger, as my phone was getting very low on juice, then met Kate at panel “How Do You Divide a Railroad?” States leave archaeological marks in societies when they join, and when they break… you still can’t take a bus across the Daneline. (NB: I have Googled on this term and come up empty. Farah, if you’re reading this, can you explain?) Every national border in Europe is a tide-mark of the ebb and flow of empires. Don’t forget that governments exist at multiple levels (nation, department, county, city). When a state breaks up, who gets the existing embassies? Who pays the pensions? [It was at this point, halfway through the panel, that I realized that the unstated subtext of this panel about “what happens when nations break up” is the open question of Scottish independence.] Revolutions don’t happen when things are really bad; they happen when things have been bad and have gotten a bit better. In Adam Roberts’s novel Salt the big societal problem starts with a custody battle over a child. Infrastructure is always a big issue when countries divide. If Scotland becomes an independent EU country they won’t be able to charge English students more to attend Scottish universities, which they are permitted to do now. Irish people can vote in British elections and enter Britain without passports not out of friendliness but because Britain didn’t want to recognize Ireland’s independence. (This scattered write-up makes the panel, which was brilliant, seem much less coherent than it was. I blame end-of-con brain.)

After the panel, we hiked down to the Lebanese restaurant. We had some worries about our order, given the confusion about the phone number, but it was waiting for us (along with a restaurant-full of fans). Dragged it back to the fan village and a very grateful Allen and Donya (who seemed remarkably chipper). Had a nice dinner with them and some of their friends. One last pass around the fan village. Met Lynne Ann, Sarah a Goodman, and Juan and Elise on the way out. Back to the hotel by 9. A good end to the con.

And now… photos!

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For you are crunchy and good with ketchup

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These signs were in every bathroom. Who cares if a wall gets slippery when wet?

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Charlie Stross blows his saving throw vs. Shiny

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Don’t mess with li’l Cap’n America

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The Fan Village. Note the group posing for a photo in front of the TARDIS, which includes Deadpool, a Jawa, a Stormtrooper, and Batman

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I had a poster in the Exhibits Hall

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This vast, empty airplane hangar was only the first stage in the route to the SFWA reception

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Phil Foglio gives the audience (playing air pirates) their line in the Girl Genius Radio Play

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Yes, I am a big geek

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They called this the “party tree,” possibly because it looks as though it has partied too hard

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This, believe it or not, is a Smart Car — a quarter-mouse-fart engine with the styling of a 500hp Jaguar

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Proclamation outside the former warehouse which now houses the Docklands Museum. They don’t write ’em like that any more.

IMG 1690The Boulevard after the con was over. You’ll have to imagine these chairs crowded with fans.

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