The Early Days of a Better Nation

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Space Station Hinckley

I spent the Easter weekend at the Hinckley Island Hotel, as one of the Guests of Honour at Paragon 2, this year's Eastercon or British National Science Fiction Convention. The hotel is outside Hinckley and, as its name suggests, is a bit isolated. But not to worry. Bar the odd trip by supply rocket (£5 inc tip), it's fairly self-contained. Its reception area is a mirror-ceilinged polygon dominated by a 4-metre plaster statue of Neptune. (The god, not the planet.) This docking pod is at the end of one of the station's long habitation arms, which radiate from a central hub with a glass roof, through which you can observe the universe. These arms are called streets, and are lined with fake shop windows full of real tat, which you can buy at reception. There is one real shop, which sells cigarettes, magazines, and newspapers, except on Easter Sunday and Easter Monday, when by ancient tradition nobody smokes and nothing happens. The whole forms a starfish starship shape half-buried in an artificial mound built by some folk whose rituals required broad expanses of flat tarmac. It faces on to a fake lake containing real fish, on whose bank is a fake museum containing a real stage-coach and a real hackney cab, between the shafts of which are fake horses.

The bar serves real beer, and also by tradition, this ran out by Sunday.

Being an Eastercon GoH was, for me, a real honour, and I was very well looked after by the con committee - for which, many thanks. I took part in several programme events, went to more, and spent some time in the bar. Vivid memories include having a sort of continuing conversation across several panels with Richard Morgan, who heroically volunteered for every panel; longer bar or dinner conversations with Justina Robson, David Langford, Geoff Ryman, Ian Hocking, Frank Wu, Del Cotter, Farah Mendlesohn, Neil Williamson and friends, Charlie and Nojay; watching Dr Who on a big screen in a packed hall; accepting on behalf of the artist Stephan Martiniere the BSFA Award for best artwork, for the US cover of my novel Newton's Wake; eating elk salami on rye at the Scandinavian party; and having my brain eaten by Chthulu. Beyond that it's all a bit of a blur.

I came away from the conversations with a few new thoughts, which I intend to return to here over the next few weeks. Here's one for now. SF fandom is an odd community, and one that those outside it tend to lump together with media fans, technology geeks and enthusiastic hobbyists. But it isn't like that at all. The only group I know that is like SF fandom, and which oddly enough barely overlaps with it, is scientists. Scientists, at least the kind I used to know, dress idiosyncratically, drink lots of beer, talk about anything and everything, and talk in italics.


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