Aliens invade London Docklands
Cosmos Science Fiction editor Cat Sparks reports from London...
“Space is big. Really big,” as Douglas Adams famously began his Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. So is the ExCel centre where Loncon 3, the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention is currently under way. You could land half a dozen space ships here and no one would notice.
ExCel nestles slap bang in the middle of London Docklands, a picturesque location peppered with large crane-like objects – presumably relics of actual cargo loading machinery but reminiscent of Martian war machines frozen mid-invasion.
Loncon 3 has had about 9,000 visitors from around the world, including 160 Aussies and a large European contingent, a mix of writers, editors, illustrators, publishers, gamers, fans and academics of the genre. (There are not many costumes – the cosplay crowd have their own enormous conventions).
The eclectic range of program items on offer include panels such as “Speculative biology: an introduction”, “Rewriting gender defaults”, “Better eating through chemistry”, “How to make a dwarf mammoth”, “Mythology and folklore in anime”, “Decontextualising steampunk”, “Climate change: does the future need to be plausible” and “Why aliens are cool again”.
There are also practical, hands-on advice panels on writing and pitching novels and comics, on how to find an agent, podcasting, world-building, space missions and digital art. If you can think of something even vaguely speculative there’s probably a panel on it, as well as Kaffee klatsches, literary beers and autograph signings with famous authors, plays, concerts and awards ceremonies. While flitting between panels today I encountered mohawk punks, men in kilts, a cyberman and a Tiki-themed Dalek.
Then there’s the literary star spotting – some of the biggest names in the field have come along to share their knowledge and expertise including Robert Silverberg, Brian Aldis, Joe Haldeman, Audrey Niffinegger, Cory Doctorow, Kim Stanley Robinson and Robin Hobb.
Some panels are, unfortunately, proving to be too popular for their own good with disappointed participants being turned away at the door for a lack of space and seating.
Once a humble fantasy writer, George RR Martin (Game of Thrones author if there’s anyone left in the world who doesn’t know that), has attained the status of a rock star. When Paul Cornell interviewed him “in conversation” with popular American author Connie Willis, two enormous conjoined rooms weren’t enough to hold all the fans and many, including myself, couldn’t get in.
My disappointment was partially mitigated later that evening in the Novotel bar when I spotted Ms Willis (one of my all-time favourite authors) sitting quietly with her husband. I popped over for a quick chat – that’s what I love most about the science fiction community, so many of our biggest name authors tend towards the friendly and approachable.
The convention is like Brigadoon, a magical place emerging out of the mists every year, where like-minded people can hop off social media and hang out face-to-face with their tribe across a week. But come tomorrow morning the whole thing will vanish back into the mist, leaving nothing but ripples through Facebook and Twitter in its wake.