BristolCon – A Small Con With Big Ambitions

""Last week, I was fortunate enough to be a guest at BristolCon, a small convention organised by the Bristol Fantasy & Science Fiction Society, and the first science fiction convention to be held in the city for some time.

Kicking off at 2.30pm, the event was held on the fifth floor of the Mercure Hotel, a short walk from the railway station and City Centre.

Upon entry, attendees passed through the Art Show to reach the main conference room. The show featured displays from BSFA Award winner Andy Bigwood, and illustrator and comic artist Simon Gurr.

The main conference room featured a sprinkling of dealers’ tables and spectacular views across the city. The convention schedule kicked off at 2.45pm, and packed an ambitious programme of discussion panels and Guest of Honour talks into three short hours.

The first panel was a discussion of TV adaptations of science fiction novels and stories, featuring panellists Nick Walters, Huw Powell, Jim Mortimore and John Hawkes-Reed. Although many TV adaptations were mentioned, the general consensus seemed to be that few had bettered the 1980s BBC adaptation of John Wyndham’s Day Of The Triffids.

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Images courtesy of Gemma Morgan All Rights Reserved www.gmorgan-photography.co.uk

This was followed by the first of two Guest of Honour talks, in which Charles Butler, a senior lecturer at the University of the West of England, discussed the use of local landmarks in the work of Diana Wynne Jones.

I sat on the second panel of the afternoon, along with Cheryl Morgan, Paul Cornell and Roz Clarke, to debate the similarities and differences between British and American science fiction, and the influences of both on the panellists. Paul Cornell made an impassioned plea against the "knee-jerk anti-Americanism" in British culture, and the panel discussed the notion that because the American science fiction scene had a larger home market than the UK, it could be argued that British science fiction was forced to be more permeable to the main stream, with writers and ideas constantly crossing back and forth in order to generate a wide enough readership.

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Images courtesy of Gemma Morgan All Rights Reserved www.gmorgan-photography.co.uk

""Then, it was Alastair Reynolds’s turn to deliver a fascinating Guest of Honour talk on the nature and challenges of balancing dramatic necessity with scientific plausibility in Hard Science Fiction, with particular reference to the work of the reclusive Australian writer Greg Egan.

The final panel attempted to identify the dividing line between fantasy and science fiction. Led by Colin Harvey, it featured contributions from Eugene Byrne, Lee Harris, and Juliet McKenna, and produced one of the ""most interesting discussions of the afternoon, as it moved on to talk about the self-appointed gatekeepers preventing speculative fiction authors from gaining mainstream credibility, as demonstrated by the lack of science fiction on the Booker Prize shortlist.

With the official programme now concluded, the crowd relocated to the adjoining bar for the launch of Colin Harvey’s novel Winter Song, released by new Harper Collins’s new imprint Angry Robot. Sitting in the window with his back to the setting sun, Colin read an excerpt from the book and gave away 40 copies of the paperback. The question and answer session following the reading became a spontaneous round-table discussion with input from several of the authors present, comparing the reasons writers write, and the tension they feel exists between their literary ambitions and the practical need to hold down a day job in order to pay the mortgage and put food on the table.

I left at this point to grab some dinner at The Spyglass, one of the floating restaurants in Bristol’s historic harbour, moored a few short paces from the famous Llandogger Trow, once the haunt of pirates and reputed to be the inn where Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Treasure Island.

All-in-all, this was a most enjoyable convention. Despite its size, it attracted some credible guests and squeezed a hell of a lot into its short running time. The audience were good natured and numbered somewhere between fifty and sixty. Considering the event was pulled together in a very short period of time, with almost no budget, considerable kudos should go to the organisers

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