(Not The) Fox News: The Convention TwoStep

Conventions are one of those things, a little like dental work, that everyone is just expected to do. However, the best case scenario tends to be a lot higher than ‘No cavities!’ or ‘Mum, he only used the crowbar once!’. Conventions are safe spaces, the places where we can go to let our hair down, be ourselves, network, schmooze, drink, do bad karaoke, sign the odd deal and argue in Klingon over whether Peter Parker should have organic or mechanical webshooters.

That’s a tall order. And here’s the thing; it sets conventions up as the peak of the geek calendar and in doing so, all they’re set up to do is let you down. I’ll never forget attending my first FantasyCon, stepping through the door of what one of my best friends had described as one of the most welcoming conventions in the country and…being confronted by 300 people who clearly knew one another, chatting away and getting drunk together.There was no welcome booth, there was no one on duty to ease newbies in. There was just me and a bunch of already mostly drunk authors. It looked, and felt, like every ghastly clichéd high school lunch hall dream given form.

I didn’t turn and run, much as part of me wanted to.  I persevered, enjoyed a good deal of it and talked to almost no one. I attended another couple of times and, gradually, found myself moving in the same orbits as people who are now some of my closest friends. One of them is Adele, our feral leader here at Fox Spirit Towers. She had a similar track to me through the UK convention circuit, moving from member to guest to sleepless podcast tech goddess to leader of the pack in a little under three years. She was also completely rebooting her life as this was going on which, to my mind, is probably the only plausible reason why it took that long.

So, largely left to our own devices, people like Adele, myself, the Cheesecakes, Sam, Andrew, Lisa, Vick, Vicky and the others all slowly began to form our own social circles. It took a while and by a while I mean years, but I can now walk into any convention in the UK and, chances are, have a friend or two already there. It feels nice. It feels earned because believe me, it was. There are very few lonelier places than the bar at a FantasyCon when everyone’s talking to everyone but you.

Here’s the truth; no convention, on Earth, is going to answer every single one of your geek prayers because nothing ever does and nothing ever will. Make no mistake, you’ll have fun but the sky will not shower book contracts and meaningful discussion down upon you.  At least not without you rigging some bizarre publishing/weather dominator hybrid.

Yeah, Destro. You BETTER run.


For someone who doesn’t like or ‘do’ conventions, it turns out I’m going to a couple of big ones in the closing stages of 2013. In November I’m off to Leeds for Thought Bubble, which is always a very rewarding and immensely strange experience. Thought Bubble, or ThoBubs as its affectionately known, was founded by the comic store I worked for straight out of University. That’s the same comic store that made me redundant some years later and catapulted me into a period of sustained, constant change and near unbearable psychological stress. That period of my life meant that when I went to Thought Bubble for the first time, back in 2011, it’s fair to say I was not in the best of frames of mind. It’s a very weird experience spending time inside something that was so nearly built with your help. It simultaneously makes you proud and desperately sad. You get glimpses of the next life over, the one that was almost yours. You don’t regret it, certainly, but you do find yourself wishing it wasn’t in your eye line quite so much.

That being said, Thought Bubble is a desperately friendly show and, because I’m working for the company’s website (Freelancer tip: Never burn bridges. Ever. You never know when you’ll be able to cross back over them) I’m on the guest list. So, two days of wandering around Leeds Armouries, chatting to small press and big press alike and coming home with a metric kilo of review copies looks set to be on the cards.

Before all that though, I’m off to World FantasyCon.

This year FantasyCon has combined, Voltron like, with WorldCon to create a colossal robot that will stomp across Brighton and…

Sorry, I seem to have turned over multiple pages there.

This year, FantasyCon has combined with World FantasyCon and the end result has been a complaint storm the likes of which we haven’t seen since Doctor Who fans discovered the internet, keyboards and Twitter. There’s been, on average, one ‘thing’ about WFC 2013 every five or six days. I’m not going to repeat any of the well documented issues a lot of people have with the convention set up here, firstly because I don’t have the word count and secondly I really don’t want to. Make no mistake there are absolutely legitimate problems with some aspects of the con that have been expressed forcefully and eloquently by some of the best writers in the field. Them, I don’t have a problem with.

The internet hordes crowding around them yelling ‘FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT!’? They’re the problem.

At this point, WFC 2013 could transform the entire hotel into gold, provide everyone with unlimited chocolate and alcohol, premiere all the missing Doctor Who episodes still left and odds are someone would still sniff and go ‘Huh. Well apparently all the rooms smelt of wee.’

I saw people complaining about the free book policy earlier today.

How do you do that?

How do you express serious concerns about the giveaway policy at a con? It’s free books! You’ll be allowed a set amount, odds are you can swap them around maybe and maybe even read some before you pick up even more at the next convention! Like usual!

There’s such an accretion disk of negativity around the con that at times the real issues some people have and the efforts to address those issues by the organizers are being obscured by the stampede of people struggling to be the first on the soapbox and the first to lead the next charge. That’s awful for two reasons; firstly because the real issues people have with aspects of the programming are being obscured. On a more personal level, honestly, I’m slightly nervous going.

I’m attending as a redshirt (Although apparently we’ll get jackets which sounds dapper and AWESOME) and part of me is sincerely apprehensive. I’m going to be part of the Con’s face (FaceCons! That combine to form…I am on an ‘80s cartoon kick this month aren’t I?) and a lot of people seem eager to explain exactly why the con sucks, possibly to its face, that I am part of.


Oh and just for giggles, I’m also at my first ever book launch as an author! Which I may also be red jacketing at! Which may mean I’m technically cosplaying as either postmodernism or the entire industry… Anyway Fox Spirit’s Tales of Eve anthology has an officially official launch on Sunday at 10am.  The launches are being held in the space between the art show and Hall 8 and this should be really fun. Tales of Eve is a great book, Mhairi Simpson did a kick ass job as editor and a bunch of Fox Spirit authors will all be there to sign the book and launch it out into the world.


So, let’s review; I’m going to be a volunteer at a convention where a measurable proportion of the attendees aren’t especially happy and I’m also going to be attending my first ever book launch as an author.

No pressure then.

Now, take my basic apprehension and apply it to people attending a con for the first time. The needle’s buried in the red.

Or it would be, because on this one the convention has a plan. Full details are here:


Go, read, and go say hi. It’s a great idea and exactly the sort of thing I wish someone had thought of during my first couple of FantasyCons. It would have saved me a fortune in J20 and crippling social anxiety.


As for me, well, I have a plan too. The redjackets have all been asked what events they’d especially like to attend and wherever possible we’ll be scheduled to either work those events or be free for them. The book launch aside, I’ve asked for a range of diverse events and also said if I get none of them? That’s fine. If I go where I’m needed, rather than where I think I should be, I’m bound to see and hear new and interesting viewpoints.  I’ll be challenged. I’ll learn new things. I’ll engage, and in doing so be too busy to get nervous.

So why don’t you try the same thing?  Also, feel free to say hi if you see me. You can’t miss me, I’m the guy who looks exactly like the photo of me on this website. Let’s chat for a bit, assuming I’m not wrapping a panel up or helping disappear the flocks of taxidermied and yet somehow living ravens that always seem to apport into existence if Ramsey Campbell stays in one place too long. Because, underneath the groupthink, the communications failures on both sides and the vast helpings of schadenfreude people seem to be relishing, we’re all fans. This aspect of popular culture makes us all happy, hits us all right in the feels, and that sense of unity? That’s the one place every convention lives up to our expectations. Sounds like fun. Hopefully I’ll see you there.


(Not the) Fox News: Batfleck

Hi, I’m Alasdair. As Adele said, I’m the author of The Pseudopod Tapes and I’ve been writing about genre fiction for sites like SFX and Bleeding Cool for years now. I do this because I love it, both the process of writing and the feeling of connecting with a story and being able to pull it apart and see what makes it tick. My approach is slightly unusual in that I’m not actually looking to score points like so many other bloggers out there.

I actually like things.

Scary, huh?

If something’s good, I’ll tell you. If something’s bad I’ll tell you and I’ll tell you why and that brings us neatly to Ben Affleck and the internet in meltdown.

A couple of weeks back, Warners announced that Ben Affleck would be playing Bruce Wayne in Man of Steel 2: Man Steelier. This was met with roughly the same response as senior Warners executives personally going to 1 in every 2 geek with a twitter account’s house, peeing on their lawn and giving them the finger whilst setting light to their car.

It has not gone well.

It has gone so badly, in fact, that one group of rocket scientists have started a petition to have him replaced. Because, firstly, film making is clearly a democracy and secondly hunger, poverty, terrorism and equal rights for all have clearly been achieved so now petitions can be used for stupid, petty bullshit.


There are two things I find genuinely fascinating about the Batfleckpocalypse. The first is how perfectly it fits with another piece of recent news and the second is how, when they’re combined, they show you exactly where fandom’s memory sits and how damaging that is.

Firstly, that other piece of news. Agents of SHIELD, the Marvel movieverse TV show is going to be shown on Channel 4 in the UK. This wasn’t greeted quite as badly (Think the head of Channel 4 sending every 3rd person with a twitter account a DM that just said ‘arse’) but it was still met with something a lot less than joy.

The reason is simple; Channel 4 have a long, proud tradition of having no idea what to do with genre fiction import drama. These are the people who showed Angel at tea time and wondered why people complained about up to ten minutes being cut. These are the people who bought the rights to Stargate SG-1 then not only cut what is arguably the cuddliest genre TV show of the last two decades, but buried it in their hangover programming on Sundays.

These are the people, along with the BBC it should be pointed out, who had The Simpsons and had no idea what to do with it.

The Simpsons.

So Channel 4 getting Agents of SHIELD didn’t go over too well, with me as much as anyone else. However, when I dug down a little bit more, the story wasn’t quite as clear cut. Friends pointed out Channel 4 had treated Lost very well. More recently, homegrown shows like Utopia and Misfits have been not just well treated but have found an audience.  Even more recently, fantastic French spookfest The Returned was treated like an actual grown up drama by them and it had (sort of) zombies in it and everything!

My deliberate facetiousness aside, the point stands. Channel 4 no longer view genre fiction with fear, merely slight suspicion and yet so many people responded to this news with a full on eye-roll.

Now take a look at Affleck and the reasons many people are citing why he’ll be awful. The movies Gigli and Daredevil and the fact he once dated Jennifer Lopez.

All of which happened around 10 years ago.

Which is also roughly the same time that Channel 4 were faceplanting again and again with Stargate SG1 and Angel.

It’s also around the same time that a lot of the generation of geeks who have twitter accounts now, were coming of age.

In the immortal words of Bill Hicks, I am the weaver…

What this seems to say about fandom culture is both very good and kind of awful. The good element of it is that fandom falls in love purely and completely and will defend its corner for decades. Look at Doctor Who, and the fact that close to two decades after it was first cancelled, there are still people convinced that the BBC are looking for an excuse to murder their massive commercial success and cash cow.  Or to put it another way, Agents of SHIELD is all but certain to be a colossal success. It may actually be an idiot proof piece of TV in scheduling terms and yet everyone, including me, is still waiting for the sort of decisions made a decade ago to be made here because we remember the failures more than the successes.

As SHIELD, so Bafleck. People are looking at his work ten years ago and seeing that actor projected forwards. It’s ridiculous when you see it written down isn’t it? If you know anyone who is exactly the same in terms of personality, skill level or body shape as they were ten years ago? Check by the side of their bed for a large seed pod and be prepared to run from people looking like this.

In the intervening ten years Affleck hasn’t just turned in good performances he’s become an Oscar winner so well regarded Warners offered him the big chair on the JLA movie despite him never having done a big scale Summer movie. He’s an immensely smart director, a damn good scriptwriter and yes, I’ll say it, a great actor. He’s not just a good choice, he’s the sort of choice that should evince sighs of relief not lynch mobs. As someone put it on Twitter earlier today:

Oscar winner cast as Batman. Fandom riots.


I know it’s tough to be positive sometimes. The cultural story of the geek is one of perennial oppression, of being the outcast or the weirdo and it’s very difficult to move past that. But if you can, if you can approach something on its own merits rather than the merits of what’s gone before, the world is a much more entertaining place. You’ll be happier too.


So, I’m staking my claim. I welcome our new, colossal chinned Bostonian Batman and I look forward to Channel 4 treating Agents of SHIELD right. I may be disappointed on both counts, but I’m not going in looking for it. If you’re sensible, neither should you.


Alasdair Stuart hosts Pseudopod, the weekly horror fiction podcast and co-hosts Escape Pod, the weekly science fiction podcast. He writes for lots of people. He’ll write for you if the job’s fun and you pay. Seriously, ask him, he’s right here. His book, The Pseudopod Tapes, is available through Fox Spirit now and he has stories in Tales of Eve and several of the Fox Pockets too. When not here you can find him at alasdairstuart.com or on twitter at @AlasdairStuart.