Agony Column Exclusive Commentary



UK Trip Report
Friday August 9 AM
Worldcon Day 2a

Commentary by Rick Kleffel

My plan going forward, now that I'm back from vacation, is to move in two streams; to slowly write about all the stuff of a literary nature that happened on the vacation -- which covers most of it -- and to continue on my normal news coverage. That said, here's a bit of a dilemma.

Piles of books from the con.

Books from the con -- pretty restrained, I felt.

Piles of books at home.

I guess it's not so much of a dilemma -- I'll cover the con stuff in the con reports and the packages that piled up in the rolling shelves and the news pages. Of course, one more wrinkle is that I no longer have my Nikon BlurOMatic. It's gone on vacation. Whatever.

So, the deal is is that I is rubbish. I was so busy at the con that I was really, literally not able to do much beyond go and come back. Part of this was the location; we had to hoof it to the train station bearing laptop and recording equipment, ride the train, then stroll, stroll for your life to the SECC from the train station, a good bit itself. At the con, I couldn’t get any wifi happening without something like an £80 charge; having already popped for it at the hotel, I couldn’t afford both places.

So let's rewind back to Friday morning. I had scheduled an interview with Ian McDonald at 8 AM in his hotel room. That had Claire and I running uphill in Glasgow, past modern skyscrapers and nineteenth century stone wonders for half a mile on like no sleep, lugging the luggable. McDonald was staying at a hotel with an absolutely spectacular view. We picked him up in the bottom-floor restaurant, and he led us up to his room and that view -- that view of Glasgow, a big city shot through with aged buildings. We sat, cued up the wonder recorder and fired up for an interview. I deliberately asked him to cover some of the ground we covered in our print interview, and he did so with grace. He was a wonderfully quiet-spoken man. We spoke about the international flavor of his work and he talked about his upcoming trip to Brazil to research his next book. Given how utterly great 'River of Gods' was, I can hardly wait to read this upcoming work. But in the tradition of "No rest for the wicked" (or the overbooked), we didn't have much time to hang about afterwards. I had interviews scheduled at the Press Room in the convention for much of the morning, starting at 10 AM. That left us just enough time to run back down to Glasgow Central Train station -- a beautiful, airy building, with floors scraped clean by men wielding 8-inch wide scrapers.

That floor is scraped clean.

Might I digress for a moment? You know, I loved the UK, but one thing I found puzzling was the lack of public trashcans. It became a theme of our trip. Claire and I stood there in the train station, and damn if we couldn’t find a trash can anywhere other than in an American fast food franchise. It was weird, but it explained the guys with the eight-inch blades. Of course, we Californians are probably hyper trash-aware. The first thing I did when I got home was to take a load of trash to the dump. But more on that later.

A mystery solved! Both Alastair Reynolds and Jeff Vandermeer wrote to tell me why there are no trash cans in the railway stations in the UK. In retrospect it should have been obvious: at some point in the recent past, folks got into the habit of putting bombs in them. How to stop this? Get rid of the trash cans. Understandable and regrettable, but take a look at that picture. That station was remarkably clean, as were most of the other public spaces we saw. So travel hath duly broadened my tiny mind. I love this job! If only it paid.

The rides to the SECC became a part of our daily lives; it took about forty minutes from the time we walked out the door of our hotel room to the time that we finally huffed down the long ramp, past the pavement and into the SECC. The distance really changed the flavor of the convention for us; it was much less intimate for those of us who had not managed to book rooms in the Moat House(?) which was actually on the SECC grounds, and less convenient and intimate than the 2003 Torcon.

But once you hit that entrance corridor, all the misgivings faded away. The SECC had lovely concourses and they really facilitated interaction with the guests. It wasn't so crowded that you couldn't talk. A group could gather and yak without obstructing traffic, which could add to or subtract from the chatting circle in an elegant fashion. Nice, very nice.

The press interaction at Worldcon, and the team handling them were both great. Laurie Mann and Chris Barkley were outstandingly helpful. They made my job, getting interviews, much, much easier. The facilities for the interviews...well, those were another story.

Behind the press front office was a maze of offices, each with a door that beeped every time it was opened. The interview room was located behind these offices, and between the opening doors, the banging shut doors and the constant beeping, my nerves were rather shot as I recorded the interviews. I can only thank whatever powers that be in the world of dynamic microphones that the RE-150 I used worked so well.

Justina smiles in the dungeon-like interview cavern.
Friday morning at 10 AM found me with my first interview, Justina Robson. (Rob-sun, not Robe-sun, as I unfortunately presumed. Deal with it, Rick!) She was every bit as fascinating as I might have presumed, and then some.

Before I go on, let me describe this interview room. Imagine your cubicle at work, made slightly larger. Cover it with a cubicle wall that makes you feel rather claustrophobic. Light it with a single bulb designed to accentuate the dingy nature of your digs. Put in four chairs and a table; comfortable but uninviting. Add annoying background noises. What I'm trying to suggest here is that the authors really did well to be so lively and entertaining in surrounding that were less than felicitous.

Justina and I talked about 'Silver Screen', and 'Mappa Mundi'; she even mentioned the real Mappa Mundi, in a cathedral at Hereford that was on my visiting agenda. We also talked about her forthcoming book, 'Living Next Door to the God of Love'. It's a stand-alone follow-up to 'Natural History', and sounds just as interesting as her alien presences worm their way into human culture, and allow her carefully drawn characters to attempt to dream up perfection. But what happens if you can't dream up perfection, even given all the tools? What does that make you? It makes Robson one of my favorite writers.

Connie Willis imagining Shakespeare with clones.
I cooled my heels and fussed with my laptop while waiting for my next guest, Connie Willis. What a treasure Connie Willis is for science fiction literature! It's no wonder that she's the Guest of Honor at the inaccurately named LACon IV. (It's further from LA to Anaheim than it is from Glasgow to Edinburgh. I mean, why not call it Anacon I? Whatever!) Willis is so lively, so witty and so interesting that she lights up even the dingiest cellar, and she hot-wired the interview room with her wit and enthusiasm. She's also interested in humor, deeply entranced by it, and talked to me of Shakespeare's clones and her own search to solve the mystery of what happened to Agatha Christie during the two weeks that she disappeared. Willis was a delight, and she's a perfect experience for those who don’t have a lot of experience with the genre.

I ended up talking to Charlie Stross and Alastair Reynolds at the same time; that is to say that Al came a bit early, while I was still waiting for Charlie and hung out while I interviewed Stross. Charlie had already been on a number of news services, and in spite of this he gave me a really lively response to my questions. What I found most fascinating was the contrast between Al and Charlie, two of our leading space operaticists. Charlie precise and clipped, Al expansive and easygoing. Both were quite wonderful.

At noon, Claire and I popped out of our tomb to experience the rest of the day...which you'll have to hear about tomorrow, if I'm to return to the present, as well as cover the past. Back in a flash with the rest of our day , including a rocking party at Borders books for Tor UK.