Convention Write Up: Nine Worlds 2018
by Amy Brennan

Editor's note: Amy has done incredible work not only here but in writing up every panel she attended. Massive thanks to her and do click on the links below to find out more.

This year is my third year going to Nine Worlds – which was the first convention I ever went to in 2016 (The lovely Katherine Inskip – Cast of Wonders assistant editor introduced me to Alasdair and Marguerite there!) and it set a REALLY high bar.  This was also the first year I was presenting content and bringing my partner to enjoy the geeky awesome fun.

It WAS a lot of fun, but bringing my disabled partner to the convention also opened up my white privileged, able-bodied blinkers to a few things this year.  Life is SO HARD for the disabled trying to have some fun even in a supposedly accessible site like this.

Nine Worlds markets itself as a fully inclusive convention – especially for the neuro diverse, the gender fluid, the disabled. They were back at the Hammersmith Novotel for the third year running for various reasons I won’t go into here – it’s a /great/ venue for the able bodied and the volunteer team did a great job on the whole. For London, Novotel probably is one of the more affordable ‘accessible’ convention spaces.

Problems started before we left.  It would have been a lot easier for my partner and I to drive down, but the hotel parking was extortionate – about the same cost as the whole convention – hotel room and con ticket combined for the weekend for both of us – just to park the car and they say that their price is CHEAP for London.  Ouch!  There were no disabled concessions for car parking.  We caught the train and got a taxi over.  This did have the bonus of letting me play Pokemon Go in the taxi, but that kind of travel is exhausting to Ian so it was a MAJOR problem when our “accessible” room – was NOT accessible for a wheelchair user in the slightest. 

The ‘accessible’ room we were offered had twin beds – the gap between each, and between the walls and was too narrow for Ian’s wheelchair to fit.  We had also requested a walk-in shower due to the nature of my partners disability – a spinal injury which means a bath would be actively hazardous.  There were only a limited number of rooms with a walk-in shower and a lot of disabled attendees wanting to stay on site for obvious reasons. The access team were aware of this and contacted all who had requested accessible rooms to see who could make do with a bath with accessibility aids. We made them aware of Ian requiring a walk-in shower for safety reasons yet the hotel put us in a room with a bath.  I went down to complain to the hotel.  I also complained on Twitter and the Access team were great in their responses.  They SHOULD have checked out the accessibility of ALL the accessible rooms, but it’s a volunteer team, the hotel is a working site so rooms will occasionally be occupied.  They did their best.  It was the hotel’s fault they had not taken the access team’s ‘these people need accessible rooms with a walk-in shower’ notes and acted appropriately.

They moved us into a room that was only a little better – It had the walk-in shower, it had the wheelchair turning circle, but the corridor between bed, and desk to /get/ to the turning circle?  Too narrow for a wheelchair by a LOT.  It’s a good thing my partner can walk a LITTLE.  Too tired and too British to complain more, we settled for not great and made the best of it.

After that things got MUCH better thankfully!  Carpets are always going to be a problem for wheelchair users and that can’t be helped, the lift to one of the floors is tiny – but it’s there!  and the organisers had put abundant wheelchair user and priority access spaces in the convention spaces themselves.  Seriously though.  Way to open one’s eyes to the logistics of having a geeky holiday with a disability – I dread to think how someone who was in a wheelchair who had come alone to the con would have reacted.  I’d have been in tears!  I have of course fed all of the problems back to the access team, and they will be taking it into account, and there are big changes afoot for 9 worlds as a whole for next year anyway, so it will be interesting to see how things shape up.

So, on to the fun things!

Our first thing on the programme was Cheese and Cheese – literally eat cheese and listen to people read out cheesy fiction excerpts.  The Dr Who one with Missy talking about dildos to an extremely embarrassed Doctor was hilarious.  Ian has since bought a copy of one of Andrew Schaffer’s Obama-Biden mysteries from one of the excerpts we heard.  Lots of fun lots of laughs.

Friday was FULL ON.  As with most con’s there was a lot of schedule clashing, but that can’t be helped.

I started my day in The Way You Make Me Feel – a talk on how to get your readers to feel emotion from your writing. As a person on the Aspie spectrum, who doesn’t really understand people and feelings even after 30 odd years (I’m still figuring out when people are making jokes with me and not taking the mick out of me) It was really useful.  I took LOTS of notes. 

Next up was a panel of Asexual (Ace) Representation.  This was really educational for me, even though I’m Ace myself – I only discovered I was about 2 years ago – most of the panel were recent realisers themselves, thinking they were broken before.  WE ARE NOT BROKEN.  There was a little history lesson of how Ace as a term came to be.  There’s a huge rainbow of flavours of Ace and A-romantic and all sorts of things in between.  One of the major take-aways however was – Ace people are as a rule, considered to be unemotional robots or aliens, and are portrayed in death in the various forms of media a LOT – Dexter the serial killer being a prime example.  They want to see more platonic relationships between ace and aromantic characters, they want to see more people of colour who are ace, they want to see non-hetero relationships between ace characters.  Asexual and Aromantic characters have so MANY interesting stores to tell – all you have to do is reach out and ask.

The third item on my schedule was the Know Your Enemy Panel – which was so awesome.  Adrian Tchaikovsky, Anna Stephens, Mike Brooks and Jeanette Ng have such great insight into the topic.  They defined what a villain was to them and who their favourites were, and how they don’t act against the hero – they are proactive with plans that may not make sense – to the reader or the hero of the story, the hero acts against them.  Jeanette discussed Thanos and his rather chilling plans and how she could see his point of view based on her life experiences and how it was weirdly plausible in a twisted way.  Anna’s Villain was someone who at the outset created a despotic system, then realised what they had done – and did nothing to break it apart – villainy through inaction.  They discussed the dangers of ‘Othering’ and praised Kameron Hurley’s Mirror Empire as everyone is othered – so it’s all down to the greed and lust for power rather than Cis White Male/Female against the minority of choice.  They discussed how so many Disney re makes are trying to clean house on questionable past choices – like Ursula from the little mermaid being based on the performance of a drag queen.  Adrian made the excellent point that intellectualism has been othered because of comics that began in the 50’s - Dr is a villains name, Captain – a Hero and how it’s resulted in intellectuals in the modern day being treated with suspicion.  They discussed different books and how the villains differed – and how their approaches could be construed in different ways if looked at from a different angle – ranging from Blood Sacrifice, Grey areas rather than Hitler levels of evil which are rare these days, and normal people doing evil things scaled up.  Adrian brought up how rare the comedy villain is – Dennis Nedry from Jurassic Park being the most recent example.

After that blindingly good start, I spent the afternoon with my co presenter Amy Butt. She is a wonderful person who it was a delight to work with on this presentation when it was suggested we team up by the content coordinator.  It’s been YEARS since I last presented to anyone, so I was a bit nervous.  I needn’t have been.  We tweaked and refined, and got to the room we were presenting in early to set up (I will have no bad spoken of the tech team who were fantastic).  It is a REALLY good thing I know Adrian Tchaikovsky a little – and that I met him before I knew he was an award winning author or I’d have been freaking out with “OMG FAMOUS AUTHOR IN THE ROOM !!!ELEVENTY!!!!”, as it is, I met Adrian and his lovely wife Annie at a LARP – also in 2016 as it happens, and played their daughter so it was more an 'aww awesome friends in the room!' (Ian was sadly exhausted by the morning program so missed my presentation – much to his sadness).  The Presentation went REALLY well.  I stumbled over one question at the end, but recovered.  I helped a few authors and publishers with queries about how this or that could work with the map the book currently had, as well as stories planned – and netted a free book which I fully intend to give a thorough review to on my blog.  I’m seriously considering a Worldbuilding workshop where we make maps as a possibility for the future. 

After this I was off the hook as it were and could fully relax – which was great because next on the p was Knightmare Live – a role playing game with improv actors and audience participation based on a kids show I grew up with.  It was hilarious and I could never do it justice (though I’m still going to try).

This was followed by Dr Magnet Hands run by the superb (and as described by Ian a Mad Genius when it comes to role playing games) Grant Howitt – plus panel including Helen Gould of the Rusty Quill Gaming podcast (It’s one of the best podcasted roleplaying games out there.  I highly, highly recommended it, not least because the party’s acronym is LOLOMG ) Dr Magnet Hands has a plan that the panel of heroes has to defeat.  The twist – they and their powers (and the villains they face on the way) are decided by little slips of paper the audience have filled in with random things.  Which is how one of the heroes was Grant Howitt and another was Grant Howitt’s arms, and one was the empire snake building.  It was fun, and silly, and just slightly alcohol fuelled.

Needless to say, I crashed hard after that day of awesome.

Saturday was just as fun – I got up early for Dressing for Dystopia.

The main take away of this being – Have a really good pair of really sturdy boots in case the apocalypse hits.  It also discussed various fabrics – wool, cotton, colours, and ethical clothes making.  I was disappointed the presenter didn’t mention linen as an alternative to cotton – especially when she’d pointed out how exploitative cotton growing still is in parts of the world – but that’s me and my geeky historian rearing her head up over the battlements – linen was the main fabric of choice pre-cotton era because it could be grown in abundance in fields.

This was followed by the History of Women in Military SF – which had so many author recommendations and mentions my to read pile just doubled . The most interesting thing I learned from this panel is that Star Trek is Military SF – in peace time as Gene Roddenberry based it off the Hornblower novels – the empire has pretty much conquered everywhere there is to conquer and apart from occasional flare ups there’s not much for the military to do except science – like the Franklin Expedition. – there are ranks, there are uniforms – the ships have weaponry. They discussed the early writers of SF – surprisingly a lot of women in there, and how the second world war and cold war influenced writers over time.  They discussed how perception in the media has changed over time – it’s not just Men going to war in the news these days, it’s ‘our brave boys and girls’ – even though throughout history women have ALWAYS fought, either openly or in disguise.  They had an interesting take on Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series – which is openly basing parts on the Blitz – which I’d never considered before.

The afternoon was quite relaxed.  I played some board games with Ian, went and learned how to do Circular Gallifreyan script (it’ll make some great geeky abstract art in the house when I get time), a mooch around the vendor stands and the pop-up stalls.  I did some more doodling while Ian played Paranoia – though I was making notes on the progress of the game as I was also listening in – I can’t help session logging RPG’s.  Last thing of the day was absolutely worth staying up for – BSL for geeks after dark – which started with showing us how to sign Fuck the Patriarchy! And rapidly went into discussing alcohol types, how to say you want to sleep with someone more politely than “I want to fuck you.” & “You’ve pulled.” etc.  I learned a lot, and it’s making me want to learn more sign language.

My write up for Paranoia is here.  

Sunday was also quite chilled out.  I played some games in the bar area with friends before going to Folklore and liking it weird – with David Southwell of The Hookland Guide on Twitter.  I found this talk fascinating as it related horror and folk takes and urban legends back to the landscapes and communities they originate from and the sense of isolation they can provide or the power they can give. Here's a detailed look at the panel 

My last major panel of the con was Migration in SFF.  Again, I took so many notes!  Aliette de Bodard and Jeanette Ng brought their past experiences and family experiences to the fore in a way that made you think.  They discussed migration in it’s many forms Settler/Refugee/Ambassadors/Lifestyle Move migrations etc – how it’s so often been done badly in fiction and why – a lot of migration fiction is settler fiction based on colonization, and western fiction is getting recycled into this as well.  They discussed how it’s been done well in some places, mentioning things important to cultures that need to be taken into consideration – food is so important and items may not be available in one country that are abundant at home – or vice-versa, festivals with significance, even death and burial practices that may not be compatible with the culture the migrants have moved into.  They discussed the tropes of migration and aliens which are really Oriental cultures, complete with loss of face, obsessions with bloodline, broken English and or slow ponderous speech.  They discussed how to break away from these tropes – drawing on personal experience.  I’ll be thinking on all of this for a long time after I’ve typed it up.  An archaeology course I took about 6 years ago touched on the topic with Jewish culture in America, but it barely scratched the surface, this talk will last, and make me think before I write.

My last piece of programming on the schedule was Stories from Bronze Age Skies.  It was not what I expected – pleasantly so.  I was expecting a lecture on the myths and how they formed from the bronze age lives of people and how they linked the stories to the constellations – like folk tales – there was a brief introduction of such, but the majority of the time was spent reading the most beautiful tale written by the presenter of the Death of the Minotaur – from the Minotaur’s point of View – I did my level best to convince him to submit it to Pod Castle – it’s right up their alley!

And that was it.  I flopped hard because as a massive introvert I used all my spoons and then some, but it was SO worth it to see so many lovely people, and we headed home on the Monday.  All told a really good con despite the access issues.

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