So Saturday really was something of the sort of late night that I (poor tame creature that I am) haven't had since university. However something seriously off about the beds in the place ensured I was up bright and early for the fantasy politics panel (Jared Shurin of Pornokitsch moderating Hail Carriger, David Durham, Jude Roberts — and although my programme doesn't say it, I would swear Juliet McKenna.) This is exactly the sort of panel I like — as panellist or audience, a good nuts and bolts look at a particular aspect of fantasy — mostly in the direction of "why monarchy?" and Nic Clarke (reviewer for Strange Horizons (1)) was kind enough to flag up Shadows of the Apt as an example of varied political systems in the genre. Indeed, the panel covered enough interesting ground that I feel a "politics amongst the insect kinden" sort of post coming up some time soon, possibly in the form of a fake academic document from Collegium like the language piece I did. Language in fantasy came next with "Wench, fetch yon tankard here!" (my editor Bella Pagan moderating Joe Abercrombie, Jane Fenn and David Tallerman(2)) discussing use of archaic quothage and general writing style. David was kind enough to speak up for my fight scenes as, basically "very long, in a good way" and overall it was another good "genre writer's craft" panel.
At 2, after a rather hurried and mostly liquid lunch, we had the Fantasy Clarke Awards. Now these weren't really the Clarke Awards, or not yet. Readers will be aware of those rather august accolades for science fiction, and this panel was a sort of trial run, in which Niall Harrison moderated(/manhandled) judges Nic Clarke, David Hebblethwaite, Erin Horakova, Edward James and Juliett E McKenna (for real this time), as they considered five fantasy works with the same high standard of critical eye that the Clarkes are noted for. Up for grabs were Grimwood's The Fallen Blade, Abercrombie's The Heroes, Oyeyemi's Mr Fox, Elliott's Cold Fire, Bender's The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake and, to my great delight, Frances Hardinge's Twilight Robbery — a particular favourite of mine. Analysis was erudite, and all the books had their champions, with Joe inching out the rest by a hair to claim the prize. The judges were aware that a single hour's panel was insufficient to do the works justice, but the exercise is hopefully due to be repeated next year (crossed fingers for The Air War maybe?) and the chief message I carried away is that a wide variety of fantasy books can be considered side by side and given a full and fair consideration.
Next Panel was "You got your robot elf sex in my SF" on the topic of romance in Sci-fi and genre generally (Tanya Brown moderating Gail Carriger, Francis Knight, Adam Roberts and Justina Robson) For pure usefulness in my own writing, this was a cracking panel and it's simply not a topic I've seen discussed and dissected in this sort of detail before. After that I caught Adam Christopher reading a segment from his upcoming Seven Wonders, and then ended up in the bar again. By this time I was starting to come a bit unstuck with two mostly sleepless nights and no natural light for something like 48 hours, and everything was going kind of Fear and Loathing in las Vegas(3), with a distinct feeling of unreality to the entire proceedings. The BSFA awards were particularly surreal, for reasons that other sites have already trodden, but suffice to say that Paul Cornell won the short fiction with his Copenhagen Interpretation, I got to see David Langford (4) when he accepted the non-fiction award for the SF Encyclopaedia with Graham Sleight, and Christopher Priest gave a very elegant acceptance speech after The Islanders won long fiction, which I think to some extent defused the Priest/Clarke contretemps that had been mentioned on a number of panels up to that point. Nic Clarke then managed to rescue me and got me out of the hotel for a mass Chinese meal.
So far, the closest I had got to achieving goal  (the titular Talk with George) had been on Saturday night, when I gave him directions on how to find his own fan party (5). On Sunday evening, though, feeling detached from time and space and quite sozzled, I did at last manage a very pleasant and convivial chat with Mr Martin and his wife on a variety of subjects, some of which I can even remember. I was also bold enough to press on him a copy of Empire in Black and Gold, which he took in good spirits. I will say that, for someone who is arguably the most successful fantasy writer currently on the go, and with the TV business as well, he is a man still very much in touch with his fans and his readers.
OK, wrapping up, Monday was Paul Cornell day, or mostly. I caught some of his interview, but then had to head off for my own panel, "Epic legends of the Hierarchs" on writing big ol' fantasy series — Nic Clarke (6) moderating me, Mr Martin, Sophia McDougall and editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden. Some interesting talk on logistical problems, maps, plots and the like, and I acquitted myself passably well. After that I did catch Paul C again reading excerpts from his upcoming London Falling (former working title Cops and Monsters) which frankly sounds fantastic — but decidedly a step further into horror territory than I'd thought. Last up before Justina and I got the hell out of Dodge was the closing ceremony, which was mostly given over to thanking the host of people who had made the con happen — and I am quite in awe of the programming, logistics and technical organisation that went into what is essentially an "amateur" event — everything was just about flawless in execution so hats off to the lot of them. Also at the closing ceremony, and something that must be seen to be believed, was this, which I leave to speak for itself.
And we're done, finished the write up just in time to naff orff to Alt Fiction in Leicester on Saturday, so possibly see you there.
(1) Among other things — and though is but new entered into our tale, believe ye me, she hath verily her role to play, before ye ende, to get onto the language in fantasy panel a bit early.
(2) And for some reason I am also thinking Juliet McKenna, although it's surely impossible that she was also here. Sunday was when the precise borders of reality started fraying a bit, although it seems unreasonable that I was seeing phantom Juliet E McKennas where McKennas there were not.
(3) But without the lizards, which was a shame.
(4) David's review column, Critical Hits, in the old White Dwarf magazine, was a huge guide to me in recommended reading when I was younger.
(5) Anyone who knows my sense of direction is welcome to gasp in horror now. He did get there, though, so I must have been having a good day.
(6) If anyone is playing the veteran level Cornell/McKenna/Clarke drinking game you probably want your liver looking at by now.