Conspiracy ’87

This year, for the first time ever, the World Horror Convention comes to the UK. In two weeks’ time, in fact. Also for the first time ever, I am going to the World Horror Convention. One of these events, obviously, is more momentous than the other. Anyway, I thought I’d prepare by writing my next few blog posts on Me & Horror — why I at first didn’t read it, why I started reading it, and why I still sometimes do read it. But before that, a blog post on SF. On one particular SF convention in fact.

Like this year’s WHC2010 (not to be confused with the World Hovercraft Championships 2010, which jostles for top billing on a Google search), Conspiracy ’87 was held in Brighton. Unless Games Day ’86 counts as a convention (I’m not sure on that point), Conspiracy ’87 was the first con I went to. It is also, up to now, the only con I’ve been to, meaning there’s been a gap of 23 years between going to my first con and going to my second. This isn’t at all a measure of how I felt about Conspiracy ’87, because I enjoyed it very much. It’s more a measure of the fact that I’ve never really got round to going to another one till now. (The only reason I went to Conspiracy was because Garen wanted to go, so I went along — for which I’m extremely grateful.)

So, here’s me outside the main conference centre in Brighton, wearing my Fantasy Archives t-shirt, with a just-visible Hannes Bok illustration (for Lovecraft’s story Pickman’s Model), which I must have bought at the con dealer’s room:

Me outside Conspiracy 87

That dealer’s room was massive, to my eyes anyway, and like nothing I’d seen before in terms of sheer range of SF & fantasy books. I recall seeing the cover of some comic I’d never heard of, called Watchmen, on a dealer’s table, and hearing that this comic was beginning to generate something of a buzz at the time. I bought (and got signed) Michael Moorcock’s Wizardry & Wild Romance, and also bought Brian Aldiss and David Wingrove’s Trillion Year Spree. I must have bought more than that, but those are the only two I remember. Both important books for me, as they led to me reading a lot of other books mentioned between their covers. I’ve re-read both several times.

My main memory of the con itself is of masses of people milling about, and huge halls filled with people listening to SF authors. I don’t remember anyone really being in costume, though I do remember a fully-functioning radio-controlled K9 someone had brought along. I don’t have many photographs, as I’m not great at taking photos. Here’s one from a talk panel on the launch of the Tales from the Forbidden Planet anthology. The chap with the mic is Ramsey Campbell; not sure about the lady next to him, but after her there’s Iain Banks (or I suppose that should be Iain M Banks), then Tanith Lee, then I think it’s Roz Kaveney (the editor of TFTFP), and Harry Harrison on the end:

I also remember Terry Pratchett, at a panel on “SF clichés”, where someone stood up and complained about SF stories where people have normal Earth names, till it was pointed out that there’s no reason why Earth people shouldn’t still be called Mark, Paul and David and so on in a couple of thousand years’ time, as we’ve had those names for at least that length of time ourselves. Then there was an interview with William Gibson, where someone with, I think, a French accent, asked me, pointing at the stage, “Excuse me, zis is William Jibson?”

But the main panel I remember, and the main reason I’ll always be grateful for Garen getting me to go to Conspiracy ’87 was one called “So You Wanna Be A Writer” (or something similar). The only author I remember being on the panel was Robert Silverberg, and the only advice I remember him giving was “There’s two sorts of wannabe writers. Those who say, ‘I wannabe a writer’, and those who sit down and actually do it.” That made me realise I had to sit down and actually do it, and it remains the best bit of advice I’ve ever heard with regards to writing.

My only regret about Conspiracy ’87 was not going to the Hawkwind concert, where they did a reprise of their Chronicle of the Black Sword show. Ah well. I’ve seen them a couple of times, since. I also recall my first experience of that post-con gap you get in the days afterwards, where you feel as though ordinary life is lacking something important in contrast to those few intense days of being surrounded by like-minded souls. I plugged that gap, of course, by buying books by the authors I’d seen, or (in the case of Alfred Bester, who was either too ill to come to the con or had just died, but was a Guest of Honour) almost seen. Many of them remain favourites to this day: Mythago Wood, The Demolished Man, Tiger! Tiger! (aka The Stars My Destination).

Mmm, must go to another SF con sometime.