Alt.Fiction 2008: Getting There, Being There, Getting Back

If you’re looking for a detailed report of the goings on at the Alt.Fiction event in Derby this last weekend, this is probably not going to be quite what you’re after. But I did go to Alt.Fiction, and this is what it was like to go there, be there and come back. For me, at least.

Arriving at Edinburgh train station just as the largest hen party I’ve seen in years was decanting itself from a train and trying to find its way to the street. A crowd of glammed-up ladies milling about in a raucous miasma of obscenities, spangly toy cowboy hats and snatched camera phone photos.

Crossing the Tyne, in the heart of Newcastle (always my favourite bit of the ride south), beneath low cloud, in drizzle, and watching a sparrowhawk flying lazily close alongside the train, amidst all the metalwork and noise, above the grey water.

Walking into the Alt.Fiction venue, and instantly feeling both entirely at home, and vaguely like a fraud about to be exposed …

Feeling bad, with authors flitting to and fro on all sides, about not having read nearly enough of their books. I should have read all of them. I should read every book that comes out, in every distant by-way of every speculative genre, as soon as it comes out. But I can’t.

Buying copies of Interzone and The Third Alternative from the TTA Press stall, and thinking, for neither the first nor the last time: Damn, I’ll be sad if this kind of magazine really does go the way of the dinsoaurs, squelched by the incoming meteor of the online revolution. They’re just such pleasing objects to me, both physically, and in what they signify. (And hearing Charles Stross, at the last panel of the day, talking about the ‘death spiral’ of the paying magazine markets for offline sf/f short fiction, and knowing he’s probably right, in the long run.)

Finding Philip Palmer to be a thoroughly companionable, knowledgeable and grounded chap. And feeling guilty all over again, because I still haven’t read Debatable Space, damn it, even though it’s on my list …

On an obscure exterior wall of the venue, high up on the brickwork, where no one would see it unless they were looking for it, a tiny, plain plastic sign that said ‘The Darwin Room Sign’. I stared at it, bemused, for longer than I should have.

Forty or more fancy dress rockers, at a Derby bus stop. The guys in sharp suits, plastic quiffs and stuck on sideburns. The dolls in pink puffy dresses.

A fine rant on the perfidy and lunacy of the Hollywood scriptwriting machinery, courtesy of Graham Joyce.

The limitations of Quentin Tarantino’s conversational ability being revealed by Chaz Brenchley.

The role of ‘maverick cocks’ in genre fiction being inadvertently revealed by Michael Marshall Smith. (You had to be there).

The Lady Boys of Bangkok, or the sound of them and their audience at least, rising exuberantly from the theatre next door to contend with the wisdom of the later panelists: a vaguely fantastical backdrop to musings on fantasy. Their audience seemed fractionally more excitable than that of the authors. Can’t imagine why.

Getting a lift back to the hotel (or, more to the point, to the hotel bar) from a Hobbit. Seemed appropriate.

Riding back to Edinburgh on hot wheels. Half the train had to be sacrificed at Newcastle, and its passengers relocated, for it is possible for wheels to get just too hot. Had the train been busy, perhaps tempers would have warmed up too, but it wasn’t, so all was calm and good-humoured. Customer reaction to failure is context-sensitive.

Northumberland: Rabbit Heaven. Little crowds of them in what seemed like every trackside field for mile after mile, all clustered close to the railway line as if the titanic earthly vibrations of these roaring iron horses call out to and soothe some primal level of their little bunny brains.

Standing in the midst of a vast, empty field, within sight of Edinburgh: a single roe deer, watching us pass. Frozen in a patch of bright sunlight, as if locked between fascination and alarm at the sight of us.

So that was Alt.Fiction 2008 for me. It was good.

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