The Thing and the Whole of the Thing
(Copied from my LJ, at http://molokov-au.livejournal.com/139985.html
I was fortunate enough to be one of the 900 attendees at the 7th International Discworld Convention in Birmingham UK. It is a huge event for Terry Pratchett's fans from all over the world with a vast array of activities, special guests, and far too much fun.
What I managed to see and do was only a small part of what was available, but here's my tale...
I managed to get to the Hilton Metropole Hotel late on Thursday afternoon and after returning my hire car and freshening up it was time for the unofficial Discworld Con Pub Quiz - and the questions were truly general knowledge with no knowledge of Discworld required. I'd managed to find Sue (from Sydney), the one person I knew at the con and together we picked a random table to sit with at the pub quiz. This allowed me to meet a great group of new people, including Jay, Ashe, Damien and Sarah who I ended up hanging out with for quite a lot of the weekend. We didn't do so well in the quiz (equal 10th of about 20 tables), but it was still a nice way to start the Convention.
After a rather unsettled sleep (don't ask me why... I blame the bed) and reading the Con programme in the middle of the night, it was time for the Convention to begin! Not much really kicked off until 12, so before that I vaguely helped Ashe with her campaign for Low King, and then helped design a clacks machine for sending semaphore messages across the room. Mostly I helped write our teams codesheets (we ended up just going with binary, which isn't very efficient) but considering I missed the actual competition I have no idea how well our construction worked. As a UK Convention newbie (despite having been to both Australian "Nullus Anxietas" conventions) I decided to hear what to and what not to do at the Troll's Guide to Conventions, and followed that up at the first Unseen University Challenge session. As an insane trivia (and Discworld trivia) buff, I wanted to participate but didn't have a team... so I managed to gatecrash a team called "The Damned" which was pretty fortunate. Included in the team were Ben, Andy (who said he'd won UU Challenge at previous cons) and Min (who's appearing on Mastermind soon with the topic of Discworld!). They probably could have won even without my help, but our speed on the buzzers and our knowledge of the minituae of Terry's books allowed us to win against our opponents quite comfortably.
Also on Friday afternoon, I heard Stephen Briggs speak (showing off an actual prop sword from The Princess Bride that he has) and managed to ask him for some pointers and advice in adapting books to playscripts. The opening ceremony, introduced by Terry Pratchett himself, had him musing how even though Terry had Death's own sword, plus a sword he made himself from scratch (yes, starting with iron ore) as all knights should have, he was still a little jealous that Stephen has Inigo Montoya's sword.
After this, I met with other members of the Assassin's Guild to find out what we should do for Guild Activities... in the end I didn't do too much with the guild, but it was fun to be an Assassin nonetheless.
For the Bedtime Stories, Terry's PA Rob Wilkins was going to read some of "I Shall Wear Midnight" (released tomorrow!) but Terry said Rob couldn't do the Feegle voices right, so instead, Rob pulled out some pages from a manilla folder and proceeded to read the first 50 pages of the second draft of "Snuff", Terry's next book about Commander Sam Vimes.
Of course, this ran well over the allotted 1 hour time, so I ended up missing the start of the late night sing-along screening of Buffy the Vampire Slayer "Once More With Feeling" but it was good to see the episode again and singalong with everyone.
On Saturday I attended as many sessions as I possibly could, including Ian Stewart discussing the mathematical improbabilities of monkeys typing Shakespeare, Jacqueline Simpson exploring the morals of elves from Roundworld folklore, and Jack Cohen explaining how sufficiently advanced biology is akin to magic. In Part 2 of the UU Challenge, "The Damned" managed to successfully win Round 1, before we all queued up for the main interview with Terry done by the Convention Chairman, Brian. During the interview, Stephen Baxter was also invited on stage and he and Terry discussed their new project, "The Long Earth" with just enough details to tease us with the concept but not enough to give away anything substantial. So of course, everyone's now interested in it and wants it NOW!
Later in the afternoon, Ian Sharples from Mob films showed us some behind-the-scenes designs, photos and videos from the "Going Postal" TV miniseries, including something hilarious which I hope is on the DVD extras. They announced that the next one is not going to be "Sourcery" as previously mulled over, but "The Wee Free Men". Set in Ankh-Morpork, with football.
I also watched the UU Challenge Round 2, and took part in a fiendishly difficult general knowledge quiz run by the Assassins' Guild, before attending the Maskerade - sort of a combo costume/skit show.
Let's pause here - there were some absolutely AMAZING costumes on display all weekend, and not all that many entered the Maskerade - some people seemed to have a completely different and brilliant costume on every time you saw them, never the same thing twice! I'm kind of glad now I didn't bother with even a single costume (due to luggage concerns) because I would have been totally overshadowed... Don't worry, I'm going to try and come up with a few new ones (and a few old) for the next Nullus Anxietas.
The Maskerade somme great costumes, some great short sketches, and the winner (as judged by Brian, Terry, Jacqueline Simpson and Bernard Pearson) was deservedly Dame Gigli singing the Departure aria (ably assisted by Walter Plinge).
During the evening, the candidates for Low King were also introduced so everyone knew who they could vote for.
The traditional alt.fan.pratchett Hedgehog Party started after this, but it wasn't really that much to my liking. I ended up joining a large game of Werewolf or two, and staying up way too late chatting and drinking.
Sunday's programme seemed to have the late morning everyone wanted planned in, so there was no need to get up too early. I watched some amazing storytelling by Con attendees, attended a lecture on knots which was actually pretty fascinating, and later heard Bernard Pearson ramble on about whatever popped into his head - mostly his adventures into attempted baking, and his imagined origin of sausages. Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen teamed up for another science lecture, presenting their explanations and arguments against the anthropic principle of and adjustment of universal constants.
Due to the popularity of the OMWF Sing-along on Friday night, an impromptu screening of Doctor Horrible's Sing-along Blog was also held, which was a pretty good way to finish the afternoon.
In the evening, we were entertained with a free drink (courtesy of Transworld) and the banjo, upperclass hip-hop stylings of Mr B the Gentleman Rhymer before witnessing the coronation ceremony of the Low King - the election was won by Jenny Delaney, the pub quiz master.
At this point, a large portion of the convention attendees went to the Gala Dinner, complete with complementary beard, dwarf bread and an Angsts' misfortune cookie.
After the dinner, I checked out some of the activities at the Rat Race (Rat mini-golf, the drag race etc), Mr B performed another set. When this entertainment was over, we once again returned to the bar for a night of drinking and chatting.
The late night wasn't really a good idea for me, as I wanted to get up early for Ian & Jack's talk on the Science of Discworld, and the lack of sleep and plethora of drink left me feeling rather seedy for most of Monday (not hungover, btw, my head was fine!). I helped Sue promote Nullus Anxietas III at "World of Discworld Cons" together with the Dutch, German, American, and Irish con representatives, and then everyone eagerly queued for the afternoon's entertainment.
The Rocky Horror Discworld Show had to be seen to be believed. And considering it was a once off performance, with no recording allowed, you can't see it unless you were there. Combining the classic cult musical with our favourite Discworld characters, the show was amazingly good. If only there weren't as many technincal hitches with the microphone it would have been super-awesome (because we would have been able to hear everyone sing).
Following this was the closing ceremony where prizes were awarded, thanks were given, and we were all kindly asked to leave by Bernard Pearson.
Of course, many people didn't leave the hotel on Monday evening, allowing for people to eat, drink and be merry all night long. The Dead Monkey party was not very lively when we attended, so instead, I suggested we try out my new set of Fluxx (a card game where the rules change as you play) and this turned into a several hour session of the game with rotating players and an awful lot of fun.
Being the final night, many people were determined to stay up all night - and Jay, Ashe and I managed to do so, although there was quite a bit of dozing at the 5am mark.
So that was the Thing and the Whole of the Thing. An amazing experince, jam packed with fun and geekery and certainly something worthwhile. I'm not certain whether I'll be able to afford the time or money to return in two years time, but I *will* be at Nullus Anxietas III, running the Quiz night, Terry's Shorts, and appearing in Thank Gods Your Here and Wossnames. So come along! http://www.ausdwcon.org
 In case you don't understand, this is what we call "a joke". The next adaption will be "Unseen Academicals" but that was never actually stated verbally, just very very strongly implied with references to other works just for comedic effect.
 Yes, knots. They don't really have anything to do with Discworld, but the guy presenting was, in addition to being a vice-chair on the ConCom, a volunteer for the Tall Ships Youth Trust, so he knew his knots.
 When Mr B first was on stage, Sue & I looked at him with his strange moustache and large glasses and thought perhaps this was an alter ego of Rob Wilkins, Terry's PA. Later, when I mentioned this theory to Jay, she suspected it could be true but we weren't sure. So when he was offstage, we went up and said it was a great gig (and his stuff is quite funny) but at that point it was very obvious I'd made a mistake - Mr B's moustache is very much real, and Rob is cleanshaven. In any case, I blame it on stage lights. We also chatted with Mr B later in the bar, and he's quite a nice guy although not a Discworld fan (but intends to read at least one book now).
 They aren't planning a fourth one, but if they were, it would involve the Priests of Om claiming copyright on the concept of a round world, and suing Unseen University to gain possession/destruction of the Roundworld project.
 This is also one of those injokes, in that after each Science of Discworld books was written, they planned not to have another, but Terry would ask "but if we did one, what would it look like?"
 "The Damned" ended up getting prizes for the UU challenge, as did the round two winners "Crivens University". We never found time to do a grand final, so that left two prize winners. But having seen Crivens in action (especially Holly's fast fingers and vast Discworld knowledge) it would have been a tough final!
 "Piss off!"