Fairly Readable and Informative. Now Greatly Expanded.

Issue 5 - April 2001

Quick Updates

One of the only things on my mind at the moment is my impending departure from my job with Lucent (only eight working days to go!), and my month long holiday in Canada that is due to start on April 18th. Is anybody jealous yet? Well, if you are, console yourself with the thought that Moron here discovered today that she would miss CanVention in Vancouver by just two days, and some of her favourite authors will be there, including C.J.Cherryh (see below) and Candas Jane Dorsey - another one of the authors that hardly anyone has heard of but everybody should have.

This means that tragically there will be no edition of FRINGE for the month of May. June will have a regular FRINGE, plus what will no doubt be an overlong travel report.

Apart from that, it occurs to me that spring has finally sprung, although I give it until tomorrow to revert back to winter. Still, after what feels like years huddled in bus shelters vainly trying to stay warm and dry, it was a nice change to sit out in the sun during my lunch break, albeit I was being blown to bits and faced with a building site. The smoking shed at work (how they look after us) was rattling to such an extent that I found it difficult to get rid of images of The Wizard of Oz and Dorothy's home in Kansas. And then I couldn't make up my mind whether I wanted to be in work and faced with all the joy that that entails, or risk staying in the shed and being blown to somewhere dire. Like Kildare, for instance.

Anyway, what with organising my holiday (a whole month! Did I say?) and finishing up bits and pieces left to me at work, very little else remains that doesn't merit it's own section. So without further ado I will slide into...

Mecon Delta, Belfast, March 9th - 11th 2001

Shockingly, for the first time in my life, a visit to Belfast did not feature me getting extraordinarily drunk and waking up in a strange place with no clear memory of how I got there. Before you take this as a damning comment on this years Mecon, however, I should point out that with my usual flair for forgetting everything up to and including my head, I left my medication on my bedside table in Dublin, and as a consequence spent most of the weekend getting quite frightening withdrawal symptoms, including a tendency to irritability (hard to believe of me, I know).

But back to the excitement of FRINGE's first ever convention report! I'll put my gripes first, so it can only get better.

Without a doubt, Foot and Mouth disease (let's all act it out) hit the con hard: attendance was well down on last year's, Stephan Grundy, one of the guests, had to cancel at the last moment in order to cull his herd, many fans from the Republic did the responsible thing and stayed at home. As a result, it was almost possible to count the non-QUBSF-society members on your fingers. And I found out as the weekend progressed that QUBSF-Soc is far more media-focussed than literary, which in turn led to a lot of panels which I had envisaged to be literary ending up discussing TV series which I had never heard of. Each to their own, but as a fan who almost exclusively reads books, I felt a bit alienated from proceedings. I mentioned this feeling to Mark Lamki, a long time familiar face in Queen's, and a panel member for many of the panels I was at, and he remarked that given the low numbers, a book would have been unlikely to be read by everyone, whereas mentioning an episode of Buffy, for instance, would at least result in most people at a panel having some knowledge of the series, even if not of the particular episode. A fair point, but I still feel a bit cheated.

Second gripe, probably also related to the attendance levels and my no means a gripe unique to Mecon: audience members in panels having conversations amongst themselves, loudly enough so that it was difficult to hear what was actually being said by the panel members. In fact, this wasn't limited to panels, during the closing ceremony there was chatter coming from the back of the room. I'm not advocating draconian enforcement of parliamentary style debating rules, but I think it is common courtesy not to have conversations whilst others are addressing a room of people, and perhaps a notice to that effect was needed.

End of griping, on to the good stuff.

Without Stephan Grundy, mentioned above, Mecon had three guests this year, all of them masters of public speaking and showmanship. Guest of Honour was Michael Sheard, the actor whose most famous role was as Mr Bronson in Grange Hill, his major SF contribution is as the Admiral in Star Wars. Or was it The Empire Strikes Back? Witnessing Mr Sheard standing on a chair in the middle of a disco, dapperly attired in blazer and dickie bow, conducting a roomful of people during the song "School's Out!" is an experience that will stay with me to the grave. No matter how much counselling I get.

Dave Lally (christened Little Lally) was the second guest. A familiar figure, though looking a little lost without his straw boater, Lally is well known in Irish, UK, and Swedish fandom for having one of the largest collections of SF videos and films in the world. Continually showing up to conventions with his stash of tapes and setting himself up in a small dark room, emerging at the end of the day usually to find that the bar has closed, Lally has been pitied by Mecon for the second year running and invited as a guest, with full privileges including being allowed to exit the video room at certain designated times. Even boaterless, Lally was a fixture about the convention, usually seen talking closely to young ladies. Some things never change.

Ian McDonald, another Mecon regular, was the third guest. One of the Mecon highlights for me last year was actually getting to go drinking with Ian, one of my all time favourite authors, so I was hugely looking forward to repeating the experience this year. Alas, it was not to be, as some important birthday engagements intervened. However, on panels Ian shone. In "2001 ideas in an hour", what was becoming a rather lacklustre script about nano space chickens was saved by his suggestion of introducing the Dukes of Hazard. His wit isn't the only reason that he makes a good panelist. Seemingly aware of the side avenues that a discussion can head down, he is careful to try and include everyone's opinions, belittle nobody deliberately, and quite frankly perform the role that the panel moderator should be doing.

Am I being too fannish here? Hey, a good author being a good guy is something to mention.

Since this getting too long, I will very briefly talk about my favourite panels, and leave it at that. There are books to talk about!

As implied above, "2001 Ideas in an hour" was a madcap attempt to create an SF plot that incorporated the craziest ideas the panel and audience could come up with. The finished film focussed mainly on nano space chickens and their martial art The Way of Wing and Beak (known dismissively by humans as Cluck Foo). The chickens invade Earth, for a reason that I have now forgotten, and are on their way to total dominance as a reincarnation of Elvis, when the lead nano chicken meets and falls hopelessly in love with Daisy Duke. Considering the difficulties faced by their relative size differences, the plot was sidetracked into a series of giggle-inducing scenarios ("one night whilst fulfilling his husbandly duties, our hero takes a wrong turn..."), and a rather rapid conclusion wherein true love won out and Colonel Saunders is successfully resurrected to cook all the chickens. Finger-licking good.

"Should Papa Tolkien have kept the lid on his pen" attempted to dissect the murky ground of Lord of the Rings spawns, and divide them from other good and bad epic and high fantasy. An interesting side track was about the teenage fantasy series, best epitomised by David Eddings' works, coming of age novels where a youth discovers that they are the lost king/inheritor of the world/chosen one, and the fact that although this type of plot is seen as derivative of Tolkien, it isn't one that features in the Lord of the Rings except in passing. Books that explore areas commonly seen as missing from high fantasy were also discussed, such as Grunts by Mary Gentle (which I have since bought but not yet read) and The Chronicles of the Black Company by Glen Cook.

I was honour-bound to attend the "Fanzines - RIP" panel, which I found one of the most enjoyable. Eugene and Dave, both very experienced fanzine authors, contributors, and editors, were most helpful about my own queries as regards things like libel, ways to promote circulation, and (the FEAR!) sending a copy to Dave Langford for him to review. We all ended the panel with a stack of different fanzines, and a definite agreement that fanzines were not dead. Good.

"Schisms and Isms" looked at prejudices that are broken by the genre, encouraged by the genre, or ignored by the genre. Cover art showing black characters, we were reliably informed, does not sell in the Mid-West, hence those puzzling covers showing white men when the lead character is distinctly described as black and female. Other racial stereotypes, particularly in TV were discussed - the Chinese guy is a computer geek, the Asians are women and "chicks", Arabs are almost without exception the baddies. Nothing new was brought up in regards to women - we all know that the cover art is somewhat unrealistic (no matter what some people dream).

An interesting area was raised about disability - nobody on the panel or in the audience could think of a disabled character (except Geordie LaForge, who was early dismissed as not having a character) whose disability was not part of the plot. A difficult idea to get around, I thought at the time, and I'm still thinking about it. The last area we considered was that of sexuality - bisexuality, homosexuality, deviant practices. Here I noticed the divide between media and literature the most. Literary SF, in my opinion, seems to have a large number of homosexual relationships in it, whereas somebody behind me announced in a loud voice that "Nowhere in SF" were such things epitomised.

Okay, a far too long, as it turned out, review of Mecon Delta. Is anybody still with me?

Non-genre you all should read

Enduring Love by Ian McEwan. I raced through this book. At 257 pages, it's nice to know that a full and gripping story can still be told succinctly, and with a huge amount of character detail. I don't want to say very much about the plot, since I found it most effective approached blind, but for anyone who ever said that mainstream fiction was dull and unimaginative, you should read this book. The skill of writing was such that stopping reading involved a period whereby I had to come to terms with the fact that I was not the narrator. I would have no hesitation in marking it as the most moving book I read in the last twelve months were it not that immediately afterwards I read What Are You Like by Anne Enright. This was the first book I have read in years which made me cry, and I don't cry easily over books. Like the Ian McEwan book, Enright's depiction of character is masterful. Maria, a north-side Dubliner, is restless, unfulfilled in her life, and then she meets the man that makes it so much worse. Meanwhile, Rose is also restless, in a different country and with different effects - Maria turns into a suicidal depressive, Rose into a kleptomaniac. It would be easy at this point for Enright to turn the two girls' stories into parables about their different societies, but she resists, and instead we embark on a hunt for identity that is so different from the fantasy equivalent coming-of-age stories that it is eye-opening. This is a book to read, and an author that will soon be counted amongst Ireland's greats.

Cherryh, thank God

During last month's FRINGE I mentioned that I had started Fortress in the Eye of Time and was enjoying it. This month, of course, I finished it, and I'm glad to say I enjoyed every page of the way. Briefly, Tristen is summoned, created out of fresh air, by the ancient magician Mauryl, who at the last moment holds back, so that Tristen comes into being with none of the knowledge that Mauryl envisioned for him to have. Allowed only a brief period of time for teaching and instruction, Tristen is sent out into the world to find the purpose he exists. In the early stages of the book, he is endearingly innocent. Being beaten by city guards, he reflects sternly that Mauryl would not approve of the guards' manners. When Prince Cefwyn forbids him to speak to anyone, he is relieved to have a rule to follow. As Tristen grows wiser, his innocence, and therefore his appeal to me, lessens, however he remains a sympathetic character, neither on the side of Good or Bad, but loyal to what he thinks he must do, and what his friend Cefwyn needs him to do. Cherryh isn't an easy author by any means: reading one of her books takes dedication and commitment that I often do not have, but when I make the plunge I never regret it.

On the same author, although Fortress confirmed my love of fantasy and my opinion that it is a (sub)genre that need not be cliched nor dismissed, my favourite fantasy novel of all time is still Faery in Shadow, by the inimitable Cherryh. I have heard that some see it as too dark, and that is a valid comment to lay against the book, but loving dark fantasy as I do, and loving high fantasy as I do, to have both combined, with some excellent writing to boot, is my idea of heaven.

Dark fantasy that I'm looking to talk about in FRINGE in the future includes Glen Cook's The Chronicles of the Black Company, and Steven Erikson's Gardens of the Moon. At least, that is the plan.

Brief Notes

Due to my overlong Mecon report, I can't review half as many books as I would like to. However, deserving a mention because they were great include Birdman by Mo Hayder, another thriller that I am so addicted to, Startide Rising by David Brin, an author I am coming more and more to like, a reread of A Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin - pure genius. And did anybody else see the gratifyingly gory film version of "Damnation Alley" on television a few weeks ago? The giant killer scorpions were my favourite, and only partly because of the outdated and cheesy-looking special effects that made them appear Scary Big.

Nothing this month from the Great White Northern Film Guru, as she is busy with a new romance. Or it might not be so new, but I only just found out about it. I will be grilling her for details and publishing my findings as part of the Toronto section of my travel report, so watch this space...

Last word

I am continually promising a Letters of Comment section, and I am continually failing to produce one. You can put this down to my inherent laziness, or else accept my excuse that so far I haven't enough comments to warrant a full section.

Copyright Fionna O'Sullivan, 2001.
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