Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month: My Recap of BristolCon

Just under a month ago, I went to a fantasy and science fiction convention not far from where I live, called BristolCon – and for today’s Sci-Fi Month post, I want to share my experience with you! Don’t forget to check out the schedule for the rest of today’s posts. You can also Tweet about the event using the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

 

BristolCon is a one day convention, organised by the Bristol Fantasy & SF Society, and held annually. It gives those living in the south-west a chance to attend the sort of events we normally miss out on. 2013 was the fifth con, and it has grown from an afternoon to a full day of panels, stalls and other exciting events over the years. You can view the programme here.

Guests this year included: Philip Reeve, Storm Constantine, Mark Buckingham, Sarah Ash, Paul Cornell, Janet Edwards, Jaine Fenn, David Gullen, Emma Newman, Ian Whates, Gareth L. Powell, David J. Rodger and many more. Several of the guests are actually taking part in Sci-Fi Month, which was particularly exciting!

I went to the con with two friends of mine from university, and we started off by browsing the dealers room. The stalls ranged from Forbidden Planet selling books (many of which were signed; I purchased Earth Girl by Janet Edwards and Queen of Nowhere by Jaine Fenn to be signed later on), Crafty Miss Kitty who sells some wonderful jewellery including many Doctor Who themed pieces, PQ Vintage Sci-Fi who had a massive collection of vintage and secondhand sci-fi classics and various other stalls selling sci-fi books, memorabilia, costumes and more. You can view the list of dealers here.

Then we thought we’d consult our programmes and work out which panels to attend. The first thing we knew we wanted to attend for sure were the book signings at 2pm (all authors at once!). I knew I wanted to get my books signed by Jaine Fenn and Janet Edwards, so I made a beeline straight for them. Sadly Janet was nowhere to be found, but I met Jaine and introduced myself, and she was lovely! It was nice to meet someone I’d been speaking to online, and put a face to the ‘voice’ – but I have this horrible shyness around people I admire and once I’d introduced myself I had a bit of a brain freeze… anyway, I just want to take this chance now to say thank you to Jaine for taking part in the event!

One of my friends had a couple of Philip Reeve‘s books, so she got them signed and they had a long chat! I’ve spotted several copies of his Mortal Engines in my local second-hand bookshop, and wish I’d picked at least one up to get signed, but never mind!

At 3pm we went to our first panel, one that immediately stood out to us by name,

because we are mature and responsible adults: ‘How To Poo In A Fantasy Universe and Other Grubby Goings On’. This was moderated by Dev Agarwal, and the panelists were Ben Galley, Myfanwy Rodman, Lor Graham and Max Edwards. It was a discussion on how, often in big fantasy epics, we never see or hear of our beloved protagonists going off to the toilet, or collecting food, or doing basic things like cleaning pots and pans after a meal. Frodo treks across Middle-earth and never once has to stop for a toilet break. Does Han have a bathroom aboard the Millennium Falcon? Does the Death Star even have plumbing? It was a really fun talk (and very true!) – although we did discuss series that do cover such events as well, like George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. For example, Arya has to make sure she steps well away from the rest of the group to go to the toilet when she’s on the run disguised as a boy, and another rather spoilery moment much later on that I won’t reveal here (but one of the panelists did!). All I will say is that it involves a death, but since it’s a GRRM book that isn’t really a surprise…

Thank you Jaine!

5pm brought with it a talk on ‘Magic in Fantasy’, moderated by Jonathan Wright and featuring Anne Lyle, Storm Constantine, Snorri Kristjansson and Paul Cornell. It was a fantastic talk on fantasy and magic systems, how different authors show magic and which systems we thought were the best. One person suggested the system used in The Name of the Wind, where magic is known as sympathy and requires a sacrifice, and I completely agree!

Another brilliant talk followed, ‘Beyond Arthur’, which was a discussion on folktales and legends that often get ignored in fiction, moderated by Gaie Sebold and featuring Roz Clarke, Catherine Butler, Philip Reeve and Scott Lewis. They discussed many local legends, including variations on how the River Avon got its name (one being that a lady named Avona drowned herself in it after spurned love). It was at this point that I also bumped into Colin, who runs Clarion Publishing, and has been a major help for Sci-Fi Month – he is the one who put me in touch with so many of the authors taking part, so thank you so much Colin!

Our next plan was to head to the quiz (we love quizzes!) which wasn’t until 8.30pm, so we hung out in the bar for the next few hours and just chatted about the day. Whilst we were sat in there I finally spotted Janet Edwards, and managed to grab her just before she left! I explained that I was the one organising Sci-Fi Month, and she told me all about Nara’s interview and one particularly evil question that Nara posed for her! She was lovely and didn’t mind at all that I sort of grabbed her on her way out. And I got my book signed, yay!

And then finally, the quiz! Hosted by Nick WaIters (who has written some Doctor Who novels), it was really fun and a brilliant laugh – me and my two friends had our own team and we did SO badly (we got a grand total of 19 but actually were the losers only by 1 point…). There was an entire round on William Shatner. We know nothing about William Shatner. The round we did really well on? Cats on film. It was a picture round and we had to identify which films the cats were from – Jonesy from Alien, one of the Bond cats etc. We’d been laughing along with the team next to ours, who marked our quiz sheet (sure to draw more laughter), and it turned out one of the members was Ian Whates, who is taking part in Sci-Fi Month! Anyway I introduced myself and he was absolutely lovely. He was very impressed with our feline knowledge.

And that was the end of the con! We arrived back at my friend’s house just after 11pm, a brilliant day only slightly hampered by a constant migraine… And the next day, we went to Bristol Museum (we’re all archaeology graduates so of course) and bumped into Philip Reeve in the museum cafe, as you do (tea and cake were sorely needed). He even recognised us!

Here are my spoils from the weekend:

 

  • Nova by Samuel R. Delany and Limits by Larry Niven – from PQ Vintage Sci-Fi, they had so many amazing vintage and secondhand books for only 50p each so I had to grab a couple at least! We spent a lot of time stood at that stall…
  • The Alchemyst by Michael Scott – this was our freebie book in our goodie bags, and the author kind of makes me giggle because I’ve been watching a lot of The Office US lately (if you’ve not seen it, Michael Scott is the boss, the character played by Steve Carrell). But it does sound good, it’s about Nicholas Flamel!
  • Earth Girl by Janet Edwards – this one has been very highly praised, and Janet is even taking part in Sci-Fi Month. You can win a copy of this one over on Nara’s blog, and read an interview with Janet herself!
  • Queen of Nowhere and Consorts of Heaven by Jaine Fenn – I picked Queen of Nowhere up at the con, and got it signed (see above), but didn’t pick up Consorts of Heaven until the next day (at the £2 Book Shop, it is HEAVEN) so couldn’t get that one signed, sadly! I first encountered Jaine’s writing last year and was really impressed by it.
  • Doctor Who: Shada by Gareth Roberts and Douglas Adams – my other £2 Book Shop find, I’ve been wanting to read one of the Classic Who novels for a while and this seemed like a great one to start with.

I also picked up a copy of Dead Angels by Gunnar Roxen, a very friendly author who was at the con. It’s a short novella so I thought it would be a good way of checking out his work. I also got a little fabric owl (I have an owl collection that has mostly come from other people buying me owl stuff ever since I bought an owl bag and matching purse…), and you can see my con badge in the photo too!

And that’s pretty much it for my recap of BristolCon! I had a fantastic time and would love to go again – but I could do without the migraine next time…

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Challenges, Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month: Definitive Science Fiction Reads

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Today I want to share a challenge with you all: my definitive list of science fiction reads! They are books I feel every sci-fi fan should read at least once in their lifetime, and as well as creating a challenge for myself I hope that it can be challenge for some of you too. Although I already have a Top Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books Challenge, I wanted to create one that reflected all different types of science fiction, including Young Adult. So it will actually be a mix of books I’ve loved, books I really feel I should read because they’re considered classics, and some titles that might often be overlooked, as well as some books that I’ve heard a lot of good things about.
 
If you’d like to join in, feel free! I’ll be keeping track of my progress too, on a separate postDon’t forget to check out the schedule for the rest of today’s posts. You can also Tweet about the event using the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

‘Classic’ science fiction

Newer science fiction

Young Adult science fiction

What do you think of the challenge? Are you going to join in?

Author Interview, Giveaway, Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month: Author Interview with Jaine Fenn

For today’s Sci-Fi Month post, I have an interview with the very talented science fiction author, Jaine Fenn! I first came across her work when I won a copy of her short story collection, Downside Girls, through LibraryThing. I really enjoyed the stories as an introduction to her Hidden Empire series, and she was one of the first authors I thought to contact when I came up with the idea for Sci-Fi Month. At the end of the post, there is also a giveaway for a copy of Downside Girls, open internationally.

Don’t forget to check out the schedule for the rest of today’s posts. You can also Tweet about the event using the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

Interview

Rinn: I first encountered your work when I read your short story collection, Downside Girls. Do you plan on writing any more short story collections?

Jaine: I love short stories, and have written plenty of them. I like the idea of themed collections, and at some point I’ll gather up all my alternate history and fortean stories – although they aren’t SF as such – and then, as with Downside Girls, add a new story or two to complete the set.

Rinn: Did you have any particular inspiration for the Angels and the Sidhe (from Jaine’s Hidden Empire series)?

Jaine: The Angels – female flying assassins with implanted blades – come in part from two books I read at an impressionable age: William Gibson’s Neuromancer and the Miller/Sienkeiwicz graphic novel Elektra: Assassin. The concept was too cool not to use, though I added the bit about flying.

The Sidhe are more complex because the ‘real’ Sidhe are the Celtic fey folk, treacherous, otherworldly and rarely seen. The Sidhe in my stories are aliens who gave themselves this name when they encountered humanity. They did this with knowing irony. There’s a lot more to be said about that, but it’s a story for a later date.

Rinn: Which of the Hidden Empire books did you most enjoy writing?

Jaine: Now there’s a tricky question. I’ll always love Principles of Angels, because it was not just the first in the series, it was the first novel I wrote. And rewrote, over a number of years. The easiest book to write was Guardians of Paradise, partly because it brought together the stories started in Principles of Angels and Consorts of Heaven, and partly because it is a (sort of) romance, and I find romance easier to write than straight SF. In some ways Queen of Nowhere was great fun once I’d got into the main character’s head. But each book brought moments of elation and surprise, and I enjoyed them all, in different ways.

Rinn: The most recent Hidden Empire novel, Queen of Nowhere, was published this year. Do you plan to write more in this series?

Jaine: Oh yes. I’ve got plans for four more books, one of which I’ve started. Having said that, I’m not sure when they’ll see print. Queen of Nowhere ended one plot thread – or rather, changed the game – and I wanted to take a break from the series after it. As it turns out I’ve got caught up in a number of other projects, including a return to short-story writing. Watch this space, as they say. Well, watch www.jainefenn.com.

Rinn: Your series does not necessarily need to be read in order, and the books work as standalones. Which character did you most enjoy writing, and were there any you wanted to bring in the story purely because you enjoyed writing them?

Jaine: Another tricky but interesting question. As with novels, the characters you’ve spent the longest with will be the most special to you, so I like writing Taro (irritating to everyone else though he can be); Nual’s more challenging, and because of her unique worldview I’m sparing in writing from her viewpoint, but then she hasn’t reached her full potential yet. As every writer knows, characters tend to take on a life of their own: Bez, who played a relatively minor role in Guardians of Paradise, ended up getting her own book!

Rinn: Who or what are your influences as a writer?

Jaine: So many… Here’s a few: Manga, Iain M Banks, Ursula Le Guin, cyberpunk, Larry Niven, C.J. Cherryh, Philip K. Dick and Mary Gentle.

Rinn: What five science fiction novels would you recommend to my readers?

Jaine: It depends on whether they are SF aficionados or new to the genre. If I had to pick five relatively recent SF books I think everyone should read I’d go for: The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams; Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson; The Player of Games by Iain M Banks, Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson and The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin.

Rinn: What do you like to spend your time doing, when you’re not writing?

Jaine: Reading, though my ‘to read’ pile only ever gets bigger, not smaller. I also enjoy walking in the countryside near my home in Hampshire, a hobby that fits in well with being a writer, as I use my walks to consider plot points or get to know my characters. I play the odd role-playing game, and in the summer I take part in historical re-enactment events. Like a lot of writers, I also have a part-time day-job; in my case I run a small charity.

Rinn: Do you get involved in the science fiction community online very much?

Jaine: Not as much as I’d like to, due to lack of time. I have a Facebook presence and I’m sporadically on Twitter as @JaineFenn, but there are loads of great blogs I’d like to check out.

Rinn: Where/when will your next appearances be – I know you appear at quite a few cons – like BristolCon this past October.

Jaine: I’ll be at Novacon, which will be the last of a number of cons in a very busy autumn. I’ll probably go to Picocon, a small one-day convention in London, and I’m still trying to work out whether I can get to Eastercon, as the logistics are a bit complicated for me this year. And then of course there’s the British Worldcon, LonCon, which I’m really looking forward to.

Thank you to Jaine for letting me interview her!

About Jaine

Jaine Fenn is a science fiction writer, hailing from the United Kingdom. She has written several short stories, and the Hidden Empire series of books, which can either be read as standalones or in order. A sci-fi fan since she was a young girl, she discovered the world of fiction through Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, and began writing at a young age. She now also runs her own charity.

Jaine’s books include Principles of Angels, Consorts of Heaven, Guardians of Paradise, Bringer of Light, Queen of Nowhere and Downside Girls.

Jaine can be found on Goodreads and Twitter, and you can also visit her website.

Giveaway

Thank you to Clarion Publishing for providing this giveaway! Giveaway widget removed after migration to WordPress.

Review, Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month: Review of Bowl of Heaven (Bowl of Heaven #1) by Larry Niven & Gregory Benford


Today’s Sci-Fi Month post is a review of Bowl of Heaven by Larry Niven and Gregory Benford. Don’t forget to check out the schedule for the rest of today’s posts. You can also Tweet about the event using the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

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2 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

Imagine you’re the captain of a spaceship.

Your ship, due to some technical errors, only has enough rations to last five hundred years. Your destination is at least five hundred and fifty years away. On the way to your destination, you spot a strangely shaped star/planet/spaceship. You’re worrying about the lack of rations, you don’t want to wake up any more crew members than necessary from cryo because that would mean even less rations.

So, what would do you do?

Why, you head towards the strange, unknown object on which anything could happen!

Yes. That’s precisely what happens in this book. Whilst I understand the allure of the strange and unknown in this period of space exploration, why would you knowingly put the lives of thousands of crew members in danger, when you’re already in trouble, to go and check it out?

There is quite a wide range of characters in this story – two teams go off to explore the Bowl, but one gets caught by the aliens whilst the other escapes. The two main characters are Cliff and Beth, but we really learn absolutely nothing about them, no back story, no character development. All we know is that they’re in a relationship. And apparently both very unloyal. They are separated when one group gets caught, and Cliff spends a lot of the time moping after Beth and missing her. So what does he do? He sleeps with another female member of the team because he misses sex. Beth has similar thoughts. So I felt I could not connect to these characters in any way at all.

The book is clearly written by an experienced science fiction writer, but at times it felt a little too technical. The descriptions of the Bowl made me imagine a fantastical, more varied and colourful version of Earth. However, in comparison to the description of the Bowl and the ship, the aliens felt a little amateur. Giant intelligent birds, wearing tool belts? Their hierarchy was interesting though – each is first born as a male, and then becomes female as they age.

I was really looking forward to this book, as I’ve been recommended Larry Niven’s Ringworld and The Mote In God’s Eye so many times – and this was just a major disappointment. Whilst the writing was beautifully descriptive, the characters were completely flat, the plot made no sense and I just… found it a little dull, in all honesty. And there were so many moments where I just wanted to scream at the characters – experienced space travellers apparently – for making really stupid moves, like drilling a hole in the side of the Bird Folk’s ship to try and speak to them. Because that’s a peaceful approach.

Overall, sadly disappointing. It won’t put me off reading any of Niven’s other work though. Apparently there is a second book but this was only made clear at the very end of the first – and I’m not too bothered about finding out what happens to Cliff, Beth et al next.