Last Saturday's BristolCon was the first Science Fiction convention I've attended since I was no higher than... well, the same height I am now, I suppose, but a lot younger.

So I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. I've heard a lot about comics conventions from Sarah McIntyre (a woman so glamorous that even her spots are named after Spanish royalty) and somehow I was assuming there would be lots of people dressed up in outrageous fantasy and sci-fi costumes, but there weren't.  Sarah was outraged when I texted her with this news: here's her message to the SF fans of Bristol:

I still can't believe the sci-fi fans didn't wear costumes, what a chiz and a let-down. Get with it, sci-fi people! 

So, no cosplayers, but the conference-y bit of the Ramada Hotel was filled with fans, artists and authors, and there were two programmes of discussion panels running through the day, talking about subjects which ranged from the minutiae of a writer's life - copyright, reviews, and how books turn into epics (the 'Genesis' panel) - to big picture stuff about how science became the bad guy and how science fiction has failed (and sometimes succeeded) at predicting future technology (that one was subtitled, 'Dude, Where's My Jet-Pack?')  There was also an art exhibition, including work by Jim Burns, who did the covers for some of the SF books I remember reading as a teen, and Bristol based comics and storyboards illustrator Simon Gurr.

I won't try to list all the writers and artists who attended, because I'm bound to leave some out (and I somehow managed to miss all three guests of honour; Jim Burns, Juliet McKenna and Justina Robson) but it was great to finally meet Alex Keller, whose novel Haywired has now a sequel, Rewired.  (We both contributed to the 'Genesis' panel, which suggests there are many more Wireds... to come.

The Genesis panel (image nicked from Marjorie73's Twitter, hence its superior quality).  L-R: Alex Keller, HM Castor,  Some Other Bloke, MD Lachlan, Alastair Reynolds.

After the panel I did a brief reading from Scrivener's Moon, which seemed to go over all right.  Kian Momtahan was in the audience, and let me take a picture of the note he made while I was reading. If only this motto could be embroidered on samplers and hung on the wall of every home in the land:

Kian's friend Tomas L. Martin is a writer who has published acclaimed short stories in a number of magazines, and also in the new collection Transtories, which was being launched at BristolCon.

Here I am with another member of the Genesis panel,  author H.M. Castor, attending her first convention, and promoting VIII, a YA historical novel about Henry VIII with fantasy elements. 

As you can see, my photos haven't come out very well - they were taken on my 'phone, which doesn't have a flash and didn't seem able to cope with the hotel lighting.   So I don't have my own photos of the rest of the panel; Alastair Reynolds, MD Lachlan and moderator Cheryl Morgan.  Nor do I have a snap of Tim Maughan, whose reading from his new collection of Cyberpunky short stories Paintwork was very impressive, and prompted me to buy it in memory-stick form (futuristic or WHAT?)  I also came home with a copy of The Recollection by Gareth L. Powell.

Operating the dodgy phone-cam was Jeremy Levett, friend of the WoME and my chief military advisor and unlikely tracked vehicle consultant.  Jeremy's family (who are LOVELY) live in Bristol, so I stayed at their house and took him along with me to be my minion for the day.  He was such a good minion that I may have to up-grade him to henchman, and he might make it all the way to sidekick if he plays his cards right.  He was wearing a red shirt, which has unfortunate connotations in sci-fi circles, being the uniform worn by those crewmen of the starship Enterprise whom the scriptwriters deemed expendable. I think we were all quite concerned for his safety, especially when he chose to sit in the front row for Mike Shevdon's talk on archery, but happily he emerged un-pincushioned.

The archery talk itself was excellent, dealing with the use of bows and arrows in fantastic literature, and revealing a lot of things I didn't know about how they work.  Here's Mike demonstrating how to pull a composite recurved bow (I think).

After that we were a bit panelled-out, so retired to the bar, where I talked to lots of charming and erudite people, including Shana Worthen of the British Science Fiction Association, and writers Dolly Garland, E.J.Newman and  Kim Lakin-Smith, whose new novel Cyber Circus I'm looking forward to reading. And then there was a QUIZ, which I didn't mean to enter, but somehow did, and it turned out to be Fun After All; we were lucky enough to have Iain Cairns on our team, and thanks to his startling recall of obscure SF facts we came second - and would have come first if I'd been able to identify the poster for Dark City and hadn't cast doubt on Iain's (actually quite correct) hunch that the planet Babylon 5 orbits is called Epsilon Eridani.  

Anyway, it was a very good day, full of meetings with lovely and interesting people, and a triumph of organisation on the part of chair Jo Hall and the committee - Andy Bigwood, Cheryl Morgan, MEG Broadribb, Heather Ashley, Roz Clarke, Mark Robinson and Sam Pearson.  If you're in the west of England on 20th October next year you should get yourself along to BristolCon 2012.  I'll be there for sure.  (Though you might not want me on your quiz team...)

A happy redshirt survives another day...