NineWorlds London Geekfest, 4 – 6 August 2017

This was my fifth 9Worlds London Geekfest, and it is a convention firmly in my calendar. It was in its second year at the Hammersmith Novotel, and once again the hotel staff were pretty good. Check in was certainly a much better experience for me this year. I do love the fact that the hotel fielded a team in the Shark game.

This year I had actually submitted two panel ideas, and I was delighted that both were accepted. The convention programme planners assigned me to two other panels: both squee (a word going in the Oxford English Dictionary). One on queer Dax (Star Trek), and one on the transgressive nature (alleged) of Miss Phryne Fisher. That last one proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that 9Worlds is not all about the SF/F/H.

This year is also the second year that I have done the 9Worlds one weekend, then the World SF Convention (WorldCon) the next. This time the second convention is in another country – Finland. More on that later. So, I intended on pacing myself, including in the hotel department. That meant I arrived on Friday morning rather than Thursday. Sad to miss the Cheese and Cheese – from all the reports I saw, people enjoyed it immensely.

Anyway, on arrival I met with several friends, but I sought out a space to get my head into panel space. Especially since I’d been told that based on the pre-con selections on the Grenadine app the first panel I was going on was among the most popular. In Cremant, the huge room, no less. That panel was one I had put forward and proposed to explore the police in the supernatural novel series of Ben Aaronovitch (PC Peter Grant) and Paul Cornell (Shadow Police) from the points of view of three women who work in policing. First thing a disclaimer – none of us were talking from the points of view of our agencies, but from our generic experiences. I’m really pleased that the audience enjoyed it – and the questions were thought-provoking and intelligent. Far from easy, but respectful, particularly about our views on inclusion and diversity in the modern UK police forces. I said it at the panel, I love the fact that both Aaronovitch and Cornell ensured their books are fairly representative of London, which the police do try to bring – following Sir Robert Peel’s ethos the police being of the people to police the people. The police lead in some areas, and do lag behind in others. We spoke about many other things, but that’s an important point for me. To bring home the point, quite a few colleagues of mine took part in Brighton’s LGBT+ Pride march on the Saturday of the convention, led by our Director General flying the rainbow flag that also has our emblem.

I’m a participant at a similar panel at WorldCon, and I’m fascinated to see how it will be different.

The rest of my Friday and all of Saturday I could attend what panels I wanted to, catch up with friends, and spend a bit of time in my hotel room to decompress. Plus admire the imagination of cosplayers – highlights were the 13th Doctor, the TARDIS full of bras, and the lemmings for their choreography. Loads of others, but they stand out.

I attended Marina Berlin’s talk on women writing about war, which skated over a complex topic. As she said, there is a long history of women writing war in SF/F, but she limited herself to three authors writing war in the 21st century – Naomi Novik, Karin Lowacher, and Kameron Hurley. I’ve not read Novik or Lowacher, but devoured Hurley’s Belle Dame Apocrypha. Berlin compared them with tropes identified in men writing war in SF/F, which irked even though I could see where she was coming from. Still, it gave me some pointers for the WorldCon panel I’m moderating on women writing Military SF at WorldCon.

On Saturday I attended the panel on race in SF/F with a wonderfully diverse panel in terms of gender and ethnic backgrounds. The panel’s strength lay in discussing the rich variety of experience through which they both write and read/consume. Pretty much all of them had grown up in one culture, some as part of a diaspora, others not, then all moved elsewhere. I agree with them that SF/F’s gift is the ability to grab tropes and tear them apart, and the issue of SF/F being metaphorical. They discussed the damage caused by people being scared of accusations of cultural appropriation – but that there is of course a responsibility to check and avoid stereotyping and making the alien other exotic. White-washing is damaging, and a panellist noted that other cultures (Han Chinese was singled out) do the same and it doesn’t make it any less damaging. They also discussed complex issues to do with translating from one (mostly English, but not exclusively) flooding out other voices. All in all, a thought-provoking panel.

I attended John J Johnston’s talk about archaeology in Doctor Who, which was great fun.

Sunday was my day of panels. I was on three, and I am so glad for the generous gap between them. My panels also bounced from squee to serious to squee.

The queer Dax panel was a lot of fun, but made some really good points. Neth is a great moderator who took pains to ensure that everyone on the panel had a different queer perspective. I had been a bit nervous that I wouldn’t be able to contribute much and I had to confess that I’m not a Trek fan. I do love the love of the Trek fans, though, especially those on this panel. But, my fears were unfounded, and once my brain busted through the laying Stargate memories over DS9 ones, all was good.

I had also been a bit nervous about the Robots, AI, and the Labour Market panel I had put forward, was moderating, and was in the second biggest room. Back in February 2017 I listened to a BBC World Service programme about robots and AI, and the fear of them taking over work as we know it. It was an excellent panel (available here – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04rq0px?ocid=socialflow_twitter)  that I thought ripe for discussion at 9Worlds. Turned out I was correct with an incredibly knowledgeable panel from both a diverse set of writing and other work experience. To open up to the audience meant we could only really talk for about 45 minutes, and we could have spoken for a lot longer. I fear we only scratched the surface of some difficult questions, but I am pleased that the point of ‘AI’ coding being value neutral was totally trashed. It’s actually a really dangerous idea thinking that coding is value neutral. We also brought in a fair bit of real world stuff, and the role that SF can play – again the let’s explore and bust open the tropes point. I think the panel also strongly made the point that definitions matter – most of the robots and AIs cited as doing certain things are neither robots or AI. The audience again didn’t disappoint with some excellent questions, and also some good Twitter conversations.

Final panel for me of the convention and a fabulous one about just how transgressive the Honourable Phryne Fisher is. Wonderfully, one of the panellists cosplayed as Dr Mack and there are some fab pics out there of her with some Miss Fisher cosplayers. While the show does have its problems, the love we all have for it shone through (I adore the fact that Pat Cadigan is now going to give it a go on the strength of our enthusiasm!!). Personally, I am grateful for the audience member who knows far more about Melbourne’s socio-economic history than I do who chose to share that knowledge fully in the spirit of 9Worlds.

Then, all too fast, the inevitable end of another wonderful 9Worlds. My only regret – not being able to go to all the panels I wanted to, and not catching up with all the people I wanted to. Some of them I hope to see in Helsinki, but otherwise, next time.

I tweeted at some point that if there was a motto for 9Worlds it would be to: keep on learning!

Finally…

I could just link to a bunch of articles written by friends and acquaintances about the casting of Jodie Whittaker as Doctor Who because pretty much all of them have written what I’ve been thinking since the reveal on Sunday afternoon.

I hadn’t planned to watch it. Watching tennis bores me (sorry), but not as much as the post match guff. I also refused to allow myself to think that I would be that interested. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve liked every single actor and performer who has played Doctor Who over the nearly 55 years the series has been running. Genuinely, whenever people ask me who my favourite Doctor is I say all of them because it’s true. I learned a long time ago when I was researching and writing my Masters thesis on the show and its fans that my appreciation of each actor and era depends mostly on my mood at the time.

My interest in the show has ebbed and flowed, too, and not necessarily because of the quality of the stories. I loved the 2017 series, even though my interest had been ebbing a bit. As I have said often at convention panels when I’m talking about the show and my relationship with it, I am far less of a fan of the post 2005 series than I was from the years 1979 (or so) to 1984, and then 1987 to 1989. My fandom then was intense, by the way – publishing fanzines, rocking up to day events in costume, winning trivia quizzes, and writing to the writers and actors. One reason why my viewing has changed is because I know too many people working on the show – either directly, or on the industry around it. I’ve kept away from secrets – that’s never really appealed anyway – but it’s different.

I still love to show. Have missed very few episodes. Rewatch a fair number. Enjoy writing about it still, and writing in it (if you consider the widest possible definition of what the family of Doctor Who is… like I do).

So, it was with low expectations that I kept an eye on the Wimbledon men’s singles final and on Twitter. I had heard no serious rumours, but japed along with mates, and started to feel a little bit nervous. The people I know who normally know these things (or fairly close to guess correctly) didn’t know.

And then finally the tennis stopped, and the post match guff, and the 60 second clip of a person in a coat and hoodie stepping through a lush green forest… I blinked at the feet shot… then the hand with the key… thought no. A tease… and then the pan around as she pulled down her hood and that little quirky smile as she sees the TARDIS…

I feel little chills still as I re-watch it. As I think about it. I smile.

Jodie Whittaker is the Doctor in those few seconds.

My friends and others have written eloquently and passionately about the hatred of some. I’m not going to add to it. Nick Barlow very cleverly lances the fan sense of ownership and outrage when their thing does something they think it shouldn’t (On the new Doctor, fandom’s reaction and how it all reaches back to a Who story from 1980), and Una McCormack published two excellent pieces about the misogyny of some fans, one written after hearing some people being angry on the radio and the other earlier the same day channelling Ursula LeGuin. All three are brilliant. As is this by Chris Mead, and this excellent piece by Sarah Gailey is sheer perfection.

My piece in the book Queers Dig Time Lords traces how my coming out as gay was inextricably intwined with my love of Doctor Who and its fans. No, it’s not as simple as me having crushes on the companions (though that didn’t not happen in some cases). The theoretical basis of my Masters thesis was queer theory – about otherness. About how those who are ‘othered’ seek out those who are like them… and I found a very few others like me in the amazing world of Doctor Who fans I grew up in as a teenager and young adult. Deep breath here, but I am not exaggerating when I say they saved my life.

Now, as I reach my half century, the wonderful people I have met through this barmy show of many guises (not just the actor who plays the lead role, but the show itself – why it’s possible for so many to love, hate, be indifferent to each offering) are opening up what gender means. I have never felt comfortable being a girl, or even a woman; no. More uncomfortable about the Western cultural pressures of femininity. It’s still not a wholly comfortable fit for me, but I am trying out the label ‘non-binary’, and then trying to grapple what that means in the sense of my homosexuality.

Along comes Missy. Brilliant in her own right, but clearly also an experimental push from Steven Moffat and the rest of the Doctor Who crew.

The production crews over the years have toyed about casting a woman to play the Doctor. Most people think it was a tease – and maybe at times it was – but I think it was just that TV just couldn’t. Unless as a joke (as in the Curse of Fatal Death). Without really thinking about it (I have never played the game of casting anyone in the role, but just having faith in the decisions made and never actually being disappointed) I guess I must have thought that an older woman would play the part as an spinstery geek. Think Amelia Rumford…

For all of how Doctor Who has pushed boundaries, it is also a remarkably small c conservative show. Radical as well as reactionary. The old series as well as the new, and also the books and comics in between and running parallel. Television production has changed over the last fifty years, and Doctor Who has both led the charge with new techniques and resisted others. None of this in an easy progression. It’s always been a few steps forward, a few back or sideways, and a reset here and there. It’s made mistakes, and been absolutely brilliant – in the eyes of different beholders those mistakes and moments of genius have occurred at the same time.

I am gay, a woman interested sexually in women, but more comfortable with the idea of gender being fluid and me being more male than female. I am aromantic (and so, so pleased to know that term now!). I’ve had some fabulous relationships, and one bad one, and now am happily single.

… and one of the things that struck me on Sunday, which surprised me,  was just how cute that little quirky smile is on the Doctor’s face as she sees the TARDIS and the key materialises in her hand.

So, it’s not just about representation and feminism – both powerfully positive things, by the way – but for the first time ever in the 50 years I’ve been watching this show and reading the books I think I have fallen a little bit in love with the Doctor. Like the guys and gals who fell in love with Davison, Tennant, McGann, Smith, Capaldi, McCoy, the Bakers, Troughton… actually, all of them.

It’s a feeling I never thought I would ever feel, and it’s a feeling I’m finding I like.