The SFX Weekender 2 Experience
by Andy Remic
(or) What I Did On My Holidays (excluding) Adventures With 8 Foot Tall Machine-Gun-Toting Bikini-Clad Sexy Über-Vixens!!
Let’s start with the bombshell – SFX Weekender 2 was the best convention I’ve ever attended, and that includes Worldcon Glasgow 2005, where I met Terry Pratchett and Iain Banks for the first time, and made a presentation of my SPIRAL books for Orbit to a crowded room who actually laughed at my jokes. Amazing!!
So, massive thanks must go to the SFX team who made it all happen, and David Bradley, Da Boss and fellow ZX Spectrum retro-geeky-freak, who kind of co-invited me, alongside Solaris Books, for the official launch of my upcoming SF Solaris novel, Cloneworld.
So then, I hear you yodel, why was it so good? Why? After all, one famous female editor told me she’d rather swim naked with piranhas than attend Camber Sands in February. Freezing wind? Check. Freezing beaches? Check. Pontins. Er. Yeah. Pontins. Double Cell Block H check. But you know what, you know what, it was actually pretty good. I mean, the chalets were similar to a Stalag, sure, as anybody who stayed there would attest (I was fortunate enough to take my wife, whose colourful language/attitude prohibited any possibility of actually staying at Pontins! The Horror!). Ignoring the exterior alarum, inside, it was the main staging area, dealer rooms and bar facilities that really set the venue alight. They were big. I mean, BIG. And it buzzed. The arena thrummed with electric excitement like no other convention I’ve ever attended. It oozed geek chic and fanboy fundom in buckets. Barrels. Starship shovels! I’ve never felt anything like it.
The actual structure of the place, of the convention, was also very, very well thought-out – the way the convention was designed, the layout, was conducive to slack-jawed browsing, wide-eyed gawping, to tongue-lolling enjoyment all underlined and accentuated by the fact that the SFX dudes had excelled themselves with filler. Filler. Stuff. You know? The gear that goes on all the time.
We had 8 foot tall machine-gun-toting bikini-clad sexy über-vixens, we had 8 foot tall blonde-bouffant quaffed super-über-sexy-super-vixens, we had 8 foot tall feather-poking underwear-flashing sexy-feather-poky über-valkyries… sorry. You get the picture. Even Craig Charles was impressed from his vantage point on the stage, and asked, with genuine angst, “Why don’t I get any of those?”. But then! Then! we had Darth Vader. And stormtroopers. Lots of stormtroopers! A whiskey-barrel of stormtroopers! Including stormtroopers from Clone Wars, and Scout Riders, and Gamorrean Guards, and lots of other armour-clad dudes who I didn’t recognise but it was sure fun to be prodded out of the way by their huge unwieldy axes.
We had a Tardis, replete with David Tenant unlookalike (go on then, I suppose he looked a bit like him, but not enough to excite my wife like the real article… but that’s another story). There were Jedi Knights, and The Emperor Himself made an appearance (boo! hiss!!) and most amusingly, my son refused to be photographed with him. There were dealer rooms and dealer stalls everywhere sporting books and mags and t-shirts and toys, which meant there was always something to look at, always something to prod. At one point, I was stood watching Craig Charles do his Q&A on stage, and my 8 year-old boy-cub tugged my sleeve and pointed out a Ghostbuster Dematerializer. Wow. Cool. Right next to Iron Man’s mask – complete with glowing eyes. Then Darth chased my 5 year-old boy-cub, attempting to turn him to the Dark Side. I kindly explained he was already there. And there was, or course, the delectable Keeley Hawes. I heard many fans gushing about how well she’d treated them; Keeley sent a lot of people away as Very Happy Shiny People. I know. I heard them masticating!
Which brings me on to…. kids. Now, I’ve been to conventions. I’ve been to lots of conventions, and many have distant dusty boring panel rooms and a bar full of old blokes getting drunk. I’ve not got a problem with this. Hell, I even enjoy this. It’s why I go. But the SFX Weekender 2 catered for kids, it catered brilliantly for kids, and my little boys had an absolutely dazzling and unique time. I admit, I wasn’t going to take them at first, but by not taking them I would have deprived them of something special. Why do they want to sit in a bar full of SF geeks drinking? I reasoned. Well. I was wrong! And you don’t get me to admit that very often!
And it wasn’t just the photo opportunities, although there were many of those (for Mum and Dad, as well as Little Boys With Toys), it wasn’t just meeting famous people like Craig Charles and (ahem!) James Lovegrove (that’s another bottle of whiskey you owe me, dude). No. It was the constant movement. Like the whole place was alive, a barrel of eels on PCP, the perennial flow from one interesting area to the next amongst the bustle of excited and like-minded people. There were the XBOX game rooms with pre-release shooters. There were Q&As on the main stage, book launches and author Q&As in the bar(s), there were areas for stars to sign and be photographed with fans… even the entrance area/reception was kitted out like a toxic wastezone, some leftover set from The Book of Eli or The Road… and most of it within eyeshot of the rest, so the whole thing was a constant assault on the senses, a chaos spinning the imagination, a spaghetti-mess of internalised cerebral euphoria. Organised chaos. With love and chocolates.
So… what made it special for me – on a personal level? Why am I ranting? Please. Allow me to explain.
I arrived on Friday to do a book launch in the Queen Victoria Bar. Due to the children in the audience, I “self-censored” the extract from my new novel, Cloneworld (published by Solaris Books, March 2011) using words such as “flipping heck” and “cheeky monkeys”. The whole thing was shakily filmed by my PA and will be posted shortly. Then, there was a signing session, and I got to meet lots of fans and people who’d enjoyed the reading and, gee, I had a really big queue.
That was pretty special. David Thomas-Moore, my editor on Cloneworld and handy über-fixer, sorted out the TV and we had a second launch – that of the video promo for Cloneworld (made professionally, I must admit, and on a very large budget, I assure you, and with music by th3 m1ss1ng), which you can now see here:
At least it got a few laughs. And explained why I was wearing a pink cowboy hat previously stolen from Ronan Keating (again, another long story).
I spent some time hanging out at the Solaris stand, signing books and chatting, and then lo! I did spy on the horizon one Robert of Rankin. He had a nice hat, but not as nice as mine, so with Pink Cowboy Wonder on noggin I headed for his table, and beseated myself beside the Noble Lord and had a very pleasant chat with the Great Man Himself. I explained that some of the deviant humour in my novels was all his fault. I don’t think he understood. But he will, one day, oh yes!
I hung out on the Angry Robot stand, again signing stock (some copies of Soul Stealers had found their way there and were being obsequious, the cheeky vampire monkeys) and thus checked out Lee Harris’s photos. Whenever you drop by Angry Robot, always check out Lee Harris’s photos. They are… amazing. And no. I refuse to comment on his PVC. Or rubber. Stop it.
I hung out with Gary Main, RAF dude and fiction fanboy, who along with his mate Rob, were very pleasant company. Gary couldn’t keep up with me on the pints, but then you’d expect this when drinking with a kickass hardened writer like myself, Hemingway or Kerouac. Heh. It was also a pleasure to heckle James Lovegrove during his Q&A session, and again credit must go to David Thomas-Moore who ran around like a man possessed, making sure us spoilt little authors had everything we needed to facilitate interaction with our fans. Around this point (events are hazy and merged) I also had a chat with the thoroughly nice Jared Shurin, he of Pornokitsch fame, and his lovely wife Anne. Yeah yeah, he wrote a bad review of Kell’s Legend at one point, but he writes so well, and so funny, that I had to forgive him. Anyway, he was a gent and Pornokitsch is a great read. Another great read is Geek Syndicate (there’s a photo here somewhere) and I did some soundbite podcasting thing for them, and an interview is imminent.
What/who else? Ahh, had a chat with the wonderful Joe Abercrombie, of whom I’m a Very Big Fan, and also Mark Charan Newton and Adrian Tchaikovsky, who I’m doing a joint signing event alongside in Leeds during March. And believe it or not, my shirt was better than Mark’s. Shh. He doesn’t like it. And I heard very bad things about his dancing. Quick words followed with a panicked and quickly exiting Mr Ian Whates, and then… yes. AWESOMENESS happened!
I met Craig Charles in the bar.
I am an unashamed Red Dwarf fanboy. Watched it since 1987 when I was doing my A levels. Spent more time watching Red Dwarf than actually doing my A levels, in fact. Even though he was incognito in the bar wearing a Big Hat, I sidled over and ordered a beer, then waited for my wife to arrive. Like a True Coward, I sent her over with the kids to get photographs (who could resist, right?), and then sidled alongside for my own cheeky photo and had a chat with The Great Dave Lister himself. Photo enclosed. I apologise for Mr Charles being unshaven, seeing as I grabbed him straight after a six and a half hour journey down from Manchester… but hey, he was so gracious and friendly, and, dammit, I was being photographed and drinking beer in the very presence of David Lister Himself. It doesn’t get Cooler than that, Cool Kat.
Finally, the SFX Awards. I probably enjoyed this more than most due to my AAA (Access All Areas) passes which meant me and my clan could bypass queues, go backstage, and watch Robert Rankin doing his sound check. Great fun. The Awards themselves kicked off with all manner of giant robots and dancers to which my kids’ jaws actually hit the floor. I ain’t kidding. Robert Rankin was a superb host for the awards, funny, charming, but still not wearing a hat anywhere near as cool as my pink cowboy number. Still, with Ronan Keating on hand to lend me fashion tips, even the mightily dressed Mark Charan Newton could never compete.
Overall, then. To conclude. The best convention I’ve been to, and sure, some of it was for personal fanboy reasons and the (wicked) AAA passes, but genuinely – this was a great event for geeks, fanboys, SFF addicts and kids. Yes. Kids. Next year, the SFX Weekender 3 is at Pontins in North Wales. Give your kids and your drooling boyfriends/girlfriends/husbands/wives a treat and get over there. The bar will be stocked. There’ll be somebody cool on the decks. And did I mention there were 8 foot tall machine-gun-toting bikini-clad sexy über-vixens?
Thanks to Dave Bradley and the SFX Crew. Brilliant, guys, just brilliant.
and of course……… without whom……