Eggbox

Eggbox in Transit - soon to be settled again!

Month: April 2010

Anatomy of a… thing.

The strange things I make for games…

What is it?

For the April 2010 Runnymede Mortals game, my players didn’t realise it, but they were on the cusp of a fairly significant moment. I always try to avoid having to say “you see a…”, so I decided to make a prop for a significant element of the game. I’m not going to go into any detail about what the prop actually is, as that’s a discussion for my players to have in the game rather than on the internet. However, I will tell you that the prop in question ended up looking like this:

I think I’ll call him Arty. This is how I made him.

Stage one – Evening – Spine and Skull

The first step I took in building arty was to make a start on his skeleton – building a basic frame to help him hold his shape. Because I knew I was going to need to suspend him from a fairly flimsy structure, I wanted him to be nice and light, so I settled on a skeleton made of foamboard. I used about one and two-thirds A1 sheets of the stuff, and another A2 sheet. I could have used less, but I was making it all up as I went along… which doesn’t make for neatly tessellating shapes!

Pic 1 - cross sections

To start with, I cut out a cross section of head, neck and torso – like I’d taken a vertical slice through a person running front to back. I then drew round this to cut a duplicate piece. These would make the “spine” section and the start of the skull.

Pic 2 - duplicate pieces

Then, as the next step, I started to make horizontal cross section pieces to slot into the spine (pic three).

Pic 3 - horizontal cross sections

When I did this, I had to take care that the sizes would match up with the spine. I then cut slots into both the horizontal sections and the spine (pic four).

Pic 4 - slots

This shows the first horizontal section slotted into one half of the spine.

Pic 5 - slotted together

Once I’d got started this way, I just cut out new sections and slotted them together until I had something head shaped.

Pic 6 - completed(ish) skull

This pic shows the completed skull section. Or more accurately, it shows the first version of it. I replaced the jaw section and the nose later – I’d not made the jaw long enough to cater for an open mouth, and the nose was too wobbly so I needed to cut a new one.

That lot turned out to be a good three or four hours of work, so I called it a day there. It probably would have been quicker, but stopping to take photos every step of the way takes time. If I’m going to do this, I need an assistant to do the camera work.

Stage Two – Evening – Rest of Skeleton

A few days later, I had an evening spare and time was starting to press on, so I thought I’d better get back on with it. Time being an issue, I didn’t take photos every step of the way, so there are a few stages skipped, and the photos this time are just of the end result.

The next stage of work was to build the ribcage and shoulders. Again, this was achieved by cutting foamboard horizontal sections for the most part. The only exceptions were the shoulders and the collarbones, which were sloped sections, each going halfway in to the body. You can just about make them out in the pic below.

Pic 7 - ribcage and shoulders

After the ribcage and shoulders were done, I added the arms. This was a bit more tricky as I’d decided I couldn’t get a sturdy enough join using foamboard, and I wouldn’t be able to make appropriately round arms. So I made the arms using a couple of tubes made of chickenwire, with a couple of rectangles of chickenwire joined on to cover the top of the joins to the foamboard shoulder sections. You can see these pretty well in the pics below.

Pic 8 - shoulders
Pic 9 - collarbones

Next came a bit that you can’t really see, but which was pretty important. I needed to be able to pour water into Arty’s mouth and have it drip slowly out of the bottom of his ribcage. It’s probably best not to ask why, but it’s very relevant to the game’s plot. So I needed to make a waterproof mouth and throat, and to run a waterproof tube down his middle and out of the bottom. To do this, I found an old, cheap picnic champagne flute and chopped the bottom off it. Conveniently, I had some rubber tubing that fitted neatly over the end that was left – the straight bit where the conical flute had been meant to slot into a flat base.

I then fed the tube through Arty’s body and rammed the flute into his mouth so that its lip was flush with his jaw plate, joined it up with the tube and then gaffered it all in place. Just to tidy it up a bit more, I then used a bit more of the rubber tube to make arty some lips so that he didn’t have a totally round mouth. Naturally, these were affixed with more gaffer tape. There is nothing it cannot do.

The last job I did at this point was to add the initial layer of skin. This was achieved with two materials – the great god gaffer tape and the well known modelling material clingfilm. Wrapping something this weirdly shaped in clingfilm isn’t the easiest job in the world, and to make it hold shape a bit better I occasionally had to hold it in front of a fan heater to make it shrink. Still, it seemed to do the job. I ended up with a reasonable shape that I’d be able to form a better skin onto later. Even though Arty was in a bit more of a fragile state at this point, it was time to call it a day.

Stage Three – Evening, Morning, Noon and Night – Skin & Paint

By now it was friday evening and Arty needed to be ready for … so time was even more tight. I still had to give Arty and outer skin and paint him. Every step of this required not only time to put it together, but also drying time. I can cut corners and simplify construction all I like, but when it comes to things taking time to dry, there’s only so much I can do.

Hence, the only photos after this point are of the finished article. Or nearly finished, anyway. Arty’s back still looks like papier maché at this point, but that’s the last of the photos I took.

Pic 10 - Finished

Odyssey 2010 – Day 4

Morning…

Breakfast & Checkout

The morning of this fourth and final day of Eastercon began slowly for me. Leaving the hotel and returning the previous night had knocked me for six and had somehow broken the “can just keep going” spell… and my body was now declining to cooperate. However, I needed my breakfast and had to be checked out of the hotel by 11am, so I forced myself through a quick shower and on down to the dining room.

I didn’t manage to consume as much breakfast this time – after three days of gluttonous consumption of fried breakfasts, I think my guts had decided enough was enough, and made me stop at just a small plate of fry-up and a bowl of fruit.

Checking out was also uneventful, but did include the slight juggling act of going and cramming my stuff into my car, and also meeting up with ChrisT (who was staying in a different hotel) so he could cram his stuff into my car as well as I was giving him a lift home.

Turning Manga & Anime Into Live Action – Does It Work?

Panel: Dan, James Swallow, Kat Takenaka, Gaspode (Moderator)

This was another of those rambling “we’re deliberately not sticking entirely to the topic” panels – largely as the topic as written was really quite narrow. Instead they went on to any kind of adaptation or conversion of anime and manga – including dubbing and subtitles. I think this gambit worked, as it meant the panel stayed interesting throughout, where otherwise it might have flagged somewhat.

Humour in SF and Fantasy

Panel: Raven Dane, Esther Friesner, John Coxon (moderator), Donna Scott, Jonny Nexus

I’ve met Jonny Nexus a couple of times through some local gaming cons a long time ago… one of which I accidentally ended up co-running (really was an accident – I volunteered to help on the desk and ended up co-running it). He gave that particular con the friendliest and most well deserved bad review I’ve ever encountered. I also keep seeing John Coxon’s name and face at all kinds of things that I turn up to… although I have no real idea why. Maybe we’re inadvertently stalking each other or something. It’s the peril of gamers and SF fans who are also in some way computer / gadget geeks. I’ve also got a nagging “have I met you before?” feeling about Donna Scott – but again – no idea why. Esther Freisner, I remember reading one of her books a long time ago (“Here Be Demons”, I think)… Raven Dane was the only person who was undoubtedly new to me.

The discussion covered topics such as the difference between fiction with humour in and comic fiction. In one case you inject humour into a story and that humour is secondary to the story, in the other case you take the humour and make the story secondary, fitting it around a series of gags or sketches. Examples of the latter were early Pratchett and the Hitchhiker’s books. Examples of the former were the later Pratchett books.

There was also a discussion about how it’s hard to break into comic SF and Fantasy as the market is seen as being “full”, with about 90% taken up with Pratchett and the other established authors scrabbling for the remaining 10%. The point was raised about Pterry’s writing slowing, and the possibility of a gap opening, but that was countered by the fact that Douglas Adams has sold more since he died than he ever did whilst he was alive. It was also suggested that the market being “full” is probably also nonsense anyway – it’s just trhat publishers and marketers aren’t prepared to put money behind growing the market… which I think is probably closer to the truth.

Afternoon

Old Time Radio Club: Operation Tomorrow

I’ve always been a fan of live performance audio drama, and the idea of retro-style SF presented in this manner was greatly appealing. So I went along to this, which was a fantastic performance of a time-travel story where a scientist is sent into the future to bring back news about any catastrophes that should be avoided. It reminded me very much of The Outer Limits or The Twilight Zone, and was highly entertaining to watch. It’s amazing how many small and subtle sound effects are added in from the foley table that if you just wouldn’t notice if you weren’t paying attention… but would notice the absence of it they weren’t there!

If you get the chance to see these guys at any point, take it. They’re awesome. Their shows were sorely underattended at this Eastercon, which I think was a crying shame as I suspect a great many more folks would have appreciated them.

Old Time Radio Club: They Walk Amongst Us Here

I enjoyed the first of these so much that I stuck around for the second… which followed the crew of a spaceship landing on a planet to survey it for life, and finding that things turned sour soon after landing. Again, highly entertaining, and whilst it had some humour in it, it was played straight. Hats off to the cast for maintaining straight faces – it can’t have been easy.

I’ll be keeping an eye out for The Old Time Radio Club in future, and if I get the chance to see them again, I’ll be taking it!

Clanger Symposium: Study of a Knitted Alien Race

This was a highlight of the con for me. I went along entirely on a whim, and was so thoroughly glad I did. From 1969 to 1972, Professor Postgate recorded a series of studies of this alien race. These are the only existing records of these creatures and the events that transpired over the course of those studies.

This programme item was a series of scientific presentations in which extrapolations are drawn from the evidence in those recordings to expand scientific understanding of these beings. Initially, we had an overview of the physics and geology of the clanger homeworld, suggesting that the planet itself has a 10mm neutronium core, and a radius of around 12 metres. This produces a surface gravity of around 0.2g and a gravity of 1.6g at the bottom of the habitable range under the surface – roughly 8m down. It was explained in a later presentation that the effects of tidal forces are not visible upon the clangers themselves as they are “squishy”.

Further presentations covered the topics of ferro-poultry engineering and clanger reproduction. In the latter it was revealed that the clanger equivalant of DNA is known as KNT and contains segments which are referred to as doubledrop and purl, with end segments referred to as caston and castoff.

Overall, this was an enlightening and engaging programme item, and one that I would recommend to anyone with an interest in the works of professor Postgate.

Closing Ceremony & Departure

There’s not much that I can really say about a closing ceremony… it was the official close of the con, although programme items continued after it and well into monday night. The closing ceremony involved thanking everyone and presenting various prizes and awards… and killing all the gophers in their red shirts, of course. A fine tradition.

I stuck around for one more panel after this – “Researching Fantasy – How do you research the imaginary”, but I didn’t get any photos or notes, and I wasn’t really alive enough to remember it. There were programme items that I still wanted to get to after this – particularly a film at 8pm that I wanted to see what it might have been. Which film it was hadn’t been announced, but it was from a list that contained several interesting options, one of which I’d already seen. But that wasn’t until 8pm and I wasn’t going to be fit to drive home much longer… so I decided to draw a line under it and flee to non-hotel food and my bed.

Thus ended Odyssey 2010 for me.

Odyssey 2010 – Day 3

Morning…

A Knife! A Knife! My Kingdom for a Knife! (AKA: Breakfast)

The food was being brought out at a reasonably adeuate rate, so I was able to have the full fry-up, toast and fruit extravaganza… which, as mentioned in my saturday writeup was slightly underwhelming but still perfectly adequate. However, this time there seemed to be a distinct absence of knives. It wasn’t immedialy obvious at first due to the “pot luck cutlery” approach the hotel used – displaying the cutlery handles only, so you couldn’t see what you had until you’d pulled it out of the containing napkin to look. Annoyingly, every time you asked a member of staff for a knife, they’d nod and wander off, then later be seen bringing out more food… and no knives. Every now and then, one of them would wander over and check to see if any had miraculously appeared, and would then wander off and reappear… with no knives.

Eventually, when I was halfway through eating with just a fork, some knives did appear. I pity anybody who was sat further into the room, as I don’t think they’d made it to the breakfast buffet table before the poor chap carrying them had been swamped with people demanding cutlery. I was sat right next to the door he came in through and there were people who’d got to him before I did!

Panel: Big Biology – What are the biggest biological tropes in SF

I attempted to attend this panel, but it was heavy duty thinky stuff. At 10am. I should have known better! It sounded interesting. It probably was interesting, but my brain hadn’t finished its POST yet, let alone fully booted. I stayed about 20 minutes then quietly slipped out. I needed something to kick me to life, so I grabbed something that was a passable imitation of a cup of tea and had a bit of a chat with a few folks whilst waiting for the next item to start.

Guest of Honour Talk: Alastair Reynolds

I’d been quite looking forward to this item, as I’m something of an Alastair Reynolds fan… but the blurb in the readme did look suspiciously similar to what he’d presented at Picocon in February, so I wasn’t going to be overly worried if I missed it. As it happens, I’m reliably informed that it was quite similar, although still very interesting, but with the main difference being the addition of some technical issues.

Not really a problem for me. I was expecting to have to duck out early to go and meet Beth (t’other half) who was coming along for the day, and so had deliberately garbbed a truly sucky seat near an exit. Sure enough, just as the first round of technical issues got resolved, I got an “I’ve arrived” text message. So I pulled the ripcord and discreetly baled out of the talk to go and meet her.

Beth’s never been to an Eastercon (or anything similar) before, so we spent the rest of this slot making sure we knew what we were doing, and getting some kind of idea of where & when we’d meet up and what programme items we both wanted to go to. Beth was keen to go to a number of the less SFnal items, whilst I was keen to go to the more SFnal ones… this didn’t surprise me at all, and there was enough on that it wasn’t a problem.

Medieval Combat and Rapier Demonstration by the SCA

Beth’s a (currently slightly lapsed) re-enactor. I’m an ex-fencer and (lapsed) rubber sword LARPer. Bearing those facts in mind, we kind of had to go to this. It was interesting enough, although the blurb was a little misleading as there wasn’t much by way of rapier, which was our main interest. However, it was a good and entertaining item – it’s not often you get to see armoured people beating the hell out of each other in a wood-panelled hotel function room with chandelier lighting.

All good fun, basically.

Afternoon

Panel: Approaches to Writing – Iain M Banks & Ken Macleod

I know I went to this panel, but clearly I was caught in a temporal anomaly or somesuch, as I have no recollection of it at all beyond the fact that I was there. I also have no notes from it, and no photos, which is just plain weird.

I’m sure it was good, and it’s merely that some kind of godlike post-singularity AI has reached back and edited it out of my memories for some reason.

Pyrotechnics: And The Walls Came Tumbling Down

Stephen Miller delivered an interesting and entertaining presentation (with live demonstrations) about pyrotechnics for film and TV. In the talk, he was working through a number of effects shots from the film “The Fall” (which I now want to see!)… but he started with a couple of more generic demonstrations. The first was a demonstration of why all mobiles had to be turned off – he simply set up a small explosive behind safety screens on the stage, then walked clear and turned on a phone and waited for a short time. Sure enough,a few seconds later there was a loud bang and I felt the warm trickle of somebody else’s tea or coffee down my back.

Thanks mr-guy-behind-me-in-the-audience! Actually, if mr-guy-behind-me-in-the-audience is reading this – don’t worry about it in the slightest! It only got me a little bit… it was just unexpected!

He then took us through the effects for a gunshot, then for the bullet hit. After that came fizzing fuses, and then at the end was a massive building detonation. The talk took us through all kinds of stuff, like how detonators work, how nailboards work for timing things in sequence, using a napthalene burst to add in smoke and orange flame and so on…

All good and interesting stuff that started to tempt my inner pyromaniac…

Guest of Honour Interview: Mike Carey

Despite having read much more by both Alastair Reynolds and Iain M Banks, this was the interview I’d been waiting for – partly because I’ve not read the entirity of his back catalogue – there’s enough in there that’s still new to me that it’s interesting to see where it goes.

I’ve read some of Mike Carey’s Lucifer comics, some of his run on Hellblazer, and have recently started in on both his Felix Castor novels and on his newer comic – The Unwritten. Lucifer is interesting and I’d like to read more, but it’s a way down the list. Hellblazer… well, it’s Hellblazer. Felix Castor, though… I just can’t put them down. When I pick one up and get started, I just push on through until it’s gone. The only reason I’ve not read the lot is that my local bookshop didn’t have the first three, so I’ve been having to order them!

So having Mike Carey being interviewed by Paul Cornell – where could this possibly go wrong? True enough, it didn’t. Basically, the interview was a bit of a travelogue through his catalogue of works in both comics and novels, with some discussion of TV and film in there as well. Hearing about works I’ve not come across yet – even ill-fated ones that ended before their time – has left me intrigued and wanting to find out more.

The only place it did fall down a bit was with a bit of an odd non-question at the end… after which they decided to sneak another question in despite being out of time so it could wind up with something other than a compaint about a plot point an audience member didn’t like. I think that was the right move, and left things with a good tidy ending.

Intermission

I’ve got no idea what I did for the next two hours. I think there was some atrium chatting and I made an abortive attempt to listen to the Liz Williams guest of honour interview… I’ve found Liz Williams to be a compelling speaker before – enough to turn me from not being interested in her books to having picked one up and quite liked it (and planning to read more), but this interview just left me cold. I don’t really know why – perhaps just covering ground I’d heard her speak on before, or perhaps just taking a direction in th
e interview that didn’t grab me.

In the end I basically had a two hour gap with occasional bursts of programme, before going and retrieving Beth from the calligraphy workshop she’d been attending. Once the calligraphy tools had been appropriately cleared away, we regrouped for food before setting off for the next programme item…

Evening

Harry Potter and The Half Cut Prince – A Musical

A phrase leaps to mind:

Dear God. Why. Why, God? Why?

But in all the good ways. This was a highly entertaining rehashed musical version of Harry Potter, mashed up with a bit of Doctor Who and The Rocky Horror Show. It was thoroughly improper, full of atrocious puns and worse dialogue. The songs were an exercise in lyrical torture…

In short, it was glorious. I hardly stopped laughing the whole time. Mr Ian Sorenson and your varied and occasionally unwitting cast, I salute you!

Mitch Benn

As I mentioned a short while ago, this was the second time I’d seen Mitch Benn in about 10 days. As a result, some of the act wasn’t exactly new and fresh to me, but it was still very well performed and very entertaining. Highpoints were the songs “doctor who girl” and “Mitch Benn’s Musical Version of The Very Hungry Caterpillar“… and the audience request of singing “Crap Shag” (a song he doesn’t like performing anymore) in a dalek voice. The fact that he managed it at all was frankly terrifying, and also stragely awesome.

Steampunk Ball with Ghostfire

To close out the evening, there was the Steampunk Ball – many folks dressed in steampunk finery… myself and Beth included. Although I wouldn’t call mine “finery”, as I was deliberately aiming for the “steampunk navvy” look rather than a gentleman engineer. Alas, I didn’t get many photos of folks in their costumes, but there are plenty more starting to appear out on the net already. I just didn’t want to be walking around with my camera out as it kind of spoiled the look… Unlike somebody else, who had a steampunked point and shoot digital camera, which was awesome on so many levels.

The band (Ghostfire) took some getting used to, though. Some of their music was great… some not so much. I think in some cases it was more an issue with the sound mix – in other cases it just sounded like the music and vocals didn’t quite match up. As the night progressed that seemed to all come together, though. What was annoying, though, was that their set was broken up – whenever they’d managed to get things going and got people out on the dancefloor (as usual, not including me!), they stopped for a 20 minute break. I also think they were having trouble getting that atmosphere going as the houselights were staying on the whole time… without those, or with them being dimmer, people may have been more inclined to get up and dance a bit! I may not be a dancer myself (more a “falling over in perfect time” person when I try), but I’ve worked enough gigs and club nights to know that houselights kill the mood.

Still, it was a good night and I got into the gig as it progressed. We chatted a bit with a few other folks around the place, and had photos taken by several folks – probably more due to Beth’s costume than mine. In next to no time she’d cobbled together enough garb to thoroughly upstage me, as usual! Still, I’m not about to compain about having a girlfriend who regularly looks far better than I do!

Driving

However, Beth was only a day member of the convention. Which meant she had to get home after the ball or she’d turn into a pumpkin, or something. So the ball ended for us when we reached the point where I wasn’t going to be awake enough to drive her home and then get myself back to the Hotel. The drive was an enlightening one… It usually takes about 25-30 minutes. But if I do it at around half one in the morning, it takes about 10-12 minutes. I was back at the hotel around 2am, but the sudden fresh air outside and the drive had done for me… so I retreated to bed.

Thus ended Eastercon day 3 for me.

Odyssey 2010 – Day 2

In The Morning…

Breakfast

My plan for the weekend involved avoiding any form of healthy diet, and instead stuffing my face at breakfast, having a snacky lunch and then eating another full meal in the evening. So I set about this plan with gusto… grabbing a pile of fried everything from the breakfast buffet, followed by a couple of slices of toast & jam, then a bowl of fruit. Coupled with several glasses of orange juice from a dispenser that seemed to have been designed specifically to be just a little bit to small for the glasses next to it. As hotel breakfasts go, it wasn’t amazing, but given the low room rate and the sheer number of people eating in a short time I didn’t mind too much. There was still bacon, after all, so all was good.

I sat on a table with several friendly folks and one suitably grumpy older gent – I’d like to apologise to those people for not being a bit more sociable and conversational. My social-interaction-brain was running on a low ebb for much of the weekend, and at that point it hadn’t even tried to boot up for the day yet! My day-to-day function brain was also still not exactly on top form either, as it hadn’t occurred to me to tie my hair back before eating. Thankfully, my hair was still a bit damp from my morning shower, so it hadn’t yet gained full sentience either and so refrained from leaping out to strangle passers by and pick up random objects.

Panel: 2000AD and its influence

Alastair Reynolds, Mike Carey and David Bishop.

I thought that two guests of honour (one of whom I wouldn’t have associated with 2000AD at all) and an ex-tharg ought to make for an interesting panel, and I wasn’t wrong. It was quite a rambling discussion, but an interesting one from three people who had either been fans for a long time, had written for or worked on the comic or a mix of “all of the above”. Alastair Reynolds had also brought along a couple of 1970s 2000AD annuals, which looked to be in remarkably good condition!

Guest of Honour Interview: Iain M Banks

Interviewer: Jane Killick

Iain M Banks is one of those odd authors who I’ve never really got a handle on. I’ve read a lot of his work, and really enjoy a fair amount of it… yet for some reason, it never occurs to me to store his name in the “authors I like” bucket in my memory. I have no idea why, as I do like his books and probably should pay more attention so I’ll at least notice when he’s got a new book out.

In this instance, however, it was just entertaining to sit and listen to him speak as he was interviewed very effectively by Jane Killick. Hearing about his approach to writing and research, my desire to be an author once again started to kick in. It soulds like the kind of life I could get used to… although I suspect I’d need to grow a bit more willpower to actually make me knuckle under and get on with the actual writing. Who am I kidding – I’d need to grow any willpower at all. At the moment if I was to try to write professionally, I’d never get anywhere!

A particular highlight was his explanation of the voices in his head when he was stepping away from science fiction for the mere convenience of actually getting published. Another was his “Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock” T-shirt, but then I’m easily amused!

Bad Science – Ben Goldacre

I really wanted to like Ben Goldacre. In both print and pixels I like his work – he’s got a good and important message to get across and he usually puts things succinctly and clearly. But as a speaker I just couldn’t warm to him. I have no real idea why – there was nothing wrong with his talk that I could put my finger on… I just didn’t warm to him.

So I skipped out for my ubiquitious Odyssey lunch – burger with cheese & fried onions in a curiously greasy bun.

In the afternoon…

George Hay Memorial Lecture – Oliver Morton – Geoengineering

Having devoured my burger, I ducked back in to the main hall for the George Hay Memorial Lecture. Every year since the year 2000, there has been one programme item delivered on a serious scientific topic, presented by somebody working in that field. This year’s session was delivered by Oliver Morton, who, as far as I can tell, is a writer and editor specialising in technology, how it creates change and how we interact with it. He describes his books (“Mapping Mars” and “Eating the Sun”) as Non-Fiction Science Fiction – which intrigues me.

I’m not going to even try to condense his talk down to bitesize chunks, except to say that he meandered in an interesting fashion around the topics of nuclear detonations, climate, clouds and how they might be changed. Mostly, the talk focussed on the idea of the sublime, and it’s not really a talk that I think can or even should be summarised. I know the session was recorded, so hopefully it’ll appear online in some fashion at some point.

Panel – Writers and The Web – Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, etc…

Joe Abercrombie, John Meaney, Maura McHugh (Moderator), Mark Charan Newton

This was another slightly rambling panel which held my interest in some ways but not others – the focus ended up being more on if authors getting into blogging is a good thing and how engaged they ought to get with their readers. I’d only heard of one of the people on the panel (Joe Abercrombie – whose books I keep meaning to read but have yet to actually do so), but the others are also now on my Radar.

Whilst I’m sure the main topics did form a central point for the discussion to orbit around, I think it ended up being mostly an entertaining viewpoint into the personalities of the folks on the panel. Which is no bad thing.

Cabaret and Masquerade – Tech Runthrough

At this point, I made the mistake of going near the main hall tech whilst having knowledge about lighting. I’d previously offered to loan Tech my lighting controller and a laptop with appropriate software to drive it, as I thought this might make things easier for the masquerade and cabaret, so I popped by to see if they wanted it. However, I ended up doing so at the exact moment that Barndoor needed a hand to finish some focussing before heading off to do something else. As a result, I was handed a bunch of lighting cuesheets (most of which effectively said “make there be some lights”) and ended up being the lighting guy for the masquerade and cabaret.

I didn’t get time to swap out the desks before the masquerade runthrough started, so I just scribbled some notes on what would be needed for each item and tested them as we went along. At the same time that we were doing that, I fired up the laptop, hooked up the USB DMX Contoller, fired up QLC (open source software to control it) and started to program in the shape of the rig and the settings that were needed for each of the masquerade items. Once we’d run through the masquerade acts, of which there were between six and eight at any given moment, I dropped the lights to blackout and swapped out the desk. A quick test revealed that my programming worked fine and that everything was now being controled by the laptop, which was handy.

We then ran through all of the cabaret acts. I have no idea how many of those there were, or what any of them were doing. I was handed the cue sheets as we started the run through, so I didn’t really have time to plan anything – so it was all a little bit on the fly. In the end I had several scened programmed in – one for each maquerade act, one for houselights, one for the MC, a couple for specific cabaret acts and a couple of general cabaret plots. I’d have preferred to have done more, but that was enough for now. It seemed to do the job.

At this point, I settled down into my spot atop the tech tower for what was coming next…

Evening…

Doctor Who – The Eleventh Hour

There are very few expe
riences like watching the first episode with a new Doctor with a few hundred other SF fans. Even if I was watching it whilst crammed into the corner of the top of the tech tower. Not the most comfortable viewing position in the world, but at least I had a clear view!

Personally, I loved it. I’m something of a heretic in that I didn’t actually rate David Tennant’s Doctor that much. When he was good, he was really good… but there seemed to be some confusion in his episodes between emotion and intesity and, well, just shouting and gurning. I think mostly it was a problem with scripts and direction, but overall I ended up just not being that impressed.

This time out, though… I think Matt Smith nailed it. He instantly stood out to me as a good and interesting doctor. Clearly drawing on several earlier doctors (particularly Troughton, I thought) but in a way that made it his own. Coupled with a good companion who wasn’t just a cardboard cutout and a fine starting story, I think it just worked. I was hopeful that this would be the case, and was very glad not to be disappointed.

The Masquerade and Cabaret

I’m not going to say much about the acts themselves, as a lot of the time I didn’t really get to see them properly – I was too busy reading cue sheets and trying to keep up with rapid changes. Suffice to say that the quality of acts was high and entertaining. I’m also pretty sure I only missed one cue – and that was due to what was happening on stage bearing no relation to what was written on my cue sheet or what had happened in the runthrough! There were a few other instances where I hit cues that the acts had pre-empted or missed, but nothing particularly glaring.

I was happy to call it a success, anyway. I’d highly recommend to tech that they have a programmable controller of some kind (I’m a big fan of the EntTec Open DMX USB and a laptop running QLC) next time, as running that on a manual board would have been a nightmare! There were simply too many lighting cues too tightly together to be able to set the faders between them. Provided it’s still functional, I’m happy to loan out the USB DMX interface at eastercons that I’m at, but can’t really loan a laptop to put the software on!

Drinking and Crashing Out

There were other programme items I had been tempted by… but the main thing on the cards was the New Romantics Disco. Whilst I’m sure I’d have appreciated some of the music, I’m not much of a dancer. Or any of a dancer, really. Except possibly the spare left foot of a dancer who’s already got one too many.

So instead I went to hang out at the bar, hoping for a couple of pints of Old Rosie. Unfortunately, the usual situation had occurred with decent ciders… Everyone who normally drinks beer sees that there’s something they don’t recognise, and so tries it. They find that it’s a delicious proper cider, and so they keep drinking it, as do the cider drinkers. Then it runs out and the beer drinkers go back to their beer, leaving the cider drinkers with the bottled horse wee that is Magners. Oh well.

I hung around chatting with some of Gav & Cal’s friends (that’s the elder sibling and his girlfriend, for those who are unaware) for a while, consuming the odd pint here or there. Eventually, though, my back realised that I’d either been standing, climing ladders or sat on a scaff bar since about 2pm… and so it declared that it was downing tools until I addressed its needs. Since a back is a useful thing to have, I retreated to a warm bath followed by bed.

Thus ended the second day of Odyssey 2010 for me.

Odyssey 2010 – Day 1

Early Days

Arrival

Somehow, at around 9:20am, I was actually ready to get started. Which was odd, because that was exactly what I’d planned – I usually expect to either be running late, or (more usually) to actually be ready a good half hour or so before I need to set off, leaving myself with nothing to do. Since things were going to plan, I headed round to pick up TheMadOne, who I was driving to what would be his first Eastercon.

Upon arriving at the Radisson Non-Euclidean I went to see if my room was ready, and was told “1 hour”. So we registered and then started scouring the programme grid, whilst waiting for a few IFIS folk to arrive.

Tech

Of course, having also volunteered to assist with lighting setup, I thought I’d better go and see if they needed a hand… and immediately spent the next hour or so putting colour into lanterns. They already had somebody there who’d got a plan (going by the name of Barndoor), and it was a good one, so I basically just did what was needed rather than trying to steer anything in any particular direction.

After a bit of doing that, I headed out to catch up with TheMadOne again and get checked in to my room. The catching up bit worked, but the checking in bit didn’t – the room still wasn’t ready. This time they told me 45 minutes. Conveniently, the IFIS crowd arrived (consisting of Flick, Mohammed and Noah, with Patric already present for the weekend), having decided to come and attend for just the Friday. Probably not the best day to aim for if you’re only around for the one day, but the one they chose… so fair enough. We’ll try to get some of them for longer in future.

For me, it was time to go back for tech… which this time meant clambering up the tech tower and driving the desk whilst Barndoor focussed things appropriately. There were a few test plottings thrown about to get the stage lit and looking passable, after which we called it a day on lighting setup. This was my cue to go and actually get on with the convention proper – checking in, chatting and going to programme items.

Getting with the Programme

For me, Friday’s programme contained the following items:

  • Alien Archaeology (which I fled early)
  • Writing Steampunk (which I joined a little late)
  • SF – Taking TV shows from TV to audio
  • UK vs. US TV – Which side of the pond makes better television?
  • Opening Ceremony
  • It’s Shit but we like it – Crap TV & film
  • La Menace Vient De L’Espace (film)

I mixed all of that lot in with some eating and some socialising with my Brother (blufive), his girlfriend (calatrice), my nephew Alex and (when our paths crossed) socialising with IFIS folks.

I’ll expand on a couple of the high points below… this doesn’t mean the rest was crap, just that I can’t think of anything meaningful to say about them in this context!

Writing Steampunk

Moderated by Stephen Hunt (author of “Court of The Air”, etc…), the rest of this panel also consisted of Kim Lakin-Smith, Paul Skevington and Alastair Reynolds, whose latest book (Terminal World) has steampunk leanings… All in all an interesting panel, dwellng on a whole range of topics, starting with the decline of the “punk” part of the genre name and the rise of the tendency to add “punk” to the end of anything to make it into a genre and moving, through the idea of divisions between steampunk and dieselpunk, then on to the idea of steam being the last accessible technology.

The latter of those is one that interests me because while steam power has the appearance of being something that anybody can understand… it’s not quite that simple. There’s not many folks out there who’d be able to build a multiple expansion steam engine, or even understand the operation of one… but you can see it working. You can look at it and see bits move. Modern tech, you can’t see things move the same way… but it’s still accessible in it’s own way with just a bit of knowledge and a few tools. The growing hacker/maker community out there can attest to that – people who, for the sake of it, pull modern tech apart and do weird things with it. Curiously, there’s also something of a crossover between steampunk enthusiasts and hackers and makers… I guess it’s just about loving the idea of being in control of technology rather than the other way around.

Another interesting point raised, but not covered in much detail as it crossed into the topic of another panel was the similarity between scientific romance and steampunk. Where does one end and the other start? In effect, both tend to be hypothesized alternate futures, extrapolated from victorian steam power. The difference in those cases is merely the time and environment in which they were written. It’s an interesting idea, and one that I’d have quite like to have heard more discussion on, as I couldn’t make the other panel.

Right near the end, the guy who was running sound for the panel (in fantastic steampunk garb) recommended the anime “Last Exile” – a recommendation I would like to second very firmly. It’s a bit more dieselpunk than steampunk, but still thoroughly awesome. Interested folks can see the opening sequence on youtube.

SF – Taking Shows From TV to Audio

This panel was moderated by Maura McHugh, and otherwise made up of Nickey Barnard, David Bishop, James Swallow and Rob Shearman. Amongst that crowd there was a lot of experience from adapting Judge Dredd, Sapphire and Steel, Blakes 7 and Doctor Who into audio form, amongst others.

I own a few Big Finish productions of Sapphire and Steel and I have the first three reimagined audio dramas of Blakes 7, and have generally enjoyed audio dramas for a long time… I’ve also considered getting into making audio dramas or audio books myself on a strictly amateur basis. Some of the comments in this panel about the freedom of audio remind me of part of why I like this kind of thing – there’s a lot of creative freedom when you don’t have to represent anything visually. Likewise, some of the comments gave me good advice about what works and what doesn’t – small casts, simple and clear stories and situations.

If I ever do get around to writing or recording some audio drama, I think I might actually do a better job after this panel, even though I wouldn’t be working with established settings or characters.

It’s Shit But We Like It – Crap TV & Film

I can remember so little detail from this increasingly raucous and unstructured panel – but in broad strokes it could best be described as a cavalcade of entertaining toss. There was some discussion of what was and was not shit, but mostly it was just a barrage of audience members bouncing out their guilty pleasures for everyone to hear.

I refrained from mentioning my own favourite cinematic turd – “Wizards of the Lost Kingdom” – because a) it’s not well known enough for anybody else to really grasp the atrocity and b) the reason I like it isn’t because I enjoy watching it, but because I enjoy watching other people watching it… it’s hilarious! Next time, I shall bring a DVD to the con.

La Menace Vient De L’Espace

A fantastic short film. It’s a french film, although it’s in two spoken languages – French and Prot
ocole 123, which is a numerical language. It’s incredibly funny on many levels. Spelling and language are being replaced by a method of numerical communication called Protocole 123, until an opponent of that change is killed. The film follows the investigation of that murder.

Overnight

This took me up to around 12:30am. That’s pretty early for a convention night, but after a full week of work and a fairly full day, I thought it was time to call it a night. The room was good and comfortable, and after a wash, a bit of time on the ‘net an a bit of a read, I nodded off without any trouble.

When I get some time, I’ll write up the following days of the convention as well.

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