Wednesday, 20 August 2014

LonCon 3

This year’s Worldcon in London was a significant improvement on the already-great experience of Glasgow’s event in 2005, with so many interesting media and literature panels that I ended up missing lots of things. There was simply too much good stuff going on, over this SF convention’s five-day run (of panel talks, movies, and shows), to choose from.

Thursday's programme featured Melinda Snodgrass moderating a 'History of Blockbusters' (which I thought neglected Irwin Allen as godfather of that cinema format); and the irreverent/ silly fun of a stageplay about TV puppet-hero 'Captain Tartan', marred by a ridiculous half-hour queue to get seats. Throughout the long weekend, the screening programme by Sci-Fi London presented an impressive variety of TV and movie items, launching with steampunk feature, War Of The Worlds: Goliath, a Malaysian produced anime sequel to Wells’ story, with a voice-cast that included Adrian Paul.
Friday began with a discussion about ambiguity in fiction, and an entertaining media-related panel on 'Godzilla at 60'. Janie Fenn moderated the 'Space on Screen' panel that included Paul McAuley and Alastair Reynolds, and Gravity and Elysium were moving targets for criticism. The philharmonic orchestra assembled for LonCon 3 was clearly the highlight of the convention’s music programme, and I thought the interpretation of Doctor Who’s theme was stunning. If the BBC ever allows another big-screen production, something very like this would be a perfect score. 

I enjoyed the 'Politics of Utopia' panel on Saturday morning, where Kim Stanley Robinson and Maureen Kincaid Speller talked a lot good sense about a complex topic, and threads of that discussion were picked up by the following panel on what the SF term 'Banksian' means. On a tiny stage, two-hander 'Terminal Zone' was a play (by Andrew J. Wilson, circa 1993) about Rod Serling facing up to cancellation of Twilight Zone on TV. After the talk by artist Chris Achilleos, the late movie was a baffling sci-fi mystery, Cycle, which borrowed heavily from the imagery of Tron and 2001: A Space Odyssey, but lacked enough hints of narrative coherence to be fully entertaining, even as experimental art-house SF.

On Sunday, the media panel about spy-fi was amusing, and honest about cross-genre campiness. After that, I saw a TV screening of one episode from a BBC documentary about apocalyptic SF The Martians & Us: The End Of The World As We Know It, with contributions from the usual British genre suspects and thoughtful narration by Peter Capaldi. The science panel about 'Speculative Design' had some fascinating comments, but failed to focus on its topic beyond discussing the contrast between commerce and creativity, and industry versus art. Retro TV screening The Other Man (a 'lost' episode from the ITV-play series), was alternative history that starred Michael Caine and John Thaw. It was incomplete, and shown here mainly for its curiosity value, but this might be a worthwhile TV movie if a full restoration project ever becomes possible. 'War on Science' was a divisive topic, and the panel of working scientists discussing it neglected religion, in favour of profit, as the primary motivation for damage caused to research and studies. Scandinavian black comedy LFO: The Movie was a witty, and occasionally hilarious, low-budget SF drama about a mind-control system, and the ultimate effect upon its haunted inventor.

The last day started with an excellent panel on the 'Image as Idea' in genre cinema, Nick Lowe and Adam Roberts dominated the entertaining discussion, which ranged between intellectualism and artistry. Prof. David Southwood’s inspired talk, 'Science Fact and Science Fiction', proved to be a nostalgic reverie from the heart of a retired space engineer. I enjoyed every minute of his commentary on genre history. An 'Interview with Jim Burns' covered his 40-year career as a major SF/ fantasy artist. The final TV screening was the episode Fifteen Million Merits, from anthology series Black Mirror, created by Charlie Brooker. 15MM is a dystopian satire about consumerism and trash-TV. I can’t say that it’s tempted me to buy the DVD set, but I suspect the rest of this British series is worth seeing.

My suggestion for another British event is 'HALcon' 2018 (worth a WorldCon bid?), to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Kubrick and Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Wouldn't that SF con be something to look forward to?

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