Nine Worlds 2017

I got back from Nine Worlds Geekfest yesterday, and before I get working on my packing for Worldcon – it’s tomorrow! Aah! – I thought I’d get down some brief thoughts about it, particularly given my last post.

This year went better than last year, I’d say. The content was mostly great again, but the main thing is that I managed to not fall down an anxiety rabbit hole again, managing it by just giving myself permission to go off to my room and do something on my own a couple of times. Though I still spent far too much time standing around awkwardly on my own, the folks at Nine Worlds are pretty friendly and welcoming. I got onto quiz teams at the beginning and end of the con, and spent a little more time gaming than I did last year.

I’m still terrible at eating properly and looking after myself while on holiday. I survived on the included breakfast in the morning and a Tesco meal deal in the afternoon, which isn’t exactly a balanced diet. I’m not sure what I’ll do in Helsinki – in Norway last year I managed, but would spend far too much time trying to convince myself to go inside restaurants for each meal. I’ll survive, I guess.

But overall it was pretty good this year. I think if I keep going I’m likely to get gradually more comfortable there – at least in part because I might start to feel like I know people. I’m not quite there yet, since I still managed to feel like an outsider whenever I was around other people. Whether I go again next year might depend a little on my employment situation, though. We’ll see.

Anyway, Worldcon 75 awaits! I’m curious how the culture of the two cons will contrast.

Anticipation

(This is a personal post.)

In little over a week, I’ll be setting out for a long month of events, starting with Nine Worlds Geekfest, followed immediately by Worldcon in Helsinki, and then a week later my annual trip to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I’m excited and eager, but there’s one little bit of me wondering if it’s a bit too much.

The first convention I attended was Loncon3, the 2014 Worldcon in London. Overall it was pretty great, I enjoyed the panels and readings, but the whole thing was undercut with frustration at myself for not being able to socialise. I’m far too self conscious and uncomfortable to approach people I don’t already know, and I tend to end up staying isolated even among these big groups of people with presumably shared interests. I’m very grateful to Meg Frank, who generously showed me around and introduced me to a bunch of people at Worldcon, but even then I wasn’t really able to engage with people and didn’t feel comfortable approaching them again afterward.

The anxiety and frustration culminated in a bit of a breakdown in my hotel room on the last night, where I’d retreated after leaving the Hugo ceremony and finding I didn’t really know what to do with myself while everyone else was heading off to the various parties. I found myself venting on Twitter, which helped me calm down but wasn’t exactly a good idea.

The second convention I attended was Nine Worlds 2016. I loved Nine Worlds – it covers a very broad range of geeky interests, but comes at every part of it with a focus on inclusion, and the understanding you can love things and still be critical of them. It just ticked all my boxes as far as the programme content went, which is why I immediately bought a ticket to go again this year. But in between panels, I spent most of my time hanging around the edges, sitting alone watching everyone else. I managed to have some fun in the games room, but half my visits there still involved me standing around awkwardly for a few minutes then leaving. This disconnection from the other attendees wasn’t helped by having a hotel room ten minutes walk away. Once again, the con ended with me falling apart back in my room and venting on Twitter.

(I should probably be embarrassed at myself for those tweet threads, but somehow I’m not? I still don’t know if I was attention-seeking or just thinking out loud.)

Which brings me to next month. My third and fourth conventions, back to back. I’m really looking forward to it, and I expect to enjoy it a lot – I’m not really anxious, at the moment. But I think back on those two nights, the hour or so I let myself fall apart each time, and I wonder. What is it going to be like for me, going through that not for 3 or 4 nights but for two long weekends in a row? I don’t see any reason why I should struggle with it now, but I was hardly having a rational reaction the other times it happened. I honestly don’t know if this will get to me again on the same level, or possibly worse.

Overall I expect to enjoy the experience, I just feel like I’ll be going into it constantly anticipating those anxiety-induced tears.

(I guess I’m lucky I only get anxiety, and not depression.)

2017 – Looking Forward

As Hugo Award season begins with the opening of nominations, I’m thinking about my plans for the year ahead – which include attending Worldcon for the second time (after Loncon3 in 2014), where I’ll get to see the Hugos given out first-hand.

I don’t travel much, but 2016 was a bigger year for me than usual – I spent a week in Norway, I attended Nine Worlds Geekfest in London (which was a really good con, that I wish I’d managed to write something about here), and I took my usual trip to Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival. In 2017 things are looking similar – I’ll be heading to Scandinavia again, this time to attend Worldcon 75 in Helsinki – unfortunately that doesn’t leave me much time for sightseeing, but I’m going to hang around an extra couple of nights to see the city. I’ll be going back to Nine Worlds, because it really was that good last year. And I’ll probably be going to Edinburgh yet again.

Of course, there’s one issue with these plans: They’re all in August. That is going to be one long and expensive month, which is why I’m not 100% certain about the Edinburgh Fringe this year. The rest of my year will be uneventful, I expect. The first few months of 2017 I’ll be trying, as usual, to get as much Hugo-eligible novel reading done as I can in time for nominations (nominating for the Hugos is a big deal if you care about the results, by the way – in the past categories have been swept by a small handful of voters, though this year there are new rules in place to help with that), which I’m further behind after my shorter-than-usual 2016 reading list.

As for the rest of the year, well. I’ll keep reading, keep gaming, keep watching great films and TV, and maybe even get around to writing about some of it here. More often than last year, at least.

Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2016

I’ve been in Edinburgh since Monday, on my annual visit to the Edinburgh Fringe. Usually I’d make a summary post each day, but this time I thought I’d just write it up in one post.

TL;DR my favourite shows this year:

  • Daniel Sloss, So
  • Chris Coltrane, Socialist Fun Times
  • Nicole Henriksen, Makin It Rain

But I didn’t see anything I’d say was bad.

Monday

My first day at the Fringe was a little shorter, and I mostly saw acts I’d seen before in previous years. The first show I saw this year was Tamar Broadbent’s Get Ugly; this is the third year in a row I’ve been to Tamar’s free show, and she was as good as ever, very funny with good songs.

Next was Rachel Parris, another musical comedy act. I first saw her in a free show a few years back which I enjoyed a lot, but her paid show the next year – which used character comedy – was a little disappointing in comparison. Best Laid Plans, her show this year, was back to something more like that first year, and I enjoyed it.

After that was the last repeat on previous years, Daniel Sloss’s So. Sloss is one of the best stand up acts I’ve seen, and this year was just as good as last year, highly recommended.

My final show on Monday was Russ Peers’ Bad Gay, which started off awkwardly when I was the only person who stepped forward when they called for people with tickets to go in. It was one of the shows that are free to get in but give the option of buying a ticket, which is not clear on the Fringe ticket website; it turned out I had a few tickets like this. As it was 10:30pm on a Monday, it was a pretty small crowd. Peers’ show was a little rough around the edges, but amusing enough.

Tuesday

I fell afoul of my indecision on Tuesday, and didn’t go to either of the first two free shows I’d been considering to start my day. In the end I started with The Punel Show, which is exactly what it sounds like. The show was a bit of a disaster, as one of the two hosts was absent due to an injury and the remaining host was a little lost, but it still managed to be a lot of fun (so long as you like a lot of bad puns).

After that was Laura Lexx, Tyrannosaurus Lexx, which wasn’t the greatest standup show, but was still worth the price (this was another of the”£5 or pay what you want” tickets).

My next show was James Wilson-Taylor’s Ginger is the New Black. Another musical comedian, this show was a bit shoutier and more absurd than most I saw, and got a lot of laughs out of me.

After I grabbed some food (I barely ate on Monday and was trying to do better), I moved on to American standup Ari Shaffir’s Ari-S-P-E-C-T, which I think was my favourite show off the day.

Finally, there was Gillian Cosgriff’s This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, which had my favourite songs out of all the musical comedy acts I saw this year.

I’d planned to see another after that, but it was late, wet, and I had a 25 minute walk to get to my hotel, and I really wasn’t feeling up to more.

Wednesday

Wednesday was my best day of the Fringe. Some of the crowds were small, I got soaking wet, but I had some of my best times at the shows I saw that day.

The day started a little weak with Sooz Kempner’s Queen; the show had strong storytelling elements and Kempner’s cover songs were strong (she has a good voice), but the original songs weren’t great and the humour wasn’t quite there. (I honestly think the show could be fine without being funnier because of that storytelling side, but Kempner kept calling attention to the weak laughs.)

I followed that up with Laurence Owen’s Cinemusical High, a one man high school musical, which was a lot of fun.

The next show was Chris Coltrane’s Socialist Fun Times. I’d tried to see Coltrane before a couple of years ago, but the venue had been packed full; this time was also packed, so much so that people were sitting on the floor. It’s political comedy, very left wing as the title implies, and very very funny. Really glad I caught this one, will probably try to see him again on future trips.

As good as that was, the next show I saw is possibly my favourite out of all five years I’ve been to the Fringe. Nicole Henriksen’s Makin It Rain is a one-woman theatre piece about her work as a stripper to support her comedy career. Henriksen gives a strong performance which is at turns funny, sexy, serious and poignant. As well as an autobiographical piece, it’s also a feminist discussion of the stripping profession, the impact it has on performers, and its position and perception in our sexist society. Strongly recommend seeing this one. (Note: includes nudity.)

After that, I went to a standup show by Danny Deegan, which had the smallest crowd out of all my Fringe shows with only 5 people present. Deegan handled it well, though, and delivered a solid set largely about his relationship with his father. I think we all had a good time despite the turnout.

After killing some time watching a street musician (or more honestly, taking shelter under a tree from the rain, which happened to be next to a performer), and getting well and truly soaked walking across town to the venue, my final show of the Fringe was Rahul Kohli’s Newcastle Brown Male. Kohli’s set about racism was a decent end to a very good day, I enjoyed it a lot.

That’s it for my 2016 trip to Edinburgh. Right now I’m on a train from Edinburgh to London, where I’ll be attending Nine Worlds Geekfest; more on that later this weekend. It’s been a good trip this year; here’s looking forward to next year.

Edinburgh 2015 – Day 2

Little late writing this one up. I’m back home now from my very short visit to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which was pretty good. The only real problem I had is that I turned out to be really awful at successfully attending free shows – nearly every one I went to was full when I got there. I guess in future I need to allow more time, because not only would I miss the show I’d wanted to see, but I’d also not be able to find an alternative because I’d only really given myself exactly that hour before I had to head for a paid show.

That started straight away on Saturday, when I tried to start the day with David Callaghan’s “No Momentum”. When that fell through, I decided I should work out where one of the other venues was while I had the time. My last show of the day was a long walk out of the centre, and I wasn’t entirely sure how to get there – and it’s a good thing I did a trial run, because I got lost. I eventually did find the place, then walked all the way back for a quick lunch.

My actual first show of the day, then, was Austentatious, who perform a different improvised Jane Austen novel every day. The title that came out of the hat this time was “Magic Mike at Pemberley”, and the group seemed to have a lot of fun with that.

Next up I was supposed to go see “Worst Show on the Fringe”, which is some short sets by comedians who have received one star reviews in the past. Unfortunately I got a bit lost and never made it to the venue. I headed into the nearby Free Sisters instead to see a show that was about to start, and that one turned out to be full. Not a great beginning to the day, really. I was determined not to miss the next one on the list, so for the next half hour or so I headed along the Royal Mile. Not the best idea, as it turned out, because it was packed so full you could barely move. I did however get to see a man juggling flaming torches while riding a unicycle balanced on a rope, so that was something.

The next free show on my schedule was Tamar Broadbent’s “Brave New Girl”, and I made sure I set off a lot earlier for this one. Turns out that was a good idea, because the venue was not making things easy to find. I had no idea which room it was in in Cowgatehead, there were no directions, and when I finally found the schedule which showed the room I was looking for, it was posted on the back of a closed door.

I saw Tamar Broadbent perform last year, and enjoyed it a lot, so I was glad to get to catch her again. She’s a really funny musical comedian, and I recommend anyone who’s at the Fringe try to catch her show (note: not for kids).

From that I rushed straight over to Pleasance Dome for more musical comedy in Yve Blake’s “Lie Collector”. Blake collects true stories of lies people have told and turns them into songs. It’s kind of a delightfully weird show, with a sometimes over-the-top and shouty performance from Blake, lots of ridiculous costumes and plenty of mugging. The show gets into some fairly serious material toward the end, and there was at least one of the true confessions used in the show that I’m not entirely sure how to feel about it being used in this way. Still, I overall enjoyed the show, it was an interesting mix of silly and serious.

Another quick rush down to the next venue followed. The next show up was Sarah Kendall’s “A Day in October”. This was a really strong show – funny and touching, and just a really excellent work of storytelling. I think this was probably the most well-crafted standup performance I saw on the fringe this year.

I had yet another free show in mind to follow, and bearing in mind that I’d missed three shows in two days so far because I didn’t get there early enough, I was making extra sure now. After a quick burger for dinner, I arrived very early at the venue for Sarah Bennetto’s free show… which wasn’t happening. If I’d looked into things further when I was planning I might have known this in advance: Sarah Bennetto wasn’t available this weekend, and instead her show was being covered by Amy Howerska, who was doing extra free performances of her usually-paid show, “Sasspot”. I didn’t find this out until the performance was starting, so that was a surprise. It turned out to be a pretty fun show, about growing up in a family of professional skydivers, and how funerals are much better than weddings. Funny thing: Howerska’s show was one of the ones I’d considered when working out what to see this weekend, and I’d come close to buying a ticket to her show instead of one of the others.

Finally, I walked a mile in 15 minutes to get to my final show of the day, Daniel Sloss’ “Dark”. This was yet another great show, and it got the biggest laughs out of anything I saw all weekend. It’s also the first time I’ve seen someone perform a Fringe show with live signing on stage for deaf audience members, which is a great idea. (It was also nice to be in a comfortable, air-conditioned theatre after a day of tiny boiling hot rooms.)

All in all, despite missing a couple of planned shows I had a really great day yesterday. My feet are killing me from all the walking (huge blisters), but I had a good time and that’s what matters.

Wish I’d not been so dumb as to go “well, I’ll maybe just do two nights this year” when I finally decided to book my trip. A weekend at the Fringe is definitely an annual thing for me now, and I’ll probably stick to three nights like last year. It’s impossible to fit everything in, and two days (one of which starts after 3pm because of travel) is hardly anything. Looking forward to next time.

Edinburgh 2015 – Day 1

I’m back in Edinburgh this weekend for my annual visit to the Edinburgh fringe festival. Only staying two nights this year, and yesterday was my first day. As usual, I planned my whole trip out in advance, and as usual the plans didn’t last long.

I arrived in the afternoon just late enough to not be able to go to the first free show I’d intended to after checking in to the hotel, so instead I took a look at what was starting soon and went to see a free show by Hari Sriskantha. It was a decent enough standup set, though maybe a bit unpolished; worth it if you’re just looking to kill some time like I was.

My first paid show was a little bit later, this was Rhys James: Remains. James does standup mixed with some poetry, and the show was smart and well done – I enjoyed it a lot. Recommended. Afterwards, I was meant to go to another free show, which was at a venue quite a long way out from everywhere else. Me being me, I managed to talk myself out of seeing it by the time I got there. Instead, I walked all the way back where I’d came and went for a proper meal, which I probably wouldn’t have done if I’d gone to the show.

I figured I’d fit in another free show after dinner, since I had a lot of time left over, and decided to go and see Ahir Shah’s show. I saw Shah in the same place last year, and it was one of my favourite shows, so it seemed like a good bet. Unfortunately, when I got there the room was full, so I had to miss out. On top of that, it was now only a bit more than an hour until my next show, and I couldn’t see anything else I could get to that would be over in time. I went back to my hotel and spent an hour catching up with newly revealed Hearthstone cards instead.

The third show of the day was Luisa Omielan’s “Am I Right Ladies?!”. This one was a lot of fun, my favourite of the day. The show’s filled with a lot of positive messages about sex and body image and dealing with depression, all wrapped up in Omielan’s ridiculous clowning – it’s a very funny show, and well worth seeing. Unfortunately,  she’s only performing three nights this year.

I ended the night with Loren O’Brien’s “aLOne”. I was surprised by how tiny the audience for this one was for a paid show; only about a dozen people, and I think this maybe spoilt the atmosphere of the show a bit. Honestly this one was a bit underwhelming. I’m not sure exactly why; the jokes were there, and O’Brien seemed like a talented perfomer, but there weren’t really any big laughs from the show and a lot of it seemed to fall flat. I had seen one segment of the show online before going, and O’Brien did it much better there than she did last night, so maybe she just wasn’t quite on form (performing for a mostly empty room can’t help). There’s something very close to a good show there, but she didn’t quite pull it off.

And that was it for my first day at the Fringe. Full day today, so I should see more than yesterday. Here’s hoping they’re all good ones.