SFX Book Con 2 | Rockets, Racism, and Reality

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“SFX, the UK’s biggest selling sci-fi and fantasy magazine, has teamed up with Foyles once more to prove that some sequels are better than the original.”

Somehow the SFX Book Con that originally happened back in February of this year was completely missed off my radar but I managed to find out about SFX Book Con 2 in time to attend on Saturday 10th November and it was well worth going. I’ve only been to a handful of book events/conventions so far but one thing that I’ve noticed is that there aren’t many which cater to SFF fans, so having an entire day devoted to SFF brought my little heart so much joy. This time SFX Book Con had even more authors, even more panels, even more books, and even more signings all of which were amazing. Unfortunately, it also brought out even more racist and misogynistic fans who seem to have missed the glaring memo that that shit just isn’t going to fly anymore.

The event was held at Foyles on Tottenham Court Road and run by SFX magazine. A massive thank you to the Foyles and SFX team for putting the entire event together!

Read on to find out both the good and the bad of SFX Book Con 2 as well as my inadvertently large book haul from the day!

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Panels

Photos by Mairi White

The panels at SFX Book Con 2 were one of the main attractions for me. Although I hadn’t heard of a lot of the authors going, the topics of the panels sounded really interesting and I found out at YALC that panels are also a great way to discover new-to-me authors so I was looking forward to a day full of great SFF talks and discovery. For the most part, the panels were great. There were lots of interesting discussions from the authors and lots of laughter from the audience. However, there was an incident during the first panel which was badly handled by the chair of the panel at the time and which involved male members of the audience confronting and verbally attacking best-selling author Rebecca Kuang. I’ll discuss the incident in more detail below but it was incredibly shocking and left me reeling. Following panel chairs obviously learned from the incident, which was at least something, and it was made quite clear by fellow authors that racist & misogynistic behaviour by ‘fanboys’ had no place in the SFF community.

Panel 1 – Look Who’s Tolkien | In which Rebecca Kuang is a QUEEN (CN: racism, misogyny)

The first panel aimed to explore whether JRR’s work is still essential to modern fantasy storytelling, or whether writers now be looking further than Middle-earth with Rebecca Kuang (The Poppy War), Allie Christo (To Kill a Kingdom), Jen Williams (the Winnowing Flame Trilogy) and Chris Wooding (Silver, Pandemonium). The panel as a whole was quite a mixed bag with some interesting conversations, panel dynamics and audience behaviour. NGL, I didn’t absorb much of the actual content of the discussion, other than Kuang’s excellent dissection of Tolkien fantasy as racist and her recommendation of N.K Jamisin’s The Broken Earth Trilogy as well as Christo and Williams talking about the importance of feminist narratives in fantasy, because I was so distracted by the panel dynamics.

As someone who has a fair amount of experience of both moderating and being on panels at large events, I find myself getting really distracted when a panel is badly moderated which turned out to be the case with Look Who’s Tolkien. As the panel went on Christo (who was very nice and who was clearly very excited to be there) ended up dominating the conversation to the point where she would interrupt and speak over other panellists (including Kuang on the few occasions where she did speak). It was incredibly uncomfortable to watch and wasn’t addressed by the mod and so Christo ended up speaking about 60% of the time, Williams and Wooding about 20%, and Kuang only 10%.

When it came time for audience questions Kuang was immediately confronted and verbally attacked by cis men in the audience. The first question had me majorly rolling my eyes and sighing as a man attempted to explain to Kuang why she was wrong about racism in Tolkien and how he felt her comments were combative. Then immediately after this, a man in the audience was allowed to go on a tirade for at least 1-2 minutes where he verbally attacked Kuang, called her racist, and said that he was sick of “feminist comments”. It’s impossible to capture just how vitriolic, disgusting and aggressive his behaviour was in words. After this went on for 1-2 minutes and the panel mod had made no indication that he was going to stop this tirade I ended up shouting over the man and challenging him on attacking a woman of colour. The man was then allowed to talk for another 30 seconds before the mod finally shut him down and Kuang responded to his comments. Kuang handled the entire thing with incredible poise but the fact that this happened was despicable, let alone that he wasn’t immediately shut down. After a further question from another male audience member, Christo requested that they take 3 questions from female audience members which all turned out to be fantastic questions and left the panel ending on a slightly better note.

Panel 2 – Tech Wars | A.K.A The Best Panel of the Con

Panel 2 went much, much better and was incredibly enjoyable. The moderator immediately announced that he would be much harsher in his moderating style and wouldn’t tolerate any further “comments” from audience members, and the authors on the panel had a great energy between them. Authors on the panel included Richard K. Morgan (Altered Carbon, Thin Air), Lauren James (The Loneliest Girl in the Universe), Pat Cadigan (Synners, Fools), Peter F. Hamilton (Fallen Dragon, the Queen of Dreams series), and James Smythe (I Still Dream). Starting from a point of asking ‘do authors have to work harder to wow readers with technology’ the panel developed organically with lots of hilarity, revelations about spreadsheets, the science of science fiction, and whether we’re going to be killed by AI.

Break for Book Signings for Panel 1 & 2

Panel 3 – Keeping It Real | Why Body Fluids Matter

Panel 3 was a lot of fun. Speaking on this panel was Tasha Suri (Empire of Sand), Tade Thompson (Rosewater), Sarah Lotz (The Three series), Nick Setchfield (The War in the Dark), and Anne Charnock (Dreams Before the Start of Time). It asked questions like how do you keep a science fiction or fantasy story grounded and is leaning into the real world essential? Unlike some of the previous panels, this one delved into the actual process of writing a lot more and it was interesting to hear the varied responses from the authors. Each author had completely different approaches to research, writing techniques, and pet peeves. Some of the best answers mentioned the importance of body fluids, neurotic authors going into caves for research, and how every story is political (even Thomas the Tank Engine)

Panel 4 – Paradox Lost | Too Tired to Compute

Unfortunately, as the day was overrunning by 30 minutes I was waaaaay too tired by the time the last panel kicked off and then discussions were very scientific and philosophical in a way my tired brain couldn’t handle. It was on adventures in time travel, parallel worlds and alternate dimensions, and authors on it were Stephen Cox (Our Children of the Stars), Francesco Dimitri (The Book of Hidden Things), Lavie Tidhar (Unholy Land), Rebecca Levene (the Hollow Gods series), and M. R Carey (The Boy on the Bridge).

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Getting Down to Bookish Business

Obviously, the main attraction of the event was of course books and bookish things! YALC has given me the book con fever and I now love going to book events. Not only do I get to meet authors and get my books signed, but I find out about some amazing new authors and get to meet fellow book bloggers (this time is was Ellie and imyril!)

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One of the major themes across the panels at SFX Book Con 2 was to encourage readers to expand outside of their normal horizons. This was definitely the case at YALC so it was nice to go into SFX Book Con with an open mind.

One of the things I was most excited by was the SFX goodie bag which included 2 free books, a free copy of SFX’s latest magazine, and a range of other little goodies such as pens, stickers, badges, and chapter excerpts. Everybody got a free copy of Mecha Samurai Empire by Peter Tieryas, which I wasn’t too sure about at first but am very intrigued by the blurb, plus another book. The book I got in my goodie bag was The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman which I was really happy with as it’s an author I’ve heard very good things about. I also managed to get a free copy of Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky which YESSSSSSSS.

I took along my copy of The Poppy War by Rebecca Kuang to get signed (*screaming*), and bought copies of The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James and Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan which I also got signed. There were a lot of other books I really wanted to buy but unfortunately, Foyles didn’t offer attendees any discount on books which sadly meant that I could only buy 2 books. I did add more books to my Goodreads TBR shelf though by authors I was most interested in including Synners by Pat Cadigan, Rosewater by Tade Thompson, The Three by Sarah Lotz, I Still Dream by James Smythe, The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams, and Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri.

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Bullet Point Summary

Least Fave/Things that need to be improved:

  • Racism & misogyny from audience members and the fact that this was mishandled by the event
  • No SFX Book Con discounts or special offers on attending authors books. I honestly would have happily paid a bit more money if there had been a discount or deal offered.
  • There was no lunch break despite the convention running from 12.30pm-7pm. The only time attendees could eat lunch was during the time allocated for panels 1 & 2’s book signings. However, by the time I got my books signed, there was only 10 minutes until the next panel. The cafe at Foyles didn’t sell any sandwiches and I couldn’t afford the hot food, but my can of diet coke and packets of crisps ended up costing me almost £5 anyway

The Best Bits:

  • Rebecca Kuang being amazing & also getting The Poppy War signed
  • The Tech Wars panel
  • Discovering new to me authors
  • Free books & SFX magazine!
  • Lauren James being incredible on panels again. This time I had to buy her book and could also talk to her whilst getting it signed. Yay women in STEM!
  • Meeting great book blogger friends ❤
  • Getting to speak to the author behind Altered Carbon and getting my copy signed
  • The existence of SFX Book Con!

Overall it was a really enjoyable event with lots of great people, great books and great discussion. There are just a few things that could be improved and hopefully, a dialogue will happen on how to better handle incidences going forward. I’ll be looking forward to attended SFX Book Con 3!


EST. 2015 (1)

 

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8 thoughts on “SFX Book Con 2 | Rockets, Racism, and Reality

  1. Wow. It never fails to amaze me when misogyny and racism are allowed as a point of view. Well done for calling it out. Good to see that things improved from there, hopefully the organisers will learn a thing or two.

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  2. This sounds like it was a lot of fun! Aside from the first panel, the other panels sounded like they had some really great topics and discussions! Good for you for standing up to that guy though; I can’t believe the moderator or even any of the other panelists didn’t say anything!

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  3. Sounds like a fun event! I have to keep my eyes out for stuff like this. I didn’t even know it was happening, but i think i would have liked it.
    Nice book haul. Yay for Altered Carbon ❤

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  4. This is really exciting – I didn’t know that there was an SFX Book Con, I would definitely be interested in the next one. Thanks for putting in so much detail about the panels. Well done for standing up for Rebecca Kuang! I’m really sorry to hear about the misogyny and racism from the audience members as well as the other problems you felt with the con – perhaps teething problems for a relatively new convention? (Obviously the problem with gatekeeping and the misogyny/racism that comes with it are deeper problems in the geeky community, but the mods could easily be improved.)

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  5. Wow, this does sound like an awesome event! The panel topics sound intriguing and it looks like there was a great range of authors. It’s too bad that first panel was moderated so poorly. I haven’t sat through a panel quite that bad, but it’s definitely uncomfortable for everyone involved and especially unfair to the panelists when the moderator isn’t good at their job.

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