Saturday kicked off with entirely failing to catch the SF Legends panel because Rum but I did get the Urban Fantasy panel after it — Mark Newton chairing, and Paul Cornell, Sam Stone, Stacia Kane, Ben Aaronovitch and Benedict Jacka (whose Fated comes out shortly) discussing. Urban Fantasy is a hot topic for sure, but seldom actually put to rigorous interrogation. People usually hit the Twilight/True Blood button and then either love it or loathe it on that narrow definition. What came out of the panel was very much that as genre it is (a) nowhere near as "new" as all that — Gaiman's Neverwhere was back in the mid-90's and is absolutely urban fantasy, for example, it's just that there was no convenient label then for what he (and I'm sure others) were doing. (b) as an evolving genre, urban fantasy (formerly dark romance/dark fantasy) this area is entering rapid growth and diversification, probably to the extent that the hardline vampire romanticists will have to get their own sub-sub-genre (may I suggest reverting to "paranormal romance"?). There was a tentative attempt to broaden the distinction as far as "fantasy in an urban environment" which is what I always used to consider "urban fantasy" (1) — i.e. Mieville, Gentle, some Vandermeer maybe, that kind of stuff — but in all honesty I think that battle has been lost, and if there is any pressing need to slap a label on that sort of primarily secondary world stuff, it's going to need a new one (2). I'd be bold enough to say that "urban fantasy" as currently stands is basically "modern day real world fantasy with supernatural/fantastic elements" but the panel made it plain just how much ground that covers, as the various works of the contributors showed.
(1) Go figure.
(2) Whether genre-splitting labels are in fact needed is another debate. No point ignoring that we have them, though.
There was an interesting space opera panel after that — basically asking where the hell it's gone, aside from books. I missed about half of it for signing duties (cover sheets of the "Dark Currents" anthology I'm doing for Newcon Press (not Solaris, as I think I mistakenly said previously) and came in having missed a big chunk. One possibly mistaken impression I got was that other than the Black Library (Games Workshop's very successful publishing imprint) authors, who were happy to own to it, there was a distinct uneasiness at being "space opera" authors rather than "SF" authors. There is a perception — off the back of Star Wars if nothing else, which I always thought of as the quintessential space opera — that the science goes out of one window when the "opera" comes in the other. Maybe I'm wrong, though.
Next up — and I really want to get in on one of these — Ready Steady Flash!, in which Lee Harris gave out story themes to Paul Cornell, Juliet McKenna, Tony Lee and Stacia Kane, and gave them 5 minutes to write a story on each. Sitting in my comfortable seat in the audience I was all about the "yeah, I could totally…" but I guess it's rather different when you're actually fighting the clock. The results were very impressive — not only both funny and thought provoking (Juliet's were consistently good, I thought, and particularly Tony Lee's flash poem about the real reason for Anthony Head's delayed arrival), but a testament to good writing under pressure. Can't imagine any of them have an excuse to miss deadlines now…
Thanks to everyone who turned up for my signing slot, which was one of the best-attended I've done, and left me with I think 2 books unsold at the end of it (thanks particularly to Salvador for picking up practically the entire set. Always the path to an author's heart.) Forbidden Planet were selling out right and left, and I think the other booksellers (Abaddon, Angry Robot etc.) were likewise doing a brisk trade. China Mieville did comment that the "geek pound" seemed to be quite an economy-proof currency.
I didn't get to see Brian Blessed's piece, mostly, but by God did I hear him sing opera. There is no end to the man's talents, so long as those talents involve being very, very loud.
Part 3 to come, ish.