In The Morning…


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…


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.