March 30th, 2012


Goats! In Cloaks!

I never blog, unless it's to contradict myself, or I have something of interest to report. This is the latter. Just (and by just, I mean, still getting over the travel angst, which, since it involved Ryanair, and a 2:00 am drive up from Dublin, fog and chip'n'pin cardreader failure at a gas station, is considerable) back from Pyrkon, at Poznan in Poland. This is the national Polish SFF convention. It takes place in two of the buildings of Poznan World Trace Center, and caters for film, TV, manga, comics, anime, gaming, cosplay and books --the usual 21st century mix. This is it's 12th year

Last year, Pyotr, the organiser, got 4000 people through the door. This year the sun shone and there were 6,200 attendees. I'll say that again because your blink may have meant that you did not read that properly. 6,200. Paying attendees at that.

I was the foreign guest writer -- I get the feeling I may have been the first. If not, please feel free to correct. The concom are keen to do it again and to get Pyrkon to register more prominently on the international convention scene.

It was great. The sun shone, I had well attended panels, did a load of interviews and had a book signing queue that extended out of the hall. People who asked questions had read my books. Which were widely available in very handsome editions. And sure there are lots of kids running around in neko cat-ears and tails, but if even ten percent --hell, five percent, buy a book and read it, that's a load of readers. I like festival-type conventions. They get people in. There is much to be said for the fan-run con, which is meeting old friends and being together in a convivial atmosphere, but the festivals seem to get the kids in, and that's the audience that interests me. I was talking at Pyrkon about how SF has become primarily a visual medium and that the appurtenances of SF have become divorced from the spirit of SF, which is science or technology at at the core of the story, hence my little tweetburst about 'hard sf' --a term I think damages the genre because it makes it seem unapproachable, 'difficult' and overly macho, in our general anti-science culture. I disagree, but that's another post, if I can be arsed.

But Pyrkon was exciting and felt fresh and encouraged me that potential readers are still coming to the genre. Books aren't the entry drug any more. Books are the hard stuff, the crystal meth of genre. Yoyu start off on a few tokes to visual media, maybe get into costuming (very taken with one dude who had a quick think about what to go as, found a fez and a tweed jacket and hey presto! The fact that he looked like Boris Johnson made it all the more glorious) and some day someone offers you the stuff that comes wrapped up in paper (or laid out in lines on the screen of an e-reader). I do believe that books offer something no other form of the genre can. Some will reach them and be happy ever after. Some won't. That's cool. SF has become a broad church and I think that is good. (At the same tinme, I do feel that tastes within that broad church are narrowing and hardening, which is the antithesis of what reading is about. But in general, I do not feel I have lived and fought in vain.

The people were wonderful and welcoming, the organisation was excellent, I am the proud recipient of the Polish Post-Apocalyptic Babes Calendar, Team Ireland narrowly beat Team Poland at drinking, the hotel bar had a two lane skittles alley in the basement bar and the local radio in the breakfast room played hits from the 80s with so much reverb the vocalists sounded like they were at the bottom of a well; our room overlooked an old socialist era zoo, with lemurs and petting ponies and an aura of such melancholy hopefulness that made me go back and walk around every day.

Poznan has secret delights --two hundred people gathering as clockwork goats on the town hall clock butt heads twelve times at noon! The same goats featured in the posters --in cloaks. Goats in Cloaks! Goats! In Cloaks! In this town priests still wear birettas. Everyone is impossibly young and good looking (this is Poland) except for me.

Pyrkon has ambitions. I salute them and wish them every success in acheiving them. Good con, people.
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