Sunday, February 26, 2012


This weekend was Satellite 3 in the Grand Central in Glasgow. It was extreme fun in a slightly debilitating way. I’ve mentioned this before. Going to a convention is like having a planned illness. There is too much to drink, too much to eat, a non-congenial venue and late nights.
When I say a non-congenial venue, the Central has had a lovely face-lift. It looks fab, especially if you remember the tired and grubby visage it had towards the end of its former life. But the lighting is always conducive to SAD, the air is filled with the pollution inherent in refurbishment, it’s either too hot or it’s drafty, and there is never anywhere really comfortable to sit. 
The rest is very much self induced. Too much to drink? Just say no! Both Saturday and Sunday the first glass of beer was welcome and delicious. After that, well with nasty tea at £1.80, no tap water available and wine at £16 a bottle (red or white), I end up drinking beer that I don’t really want and don’t enjoy. 
I almost always walk away from conventions feeling mildly to extremely grotty so why keep turning up? It’s more than just turning up to the family dos that have the nearest similar pull. It’s that you see people you wouldn’t see all together anywhere else, that you have conversations and think about ideas that just aren’t sparked anywhere else and occasionally you spend some time preparing (sort of) for a panel item and are reminded of why you read that stuff in the first place.
I only got about half  way through ‘White Mars’ ready for the Literary Mars panel I was supposed to contribute to. It was dull. Mark Meenan says you have to have read Kim Stanley Robinson’s coloured Mars books and I never even finished Red Mars. I’m not convinced I will finish White Mars. I raced through CS Lewis’s ‘Out of the Silent Planet’ and though, as it did when I was fourteen, the religious stuff left me cold, the planet and the ‘people’ were as much fun as I remembered, especially the Hrossa; fishers, boaters, poets. Arthur C Clarke’s ‘The Sands of Mars’ was not poetic in any way, a bit of an old pot boiler to be honest, but still, readable and with a more realistic Mars. The book that I didn’t finish before the panel was Ray Bradbury’s ‘The Silver Locusts’, my copy of which seems to have been ‘borrowed’ from Lawnswood School in 1974 and never returned. Oops. Bradbury wrote believably monstrous people and beautiful crystal cities built on the shores of empty seas. This is the Mars I long to visit, respectfully, reverently. Alas.
Why has Mars been portrayed as it has? It’s conceivably reachable, it’s potentially terraformable  but mainly, I think, it’s a longing for a new frontier, a new beginning. If we found a planet populated by exquisite people with a wise and humane culture I suspect we would treat it as Bradbury’s characters did. I doubt people will walk on Mars anytime soon, but when we do we will use the fragile towers and crystal windows for target practice, metaphorically, as we try to turn our ancient neighbour into a meagre copy of the amazing world we are currently vandalising. 
And speaking of target practice. I know it is sad and niggardly of me to complain about a frothy science talk which was great fun, but there must be a different gas for Jon Davies to use to sound like Darth Vader or just drop it. I’m guessing a dense gas is what he needs. Sulphur hexafluoride has a few disadvantages though. It is 22,800 time worse as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and has been banned for all applications except high-voltage switchgear under the F-Gas Directive. The balloon full that he used today to sound like Darth Vader will have a long term effect on the atmosphere for something between the next 800 - 3200 years. The mild amusement is not worth the long term effect. Colour me not amused but appalled!

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