Orbital: The Convention Report

So this is where I attempt to remember a terrific weekend, what happened and make some intelligent comments on it. Hmm.


The plan had been that paranoidangel42 and hhertzof were going to arrive bright and early at 9am to pick me up so that we could arrive at the con before the roads got hellish from Bank Holiday traffic.


Thankfully the roads never got too hellish, although we didn’t arrive at the Radisson until 11.30am due to late arrivals and then sitting around in my living room catching up. Heh. It did mean that PA and I had time to drop bags, grab bits and head down to So You Want to be an SF Writer, which was the first panel that either of us had circled on the programme. There was a lot of good advice from the panellists that I think can be boiled down to “don’t stop writing”, “find a good writing group/circle” and “rejection isn’t the end”.

Then we wandered off with H for some lunch and a bit of a relaxation time before I ran off to The Hovercraft of Disbelief. This was a fun panel about the stuff that throws us out of books (and fic) and spoils them for us. Mostly the gripes were around places were a tiny bit of research would have solved the whole problem rather than just bad writing.

Next up was Judging a Book my its Cover, about cover art design and its effect. It was interesting to see just how many people will put a book down if the cover is particularly uninspiring and how often a good cover catches the eye. Depressingly, I am unlikely to ever get any input on the covers for any of my books. Hey, ho.

PA, H and I all met up for Be Careful What You Wish For: The New Dr Who, which was more positive than I thought it would be considering there were some die hard Old Who fans around. Not everyone is happy with everything – nobody ever would be – but people in general are happy to have DW back and have been given things in the series that they didn’t think they would get.

PA and I stayed on for Start Trek: Is There Anything Still To Explore, a discussion that revolved a lot around the new movie but did consider the possibilities in a new series as well. Interestingly, most people on the panel want a series that deals with the early days of Kirk, Spock, McCoy and co. An audience member raised the idea of a show set 100 or 200 years after the end of Voyager (my preference), but not much more was discussed around that. I have been inspired to seek out The New Voyages, so that’s one way to spend my week off πŸ™‚

Coping with Rejection was exactly what it said on the box: a panel with writers at various stages in their career discussing rejections, coping strategies and writing on after rejections. Very good.

After such a raft of panels in short succession, PA, H and I met up for the opening ceremony and then spent time wandering the corridors with drinks, listening to the Alien Jazz Band (very good, I must say!) and chatting to friends from previous cons and groups. We finished off the evening with It’s Crap but we Like It, where gaspodex was losing his voice from too many panels and we shared the dark secrets of the crappy shows that we love without reason. From listening to everyone’s suggestions, my pet theory is that we fall in love with the characters and the potential in the ideas and the best of the crappy shows may fall down at realising the potential ideas but we never fall out of love with the characters.


The nice thing about cons like Redemption and Eastercon is that there is no rush in the morning. Items start at 10am if you want them, but you don’t need to turn up until 9.55am and there is no pressure if you don’t actually want to be at the first item. You can sleep in a bit, have a leisurely breakfast and still get where you want to be on time. After years of Wolf cons, that’s something that I really appreciate.

I popped into the first half of The Use of Mythology in Fantasy, which was just getting interesting when I had to rush off to report to the Green Room for my Ashes to Ashes panel half an hour before it began. The staff in the Green Room were lovely to me and plied me with drinks. It was there that I learned that I was an unusual panellist for obeying those instructions – the rest of the panel turned up around 10 minutes before the panel was due to start πŸ™‚ This was also where something happened that I had predicted a couple of weeks ago. The con had me down under my RL name on the programme items. Now, pretty much everyone who knows me from fandom stuff knows me by online handle. Two of my fellow panellists, elfinessy and gaspodex, know me from Redemption, therefore under my fan name. They had the “Of course, I know you!” moment when I shuffled up and admitted to being that unfamiliar RL name on the programme πŸ™‚ I have an entire blog article in my head about fandom and identity, but I thought that was an interesting moment.

Ashes to Ashes: Manchester to the Met was a really good panel. Thinky without being too serious, lots of great ideas and discussions going round and the audience felt comfortable enough to offer their own theories up as well. I’ve concluded that the mark of a good panel is how much people feel able to join in and contribute and whether the moderator has to prod the conversation along or just let it happen and flow. I had been dreadfully nervous about being on an Eastercon panel, but thankfully the nerves evaporated after a couple of minutes and I really enjoyed it.

After A2A, PA and I hunted down the Tetworth suite (miles from everything else) to catch Doctor Who: Saviour or Trickster God?. To be honest, I’ve never really noticed the religious iconography in Who (I am very, very unobservant sometimes particularly while distracted by teh pretty) but I can see it now that I’ve heard it discussed. There were some very interesting points made about the roles of trickster gods in various religions and myths that resonate well with DW. Paul Cornell’s comment about RTD (an atheist) putting the iconography into modern DW because he wants to make religious iconography less of a huge thing made a lot of sense when I thought about it. RTD, for all his faults, doesn’t let his status as a gay writer push him into writing The Gay Agenda type stuff. He writes what he feels needs to be written and religious overtones are one of the last big Things in writing.

I also liked Paul’s style in coming out as a Christian right at the end of the panel πŸ™‚

I caught the end of Fantastic London, hearing just enough to understand that it’s the darkness and layers of history to the city that keeps writers setting fantasy stories there or using it as the mesh for their own creations. Um, also I understand that while Neil Gaiman loves Neverwhere, it didn’t really come out on screen the way that he intended and he’s much happier with the book.

A Way of Life of Just a Hobby? was an interesting panel to hear how sci-fi and fandom affects people’s lives and the way that people feel about that interaction. It’s something that I was thinking about when I wrote my Geek Love piece because all of this stuff has become a fairly major part of my life. I suppose that I identify as a geek first and then a fan, but both of those are important parts of my identity.

What’s the point of fannish awards? was definitely not the panel that I expected, but interesting nonetheless. Interesting if only to see how passionately people feel about the fan component to the Hugos and what it means to the people who are nominated in or win fan categories. As this was the weekend of the Huge nominations announcements, there was an added something to that panel πŸ™‚

I took a break at this stage and joined H for the buffet supper. This hotel was very good at keeping a supply of soya milk at breakfast for the vegans, but they weren’t helpful for PA’s food intolerances so it was a good thing that we’d brought lots of food for her. The buffet food was OK, but nothing brilliant, although that could have been a problem with what I chose more than anything. I suspect the pasta was much nicer than the lamb. I did appreciate the chocolate gateaux πŸ™‚ This was the only day that I had time to get buffet food because so many good panels were scheduled around supper time!

H and I trooped off to join PA for the panel on book collecting, which was surprisingly interesting. I say surprisingly because so much of the advice on collecting, dealers and caring for books can apply to Chalet School books as well as sci-fi, so I now have a better idea of how to go about finding the rarer tomes. I also spent a lot of time watching H knitting a sock, which is fascinating and has really inspired me to get going on some fingerless mittens.

The big event of Saturday evening was the masquerade and cabaret. The masquerade is broadly speaking a costume competition, but the participants often use sketches and so on to present their costume so it was great fun. Some of the participants had some truly amazing costumes that must have taken days to make. The cabaret is something that the committee brought from Redemption and as always I am stunned by the talent around in fandom. watervole somehow found time inbetween running the entire con to practise a poi dance that was beautiful, intricate and amazing. There was that quiet hush in the hall that you sometimes get and the only other person to get that kind of reception was the opera singer who had accidentally written opera filk. As this is a con there were several filkers at the cabaret taking different approaches, although I think my favourite filk was Kathy Sands’ Firefly one. Sheer genius and we got to sing along!

So much entertainment wore us out so PA and I headed back to our room at around 11pm, although we ended up sitting, snacking and chatting until gone midnight anyway.


I started Sunday with an Easter celebration, so I left PA dozing at 8am for an early breakfast and then on to one of the con suites for the service. It was a beautiful way to start the day. I found myself thinking that if only I could go to meetings like that, I might find my way back to regular religious stuff. There is just so much baggage attached when I turn up at church for Christmas/Easter stuff and I know that even if went to a different one, they would be trying to sign me up for committees and choirs before the end of the opening prayer. It’s just the way that organised religion seems to be. I think what really helped was that the leader is a Quaker and, if it weren’t for the lack of music, that’s where I probably would be going now. And I do confess to finding the rituals around Communion helpful for structuring thoughts and prayers sometimes. Hmmm.

After that I was off to Books on the Web, which was a fascinating debate about the future of books and fiction and how the Internet is changing the distribution of fiction. My personal feeling is that paper books are never going to die (but please, trade paperbacks should be forgotten) but allowing books to roam free on the Internet is also going to be a huge feature of the future. There needs to be some monetary structure that allows authors to earn a living for their writing, though, because food and board need to be paid for.

After that we went to Was Sam Tyler really the Master?, which was hugely fun and complete crack. It quickly devolved into a general discussion of Life on Mars, Doctor Who, Torchwood and Primeval with a side trip into why the Doctor has an internally fix transporter to remove bodily excrements. Like I said, crack all the way and so much fun πŸ™‚

I took a bit of a break to munch a sandwich and then called into Politics in Young Adult Fiction before attending the highpoint of the weekend, Neil Gaiman’s guest of honour speech. He had planned to read the whole of chapter 1 of The Graveyard Book, but the printer churned it out in some alien gibberish so he read a short story called Orange instead. It was incredibly funny and brilliant (I would expect nothing less from the great Gaiman) and I wish that I knew where it had been published. Then he talked a little about writing and his Eastercon experiences, where I suddenly realised that anyone out in that audience of fans could be in his position in ten years time, talking about how Orbital was their first con and they’d finally found their tribe and reading from their next new book. It’s a very cool thought. By this stage, the con printer had condescended to print in English so Neil read the fist part of chapter 1 and I would encourage everyone to run out and buy The Graveyard Book when it comes out. Questions from the audience were interesting, asking about Holly (his daughter), things to do with books, and other interesting things that I just can’t remember right now.

My father would love it if there is a transcript of his talk and Q&A available anywhere.

After that, I wandered off and did battle with a hotel computer to post a blog entry before wandering upstairs for a rest and a snack. PA joined me after a while and my rest turned into a bit of a natter before she went to the Blake’s 7 panel. Apparently there is a chance that there might be B7 on the TV, a re-imagining of it ala Battlestar Galactica, which could be really great if the quality of the audio episodes are anything to go by.

Unfortunately, my little rest turned into an unexpected nap so I crept in very late to Fan History: Why Bother? and kind of ended up wondering why I’d bothered with the panel. Oh, well. For a bit of light relief, I hit Spaceship in a Decaying Orbit where we eventually voted to save Dr McKay, I suspect largely because nickeyb did such a fantastic impersonation. Heh. Marvin the Paranoid Android came a close second, again because the guy impersonating him was a genius.

I grabbed a sandwich and a drink and sat in the atrium for a while with a book, enjoying watching geeks and fans having fun. I like people watching sometimes. Then it was off to Don’t Cross the Streams, a panel on the division between sci-fi and fantasy, what happens when they cross and should there be that division. I was must amused by the firm assertion by one panellist that there is a definite barrier, that anything with even a hint of magic qualifies as fantasy even if there are spaceships and tech, too, and how he defended that position even as his argument crumbled around his ears.

The last panel of the night was Martha Jones: Most Heroic Companion?, on which I was a panellist. We were very good and it did start out as a serious discussion of past companions, but then it descended into hilarity and smut and was my favourite panel of the entire convention. Paul Cornell definitely did not help us to raise the tone of the panel πŸ™‚ It felt more like a Redemption panel than an Eastercon panel, with lots of audience interaction and a huge sense of fun. I just wish that it could have gone on all night!

H, PA and I were too wired after that to go straight to bed so we crashed on H’s sofa and nattered for a while before retiring.


The bad thing about conventions is the end, and as always we hated having to leave and go home. PA and I wanted to go to the Hitchhikers panel at 1pm, so we checked out and dumped our stuff in the car before returning to keep H company until it was time to get her bus. Then PA was off to a Star Trek panel and I sat in on Sex and the Singularity, which was both entertaining and insightful and caused various panellists to descend into furious blushing at points. Poor Jane Fenn had lost her voice so she had to resort to holding up prepared cards (“Yes”, “No Way”, “That would have to be an ecumenical matter”) in response to questions.

The last event of the con for PA and I was Hitchhiker’s: How a Radio 4 Comedy Took Over the World, nominally a discussion of the various formats of HHGTTG but really just an excuse for grown adults to turn into complete fans. After asserting that he felt like he’d bypassed being a fan during his talk the day before, Neil Gaiman turned out to be the biggest HHGTTG fan ever and it was so wonderful to watch. He described with a great deal of love how he’d ended up sitting in a cold car to finish listening to the end of the first episode and had great fun describing what sounds like the weirdest, most impossible, devilish computer game ever. I may need to find a copy.

Then PA and I munched some lunch, climbed into the car and allowed John Cleese to direct us home.

I had a wonderful time at Eastercon. I still think that Redemption is my favourite con ever and Orbital only reinforced that, but I had a terrific time and wouldn’t object to doing it again if I happened to be in the country at the time.

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