Monday, 18 August 2014

Nine Worlds Geekfest 2014

I'm now back at work after an awesome weekend (and following week off) at Nine Worlds geekfest. What is a geekfest? You may ask. We'll you're about to find out. A geekfest is a celebration (unsurprisingly) of all things geeky, from Doctor Who to SF and Fantasy books, from Steampunk and Science. It's actually quite hard to explain the scope of the event from the number of different tracks to the different activities you could do. Listen to an academic presentation, go see a panel of great authors be quizzed on genre fiction, get your books signed by said authors, learn to (I kid you not) water dance from the First Sword of Bravos (What do we say to people who don't get that reference? Not today), see a science comedy show, take part in a writing workshop, join in a LARP, dance away the night to a Queen tribute band and so, so much more. Whatever your choice of geekery (except boardgames this year *sad face*) Nine Worlds probably had something there for you. They even had a program item to do with (bubble) football.

As this post waxes lyrical, follow the link below to read more about my adventures.

What did I do?

Friday dawned bright and early in Heathrow and the first call of the con was one of the items I decided I had to see in advance, the All of the Books time travel panel. Why? It featured one of my favourite authors Catherine Webb/Kate Griffin/Claire North (she has all the pen names) and Paul Cornell a prolific Doctor Who writer (Fathers Day, Family of Blood and Human Nature) discussing the use of time travel in fiction, the real world and their novels. One of the key points from the discussion was that time travel needs to make emotional and or mechanical sense to work, otherwise it just falls flat on its face. After taking in some fictional physics we then did some real physics in the form of making home made spectroscopes with facilitators from the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. Ok, so I do spectroscopy all day, but this meant my better half will now be able to better understand the words I babble at him after work and the session has given me a way to better explain what I do to non-physicists! Plus I got to look at the spectrum of sunlight with something I made, which was pretty cool. We then went to a panel discussing what the Doctor's Privilege, which discussed the advantages and associated view points the Doctor has. Interestingly there is strongly identifiable theme in Doctor Who of reluctance for vast technological advancement of humanoid races. The cybermen are a warning against replacing our natural bodies with machines and (in the classic years) if you want to travel through time and aren't a time lord you should be ready to have a bad time. Our final 2 activities of the night were something you might do on a more normal holiday; sample some rather nice drinks and go to a gig. The drinks were provided in the form of a tasting a set of weird and wonderful Alchemist Dreams liqueurs with flavours as diverse as A Canadian Forest in Winter to a Chocolate Orange Mocha and I now have a lovely bottle of colour changing liqueur on my shelf at home, and know more about making liquors. To top the day off, we went to the NineWorlds party, and grooved away to Queen tribute band Rhapsody.  

Saturday, was a big day. Not only was there so much to choose from all happening at once, but one of my friends was going to be reading from her d├ębut novel in the evening, kind of because I convinced her it would be a good idea. So it felt a bit like if it went wrong I would at least be partly responsible... All the same, I didn't really have chance to worry about that during most of the day. I kicked things off with yet more Who related discussion, this time looking at whether continuity matters in Doctor Who (no because it's about time travellers re-writing history, and a certain previous attempt to 'fix' continuity went very, very, badly. Also, wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey). My next stop was back with All of The Books and "Dragons vs Werewolves vs Vampires vs Warlocks: The Ultimate Deathmatch Smackdown", featuring Elizabeth Bear (Dragons), Joanne Harris (Vampires), Gail Carriger (Werewolves) and Scott Lynch (Warlocks) battling to the death... I mean thoroughly debating the merits of each supernatural monster. Unsurprisingly dragons won because, well, dragons; however Joanne had a pretty amazing argument for vampires. But, the most entertaining offering came from Scott Lynch, with him extolling the virtues of warlocks, in particular their jazz hands magic style and versatility in all the things. Interestingly the longer the panel went on the more panelists started their sentences with "Well  we would... by we I mean they would" in particular Scott was most partial to doing this so if you every see Scott Lynch use jazz hands in your direction, look out for the magic!
After a talk about multi-universe works, we went to a very interesting Experiential Food Talk. What is experiential food? It's creating art and, unsurprisingly, experiences. We tasted some rather interesting things, including paper to tell if you're a super-taster, a powder to test the range of taste bud areas and their strengths and liqueurs made from water taken from the air in places like Sir Winston Churchill's stationary cupboard and Arthur Conan Doyle's house. They were... Interesting, but highly creative! The next item on the list was steampunk gin appreciation, pretty much as it sounds, you drink gin with, well steampunks. And I became one of the first people in the world to taste a brand new gin! After the gin, we had one final item of the day, the New Voices panel, featuring my friend. I knew she could do it, I made sure her voice was ready to go (yey drama) and she smashed it. In my opinion she gave the best reading of the night (but I may be biased) and I got to see some other new authors I should definitely look out for.

The last day of a convention is always a mixture of happy and sad. Happy because there is yet more content for you to enjoy and sad because it's all about to come to an end. We had quite a thoughtful start to the day with a bit of neuroscience (of swearing and illusions), a set of academic panels on video games (one on representation in games, one on anti-simulation) and a talk on gamification of work tasks. The main event of the afternoon was "Epic Fantasy: The Panel of Prophecy", featuring Den Patrick, Scott Lynch, Rebecca Levene, Elizabeth Bear and Gaie Sebold. It was a really interesting look about some of the big fantasy tropes, hated and otherwise, and extremely quoteable, with the quote of the talk being "If your supernatural menace is less effective than two guys with $50 and a baseball bat, you need to rethink your supernatural menace", from you guessed it, Scott Lynch. With only 2 program items left we went for more video games talks looking at how the physical game environment can tell a story (I'll be looking out for it in future) and what makes a good puzzle game (the general gist being a puzzle which is solveable, or if you can't work it out the solution makes you say "Ahhh,  I see!" not "What? What!? WHAT!?").  To round the weekend off, we went to see the fabulous Helen Keen's science comedy show, this year entitled "Robot Women of Tomorrow", taking an amusing look at the future of Robotics. And with that the geeky wonderland closed for a year and we waved good by to the geekfest.


Was it good?

I've kind of done a lot of condensing in terms of what happened at the con. I took notes at some panels so I could go on about how Paul Cornell said it really bugged him that he couldn't get the emotional and mechanical aspects of time travel right in Father's Day and that they had several flip charts trying to put it together. Or how I had a multiplayer thumb war with Catherine Webb and lost. But that's just more detail and its hard to attach feelings to because I would be repeating myself over and over again. I loved the vast majority of the events I took part in. There were 2 that weren't as good as they could have been for me, one because of rudeness from the panel members and audience and an irrelevant to discussion concept dominating the later half of that panel. The other was fine but disappointing, as it simply outlined something and didn't provide any insight or depth, the title was basically the talk, although the comments after provided useful and interesting information.

My highlights were the author panels I went to. I really enjoy hearing from the people who create the things I love and it's facinating to get an insight into his they work. I think it is pretty clear from my account of the con that the panels Scott Lynch did were probably my favourites. I'm a recent reader of the Lies of Locke Lamora (if you like Game of Thrones you may think that Locke Lamora is better) and I'm glad I started reading before the convention, so I could make the most of the panels, and meeting Scott at the book signing. I also loved seeing my friend excel at her reading, it was a very proud moment. Finally, it was an added bonus that I learnt things! So I think I came back knowing a little more about certain subjects than I did before. In many ways, it is the diversity of events that makes Nine Worlds so special. It is diverse in scope and the event itself is incredibly inclusive and welcoming, although there are people better placed than me to tell you about that. There are so many things you can do and so little time. I must say, when I saw the released line up, I was a little disappointed compared to the line up they had last year. But, in the end, that didn't matter, the content was fantastic and I had an even better time than in 2013. The only thing lacking was a board gaming and rpg track, which I really hope they reinstate for 2015. However, I do wonder what I would have missed to be able to fit some gaming in. 

NineWorlds 2014 was an amazing success, I can't wait for NineWorlds 2015. At least I only have to wait 2 weeks to go to my next convention. Roll on SFCC!

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