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Experiment Nine has all the fun of the fair!

Today, I thought I’d share with you a picture of one of the actual locations used in “Experiment Nine”, the Kansas City fair.

Experiment Nine is about genetically created vampires who escape from a secret government project into America’s backwoods, only to find themselves hunted by an obsessed detective as well as by their former captors. 

The book is available on Amazon here: http://a-fwd.com/asin-uk=B07F6S2YSZ

Meanwhile, here’s an excerpt, exclusive just to those reading this blog post!
 

The Fair

Just outside the city, a fairground burned brightly at the foot of darkened hills – an enormous glowing cartwheel of people, toys, rides, music, and noise.

“Jason!” prey called to him.

The girl ran up to him. Her high heeled boots made heavy weather of the damp ground. Twilight danced on her golden earrings. He admired her long, brown hair, fashioned in a style copied from a celebrity magazine. She caught up to him, grabbed him, swung him around, breathless from exertion.

“Why didn’t you wait for me?”

“I like to see you run,” he said.

“Are we going down there?”

Jason caught her young, porcelain face in gloved fingers. He squeezed, just hard enough to tease. Prey liked that. The wind tossed her long hair, the elements laughing at this child, but she didn’t hear them.

“Soon enough. Why, you scared of being alone?”

“Not while I’m with you.”

Her body was firm but pliant. She had a small tattoo above her left wrist. It looked like a heart. It shouldn’t have bothered him, but it did.

She did not see his hunger. They never did. They mistook it for a sexual appetite. They wanted a fantasy, someone who would whisk them away from their humdrum lives for a few hours.

“You feel safe?”

“Why not? I got you to protect me.”

“You’ll need more than that, honey.”

Mona reached out from nowhere, grabbed the girl’s neck, and snapped it savagely.

It didn’t take much effort, but the resultant sickening snap was more stomach-churning than even she had imagined. She saw the girl’s long, immaculately brushed hair on the ground, her feet now lying at odd angles, one high heel snapped, her woolen tights torn, and she felt pity. She surprised herself that she could feel anything at all

“You better drink it before it’s cold,” he told her.

But she turned her head aside. “I lost my appetite.”

 

 

I hope you will agree that these aren’t ordinary vampires. 

Here’s what others are saying about Experiment Nine:

“Author Eric Ian Steele has again accomplished what he does so well: merging old legend and myth with a new and modern creation story to develop believable monsters that you find yourself cheering for!”

You can read more of Experiment Nine here: http://a-fwd.com/asin-uk=B07F6S2YSZ

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“Experiment Nine”, an excerpt.

Today I’d like to share with you an excerpt from my latest horror novel, “Experiment Nine”.

“Experiment Nine” is a vampire novel with a twist. You won’t find any horror tropes like bats and black capes here. nor will you find any sparkly vampires like the ones in “Twilight”. Instead, be prepared for a jolting,  blood-soaked ride into dark science, as lab-bred, genetically-engineered vampires escape into rural Iowa.  The novel deals with the cataclysmic fallout from this event and its impact on several people who are unfortunate enough to come across the vampires and survive.

The story of how “Experiment Nine” came to get published is enough to fill another blog post, so I’ll let the pages speak for themselves.

In this except we meet Dr. Fenzig and his subordinate, Reinhardt, who are monitoring the latest batch of test subjects…

You can read more of “Experiment Nine” on Amazon here.

Enjoy.

 

 

Chapter Two

The bat flapped its way toward the moon until it was no more than an angled crack in that bone white disc. Beneath it stood a field of pale corn. The corn was pallid because it had never been fed. The stalks wavered toward a single edifice – the Tower.

An octagonal bolt of metal that anchored earth to seventy-five feet of Iowa sky, stood in the center of the field of withered vegetation. Around its base lay a carpet of dead moths, drawn there by some slight, imperceptible vibration.

Small arrow-slits dotted the building’s outer face at precise intervals. Solid steel grates covered every aperture.

At the top of the Tower, a cupola rose to greet the sky, a single, round window at its zenith. The office window overlooked the corn.

Behind the window sat a man at a desk. Fenzig lay down his pen. A single scream had penetrated the quiet. He glanced up at the red light over the door. It remained unlit. He relaxed.

Fenzig rose to the window. He was restless tonight. Nothing unusual in itself but things were progressing.

He decided to take a tour.

He stepped outside his office. A single elevator door was the only feature in this otherwise featureless chamber. He entered the lift, pressed his palm to the biometric scanner. The doors closed.

The moans of the once-human things far below grew in volume, as if they knew he was coming. He saw them in his imagination, heaps of rags shuffling about the dorms in the Tower’s sub-basements, raising their distorted, leathery faces to the fluorescent lights.

He wished Gabriel would let him dispose of them. They could serve no purpose. He was aware of the ironic fact that as much as the tower was their prison, it was also his. He could not leave due to the nature of his tenure to Gabriel’s department. Nor could he ever hold an academic or a practical post again. Not after what had been imprinted upon his résumé and his mind. Perhaps that too had been part of Gabriel’s gambit.

The elevator descended, floor by floor until the doors swished open to reveal another featureless corridor that ended in a steel security door.

Again, he extended his wizened hand to the biometric scanner. A beam of red light stroked his palm, turned green.

The door opened with a pressurized hiss. It kept on opening for three minutes. The door was five feet of solid steel. Still, they could not be sure that it would keep them inside. As for the lead lining, that had initially made a difference, but now and then, stray thoughts leaked through . He caught them sometimes when he passed on the lower levels. Strange, animalistic images.

At first, he could see nothing. Darkness cloaked walls, ceiling and floor. Come into my parlor. Darkness was always present inside the Tower; the shadows were too thick to be natural. He knew it was all in his mind but that didn’t help dismiss the feeling that the darkness was somehow watching him.

The door sealed shut behind him.

Another small corridor led off before him. Beams of light scanned him up and down through a rising mist of decontaminants. The system bleeped affirmatively. A second hermetically sealed door opened. He stepped through into his own nightmare.

Two guards in Hazmat suits stood to attention (they always stood to attention) as he entered. He wondered if they had any minds left at all. They bore automatic weapons, but that didn’t stop each man from stiffening in fear as the omnipresent, automated voice confirmed the identity of the person approaching through the airlock.

“Fenzig, Doctor. Project supervisor. Level one security clearance. Admitted.”

Fenzig walked up to a pair of transparent plastic swing doors at the far end of the corridor without acknowledging the guards. He could feel their eyes upon him, feel their loathing at his hunched back, his dwarfish stature, could also feel his own hate for them radiating outwards. He knew how he looked: gnomish, with pince-nez spectacles perched on the end of his long nose.

He touched another biometric reader. The doors opened. As he stepped through, he saw the guards relax out of the corner of his vision. The doors silently powered shut behind him.

Fenzig’s eyes adjusted to the sudden gloom. The walls of this circular chamber were hidden behind a thick plastic bubble. Beyond that lay the bars of an iron cage, its inhabitants cloaked in darkness. Red overhead fluorescents provided the only illumination.

A man sat in a chair in the middle of the room. Banks of computers littered the desks in front of him. Coils of wiring snaked out of various complex machines and into specially adapted ports in the plastic bubble.

The man’s eyes were glued to a monitor.

“Reinhaldt?”

He gently touched the man’s shoulder. Reinhaldt jerked out of his trance. The muscles of his shoulder had been hard as tensile steel.

“Is it time to go?” the man asked.

“Not yet.”

“What about the others?”

“There is no-one else,” Fenzig replied. “Gabriel says you and I are the only ones he can trust to see things through.”

Reinhaldt rubbed his eyes. “So you’re going to use me until my brain fries?”

Fenzig sighed.

Reinhaldt’s blonde hair glowed silver in the fluorescents. His handsome, Aryan looks had deteriorated, Fenzig noted with a small measure of satisfaction which he could not hide from himself. His brow was slick with sweat. His cheeks were gaunt with worry. Reinhaldt’s duties were taking their toll.

Fenzig noticed how the man’s fingers twitched nervously in his lap, wriggling like frantic eels. Reinhaldt was slipping, perhaps had already slipped.

He had suspected, of course, but he had told Gabriel nothing of their ability to infiltrate the mind. Alone in his office, he was beyond their reach. Reinhaldt, however, was closer to them.

“We only need to observe them a while longer. I know they can be… disconcerting.”

“How much longer?”

“A week? Two?” he offered.

Reinhaldt sighed. “Then can I go?”

Fenzig nodded. Lying had become second nature to him.

“I hear them sometimes,” Reinhaldt said. “I swear they’re in my mind.”

“That’s ridiculous,” he told the scientist. “You’re tired, that’s all. You’ll be fine.”

He patted Reinhaldt’s shoulder but he already heard their whispering, like an irritating itch at the base of his cerebellum.

– You must be lonely here.

– Cold and lonely.

– Gabriel wants to visit.

– See how his latest batch went.

– Does it trouble you?

– Are you tired?

– We could make you sleep.

– Just let us go.

Fenzig felt his own thoughts leap from his body. They were sucked out of his mind before he could catch them.

– Does he want to kill us?

No, Fenzig thought.

– Then why does he come?

– Because he wants you to kill us?

I would never do that. No, I would never do that.

– How can we be sure?

– You’re not strong enough on your own. You’re weak.

– Shut it down.

– Save the project.

– Save us.

The alien thoughts were like surgical knives slicing into his scalp. Fenzig yanked off his pince-nez, tugged at the bridge of his nose.

“You hear them?” Reinhaldt asked.

“It’s nothing,” Fenzig replied. “Don’t worry, Doctor. Soon, this will all be over.”

Reinhaldt said nothing. His Adam’s apple bobbed, his facial muscles clenched, but he simply stared at what lay beyond the plastic bubble.

Fenzig caught only a glimpse of them as he left. He knew better than to look at them full on – to do that would be to lose himself. He saw outlines, a head that raised itself inquisitively, an arm that hung languidly from a chair. No more.

There was nothing else to say. He had only visited Reinhaldt to satisfy his own curiosity. He re-entered the decontamination chamber, leaving Reinhaldt alone. The steel security door slid shut behind him with a re-pressurized hiss, and the guards relaxed once more.

***

Reinhaldt remained frozen in his seat. A solitary trickle of sweat wove its course down his temple. He wanted to wipe it away, but could not. They held him.

Unlike Fenzig, Reinhaldt had long ago given up trying to watch them from the corners of his vision. Now their eyes burned into his soul. Even though there was no scientific reason why their eyes should have that effect, or why he should believe he had a soul for that matter. He only knew what he felt.

The lesser, weaker minds had flinched. Three observers had gone insane in so many weeks. Only he had held out so far.

The other staff busied themselves with endless rounds of caring for their mistakes. But the failures did not matter. What really mattered lay beyond that plastic bubble.

He had personally dissected the last six test subjects and had learned immeasurable amounts from the bodies. Nobody knew what caused this final six to survive. Apparently, the virus had done its job too well, allowing the others to simply will their own death. These six were more or less fortunate, depending on your point of view. This time the virus had done what it was designed to do.

But they had underestimated the strength of will of their subjects. They had resisted all attempts at conditioning. As soldiers, they were useless but as something more…

They probed his mind but instead of shrinking from them, he embraced them. They had promised him great things, and he had no reason to doubt their intentions. They were noble, pure. Magnificent in their terrible beauty.

He wondered if they could reach out to other, nonhuman things – a bird, a mouse, a bat. What must that be like?

He scribbled his musings down in his notebook, wondering if they were actually his thoughts at all.

One image had been growing in his mind for some time now: a key turning in a lock.

They had been imprisoned for too long.

Fenzig’s mind had revealed that a visit from Gabriel was imminent (which probably meant closure for the project and the termination of its latest test subjects). Reinhaldt knew the time to act was upon him. They commanded it. He rose robotically, walked to a control keypad that hung from the low ceiling, pressed the first of three red buttons.

Lights flared. A klaxon sounded.

The guards came running but he had already thought of that. The plastic doors to this chamber were locked – the pneumatic servos jammed by hand. A desk full of computer equipment barred further entry. He did not remember putting it there, but he was glad he had.

“Sir!” The guards yelled through their intercoms. “Mr. Reinhaldt! Stop what you’re doing, sir!”

He pressed the second button. The room began to depressurize. The plastic bubble rippled, then lifted.

A stale, zoo-like smell filled the room.

The guards fired their weapons to gain access. It did them no good. Their bullets lost momentum on contact with the double layers of superdurable Perspex, fracturing impotently against the outer surface. The doors had been designed to prevent any break-out. They served equally well to prevent a break-in.

Reinhaldt hesitated. A computer voice told him that the cell was no longer sealed. In unhurried tones, it warned him that there was a high risk of contamination.

His fingers halted over the last button. Some small, rational part of him wanted to stop. His fingers clawed at the console, waging an internal war.

Then he saw their eyes, their wondrous eyes, and he pressed the third button.

The iron cage rose. Its bars clanged into the ceiling. The Guards yelled out to Jesus, God, and Mercy.

They emerged into the light, glorious butterflies from a plastic chrysalis. Mankind’s greatest achievement. Science and distorted nature, fused into a strange, unhappy poetry.

He marveled at them.

I did what you asked. Now will you reward me?

Of course.

– We bring you a gift.

– The greatest gift.

– We bring you peace.

It hit him like a dark brick, their hate. Hatred for anyone connected with the project. They had deceived him, betrayed him. He was their servant, their weapon. They were gods, but they were vicious cannibal gods, and not to be trusted.

His screams were cut off before they began. Blood and several pieces of his offal splattered the monitors. His notebook fell to the floor, opened at a random page.

The page bore one word repeated over and over…

Darkness.

*  *  *

You can read more of the book and buy a copy for Kindle on Amazon by following this link: http://a-fwd.com/asin-uk=B07F6S2YSZ

It’s here… EXPERIMENT NINE!

It’s alive!

This weekend marks the launch of the vampire novel, EXPERIMENT NINE. This serious, ground-breaking horror story is a very personal novel for me. You might say the story behind how it came to be published is a book in itself! But here is a taste of what you can find in its pages…

 

EXPERIMENT NINE is about lab-bred vampires who escape into the Iowa countryside. It’s a novel with its fair share of action and romance, but it’s also a serious novel. Think “Watchmen” for vampires! Here is a synopsis taken from the book…

Science meets superstition in a gripping, original horror story.

The Tower, a secret government installation hidden deep in the Iowa cornfields. Within its walls a clandestine experiment to change the course of human evolution goes terribly wrong.

Luke, a young man searching for an escape from small town hell and his own mortality finds it with Lynne, a mysterious drifter. In a moment of passion she promises him eternal life, but the price is an addiction to human blood.

It turns out that Lynne and her friends escaped from the Tower. Now they roam America’s backwoods in their nightly quest for victims whose blood they must drink to survive. And Luke has become one of them, infected with the same genetically-modifying virus that means he will never grow old… provided he feeds.

But this is no romantic existence. It is a world of spiraling violence, where Luke must commit grisly murder each night… for eternity. As the authorities close in, led by a traumatized detective who will stop at nothing to hunt them down, Luke finds his humanity slipping away with each new kill, and slowly his newfound world starts to collapse…

Sound intriguing? You can read an entire section of the book absolutely FREE by clicking on the Amazon links below. Let me know if you enjoy it!

Amazon link: http://a-fwd.com/asin-uk=B07F6S2YSZ

 

Coming soon!

Well, I have some exciting news coming your way soon. My next novel is almost due to be launched. More details will be forthcoming. For now, let me just share the following picture with you. As always, it will be horror. More than that, I cannot say. But I do promise you it will be a book like no other. And if you like Stephen King, Anne Rice, or Michael Crichton, this will be the book for you. How’s that for a mix?

The Autumn Man

It’s always nice when you find another great review of the Autumn Man on Goodreads.com.

For those of you who want to know a little more about the plot, read on…

THE AUTUMN MAN is the story of two immortal werewolves who have battled down the centuries searching for the mythical Cure for their condition. They finally find it in the most unlikely of places – a small industrial town in northern England called Milton.

But while one of these cursed individuals is a calculating, cold-blooded manipulator, the other is a ravenous beast, a killing machine that is about to be unleashed on Milton’s inhabitants.

Megan Vervain, a schoolteacher, knows nothing of this. She only knows that there is something strangely attractive about her new lodger, that his eyes are filled with the sadness of centuries of longing, and that she is slowly falling in love with him. But as the residents of Milton are afflicted with the curse of lycanthropy, Megan begins to wonder just which side she is on.

THE AUTUMN MAN is a contemporary gothic horror story. Fans of Stephen King, Anne Rice and Clive Barker will lap it up. Here’s the recent review of the book on Goodreads.com to whet your appetite…

“The Autumn Man is that very rare find – a contemporary Gothic horror, replete with complex characters and a series of terrifying twists. Fans of Dickens and Hugo will appreciate Steele’s depth of language and atmospheric writing. Even the characters you think are the heroes of the tale are psychological puzzleboxes, but Steele’s work shines most in the harrowing moments of transformation, murder, and flight that take place across centuries of storytelling. A book that will have you tossing and turning in the night long after you have finished it.”

You can buy THE AUTUMN MAN at a reduced rate of 99 cents, or .99p in the UK, for a limited time here:

Amazon.com link: https://amzn.to/2sTv7BX

Amazon.co.uk link: https://amzn.to/2JB7KaH

Don’t wait until the next full moon to get your copy!

A Danse Macabre horror novels reading list

If you like horror and you were reading in the 1980s, chances are you came across “Danse Macabre”, Stephen King’s meditation on horror. Part instruction manual, part rambling series of opinions on horror books, film and TV, it never fails to entertain. It also has an invaluable breakdown of the different types of horror story.

It also included in two Appendices –  a list of Mr King’s favourite (sorry, the most important) horror books and films.

For the past 30 years I’ve been working my way through these lists. I’ve seen almost all of the horror movies except for a few hard-to-find gems like Oliver Stone’s first effort, “Seizure” or the wonderfully B-movie-ish “The H-Man” by Inoshiro Honda.  But reproduced here below are the novels.

I won’t bore you with which ones I’ve read. However, I will say that some of my favourites have been Suzy McKee Charnas’s “The Vampire Tapetsry”  about a very urbane vampire indeed, Peter Straub’s lesser known ghost story “If You Could See Me Now”, and Charles L Grant’s homage to Val Lewton, “The Hour of the Oxrun Dead”.

So if you fancy reading some classic 20th century horror stories, the below should give you some inspiration. Happy collecting!

Richard Adams. The Plague Dogs; Watership Down*
Robert Aickman. Cold Hand in Mine; Painted Devils
Marcel Ayme. The Walker through Walls
Beryl Bainbridge. Harriet Said
J. G. Ballard. Concrete Island*; High Rise
Charles Beaumont. Hunger*; The Magic Man
Robert Bloch. Pleasant Dreams*; Psycho*
Ray Bradbury. Dandelion Wine; Something Wicked This Way Comes*; The October Country
Joseph Payne Brennan. The Shapes of Midnight*
Frederic Brown. Nightmares and Geezenstacks*
Edward Bryant. Among the Dead
Janet Caird. The Loch
Ramsey Campbell. Demons By Daylight; The Doll Who Ate His Mother*; The Parasite*
Suzy McKee Charnas. The Vampire Tapestry
Julio Cortazar. The End of the Game and Other Stories
Harry Crews. A Feast of Snakes
Roald Dahl. Kiss Kiss*; Someone Like You*
Les Daniels. The Black Castle
Stephen R. Donaldson. The Thomas Covenant Trilogy (3 vols.)*
Daphne Du Maurier. Don’t Look Now
Harlan Ellison. Deathbird Stories*; Strange Wine*
John Farris. All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By
Charles G. Finney. The Ghosts of Manacle
Jack Finney. The Body Snatchers*; I Love Galesburg in the Springtime; The Third
Level*; Time and Again*
William Golding. Lord of the Flies*
Edward Gorey. Amphigorey; Amphigorey Too
Charles L. Grant. The Hour of the Oxrun Dead; The Sound of Midnight*
Davis Grubb. Twelve Tales of Horror*
William H. Hallahan. The Keeper of the Children; The Search for Joseph Tully
James Herbert. The Fog; The Spear*; The Survivor
William Hjortsberg. Falling Angel*
Shirley Jackson. The Haunting of Hill House*; The Lottery and Others*; The Sundial
Gerald Kersh. Men Without Bones*
Russell Kirk. The Princess of All Lands
Nigel Kneale. Tomato Caine
William Kotzwinkle. Dr. Rat*
Jerry Kozinski. The Painted Bird*
Fritz Leiber. Our Lady of Darkness*
Ursula LeGuin. The Lathe of Heaven*; Orsinian Tales
Ira Levin. Rosemary’s Baby*; The Stepford Wives
John D. MacDonald. The Girl, the Gold Watch, and Everything
Bernard Malamud. The Magic Barrel*; The Natural
Robert Marasco. Burnt Offerings*
Gabriel Maria Marquez. One Hundred Years of Solitude
Richard Matheson. Hell House; I Am Legend*; Shock II; The Shrinking Man*; A Stir of Echoes
Michael McDowell. The Amulet*; Cold Moon Over Babylon*
Ian McEwen. The Cement Garden
John Metcalf. The Feasting Dead
Iris Murdoch. The Unicorn
Joyce Carol Oates. Nightside*
Flannery O’Connor. A Good Man Is Hard to Find*
Mervyn Peake. The Gormenghast Trilogy (3 volumes)
Thomas Pynchon. V.*
Edogawa Rampo. Tales of Mystery and Imagination
Jean Ray. Ghouls in My Grave
Anne Rice. Interview with the Vampire
Philip Roth. The Breast
Ray Russell. Sardonicus*
Joan Samson. The Auctioneer*
William Sansom. The Collected Stories of William Sansom
Sarban. Ringstones; The Sound of His Horn*
Anne Rivers Siddons. The House Next Door*
Isaac Bashevis Singer. The Seance and Other Stories*
Martin Cruz Smith. Nightwing
Peter Straub. Ghost Story*; If You Could See Me Now; Julia; Shadowland*
Theodore Sturgeon. Caviar; The Dreaming jewels; Some of Your Blood*
Thomas Tessier. The Nightwalker
Paul Theroux. The Black House
Thomas Tryon. The Other*
Les Whitten. Progeny of the Adder*
Thomas Williams. Tsuga’s Children*
Gahan Wilson. I Paint What I See
T. M. Wright. Strange Seed*
John Wyndham. The Chrysalids; The Day of the Triffids*

(* = books Mr King felt were particularly important to the genre).

Some of these works you will probably be familiar with, such as (the as-then-little-known) Anne Rice book Interview with the Vampire. Others are staple authors such as Road Dahl, not perhaps thought of as horror writers but who have undoubtedly written about the horrific and macabre. Others have been lost to the passage of time, such as William Hjortberg’s Falling Angel (filmed with Mickey Rourke and Robert DeNiro as Angel Heart in the 80s) or the huge bestselling evil twin novel The Other by Thomas Tryon ( a doozy of a novel and one I fully recommend).

Others may be new to you, such as Frederick Brown’s Nightmares and Geezenstacks, flash fiction from the 1950s! or the excellent Hunger by Charles Beaumont, one of the main writers of the original Twilight Zone until a rare illness struck him down in his twenties. Still others may be familiar from the films, such as Richard Matheson’s post-apocalyptic vampire/zombie novel I Am Legend and Jack Finney’s The Bodysnatchers, filmed with varying success several times usually about once every decade as Invasion of the Bodysnatchers. The novels are still worth seeking out. And if you don’t know who the others are, then you better get reading!

 

Eastercon 2017 Review!

For those who don’t know, Eastercon is the annual British National Science Fiction Convention. Now in it’s 68th year, it draws together an eclectic mix of sci-fi, fantasy, comic book and horror fans, creators, writers, illustrators, artists, cosplayers, and booksellers, as well as a whole host of other interesting people. This year it took place in Birmingham, England, under the moniker of Innominate. Its logo  was a ( presumably) green alien head. I went along and took part. He’s what happened…

 

 

I had two events planned for Innominate. The first was a panel on comic book legend Jack Kirby. Most people know Kirby from his days with Marvel  in the Sixties. In fact, Jack “King” Kirby, or Jolly Jack Kirby (whichever you prefer) was an influential comics creator who co-created Thor, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Superman’s nemesis Darkseid and a whole host of other even wilder characters. This was a lot of fun, even though it took place less than an hour after I had arrived and before I’d even booked into my hotel.  But bringing my hastily-acquired knowledge of how Kirby actually invented modern superheroes was very enjoyable. My fellow panellists, Stephen Aryan, Ali Baker, Kin Ming-Looi and Adele Terrell all brought their considerable knowledge and talents to bear.

Panel over, it was time to get my bearings and have a breather from the 2 hour drive down a congested M6. There were almost a thousand people in attendance, with sci-fi legend Pat Cadigan, illustrator Judith Clute and art connoisseur Colin HArris all being the guests of honour.  I checked in with a few friends I hadn’t seen since… well, the last Eastercon, missed several interesting-looking panels. I then attended the “The Explosive Opening Ceremony”. Thanks to a scientists from the Royal Institute, it was indeed explosive, and I will never forget the impressive sight of a luminous courgette.

Missing panels is something of a hobby of mine at Eastercon. I missed a couple more that night, but managed to attend both the art show reception and a Gollancz launch party. Both were curiously low-key affairs, with guests simply milling about with little or no introduction. I got the impression these were for “people in the know” whoever they were, and felt a little excluded, but even so I managed to chat briefly to some intriguing folks.

I decided to skip the Regency ball (not being a fan of how people were actually treated in the Regency period) and the Blake’s 7 Wobblevision (which I’m sure was good fun) and tried to grab some actual sleep. Car parking was a bit steep in Birmingham. Fortunately, I left my car next to the A-Team’s van ( I never did find out who it belonged to) and saved some cash courtesy of a reduced parking ticket from the con hotel, which was great value for money!

 

Jack Kirby shows his trademark style!

 

Saturday was a busy day indeed. I lost some time trying to find my way around the NEC (not a good idea when there’s a 24-hour gaming convention on) and ended up driving to Coventry! Thankfully, and against all odds, I managed to arrive in time for my kaffeeklatsch. These were great ways to speak with several fascinating guests at the con, including author Adrian Tchaikovsky and lit agent John Jarrold. After that, I missed a few more panels chatting in the bar, before heading into the panel titled *punk. This was a very entertaining and informative talk on the various “punk” genres, including steampunk, cyberpunk, and even weirdpunk ( which I never knew was a thing) . The discussion was lively with issues of class inevitably being thrown up against steampunk. The panellists were all fantastic, and I left with the feeling that I knew more than when I entered. Which is always a good thing.

I am embarrassed to say that I attended very few other panels that day. Some of these were just fun (Towel-fu, Sofa Racing and Hungry Human Hippos) some were a bit too technical for me (Neurodiversity, 3D printing, and a workshop on a Dremel – something about which I am still unenlightened), and some of which conflicted with lunch. Although this last point sounds trite, when you’re on your feet for 18 hours a day, lunch becomes a necessity. Unfortunately, many of the panels conflicted with the street food that was on sale in the fan lounge, while the hotel food was exorbitantly priced. For someone with certain dietary needs, food became an increasing problem, resulting in nachos for breakfast. Suffice to say, I left the con never wanting to see another baked potato. May I suggest some salad, vegetables and pasta in the future?

But otherwise Saturday night was (as I remember) filled with good conversation around the bar, mainly involving 2000AD, and the world’s most insanely difficult sci-fi pub quiz. So afterwards I headed back to my hotel to get a well-earned 5 hours rest!

Sunday was another busy day. Beginning with a sci-fi criticism masterclass by Manchester University’s Geoff Ryman on Afrofuturism, it continued with a panel on writing scifi with and about disability. This was a terrific discussion which made me realise just how few positive portrayals of people with disability there are. Even heroic disabled characters have to either overcome their disability or are given some great super-power to compensate (I’m thinking of you, Georgie Laforge). A lively talk from Pat Cadigan topped the day off with a session entitled “Pat Cadigan Explains It All”. And she did, with a rather graphic demonstration that I feel I will never forget. The other panels were mostly sci-fi, and  I would have liked to see  a little more fantasy and horror in the programme. But I guess that’s why it’s called a Sci-Fi convention! Much of the rest of the evening was mainly preoccupied with dinner. Sadly, the Groan-Along showing of Ed Wood’s sci-fi fiasco”Plan 9 From Outer Space” was cancelled due to someone bringing the wrong DVD. The replacement, “Transformers” failed to find an audience. So instead I had a long and lively talk with many people who wandered in and out of the fan lounge until the wee hours, when I realised I still hadn’t decided (due to a variety of reasons) on what I was going to read for my author reading at 10am the following day!

Now, 2am is not a good time to decide what you are going to be reading in less than 8 hours. However, I think I pulled it off. Sadly, my reading conflicted with my friend Arthur Chapell’s fascinating talk on sci-fi pub signs, so I had to miss that, as I couldn’t very well be absent from my own reading! Myself and grimdark author Anna Smith-Spark expected a low-energy crowd, it being the fourth day of the convention at 10am! However, the opposite was true. Many faces that were far too fresh for my liking turned up (probably due to Ms Smith-Spark’s presence, I may add), and I realized I had better be on top of my game. Fortunately, my last-minute preparation prevailed, and the reading seemed to go very well, with a lively Q&A sessions afterwards that involved such diverse subjects such as Dungeons & Dragons and the poetry of William Blake.

The con ended on a high note with the closing ceremony, attended once against by the guests of honour, and the giving of the Doc Weir award. I spent the rest of the day catching up, saying goodbye and generally making a nuisance of myself before heading home up the M6 once more. Maybe it was just that the traffic was less congested, but I felt a new surge of energy and hopefulness. It seems to be a common thing at Eastercon. The experience of being around so many creative and passionate people renews you, and you go forth into the world once more, ready to apply pen to paper, confident that there are other people out there who feel just the same as you!

My thanks to the organisers for letting me participate, and my apologies to anyone I didn’t get to speak to. See you next year!

(P.S. Some of the above may be exaggerated… just a little).