Swords, Sorcery, Sandals and Space
A Science Fiction Foundation Conference, Liverpool, 29 June- 1 July 2013
Swords. Sorcery, Sandals and Space: The Fantastika and the Classical World is a conference run by the Science Fiction Foundation and the University of Liverpool School of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology, on the links between science fiction and fantasy and Classical Greece and Rome. It will take place Saturday June 29-Monday July 1, at the Foresight Centre, University of Liverpool.
Henceforth to be referred to as “the SFF/Classics conference”, or as “the conference.”
This is the first part of a multi-part conference write-up. I promised I would write the conference up to the best of my ability. I need to preface this endeavour by saying I cannot possibly do it justice. Over the course of three days, more than eighty attendees presented more than sixty papers. For the days of Saturday and Sunday, there were three parallel conference tracks. For Monday, two parallel tracks were in operation. I had a fantastic experience, and my head is still hopping from talking to interesting people and all the interesting things to think about.
Let me begin with Friday evening. The preliminary meet-and-greet at the (lovely, late Victorian gentlemen’s club-turned-pub) Philharmonic Dining Rooms was my first introduction to several of the other attendees.
I’d arrived off a Ryanair flight, caught a taxi manned by a very garrulous Scouser gentleman, and checked into the Feathers Hotel on Mount Pleasant. The single rooms are tiny but adequate – the bathrooms are quite capacious, though. It is a Georgian building, and I caught a room overlooking the street, with original sash windows. There was enough time to hang my Real Grown-Up Trousers and Shirt in the wardrobe before heading out in search of the – actually very nearby – Phil.
I got there, and, naturally enough, recognised nobody. So I ordered a half of ale, peered nervously around, and was shortly approached by a lovely person from Denmark, Cecilie Flugt, who had recognised a kindred-nervous-peerer-around. Neither of us knew anyone going to the conference, so we peered nervously around together, while talking on Classical and SFnal topics. Soon, though, Tony Keen recognised the nervous peering around, and delivered us to a growing huddle of fellow delegates. Here we met the interesting Otta Wenskus (who would later dub the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King “Mordor Cathedral” and discover that it once possessed a bishop by the surname of Warlock), Fiona Hobden – with whom I wish I’d had the opportunity to speak more during the course of the conference – Christos Callow, Andy Sawyer, plenary speaker Nick Lowe, Pascal Lemaire from Belgium, and other people, including a large Liverpool SF Studies contingent, whose names I did not write down immediately. Leimar Garcia-Siino, who would give a very interesting paper on Greek mythology in YA on Monday. Charul Patel, of Lancaster. Some other people! Andrew J. Wilson, that was one of them.
I can’t remember what we talked about over dinner. I should have made notes. I remember that Nick Lowe, Royal Holloway, a skinny vibrant long-haired rake of a professor with a grin like a demented elf – and I mean that in the best possible sense – introduced himself as from the “University of Neptune.” I remember I ate venison sausages and mashed potato, and Tony made a passing sausage reference that could have gone very (if hilarious) inappropriate places, but didn’t. Of the people who went to dinner: Andrew J. Wilson. Andy Sawyer. Pascal Lemaire. Tony Keen. Me. Otta Wenskus. Fiona Hobden. Nick Lowe. Fiona Hobden. Cecilie Flugt. Perhaps they remember the topics of conversation better than I do. All I remember is that they were immensely invigorating. I think recent films featured. Cloud Atlas. World War Z. Man of Steel. Iron Man and sequels. I retain an overwhelming impression of Nick Lowe’s energy and enthusiasm, and Andrew Wilson’s large engaged good humour, a certain quick wit on the part of Andy Sawyer and a distracted intelligence about Tony Keen – but the rest escapes me.
I marched hotel-wards in company around perhaps 1000 or 1030, guided by the round crown of Mordor Cathedral. The rest of the story will have to wait…