Monday, 27 June 2011

Alt.Fiction 2011: Cakes, Raffles and the Shepard Shuffle

Things I learnt about at this weekend’s Alt.Fiction: the direction of modern science-fiction, John Wayne, 1980s toy related comics, memetic theory in relation to religion and mythology, the Gordon the Gopher novel, waxed moustaches, Thai food, and… lots of other great stuff.


Alt.Fiction is like that. It’s a whirling multicoloured pinball machine of an event, where you bounce wildly from one interesting talk to another- whether that’s in a panel, a podcast or just by the bar while you’re drinking a cider. I think this is why it is regarded as one of the friendliest of conventions, the one where you make new friends in a short space of time and have more giggles over the drawing of a raffle than is strictly healthy.


In my opinion the real heroes of Alt.Fiction* are those writerly people (I’m including all manner of authors, publishers and publicists here) who probably were amazingly busy and probably did have a hundred people they had to meet up with but still stopped to say hello and have a natter. It’s easy for the writer at the beginning of his or her career to feel like publishing is a big exclusive circus on the moon with clowns made of gold, where everyone already knows each other and you are a tiny orphan child with a homemade t-shirt saying “I luv cirkuses”: the publishing people who pause to make the experience an inclusive, positive one are absolute stars and I cannot praise them enough.


I was involved in two podcasts this weekend and was pleased (and slightly alarmed) at the number of people who turned up for both, even the one on Sunday when we must all have had thumping headaches and delicate stomachs. Big thanks to Adam Christopher and Kim Lakin-Smith who spoke more sense about steampunk than I was capable of, and much slightly hungover gratitude to the lovely Jenni Hill, Mark Charon Newton and Graham McNeill who were all utterly charming and gave me an excuse to blather on about video games. Adele Wearing and Vincent Holland-Keen kept the whole thing running smoothly with style and panache, and indeed were true podcasting heroes.


Other highlights include meeting up with twitter buddies Andrew Reid (@mygoditsraining) and Hollie Chapman (@holliechapman86); talking to Graham McNeill about Dragon Age 2; the Mythology in Writing podcast where a brass band attempted to upstage the panel; and Dave Moore’s impromptu grammar demonstration over sticky rice. There were loads of other great moments but I think I’ll need a few days for my brain to process them all, and indeed I wish I’d had the good sense to bring a camera- a few pictures would have helped me remember everything beyond the haze of coffee and alcohol.


Looking forward to next year already!


*the bar staff were also heroes.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The Meaning of Steampunk

I was watching the eddies of conversation collide today on twitter, as you do, and I spotted a mini steampunk discussion. Given that I’ll be involved in a podcast on the subject this Saturday at Alt.Fiction, it caught my eye and now has me contemplating the actual meaning of the term “steampunk”.

            Adam Christopher (also podcasting on goggles and airships this weekend) mentioned that he couldn’t see how The Anubis Gates was a steampunk book, as there are no steam-based technologies in the story. In fact, the catalyst behind what is, quite frankly, a fantastic book is ancient Egyptian magic and time travel (also magical) that has nothing to do with Victorian steam-tech at all.

            This is a fair point. The reason it’s interesting to point this out with The Anubis Gates in particular is that Tim Powers is one of those mentioned in the famous letter to Locus magazine that coined the phrase in the first place.

…Personally, I think Victorian fantasies are going to be the next big thing, as long as we can come up with a fitting collective term for Powers, Blaylock and myself. Something based on the appropriate technology of the era; like "steampunks", perhaps...

—K.W. Jeter


So if The Anubis Gates isn’t steampunk, then what is? What does it actually mean? Personally I like to think of the sub-genre as Historical Science Fantasy, but even that is a bit wobbly if we want it to cover TAG. Where is the science, really? This got me thinking though- do we really take the “steam” in steampunk to refer only to outlandish steam powered technology, such as Abraham Lincoln robots or flying machines? Or is steam actually a shorthand way of referring to a certain period of history, namely the Victorian era? (Whether or not we uproot that era and place it elsewhere, I think that’s really the heart of the genre). In other words, is steam actually just referring to the time of the industrial revolution, regardless of how much unlikely tech you’ve got in your Victorian Fantasy?


I’d love to know what you all think! So put on your best automated top hat, fire up the steampowered abacus and tell me what you think the term steampunk actually means.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Alt.Fiction Approaches! 25th-26th June

Alt.Fiction is very close indeed now, not this weekend but the next in fact. I went last year and had an absolute blast- I even, dare I say, learnt quite a lot about publishing and writing, alongside the lovely sense of community and shared geeky joy in discussing genre books. If you are at all interested in science-fiction, fantasy or horror this is the con to go to; it’s relaxed, fun and the schedule looks cracking this year too.


Alastair Reynolds and Dan Abnett are the Guests of Honour, there are workshops and screenings galore and no doubt a lively non-stop gathering in the bar, so do come along (you can see the list of guests and the full schedule here). My good friend Adam Christopher will be reading from his soon to be published book Empire State, and I’ll be talking on a couple of podcasts too- one on steampunk with Adam and the lovely Kim Lakin-Smith, and another on the rather juicily titled subject “Is Genre Just for Boys?” with Jenni Hill, Mark Newton and Graham McNeill. If you are there do pop over with your questions, moral support or flasks full of strong liquor.


See you there!


(ooo, look! Just noticed that my author page is up on the alt.fiction website! This pleases me*)


* The steampunk anthology, Her Majesty's Mysterious Conveyance, will be out soon, but more about that in another post.