A week in Wales in the Penrice Castle Cottages! The perfect setting for working on a book (the stated goal) and solidifying relationships with the other writers and editors in our group. Spearheaded by Jo Walton, author of several excellent novels, the pre-Loncon 3 retreat was an opportunity to spend a bit more time with the speculative fiction and fantasy professional community before the maelstrom of the 2014 World Science Fiction Convention in London.
I did manage some work on a creative non-fiction project (tentatively titled An Accidental Dinner with Royalty) while traipsing about the ruins of the Gower peninsula. From Arthur’s Stone on Cefn Bryn to the grounds of Penrice Castle (where they were shooting a Dan Brown project) to the shallow beach of Oxwich, the pastoral setting was full of brambles and dragonflies. I attempted one watercolour painting using water from the sea, thereby confirming that my lack of talent is not affected at all by the change in medium.
As we were exiting the Swansea Museum, a man came out of the staff room. I caught a glimpse of a large room with bookshelves to the ceiling, crammed full of centuries-old books. It was not an area open to the public, but when the staff saw our reaction (I was there with Candas Dorsey), we were invited inside for a closer look and a chat.
The Waterfront Museum in Swansea needs a proofreader. A lightweight garment designed to help conserve body heat had an explanatory plaque that said a version was being developed “for dessert conditions”. Indeed.
The Loncon3 World Science Fiction Convention was held in East London at the ExCel Docklands. I was on a panel discussing the depictions of fear of Artificial Intelligence in works of fiction, and the degree to which those fears might be warranted. It was a panel that drew a lot of interest – an audience numbering more than 200. My focus was ethical purpose. There wasn’t a dull moment – and the arrival of someone attending via robot was thrilling. Other things I attended – such as a panel on science fictional opera, and the academic poster presentations on a variety of scientific/fiction topics – were intriguing but relatively sedate. One of my last moments of Loncon3 participation was joining in a raucous a cappella group rendition of Poisoning Pigeons in the Park. The next day we were in the British Library looking at the Magna Carta, and then the Canal Museum.
Took the train under the English Channel to spend a couple of days wandering through Montmartre to get a better feel for the context of the Erik Satie project. I did not take enough photographs. Side trips to the Paris Opera, Louvre and the Musee D’Orsay. A lot of walking. I found the gluten free restaurant on my last day – mere minutes after it had closed. It would have been a tiny detour on any of our trips between the hotel in Montmartre and the Seine.
Back in London to satisfy more curiosity. A delightful afternoon with the Clutes in Camden – John Clute is editor of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, among other things. Judith Clute is a wonderful artist, and she led us on a guided tour of Camden. John is quite knowledgeable and passionate about Handel, as it turns out. The quasi-operatic yowlings of the street performer outside were difficult to bear.
Then a couple of days spent with professor Farah Mendlesohn (head of the Department of English, Communication, Film and Media at Anglia Ruskin University) and Edward James (among other things, emeritus professor of medieval history at University College, Dublin). Wide ranging discussions about trends in higher education, the state of speculative fiction, and the challenges of academe. Dr. Mendlesohn then escorted me to the Soane Collection, the Foundling Museum (Handel papers! – we had already been to Handel House), the Hunterian Collection (lots of larynxes in jars, but the best thing was the brain of Charles Babbage), and the Wellcome Collection (where I heard the voice of Florence Nightingale).