Confession: My problem with Science Fiction conventions is that 33% of the way through, I am always seized with a desire to go home and write Science Fiction.
I can only sit still for so long without typing. 24 hours in and I’m more excited by about hanging out with other SF folk than I am about panels and readings. That’s why I’m lazy about going to local performance events.
It helps, of course, that Edinburgh is already Science Fiction Convention: the City. It’s large enough to support overlapping cohorts of geeks spawned by the local universities the way a recurrent nova spawns expanding spheres of luminous gas. At the same time, my city is small enough that once you are plugged in, you really are plugged in. So, I already have people to hang out with.
What lured me out of my hermetic bubble was the promise of a balanced slice of the convention experience: performance followed by drinking and chatting.
Shoreline of Infinity Magazine‘s Event Horizon has grown since 2015 to become awfully like an actual monthly science fiction mini-convention.
There’s live music, readings, performance poetry (that’s good rather than cringe-making), then beer drinking while putting the universe to rights.
In some ways it’s a modern take on the literary salons and beatnik gatherings of yesteryear… which is fitting because Shoreline of Infinity is very much “like the old thing you like, but genuinely new”.
Shoreline of Infinity is a regular short-story magazine with an emphasis on the story part of the equation:
…We want stories that explore that uncertain future. We want to play around with the big ideas and the little ones. We want writers to tell us stories to inspire us, give us hope, provide some laughs. Or to scare the stuffing out of us. We want good stories: we want to be entertained, here on the Shoreline. We want to read how people cope in our exotic new world, we want to be in their minds, in their bodies, in their souls.
As we sit around the fire of driftwood, sparks floating to mingle with the stars in the sky, we can share these tales, and remember one of the greatest gifts we have as human beings is our infinitely expandable imagination and sense of wonder.(*)
There’s a Pulp-era vigour about the whole operation, but with contributors like Ken McLeod and Jane Yolen, this is no throwback. Rather it’s what a Golden Age editor might produce were he to do a Captain America and awaken in the 21st century, ready to resume operations.
Last night — and yes, I am typing this with a mild hangover (not because I’m a tropish drunken author, but because I am normally so busy raising children and sword fighting that I am abstemious unless there is good company and SFnal conversation) — was my first Event Horizon since they shifted the evening to one that doesn’t clash with my Historical Fencing (because I can sit in pubs when I’m old; while I can wield a sword, swords have priority (fencing in-joke there, btw)).
(Back in the Dark Ages, Edinburgh sat on the wonderfully defensive volcanic ramp leading up to Castle Rock. As centuries passed, it sprawled out over neighbouring hills, with slums and dodgy areas squeezed into the gloomy crinkles between. Around the end of the 18th century, massive bridges spanned the messy valleys to create neatly ordered Classical streets.
Paradoxically, all that heroic Classicism created a weirdly Gothic two-tier city. Towering multi-story tenements quickly bracketed each bridge, with shop fronts and wealthy residences at deck level, but foundations in seedy valleys beneath. Thus, you can enter a pub on sunny South Bridge and plunge down the several flights of stairs to emerge in the gloomy Cowgate.
Vaulted lower stories support the weight of the upper ones. These vaults connect to the more spacious vaults of the bridges themselves. Until the end of the last century, the complex of great stone-arched rooms was generally too damp to be used for anything other than beer cellars and mouldy rehearsal studios, where the crumbling plaster served to mute the howling electric guitars of bands like my old and fleeting Dr Faustus and his Temporal Misfits (of which the less said the better, though you would have loved our Johnny B Good.) Then more investment and better damp-proofing swept it all away.
So it is that I found myself drinking beer and listening to Ken McLeod under a stone arch where once I plied my Mk 1 Fender Rhodes Electric Piano.)
The event — free entry! — was tucked away in an intimate vault.
Once upon a time, the acoustics would have been a showstopper. These days, hi-tech sound engineering is sufficiently shrink-wrapped that a band can play without making your ears bleed. This is a good thing because a band did play: L-space, “an electronic dream pop band from Scotland”, whatever that means!
I’d describe L-space as “keyboard and vocals band does Bladerunner meets Journey of the Sorcerer,” meaning I rather liked them (listen and make up your own mind). The lead singer/songwriter is a Philip K Dick fan, and she’s very much into the more thoughtful side of SF. This came across both in the music — there was a song about being uploaded into a spaceship and traveling the stars — and in the mind-blowing background graphics.
The downside was that it made me want to run home and write some Space Opera — and yes, we were about 33% through the performance!
I’m glad I didn’t dash away because next up were readings.
Astronomer, all round space-scientist and Literary Hard SF (yes, that is a thing) poet and author Pippa Goldschmidt treated us to a hilariously snarky story about a marginalised female scientist and a dino-killer grade asteroid headed for Earth, then a witty poem about British SF tropes (which was much cleverer and wittier than I’m making it sound).
Mesmerising Sam Small, performance poet, put on a mesmerising performance.
We had a beer break, then SF giant Ken McLeod got up and read a Pythonesque near future piece taking the effect of mobile devices on pub conversation to its logical conclusion.
L-Space closed the show.
Throughout, the quirky MC was Russell Jones, a literary academic and mainstream poetry editor, living and lively proof that genre boundaries are no longer tribal ones.
It was all over in an hour and a half, leaving plenty of time for beer and convention-style mingling.
In the morning I settled down to L-space on Spotify and yes I did write Science Fiction (the sequel to The Wreck of the Marissa).
I like Science Fiction, but I love waking in my own bed with the prospect of a day’s writing ahead. I used to put “people person” on my CV. More accurate would have been “some people some of the time person”, which is probably why I enjoyed Event Horizon so much: the right people for the right amount of time. I’ll certainly be there next month!
M Harold Page is the Scottish author of The Wreck of the Marissa (Book 1 of the Eternal Dome of the Unknowable Series), an old-school space adventure yarn about a retired mercenary-turned-archaeologist dealing with “local difficulties” as he pursues his quest across the galaxy. His other titles include Swords vs Tanks (Charles Stross: “Holy ****!”) and Storyteller Tools: Outline from vision to finished novel without losing the magic. (Ken MacLeod: “…very useful in getting from ideas etc to plot and story.” Hannu Rajaniemi: “…find myself to coming back to [this] book in the early stages.”)