FantasyCon2018

Thursday & Friday

My FantasyCon this year obviously included one of the most important (for me, anyway) key ingredients:

Plenty of beer was drunk throughout the weekend. I usually try to arrive on the Thursday before the convention, and so this year, as BFS Secretary, I volunteered to host a pub meetup social evening for any early bird attendees. We descended on the local Deva Tap Brewery’s bar in the old railway station office, and I was joined by several writers and editors for a few beers. That particular brew was called Simcoe, a nice bitter sweet real ale that went down rather well.

Following that, we returned to the hotel bar and I made the foolish decision of trying to match a certain Rogue Irishman on shorts of brandy and rum. Let’s just say Friday morning I was feeling rather delicate…

This did give rise to one of my favourite little moments of the weekend. Listening to the Rogue Irishman regale the nearest sets of ears about obscure conventions nobody’s ever heard of, Ian Whates of NewCon Press turned to me, and we mouthed to each other in perfect unison: “What is he on about? I have no idea!” and then fell about laughing. I am however, now fully briefed on the minutiae of AsiaCon and the Chinese bid for WorldCon. Who knew?

Friday morning was a blur of hangover and a sore neck from pillows that felt like concrete (thanks Kat for letting me borrow a nice feather-filled one from her slightly more upmarket room!). By teatime I had bought many books, and attended the PS Publishing launch to procure Thana Niveau’s new collection Octoberland and get it signed by her and Alison Littlewood, who wrote the introduction. Then it was off to a meeting of the BFS Committee where we discussed the last year and our upcoming plans, followed by a quick stop for food before the evening entertainment of the FantasyCon Disco. Highlight of that was managing to get Mark West and Phil Sloman copying some very dodgy dance moves to a Jackson 5 hit that I probably made up on the spot.

Saturday

My birthday. Or as I geekily like to call it, levelling up another cycle of XP. I’m now on level 38, if you must know. And no, I know I don’t look a day over 30, thank you, you’re too kind.

I was publicly ousted as the birthday boy in the breakfast restaurant when chief RedCloak Marguerite Kenner made an announcement to the room, and led a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday”. I may have tried to hide beneath my hoodie. Later in the day, I was gifted with a lovely little birthday cake (which was really delicious!) from Steve Harris and CM Franklyn.

This was followed with buying more books, some of which were also signed. Obligatory con book haul picture:

I managed not to spend a small fortune on books this year, I’m very proud of myself.

Once in the bar (escaping the karaoke) I managed not to buy very many drinks, care of people offering me “one for the birthday”. One turned into many, and I eventually went to bed tired and happy.

Sunday

This was the day I had been nervous about for the last few weeks, drawing ever nearer. Partly because of the BFS AGM (prior knowledge to a major announcement led to nervousness over the potential ramifications of such) and then a certain item on the scheduling with my name against it, entitled “FantasyCon2019”. Gulp.

For those who haven’t heard the news on the grapevine, incumbent BFS Chair Phil Lunt had announced to the rest of the Executive Committee (Lee, James and myself) the other week that he would not be standing as Chair again this AGM. We needn’t have been overly worried, however, as PR Officer Helen Armfield decided she would stand as the new Chair, stood unopposed and was voted in.

Next up: The Announcement. FantasyCon2019. Many had heard rumours and mutterings (Chief RedCloak Alasdair Stuart made me laugh when he told me about overhearing a group discussing the possible venues at breakfast that morning, and was highly amused when he and Marguerite walked in wearing their red hi-viz vests and the group promptly stopped talking about it) but we officially confirmed it: start practicing your highland fling, we’re going to Scotland! The Golden Jubilee Conference Centre in Glasgow, to be precise, on 18th-20th October 2019. That’s two birthdays I’ll be celebrating whilst at FantasyCon. Hmmm.

So far, all the feedback I’ve received after this announcement has been really positive. Steve J Shaw of Black Shuck Books cornered me in the Dealers Room afterward, jokingly berating me for “not caring about those of us who live south of the river” but then congratulating me on being brave enough to be the first to take FantasyCon out of England in a very, very long time.

I’ll blog separately about FantasyCon2019 in another post, but suffice to say I am very excited by the response I’ve received so far to the news.

The weekend was rounded off with the British Fantasy Awards Banquet and Ceremony, the BFAs ably administrated by Katherine Fowler for the second year running, and the ceremony put together and hosted expertly by Lee Harris. I even got to stand up and do a quick minute announcement on FantasyCon2019 again, which garnered even more support. Of all those coming up to me after the ceremony, I was really glad Claire North (aka Cat Webb) and I managed to have a brief chat. Always lovely to meet her, she is a truly amazing, funny and fiercely intelligent person with great writing skill.

After the first official meeting of the FantasyCon2019 committee and leaders in a local pub over dinner, we retired to the bar for the rest of the evening. The last thing I remember before bed was Rob Shearman sharing his love of various incarnations of the Doctor with myself and the Dutchies. Great conversation all round.

And that was FantasyCon2018. Busy, tiring, exciting, slightly expensive, but thoroughly enjoyable. I saw so many old friends, made several new ones, and unfortunately missed so many other people who were there but I didn’t get chance to say hello to.

My biggest love of course goes to all the RedCloaks and organisers of such an amazing weekend. The bar has truly been set high.

Oh, bugger.

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Doctor Who: into the Capaldi years

Watched it. Loved it. Bring me more!

Oh, you want a bit more detail than that? Oh, all right then.

The BBC have been marketing this one for years, ever since Peter Capaldi was announced on a live broadcast as the twelfth incarnation of the Doctor in 2013. The whole world has been reaching fever pitch, as with each new regeneration, the world finds more to love in this stalwart of British science fiction television. You only have to look at the recent launch tours and Auntie’s clever little teaser spots flocking on between other shows, to feel the excitement is tangible. Everyone wants to know: will Capaldi be as good a Doctor as his predecessors?

The answer is a resounding “yes.”

The theme music takes us right back to the original theme in the 60s, sounding decidedly alien and otherworldly, unlike anything you’ve heard before. The accompanying visuals of various clockwork elements (cogs and gears, clock face numerals) all ground this as a time travel show, and get us away from the turbulent time vortex of previous series. This an all new Who from the outset. Again. It also helps to keep Doctor Who as a decidedly steampunk show. This has been seen before, from alien clockwork dolls, to a clockwork weather destroying bomb, the show is probably the most significantly steampunk production around, without ever really being marketed as such.

That is why it works so well as steampunk, as most steampunk a will tell you: steampunk works well when it isn’t at first obvious. It’s not all goggles and gears, it’s the Victorian explorer ethic of adventure and weird machinery that pushes the boundaries. How more steampunk can you get than the TARDIS?

The episode trundles along nicely, with good pacing, but not as frenetic as the Matt Smith or David Tennant years. This Doctor has a more grounded coolness to him, he’s a thinker as well as a doer. And it serves him well.

We also see a little more of that moral ambiguity from the likes of the Sixth and (my personal favourite) Seventh Doctors: did the Half-face Man fall to his death, or did the Doctor push him? As the Doctor himself says, one of them is lying about their moral programming. We know Seven thought nothing of using his young companion Ace in order to control an entire situation, he was always aware of the bigger picture. Is Twelve of that same ilk, willing to make bigger sacrifices for the greater good? Only time will tell.

I can happily say this looks set to be a fantastic series. While some people felt that the last series lost something after a while, this new refresh looks to have made a strong leap forward. Yes, there are still many Moffat-isms we have to overlook, but I’m not going to get into them here. Doctor Who isn’t the only show with problems, other shows have many more. It’s entertainment: don’t like it? Swap channels. There’s plenty of them these days, it’s not like the 60s when you only had three to choose from.

Can’t wait for next week!

Review: The Borderlands

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I’d heard good things about this film, but nearly didn’t buy it (iTunes not having it up for rent, only buy). But, I decided go for it (payday treat) and parted with hard earned cash. I’m happy to say it was well spent.

The film is set in a rural Devon town, complete with silent yokels, teenage yobs on the street corner, a dimly lit pub, and a church with a dwindling, almost non-existent congregation. This is the epicentre of the story, where a grainy video of unexplained noises, rumblings, and moving crucifixes and candlesticks sets in motion a Vatican-led investigation into “miraculous” occurrences.

Our team is layabout techie Gray, hard drinking priest Deacon and straight laced, by-the-book priest Mark. The dynamic between them is fresh and off-beat, investing you in far more realistic, believable characters than are usually foisted upon us in similar fare. There is little Scooby-gang style exposition to fill in gaps, we witness and work out most of the plot lines at the same time they do, through their eyes. It just works.

With the shaky camera footage a lot less shaky than in most other found-footage films, the viewer is not left feeling violently ill halfway through. The comic starting point for the three characters soon makes way to a creeping sense of dread, until the climactic descent into the catacombs that will have you reeling from a truly horrifying end. This is how horror should be, and it is brilliant.

Five stars from me, I highly recommend. Can’t wait to see more from writer/director Elliot Goldner.