Saturday, 15 August 2015

Nine Worlds 2015, Part 1: The Very Good Indeed

I would say that of all the cons I've been to - and that's a rather high number, now - this year's Nine Worlds was, on average, the one I enjoyed the most.  And it occurs to me that, for once, I can say specifically why that was, rather than having to make up vague nonsense to cover the fact that I can't remember why I was having fun because the alcohol I was pouring into myself to help produce that fun killed off all of the relevant brain cells.  I think it's fair to say, in fact, that the hours I spent drinking in the company of friends both old and new, whilst tremendously entertaining, was for once not even my favourite waste of time.

(For this, I have to thank the main bar of the Radisson Blu and its combination of abominable service with the most hysterically absurd prices, but more on that in part 2.)

So if my abiding memories from Nine Worlds aren't of loitering in the bar then just what the hell did I get up to?  Well, a great deal of what went right can be laid at the feet of the Comics track and its human-whirlwind ringleader Hazel Robinson, who only ever seemed to be sitting down for long enough to moderate one of the most well-moderated panels I've ever been fortunate enough to be a part of.  From my point of view, the first of those - with Ed Fortune, Sally Jane Thompson and Alasdair Stuart - was on How to Break Into Comics, and given that I personally didn't feel like I had much of a clue how you'd achieve such a thing, it seemed to actually generate a ton of good advice.  Then on the Sunday I had what I'm just going to flat out declare to be my favourite panel of all time, The Humanitarian Element, with Roz Kaveney and Alasdair again.  The topic of humanitarianism in comics keyed in from Hazel's point of view to her day job working for the extraordinary Médecins Sans Frontières and from mine primarily because of the post-apocalyptic superhero novel I began writing a mere couple of weeks ago, and in a world where panel topics seem to get recycled ad tedium and beyond it was extraordinarily refreshing to be discussing a topic that felt genuinely fresh and meaningful.  (Even if we did go off on some deeply silly tangents; Hazel's attempts to summarize the Avengers vs X-Men crossover from a couple of years back still makes me chuckle.)

While that was mostly it for my official involvement with the Comics track, it did lead into the weekend's other great time sink.  Having made vague promises to help out with a boardgaming night that Hazel had planned for the Friday evening, I'd optimistically lugged along a copy of Galaxy Trucker, and was surprised when not only did I manage to persuade people to play it with me, I succeeded in explaining the rules not too terribly and it wound up being a pretty classic game.  (Everything went brutally wrong in the final round, which if you know Galaxy Trucker at all you'll understand is absolutely the best thing that can happen.)

Thus it was that when, on the Saturday, I turned up for one of the few program items I was really eager to go to and found it full, it occurred to me that for once I had an option other than drifting over to the bar.  And thus it was that I spent almost the entire rest of the day playing board games (in this case Splendor and King of Tokyo) with a variety of very friendly strangers.  I don't know that anything sums up why I like Nine Worlds so much as the fact that there was a large, well-organised space set aside for that and a comfortable enough environment that it was really easy to get games going.  Seriously, it's easy to ignore how special a thing that it is, but it couldn't work without a ton of thought and effort - and for that, Nine Worlds organisers, I salute you.

That takes us, more or less, back to the Sunday, when I just about managed to drag myself in in time for an early meeting of the Super-Relaxed Fantasy Club, only to pick up the handouts for my Monsterclass that afternoon and discover that they hadn't been stapled together.  Cue a little bit of panic on my part, (I wanted people to treasure these things for years to come, and what madman treasures an unstapled handout?) which eventually drew in half the staff of Nine Worlds, quickly descended into low comedy - the stapler was locked in a room which no one had the key to, but was also empty of staples, those being kept by an entirely different bunch of people, and I'm not even making this up - and ended with me wandering into another hotel and asking if I could borrow a stapler from them.  (They were really nice about it.)  Anyway, the running about burned off some of my nervous energy over the prospect of delivering my first ever workshop, and though my stress levels started to climb again over the fact that a scheduling clash meant that I basically had to run there from the Humanitarianism panel, I managed to make it just in time.

Lo and behold, it seemed to go quite well.  My biggest worries were that no one would turn up or that those who did would expect me to do all the talking*, and neither of those things happened even slightly.  The room was filled to capacity with, I think, twelve people, and everyone was eager enough to get involved that it ended us as much more of a discussion than a lecture, which was precisely what I'd hoped for.  That aside, to get such an intelligent, thoughtful group was more than I'd dared expect, and made an hour and a half fly by.  (It was supposed to be an hour, and the fact that we overran massively without anyone showing signs of boredom seemed to me a mark of success.)  With the proviso that there's not a whole hell of a lot you can teach people about the nuts and bolts of short story writing in an hour and a half, I felt like I got a few good points in - not to mention, of course, supplying some beautifully stapled handouts.

There were other highlights, but they were less directly Nine Worlds related.  It was a pleasure to have lunch on the Sunday with my editor Lee Harris, and getting dive-bombed by a barn owl in the early hours of Sunday morning was a pleasant shock; who knew they had nature at Heathrow?  For that matter, I suppose that the other reason I had a slightly better time than I've had in the past was precisely because I was looking after myself that bit better.  I didn't waste too much time nursing hangovers, I ate relatively proper meals, and I went to bed ... well, at three o'clock on the Sunday morning, but even that's not terrible by my standards.  It also helped that I was staying in a much nicer place then I normally manage, the Heathrow Hilton, which meant that what sleep I had was actually pretty good sleep.

And that, I think, about sums up the good stuff, which it should be obvious by this point was clearly in the vast majority.  Still, it wasn't the whole story, and since this wouldn't be a David Tallerman con write-up if I didn't grouse at least a little, what say we meet back here in a couple of days time so I can do just that?  At the very least, I can guarantee more vitriol aimed at those accursed bar staff...

* Actually, my biggest worry was that I'd realise I wasn't wearing any trousers and that the group would consist entirely of my primary school teachers dressed as the great dictators of history, but fortunately that one was always going to be an outside risk.


  1. Ahhh, this was a fun post.

    Makes me think you'd really enjoy Penguicon too. They tend to be good at having space for gaming, and amazingly enough we're at our same hotel [for P-con it is a record to be at a hotel twice, let alone thrice] in 2016.

    Nine Worlds sounds like it's a blast... I wonder if we could make it there some time.


  2. Loved this write-up. A barn owl!! What a hoot. (Sorry, argh. Couldn't resist.)