The post-Alt.Fiction breakdown, part seven.

1 05 2008

My final post on Alt.Fiction covers the last two sessions that I attended:

Fantasy – Innovation vs Expectation featuring Juliet E McKenna, Chaz Brenchley, Stephen Hunt and Sarah Ash

Science-Fiction featuring Eric Brown, Tony Ballantyne and Charlie Stross

Fantasy – Innovation vs Expectation

This was another excellent panel, and the first of the day to really get its teeth into something. Juliet was acting as chair, and steered the conversation efficiently and in interesting directions.

The panel discussed, as the title suggests, Fantasy and whether innovation in the genre can break out of its expectations (i.e. can Fantasy still be Fantasy if the Tolkien-esque tropes are set aside).

This was the perfect selection of guests. They worked well together, and all are writers who have broken out of the Sword and Sorcery boundaries that Fantasy used to find itself limited by. All are also extremely inspirational in their own right, from the well-established to the newcomer (Stephen’s first novel actually went to auction, and his second is due soon).

There was discussion on how Fantasy’s tropes became established, and how modern Fantasy was working to either turn them on their head (such as Write Fantastic collaborator Stan Nicholls’ Orcs novels). Juliet also made the salient point that Fantasy still needs to retain some comfortably-known Fantasy framework if it is to be saleable (or, in her own words, “the same, but different”).

Q&A was a bit, er, special, as the first questioner promptly asked whether the panel thought it’d be good if Fantasy started doing away with wizards, elves and dragons. But after a brief didn’t we just have this conversation? moment, questions began getting more sensible.


As the last panel of the day, I can’t be sure whether this one meandered a little due to the influence of alcohol, tiredness, or the Ladyboys of Bangkok who were performing in the nightclub next to the Assembly Rooms with music loud enough to wake the dead.

Tony and Eric were lovely, but Charlie’s got quite a dominant personality, so did the majority of the speaking. Perhaps as testament to the Ladyboys I don’t really remember much of what was discussed – the music was extremely intrusive, and turned out to be the main downside of the venue (even above the ludicrous bar and snack costs).

Mostly they just spoke about how they got into the business, what they liked about Science Fiction, and Tony admitted he was coming close to having to choose between his writing and his teaching careers.

The Q&A was brief, but I think most people were itching to get to a pub by then.


Alt.Fiction is definately an event I’ll attend again, and one I heartily reccommend that everyone with aspirations to becoming a writer in SF, Fantasy or Horror attend at least once. For the new writer it offers everything, and for the reader or the more confident writer there are plenty of readings to attend, and a bar full of writers and publishers to hang out in during the sessions that are of no interest to you.

The dealer area is quite open, and there are usually only about eight tables in use. Browsing is a nice, casual affair with a range of options from the small presses (Elastic Press shared a table with Ian Whates) through to TTA Press (selling back-issues of InterZone, Black Static, Murky Depths, and a variety of other things that Roy was kind enough to display for people who didn’t want to take up a whole table for a single item), and collections of the classic mags such as Asimov’s, Weird Tales and the like. Finally Alex Davis also puts on a general interest table, selling books of the authors in attendance and anything else that might appeal to the attendees. And unlike a lot of conventions, one feels under no pressure at all to make a purchase.

I only have a couple of quibbles: The venue is in the centre of Derby’s entertainment district, so the outside world gets a bit noisy if you’re in the Reception Suite. And the cost of the bar really is ludicrous – a small coke (approximately 200ml) and a packet of Walkers crisps costs £2. I dread to think of the cost of alcohol and the more adventurous bar food (chips, pizza, and so on). I took a pre-arrival detour into the town centre to get food and water to last me the day, but an attendee who isn’t forewarned could end up spending their book money on comestibles.




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