Racing down long corridors with the feeling that something is gaining on you in the metal air ducts...Listening to techno-libertarians and neo-Marxist extropians shout the odds across a room at each other...Standing on line in a coffee-shop while two of your favourite authors rather pointedly ignore each other...Looking at swords and rings and over-produced books and busts of Yoda in a dealer's room when you have spent most of your budget on dinner...
These have far more to do with attending the World Science Fiction Convention than any journalistic cliches about people dressed as Klingons ( of which there were only a couple out of several thousand people all weekend, honest, even in the Masquerade. ) This year Interaction was in Glasgow, at the Conference Centre which will also see the British Eastercon at, well, Easter, in a conference centre full of high-tech corridors and with a main hall that looks like a starship and is usually referred to as the Armadillo.
As these things go, it was pretty much a success. Not everyone could get into the panel called Silken Swords and Long Golden Hair, a discussion of homoeroticism vs. 'genuine' homosexuality in sf and fantasy, and other panels were disrupted by filk singing on the other side of a partition. (And the failure of knocking copy by journalists to penetrate the true heart of fannish darkness is demonstrated by their failure to uncover filk, pun-ridden and occasionally brilliant songs with guitar that remain one of the more impenetrable conventions within conventions.)
Several hundred panels, author readings and other events - a version of Call My Bluff featuring terms from critical theory was a surprising favourite, not least because my team won - went off, if not like clockwork, at least like carefully choreographed fireworks that only occasionally sputtered. Socially, it was the usual scrum, where you find yourself continuing a conversation that ended on another continent during another millennium - which is an sf experience now susceptible of being literally true.
Professionally, it was the occasion for major parties thrown by the UK's four main sf publishing houses - Orbit, Tor and Gollancz all threw events which were widely attended by those of us not actually racing between panels at the time. The high point in some ways was the Harper Collins Voyager tenth anniversary party on one of Glasgow's remaining tall ships, a party at which, in order to celebrate the forthcoming book 'Temeraire' all attendees were persuaded to dress as pirates, with eye-patches, bandannas and parrots being handed out on the gangplank along with the canapes. Voyager have much to celebrate - George RR Martin has finally delivered the next volume of his much-loved fantasy Song of Ice and Fire. Think the Wars of the Roses, with dragons...
The World Convention is also the occasion for the Hugos, science fiction and fantasy's own Oscars. The Hugos are metal rocket-ships, referred to by one nominee this year as 'the giant butt- plug' and to win one still matters, still affects your sales for the rest of your career.
For once, there were no Americans at all on the short-list for the novel; voters - for this is a democratic award - had the choice of Mieville, McDonald, Banks and Stross, and opted for Susanna Clarke's gloriously whimsical 'Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell'. Stross, perhaps the other brightest youngish star of the British scene, won Best Novella. Other awards went to Farah Mendelsohn and Ed James for the Cambridge Companion to SF, to 'The Incredibles' and to David Pringle for successfully keeping the magazine Interzone going for two decades before handing it over to his successor.
One of the quieter pleasures of sf conventions is sitting back and thinking about what Mary Shelley, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and the American technocrat Hugo Gernsback would have thought of it all. Looking round the bars at people with two-headed teddy bears, firing con reports off into the void from wifi laptops and drinking inordinate amounts of Coke and bitter (not at the same time) is a firm reminder that sf, and the passionate rancourous mildly debauched social milieu that is as much a part of it as the books, are a classic example of the law of unintended consequences. Ideas and technology evolve and what started as high idealism becomes fun, what started as fun becomes deadly serious ideology.
SF conventions are, after all, the place where, say, the No2ID campaigners meet on equal terms and casually with American right-wingers, neo-pagans and writers who used to do PR for the police. They are an interzone in the Burroughs sense, where you can feel ideas buzzing around without the normal blinkers on. All these people love the books, and that means they put up with each other.