Panelists talked about how the biggest problem can be overcoming the reader's preconceptions, for example many people think that life pre-1900 was "nasty, brutish and short", but this isn't actually true. As long as you lived in a stable society with enough food and you could avoid serious accidents or dying in childbirth or of things like appendicitis, you were as likely to live to 80 as you are today. Also discussed was the danger of doing the research and the story ending up being all "my research, let me show you it!" and boring the reader into a coma.
Once again, the message came over that if the story engaged the reader, unless mistakes were glaring, they are likely to read on. However, the writer has the problem that they have to try to be an expert in all things and the picky reader only has to be an expert in one to be brought up short by An Error. Some people delight in pointing out, for example, that shoes of the period actually had round toes not pointy ones. birdsedge quipped that there were all sorts of nuts: costume nuts and weapons nuts, but the ones you had best not annoy were the weapons nuts because they had weapons. :)
Use of appropriate language was touched on. Should you use language of the period or try to find modern equivalents to convey the flavour? George RR Martin mentioned the TV series Deadwood which used modern swear words because the actual words used at the time, which were then considered beyond the pale, are actually now too weak to convey what the characters were like. Anne Lyle mentioned incorrect use of "thou" and the fact that many people who use it don't realise that thou/you corresponds not only to singular/plural but informal or intimate/formal or plural. She referred to an example where a character in a novel addressed a stranger in the street as "thou", which was either incredibly intimate or incredibly rude. She said the person should have been stabbed. A voice from the audience called, "The character or the author?" and she responded, "Both!"
After the panel I sat around talking with a bunch of nice people. There was an expedition to the art show and then more conversation before the final panel (for me) which was "The fantastic landscape". This is a difficult panel to summarise, partly because Lewisham High Street featured quite a lot, (Nina Allan used it as an example of seeing the interesting and fantastic in the apparently mundane). There were also references to a number of genuinely exotic SFnal landscapes in novels that I hadn't read. Perhaps inevitable, as we were in London, the city kept popping up in the discussion, either the way that many SF and fantasy cities are based on it, for example the settings of China Mieville. Jaine Fenn commented on how she loved the way the city had such depth and that when she worked in London, she could attend a meeting at the Lloyds building in the City, a modern block resembling a giant jukebox and then in her lunch hour nip out and visit a shrine to Mithras built 2000 years ago. Similarly how in the midst of modern steel and concrete skyscrapers you can find a little cobbled alley that used to be the home to a butcher's shop and that 200 hundred-year-old coaching inns can be found on traffic islands. There was the inevitable reference to Tolkien and Jaine Fenn said it had worked so well for her as a teenager because it had started with the familiar and then taken her, along with the Hobbits, to increasingly alien landscapes. Overall, this was perhaps not the most exciting panel in some ways, but I found it very productive because it did spark some possible ideas for settings for stories, so well worth attending.
Bidding farewell to my friends, I then headed back for central London and only had to wait moments for a bus and the tube came almost immediately. I was thus at the rendezvous point at Embankment 15 minutes early, however, G had also just arrived, so that worked perfectly and we walked over the footbridge across the Thames to our favourite pizza restaurant where we ate lasagne, drank red wine and caught up on what the other had been doing.
I wasn't sure whether I would get to the con on Sunday, but G is perfectly happy to go off sightseeing on his own, so I get another day at Eastercon.
One thing I have noticed at this con and that is that as well as a lot of old familiar faces, there are lots of new people. I sat next next to a lovely young woman from Wooton Bassett in the fantastic landscapes panel who told me that this was her first con. She writes SF, but the local writers' group all write mainstream and don't get this "weird" stuff that she writes. Then I left the con at the same time as a chap who was heading to the Albert Hall for a folk concert. Though he'd been reading SF for 50 years, he too was at his first convention, courtesy of having heard about it on Charlie Stross's blog.
Why this sudden upsurge in interest? Have SF cons suddenly become respectable, I wonder?
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