Sunday, 20 July 2014

Edge Lit 3

Yesterday was Edge Lit 3 up in Derby at the Quad. Its a nice little convention and always worth a visit and this year was especially attractive as one of my favourite authors, Charles Stross, was going to be there. I can't write about everything as there's always a lot going on and because a night of bad sleep and the bad weather led to us leaving early (at about 4.00pm).

We got there a little late and slipped into the first panel, which was about ghost in modern horror. The panel talked about the ghost story in general, and felt that short stories were the ghost's natural environment; struggling to sustain suspense for a whole novel as they work with one single trick. The authors also felt that mood was the most important part of the story and that a sign of a good writing session was if they had creeped themselves out. There was some discussion about the ways the different writers founded their stories; some working from images and working around them whilst characters and plot came first for others.
During the proceedings, people were encouraged to put forward to their own experiences with ghosts and wound around those experiences.  For instance, one woman's experience prompted a discussion of children in ghost stories and the fact that in fiction the ghosts are usually at least a century dead. Perhaps the most impressive experience was one of the panel's who had seen a Roman Legion march through his bedroom when he was sick as a child.

Books were recommended - Roger Clark's Natural History of Ghosts and Andre Norton's Small Shadow Creeps.

The Science Fiction panel was ostensibly about how much science you need to write SF. This was perhaps something the panel was not qualified to answer, as none of the authors had a hard science background; to the extent that Charles Stross, who was one of the authors standing in for John Courtney Grimwood, said they were 'all imposters.'  There was a discussion of their backgrounds, and how important they had found science in their writing. In general, they agreed that it was far more important to be internally consistent and have good writing than perfect science, as long as there was some research going on.

In addition, the issue of keeping up with scientific developments was discussed. Rod Rees said he had issues with imaging a plausible future because he felt that by 2050 humanity would be so different that we might not recognise our future selves. To say that the rest of the authors disagreed was an understatement. Tricia Sullivan said that she never tries to project a future because she's always writing about today's issues, whilst Jaine Fenn said that was the attraction of writing about the far future because she could use her own baseline.

Despite this assertion that you didn't need much science in S.F. the conversation turned to which authors were best at getting science into their books. Of the panellists both Tricia and Sullivan and Charles Stross were praised, whilst Madeleine Ashby's Company Town was praised along with Paul McCauley's Evening Empire books.

Nonfiction books were also mentioned, in the form of  Thomas B Stafford's book on the Apollo programme, and a book about algorithms which looked at how professions would be changed by reliable computer algorithms (something we're starting to see now).

Finally, the panel gathered together advice for new writers, which was broadly about keeping writing, not worrying too much about science and focusing on good fiction not good science as long as it's not completely implausible and hangs together all right. Tricia Sullivan said that you didn't even have to worry about originality, pathfinders seldom sold as well as people working in established niches.

After this my friend Theresa Derwin underwent a head shave for a breast cancer charity, so we went to that before dashing out to get lunch.

14.00 saw a reading and Q&A with Charles Stross. He read from the Annihilation Score, the sixth Laundry Files book which comes out next year in hardback (seriously get these books, they're brilliant). He talked about his writing process, the Merchant Princes novels and the way the Laundry is shaping up. All in all he was clever, pithy and full of good comments, literally rubbing his hands together as he discussed the way his new Merchant Princes novels were a post Edward Snowden satire.

Finally, we attended the 'new era in fantasy' panel, where a group of authors discussed whether a new fantasy era was on the horizon. This was the hardest panel for me. Eve nodded off during it and the fact that two members of the panel weren't really fantasy writers kind of leeched the discussion a bit. I felt that it needed a few more heavy hitters to give it some weight and whilst I like Young Adult and vampire fiction, they cropped up a bit too much for my liking. Joe Abercrombie, he who writes from 'deep truth', was a good panellist, but there was very little dissent to his opinions which was a shame and some sort of debate would have been nice.

The last part of the day was getting some books signed by Charles Stross prior to heading into the rain and dodging the carnival (which was too damn loud, making it unpleasant and difficult to speak to people). A good day and hopefully next year it'll be even better and I'll catch up with people like Rob Harkess!