Agony Column Exclusive Commentary


Still Rubbish, Trying to Make Up
Do It or Write It?
Both, belatedly.
The Agony Column for August 17, 2005
Commentary by Rick Kleffel
My kind of party favors. Well, I did pay for them. After all. Signed, ok?
If there was a theme to this year's Worldcon for us, it was that we were less compelled by the panels. Now some of this is due to the tourist factor, and some of it was due to the fact that I was working on a load of interviews. I have to say that the panels we attended were well run, organized and very entertaining. But we didn't find ourselves running around from panel to panel as we did in 2003. Is it possible to get acclimatized to convention panels? I don't know

That said, I'm reaching back through the faltering layers of gray matter and find Claire and I having quite a nice time in the SECC. Shocking though it seems, the food there was remarkably good. Having finished my interviews till noon, we wandered over to the main food stand and bought a couple of these grilled sandwiches that seem to be ubiquitous in the UK. I can see why; they're pretty good.

Now, the good news was that there was a panel I really wanted to see; the bad news was that I had to leave early because I had an interview with Terry Pratchett. But having finished our lunch, we wandered over to the Imaginary Cities panel, where Jeff Ford, Ian R. Macleod, Michael Swanwick and Claire Weaver talked about their efforts to create places we could travel to in our minds. China Miéville was expected but couldn’t make the panel. I've enjoyed work by Ford, Macleod and Swanwick, and though I've not read Weaver, this panel did the job of getting me interested in doing so.

The panel was held in two rooms melded together as one, and as such, it was pretty big and pretty packed. But it was well-moderated, the participants could be heard by those of us near the back, if not seen. Marring the panel somewhat was a constant influx and outflow of audience members, to which Claire and I would eventually contribute.

I was pleased to hear the name of Mervyn Peake and Gormenghast repeated more than a few times. To my mind, we are now in a period when Peake's work is exerting the kind of influence over writers that Tolkien's did in the seventies and eighties. However, the nature of Peake's work is such that the influence results not in bland imitations but rather in exceptionally imaginative extensions. Of course, Jeff Vandermeer's 'City of Saints and Madmen' was mentioned as one of these extensions. Ford commented on how Vandermeer's creation of an imaginary city inspired and enabled him to extend the boundaries of the novel in the regions of what is called the "mosaic novel". For all my whinging about panel at this particular con, this panel exemplified why we go to them and we love them.

Shortly before the end of the panel, we slipped outside and headed back to the press area, for my tête-à-tête with Terry Pratchett. Once again, in spite of the humble digs, Pratchett and I got on extremely well. Well, Pratchett, really, who is an absolute wonder. He's remarkably intelligent, caustically humorous and very, very generous. This is a deliberate strategy on his part; he tries to work with the off-beat and less-than-known to impart a bit of chance in his literary life. He did express some concerns about his latest novel; with a title like 'Thud!', he opined, it had better sell, otherwise the jokes to be made at its expenses were quite painfully obvious. I think he has little to worry about in this regard. Pratchett is the kind of author who only finds more and more readers, and I count myself among them.

My appointment with Pratchett was supposed to only be half an hour, but we talked -- on and off the tape -- for almost an hour. Claire and I walked about in a bit of a daze, looking at panels but none of them really grabbed us. Since we had a party to attend tonight -- our first ever Worldcon party -- we decided to head back a bit early and rest up. We trudged out to the tube station -- a not inconsiderable walk -- and then back from the station to our hotel, where we collapsed. I read a bit -- Gaiman's stellar latest -- and by the time I had a cup of coffee in me and was vaguely alert, it was time to leave.

Al Duncan and China Miéville at Worldcon Tor UK party. Photo courtesy Rebecca Saunders.
I'd been fortunate enough to be invited to the Pan Macmillan Tor UK party in the basement of the Borders bookstore in Glasgow. Claire and I had spotted it on one of earlier walks about town. In Glasgow, seven PM is early, so we set out at that time and arrived a bit late. Fortunately, the party was positively hopping. Unfortunately, it took me a while to get my bearings. Eventually, I spotted Gary Gibson, author of 'Angel Station', who introduced me to Peter Lavery. From there Peter became the most genial host I've ever had, taking me around to meet the entire Pan Macmillan crew. It was certainly a star-studded party, and I can see why they would be such a draw. I got to meet many of the writers I've been reading for years, and speak again with those I've met before.

Gary Gibson and Al Duncan at the tor UK party. Photo courtesy Rebecca Saunders.
It was a wonderful experience, but I feel a bit dicey writing about it in too much detail really. I mean, I could reel off the names of the authors I met, all of whom were very nice and quite generous with their time. I did manage to buy a few copies of Miéville's latest, 'Looking for Jake' and Hal Duncan's 'Vellum'. By the time we left it was nearly ten PM. Claire and I left with bags of books -- including Gary Gibson's latest, 'Against Gravity'.

Ten PM is late in California, but up in Glasgow, it's just barely got dark and folks are setting out for dinner. We found a small Italian restaurant with seats in the cellar and had one of the best four-course meals I've ever eaten. It was spectacular, and served by a genial waiter who looked properly Italian but dashed reality every time he talked in a Scottish accent. It was surreal and superb. A fitting description of our trip, thus far.