Legend has it that it’s always sunny at Microcon. That held true even this year, when the event was a week earlier due to some darkly-hinted-at trouble with, of all things, folk dancers. Never turn your back on a morris man…
Sadly, I could only get down to Exeter for the Saturday of Microcon 30. Exeter University SF Society’s annual shindig has now been running for an incredible thirty years, and previous guests have included Terry Pratchett and Iain M Banks. But it’s still a select gathering, more of a bijou con-ette than a full-on con, and it’s all the nicer for its exclusivity.
This year’s con opened with long-time MicroCon supported and SF journalist Steve Green presenting a series of award-winning short films, which ranged in tone (and quality) from creepy to comic. “Hatch” was an entertaining short with no dialogue about an alien egg, there was a well-drawn Spanish animation with poor audio, an unnerving haunted house story, and something I can’t tell you about because he wasn’t technically allowed to show it*
Then Philip Reeve, author of the Mortal Engines series and Larklight, talked about his work and his influences, how he had made the move from illustration to novel writing, and how he had fallen into being a children’s author almost by accident. Municipal Darwinism, and the world of Hungry Cities, began with a doodle and a “what if”, which I suspect is how most really good stories begin…
There was a two hour break for lunch, in the pub, which had my friend Cheryl sighing “students!” (I’d like it noted that we will not be incorporating a two-hour lunch break into BristolCon, mainly because Meg won’t allow it 😉 ) Following lunch, and the long slog back up the hill, Doctor Who author Nick Walters (Reckless Engineering) interviewed former Doctor Who companion (“we were called assistants in those days!”) Anneke Wills, who played Polly and was there at the regeneration of William Hartnell
into Patrick Troughton. Anneke was an entertaining interview subject, funny and self-deprecating, with an air of mischief about her as she dished the dirt on Hartnell (who thought nobody could possibly replace him in the role of the Doctor, because he was so talented – a thespian, don’t you know?)
Anneke and Nick stayed on for the following panel, where they were joined by cryptozoologist and Who fan Richard Freeman to discuss what makes a good Doctor Who companion / assistant, with plenty of input from the audience. The conclusion reached was that, in a series that has run on-and-off for fifty years and expanded into audio books, novels and comics, everything you could think of (from Nazis in the Tardis to androids to robot parrots) has already been done, but that it would be nice to see a companion from another culture than a western, earth-based, 20th century one, and that the word “feisty”, when applied to companions, was much over-used.
After a brief break for photos and to allow Anneke to sell copies of her autobiography ( http://www.amazon.co.uk/Self-Portrait-Journey-Actress-Swinging/dp/0955714907/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1330343254&sr=8-1 ), Thursday Next author Jasper Fforde stepped up to the plate. Like Philip Reeve, he had come into
novel writing through a roundabout route, working as a film cameraman and focus puller on films like “Goldeneye” and “The Mask of Zorro”. He stressed that as because he wanted in some way to be involved in Story (with a capital S) and that the tree of Story has many branches. He talked about his writing techniques, and how he sets himself narrative challenges (which seem to involve bananas more than is strictly healthy).
Richard Freeman came back to finish the day’s programming. As a crypotzoologist, his job involves travelling the world looking for creatures that may not actually exist, including the Mongolian Death Worm, and the Yeti. recently he has made several trips to Sumatra in search of the fabled orang-pendek, which may be a previously undiscovered great ape, or possibly a hominid. Despite several trips and a few near-misses, Freeman and his team have yet to confirm the existence of the elusive orang-pendek, but his continued efforts make entertaining listening, and hopefully his enthusiasm and persistence in the face of crumbling rafts, inaccessible jungle, and truly revolting food will eventually pay off.
(You can find out more about the ongoing hunt for the orang-pendek here : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orang-pendek )
Sadly, I hade to leave before the evening’s entertainment (back to the pub, for a meal and a quiz), but hopefully I will be able to return for Microcon 31. Jeremy and his team did an excellent job this year, and I’m looking forward to many more Microcons!
*But it might have been something similar to this :