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Novacon 41 – I Was There

Pips09_html_7bed5c9eIt’s on the same day as the ZZ9 AGM

Obviously the Novacon committee are trying to usurp that fine old institution, ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha by scheduling their convention on the same day. I’m sure it was that way around. Most definitely.

I arrived in Nottingham on Saturday at around lunchtime. The trains had done their thing and transported me from Cambridge without a hitch, mishap or screaming mental torture. Well done, train thingies, more of this kind of behaviour please.

I find the tourist information office and enquire the way to the Park Inn. He looks at me strangely, I know not why. I ask again and we flail around for a while trying to establish some context. Eventually he realises I wish to walk there and so points at a road. ‘It’s up there’, he says. Excellent, says I. There are many fine buses says he. Not for me says I and depart with a friendly wave and a cheery smile and my knapsack on my back. It sounds like I should be singing at this point but out of deference to the people around me I refrained from such extreme cruelty.
About 40 minutes later I arrive at the Park Inn.
Noel Collyer is outside the hotel, reclining on a bench and mopping his brow. This is probably the right place. I reconnoitre the area checking out local supermarkets, Lidl and Tesco. I note several restaurants including a cool looking kebab shop and spectacularly fail to visit any of them during the weekend. I return to the hotel and Eve Harvey awaits just inside the door ready to offer such delights as a badge, a readme and a booklet containing writings by
the guest of honour, John Meaney. I collect 2 of everything and enquire at the reception desk about my room. A very flustered but delightful receptionist attempts to uncover this jealously guarded information and eventually tracks down the facts. It’s a no, try again later, situation. This bothers me not a jot. I know there’s beer and conversation in the bar. I shall be content.

Pips09_html_m26b9441Doug Bell is in the bar so I wrestle him to the ground (metaphorically) and force my fanzine upon him. My fanzine is actually a podcast of interviews with Taff candidates, Jacq Monahan, Warren Buff and Kim Kofmel but I had it transcribed, shoved a few pics in it and made a paper zine. Doug accepts the zine and moments later Christina Lake appears. Christina has been steeped in fanzine fandom so long now that she can smell a fanzine inside a bag from the other end of the room and is drawn inexorably toward it. Some might say she was drawn toward Doug but I’m sure it was the zine what done it. Christina’s arrival marks the end of a program item and a wave of people surge into the bar. These waves sweep back and forth across the building all weekend like the sea washing up and down upon the bar. The single program stream creates a very predictable movement of people. It’s quite comforting really to have some idea of what’s happening and to get a handle on times, events and places. An Eastercon, for example, will have many moments for me where I feel quite lost and disoriented, flailing about in the dark. This latest wave fills up all available spaces and increases our social group at the end of the bar. Pat Meara is here and Ron Gemmell appears, flourishing his first fanzine in twenty-five years. Now that’s impressive procrastination. Eat That Duck 3 contains a tale of, accumulating knowledge of Swedish written by Lucy Huntzinger, an island hopping, Eurocon attending, travelogue from Ron Gemmell and a goshwowohboyohboy piece about Cornwall from
Christina. The fanzine in précis says, learning Swedish is hard, a Swedish Eurocon is fun and Cornwall has some jolly nice walks. There’s also a duck and a ship on the cover which you can colour in if you should get the urge and almost everyone did get that urge but
there were no colouring pens to be had in the building, not even for ready money. How tragic life can be sometimes.

It was then that Flick accosted me, demanding to know why I wasn’t at the ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha AGM. I have my excuse all ready. Carrie is attending the AGM and will bring back information about the proceedings at midnight. Surely if Carrie is there then I don’t have to go too. She decides that this is sound reasoning and so allows me to live. Flick is looking particularly good and is wearing a long flowing dress that looks astoundingly elegant. The room is, in fact, bookended by 2 very elegant women with Caro being the other, over by the conservatory in a similarly beautiful dress. I am delighted by this penchant of the ladies of fandom for bringing out the posh frocks for conventions. It adds a real touch of glamour to the proceedings.

Another program item begins and the bar empties out once more. I enquire about my room. Reception are more practised now and can fire back the answer almost i immediately. No, not ready, try again later. I have to console myself with another beer and a pleasant chat with 2 more people notably absent from the ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha AGM, Ian Brown and Helen Cross. Helen is making a sock with the aid of 3 pointy sticks and some yarn. It all looks mighty suspicious. The process looks far too complicated to be just a sock. Obviously strange voodoo rites are at work here and I watch quite fascinated to see who is to be struck down by the sock of doom. They’ve ordered pizzas and once I’ve wiped the drool from the corner of my mouth I realise that I’d quite like one too. Then the hurricane that is Lilian Edwards whirls in upon our tranquility and regales us with semi coherent tales of current events. I adore Lilian and am always pleased to see her but this time it feels a little odd. I’ve become accustomed from her Facebook updates to picture her at some continental pavement cafe with the sun shining down upon her while she samples interesting and amusing foodstuffs. She will either have just given a lecture somewhere exotic or be about to do so. Lilian in Nottingham doesn’t feel quite right at the moment. She’s moving too fast for my mind to focus. Probably best if I try not to figure out what’s going on in my head. It’ll only confuse me. The pizza is magnificent and seals the deal on my bothering to track down food without. I eat, drink, chat and am content.

Later I begin to feel weary and investigate once more the possibility of gaining access to my hotel room. This time I get a keycard and some esoteric sounding instructions for putting said card in a lift and performing arcane rites. Helen and her many pointy sticks may be up for such things but I make for the fire escape steps instead and am inside my room moments later. I lie down and am soon fast asleep. I awake a couple of hours later feeling quite bright and refreshed. I arm myself with pen, paper and coffee and begin work on a LoC for Ron Gemmel’s fanzine. The flakmoppe mentioned on page 7 has caught my

Pips09_html_m64f1b2f8attention and I feel that I must explore this further. I duly explore
it, finish coffee and head back into the convention to give Ron his
LoC. Then as if to underline what it says in bible, ‘he that giveth
unto the zine writers shall not lack’ I receive two more fanzines:
Procrastinations from John Coxon and iShoes from Yvonne Rowse. As with my zine, both of these are A5 and without staples. This is obviously the shape of things to come. None of us can be arsed with staples anymore. John Coxon also gives me a computer. Very generous thinks I until he tells me that it actually belongs to Dave Haddock.
Apparently he borrowed it to go around North America with him on his Taff trip. He obviously felt sorry for the computer and felt that it needed a holiday. What a nice and thoughtful chap. BTW does anyone know why the hell Chris Garcia refers to John Coxon as ‘The Rock’. I don’t think he looks particularly like a rock. I’m not sure it’s a good idea to be asking this. Do I really want to know what happens inside the mind of a Chris Garcia? I take the computer and promise to give it back to Dave.

Procrastinations 9 has some interesting moments in it. The Taff cadidates are all in there, writing about their heroes. I enjoyed Warren Buff and his bunch of philosophers but found it a little more difficult to connect with Jacq’s painters and Kim’s librarians. Other writers in the zine included Dave Haddock who wrote about Iain Banks and his war upon factual inaccuracies, Chris Garcia paid homage to 2 fannish heroes and a wrestler and John Coxon wrote of the late Steve Jobs. The letter column has far too much of comics and films based upon super heroes for my liking but still nice to see some familiar names in there.

iShoes is a different beastie altogether. It’s mostly a collection of Yvonne’s blog writings and short book reviews but in this zine we do get that very human picture of the Yvonne that we’ve come to know and love. Her anxiety for her family, the anger and frustration caused by what we’re doing to the planet and her delight at finding something decent to read. What is missing from this issue of iShoes though is Yvonne’s playful sense of humour. She’s delightful to talk to and has a whimsical sense of humour but the playfulness didn’t really come through in the fanzine.

I wrote my LoC for iShoes but couldn’t come up with anything for Procrastinations and still haven’t. Hopefully inspiration will strike soon.

There are a number of fannish institutions that I haven’t yet experienced and I have a mental tick list that I’m working through. Last year I went to Corflu at Winchester and tried and failed to do the Astral Pole. This year I decided I would finally get to see a Sorensen production. I mentioned this to Doug Spencer and he looked worried. ‘This one will be your introduction to these things?’ he asked. I answered in the affirmative and he shook his head sadly. ‘It’s not one of our best’ he said. Thus encouraged I turned up all bright eyed and bushy tailed ready to appreciate the action. Ian wibbled a bit about records that had been number one at some time or another and apparently that’s what we would have won if he’d done that but, in fact, they’d done something else altogether so we watched that instead. The whole thing was seamlessly (ahem) held together by stunt Peter Weston (sometimes spelled Hari Seldon) appearing every 10 years to tell us what life should be like in that decade. This Novacon was the 40th anniversary of the very first one and we tracked through the years to see just how far we had deviated from the psychohistory Weston plan. The answer was very far indeed. There were no fanzines on cassette tapes or flying cars and jetpacks. Where did we all go wrong? Julia Daly sang of the Little Brum Con. Doug Spencer was part of a skit in which he played a stuffy old professor called Professor
F J Mendelssohn and we saw a return of the miming Wilkettes not so much jiving as quivering a bit. All jolly fun and topped off with the famous hit, ‘Grumpy Brummy People Running Cons’. Another fannish tick box well and truly ticked I ambled back to the bar to get myself rat onna stick or whatever other late night delicacy might be available. The readme had promised late food and I was very much looking forward to wrestling some of it down my throat. Unfortunately, of the food there was no sign. I enquired hopefully
and my hero went off to find a bacon sandwich for me. I decided that I loved her fervently, although I felt a little guilty when seconds later I spotted an Alison Scott and many other hopefuls being refused such delights as I had just experienced. The food had been available from 2300 until midnight which just happened to be the time that the
program item ended. Much unfortunateness and much wailing and gnashing of teeth was there. I was inclined, at first to blame the hotel but looking at the readme there was no set time for the late food. It merely said late. It seems likely that this was a detail
that wasn’t nailed down and so slipped away from view. It’s a tough life for a conrunner.

Twas then that Carrie arrived bringing the latest exciting news from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Appreciation Society, ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha. David Haddock had been voted in as president over Robert Newman and Richard Gray. David is 42 years old this year so had decided to celebrate by making a bid to become either President of the Galaxy or President of ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha. For better or worse he has landed the latter role (the galaxy might have been easier). We pass the information on but few are interested. Preisdents, schmezidents. Who needs ‘em.
It’s a fun little group we’re in consisting of Doug Bell, Christina Lake, Ron Gemmell, Clarrie Maguire and Timothy Maguire. Myself and Carrie are starting to become more than a little tired by now and I struggle to remember who said what, to whom but I do recall that Doug
has developed something of a fascination with the concept of the “Mexican Road Trip”. Apparently “Mexican Road Trip” always has to have quotes around it as that makes it more dangerous and exciting. There needs to be fast cars involved in this road trip and
maybe some smuggling. Doug muses on the idea of smuggling something across the border in Pinatas. What could we smuggle? ‘I know the very thing says Doug. We smuggle sweets across the border in Piñatas. No one would ever expect that.’ He has an ingenious mind that Doug Bell. The conversation takes a turn for the weird as someone espouses the wonders of Iggy Pop. He is described as ‘undead but fit’. Hmmm, he does look as if he died some years ago but as for fit…

The conversation goes on but at around 3 o’ clock or so Carrie and I are flagging somewhat. True Blood is being discussed and referred to as undead gay porn (now there’s a category I haven’t yet seen in the library) but we’ve had enough and bid everyone a good night as we totter along to the fire escape and then up to the room.

Only hours later we’re awake again and tucking into those luscious bacon, egg and mushroom calories at the breakfast table. Helen Brown and Ian Cross are sat to one side of
us and Nik Whitehead, Richard Crawshaw and David Carlile are sat on the other side. Carrie has stuff to talk over with these people in connection with the last Eastercon, Illustrious. I reckon Carrie is in serious danger of becoming one of those conrunner peeps you know. She keeps getting drawn in that direction. I like Nik, Richard and David but this is not a conversation for me. For whatever bizarre reason, it seems I’m far more interested in the progress of the multi-coloured sock being knitted by Helen. It is a thing of wonder
indeed. After breakfast we enquire somewhat optimistically at the reception desk whether it’s possible to have a late check out. We’re gobsmacked when she says, certainly, no problem. We haggle and settle upon 14:00 as our check out time. We can now take it easy, showering and ambling downstairs in our own sweet time. It would have been nicer if someone had told the cleaner we were checking out late. She got rather persistent about wanting to get into the room but we finally persuaded her (with the help of an old Jedi mind trick I
picked up around the back of Tescos) that we were not the room she was looking for. Downstairs we went, to stash our bags around the back of reception and then did some more relaxing in the bar. All jolly fun. We join Dave Lally who tells us how long he’s been waiting for dinner and we order some of our own. Ours duly arrives and still there’s no sign of sustenance for Mr Lally who is fast wasting away. Dave singles us out for the ZZ9ers that we are and mentions that he has something special in the basement for us.
There’s a Dave Lally place down below, it seems and it contains flickering images in a darkened room. He tells us that Douglas Adams makes a brief appearance at the end of a tape about the 1979 Worldcon. This sounds enticing and we promise we’ll pay a visit later.  Our food then arrives and we devour it with vim, vigour and much delight. Dave looks on hungrily. He then explains at length to a passing member of staff that his food seems to have disappeared into some kind of time warp and that maybe rather drastic measures should be taken to retrieve it from whatever dark and hopeless abyss it may have descended into. The member of staff is thoroughly confused but takes the useful course of ignoring most of what Dave has said and just orders some more food. This does the trick and within moments he’s happily munching down upon a considerable amount of carbohydrates. We wander off but later we do descend into the bowels of the earth and sure enough there is Dave Lally and several other dark and mysterious figures watching a BBC video of the 1979 Seacon.
I’d love to watch this alongside some of the older fans as there are many faces I’m sure we should recognise and it would be fun watching it with people who could put names to the faces. That video is obviously part of a BBC science fiction night as it runs on into an SF version of some talking heads book show programme. Ian Watson is there as is Douglas Adams. This is the special exciting thing that  Dave was telling us about. It is quite a treat but, unfortunately the show ends before Douglas can get much of a word in. I was fascinated
by the footage of the 1979 Worldcon though so if anyone has a digital
version on file then I’d love a copy.

Carrie and I decide we’re going to view the closing ceremony, that isn’t actually a
closing ceremony because Novacons never close (no, I’ve no idea why). We particularly want to see the Nova awards so off we go and bag ourselves a seat. There’s a raffle, everyone and his dog is thanked for everything and much homage is paid to John Meaney, the guest of honour who seems to have had a very jolly time indeed. I suspect we may see him at more conventions in the future. Steve Lawson steps down as chair and there’s a new committee for next year which seems to consist of Tony Berry who has forgotten whether there’s anyone else running Novacon with him. We take note as we intend to pounce upon him later and ask desperately searching questions. The Nova awards are next and ‘Head’ by Christina Lake and Doug Bell takes first place as the fanzine of choice for Novaconees. My own offering, ‘Pips’ struggles into joint 14th/last place alongside ‘Plokta’ – hmmm.
After the ceremony we lie in wait for Tony Berry. We have a cunning plan we say. Next year wouldn’t it be a simply spiffing idea if we held the ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha Annual General Meeting in the basement bar of the Park Inn Hotel during Novacon. He looked a little glassy eyed at us
but I’m sure we spotted a discernible nod so that’s that sorted then (well, as long as the committee sez aye). Next year the ZZ9 AGM is at Novacon. Seems a jolly idea.
More chatting and drinking and then we’re piling into a taxi which will whisk us away to the train station. Then there’s train whisking from Nottingham to Waterbeach and then we collect our bikes and toddle off to our village in Cambridge.
Convention done, mission complete.

Corflu 29 – I Wasn’t There

Pips09_html_m5091fIt’s Friday evening and time for me to climb into my magical convention box that will transport me thousands of miles away to another continent and the semi mythical Vegas. I log in and am greeted with a godawful blast of noise and lots of fast moving images. Reeling from the shock I manage to focus a little and figure out they’re trying to get me to buy something. I don’t know what it is but I reckon I probably don’t want to buy it.

The noise dies away and the image changes to something much more blurry and very much quieter. Five people are sitting behind a table facing me. They nod occasionally and pass something that looks like a stick of dynamite backwards and forwards along the row. This looks highly dangerous to me and seems to be pushing the concept of desperate fun just a little too far. However I determine who they are and realise they’re all quite sensible people and it’s entirely possible that they know what they’re doing. From right to left we have Claire Brialey, Steve Green, Jacq Monahan Marty Cantor and Rob Jackson. Funnily enough there’s no sound and it’s kind of eerie. It is soon explained to me in the chat box that there’s no sound so I settle back happy in the knowledge that it’s someone elses problem. Curt Phillips shows no such complacency though. He puts on his bat cape and swishes up to the phone. Moments later thanks to the magic of the telephone wires someone at the hotel is bustling through to inform the Corflu Glitter revellers that problems are afoot and tech wrangling is called for. And so it comes to pass that Tech Bill is called, all is fixed and well and we’re just in time for Claire to announce that she’s winding up the discussion so people will have time to do whatever they need to do between panels.

In the chat room there’s been quite a buzz of discussion. The hot topic is who’s going to stand for Taff in 2014. The worldcon in the UK seems to be quite an attraction and several people are hankering to attend. Lloyd Penney seems interested and Curt Phillips has already declared. Kat is interested too but it seems she’s got something called a double whammy and that’s going to hinder her somewhat. I hope it’s not contagious over the internet whatever it is. Randy is one of the few people in the chat room who’s not going to stand but I reckon that’s only because he’s won it already. I wonder if anyone has ever had the cheek to stand again for Taff after they’ve won it. It would take a lot of balls to do such a thing.

So, there’s the fan fund panel and it’s all jolly fun. I watch the Vegas fandom thing for a while but I’ve no idea what’s going on or who everybody is, so kinda lose interest after a while.

The chat room is always lively tho and that’s really the feature of this virtual convention in that we interact more comfortably with the other chatroom members than the people actually attending Corflu. The people in the chatroom are operating in the same way we are and we can all share the same frustrations with the strange not quite connected connectedness.

We’re wanting to connect with the people at the con. It’s the main attraction. It’s why we’re here but it still seems so far away. The concensus of opinion is that it’s better than having no connection to the con at all but it’s still a long way away from being a satisfactory experience. However, I think we can all see the possibilities and see just how good it could be in the future.

I go to bed I get up, I doze on the sofa, my body clock goes to pieces.
Vegas is 8 hours behind me here in Cambridge UK so this is going to be quite a perplexing weekend. I watch the video of the opening ceremony and am confronted initially by an Arnie Katz who is obviously a fraud as the real Arnie Katz only exists in line drawings and fantastical anecdotes created to frighten young fans. This imposter continues to try and pass himself off as Arnie and even has someone called Joyce

Arnie Katz and the Holy Podium

working along with him to try and make it all seem more plausible. They welcome us all and thank everyone for being wonderful and make plans to run off to South America with the takings from the convention. Terry Carr’s disembodied head appears and later Dean Martin’s disembodied head pops in for a quick chat. I need to do more research here to find out what the buggery was happening but disembodied heads at opening ceremonies sounds very jolly indeed. Maybe we can crowbar a few more zombies in there next time. From what I gathered during the chat it seems Andy Hooper (as it so often is) must take the majority of the blame here. The whole notion is taken just a stage further by the appearance of a fake Chris Garcia asking us to chop his head off so he can properly experience disembodied head fandom. Curiouser and curiouser.

There was the traditional lucky dip to choose the guest of honour for the convention. The winner was Claire Brialey. We didn’t get to see it but I can just imagine the look on her face when it was chosen. This was a very popular choice indeed.

There were awards handed out at the opening ceremony such as the bestowing of an honorary membership to the Vegrants for Andy Hooper who said he would do his best to uphold the values of the Vegrants as soon as anyone could figure out what they were. The other honorary membership went to Robert Lichtman. Then everyone was sent out to dinner in readiness for later Corflu fanac.

So, I’m enjoying it so far. I sit in my convention box watching the world go by. The world barely notices me but, most of the time there are other people in the box with me and we turn to each other for amusement as everyone ignores our presence and various tech difficulties manifest themselves.

Hurrah for Corflu – even with the frustrations of attending virtually it’s still great to be here.


Corflu Sunday

Before the banquet we spent a lot of time looking at the podium waiting for something to happen. This led to us forming a cult which worshipped and revered the podium and we did praise it to the highest.

7:17 johnnyeponymous: I like podium!
7:17 johnnyeponymous: MMMMMMMMM… liecake!
7:17 asfi235: Mmmm, podium
7:17 jimmowatt-2: Podium wants to be friends
7:17 PatVirzi: Chocolate podium!
7:18 DianCrayne: The ubiquitous glitter podium!!
7:18 PatVirzi: Featuring Mike, and Mike.
7:18 jimmowatt-2: Perfidious performing podium
7:18 Cartiledge-1: Podium with chitlings anbd grits

The fans ate a hearty meal but no offerings were made to the holy podium. Beware it may become angry with thee.

Claire has a thing going on with random cards and fistfuls of notes. She is reminiscing about fandom and Corflu and throwing in a whole bunch of name checks to various folks. She has a splendid speaking voice and although nervous seems to be enjoying the experience. Claire’s role today is to start the attendees on the way to an emotional climax. It seems she wants to be Eve Harvey when she grows up and Pat Charnock and Geri Sullivan. Claire gives Attitude a special mention as the first fanzine she began to receive regularly. Another card is chosen and she tells us of Murray Moore and the Egoboo salute. Then there are mountains, a beaver in the bathroom and she finishes her GoH speech to rapturous applause.

Pips09_html_m3dd692bbArnie Katz, Andy Hooper and the Podium
Andy Hooper steps up to do his thing with the Faan awards.
He vanishes behind the podium for a peculiarly long time and we worry that it has assumed he was an offering and absorbed him into the innards of this sacred structure. He emerges later saying something about reading certificates. Of course we’re not fooled. We know he was taken down into the underworld and fought his way through countless horrors to return to us with the Faan award certificates.

Easiest win was best fan website – Bill Burns efanzines site won that and no one at all was surprised.
Lloyd Penney didn’t get the letterhack award, which I think he was a little disappointed over. It was Robert Lichtman who came in first place in that one. In an aside Robert also made a splash at this convention by paying around 220 dollars for some AToM art over the internet. There was some debate over whether virtual attendees could bid in the auction and it was decided they could if they had bought an attending membership. Robert had done so and his bid was accepted.

Best perzine – Mike Meara, A Meara for Observers
Best single issue or anthology – Randy Byers, Alternative Pants
Best Fan Artist – Steve Stiles
Best Fan Writer – Mark Plummer
Best Genzine – Banana Wings
Fan Face number 1 – This award is a number crunching exercise totalling up the number of votes people get in all the different categories and Mark Plummer was the winner in this category.

Corflu XXX boom chicka wah wah in Portland Oregon was confirmed as the Corflu for next year.

And so – Corflu comes to an end and people begin to drift away. Lotsa folk gathered in the chatbox such as Katster, Doug, Christina, Dave Hicks, Peter Sullivan, Graham Charnock, Dian Crayne, Lloyd Penney, Chris Garcia and Geri Sullivan. A jolly bunch of people and twas good to share the virtual space with you all.

Thanks go to Gary Mattingley for the Corflu photos and also to Nelson Cunnington for the Novacon 41 photos.
I’ll be fascinated to hear from other people about their virtual con experiences and their projections for the future. What do we need, what do we want and what would we like as regards technologies to bring the concept to life. I shall explore these concepts further in the next issue.

Bye for now