Highlights of Nine Worlds

I got to go to Nine Worlds on the Friday and Sunday (I’d only bought a Friday ticket because I’m dole, but my mum took pity on me and bought me a second ticket), and I had a brilliant time. I wish I’d brought my camera – I decided not to because I’ve never been to a proper big con before (I’m not sure if BoA/Rezzed count) and wasn’t sure what to expect, so I travelled light and brought no preconceptions.

I wanted to attend, partly because it was a pissing massive confluence of my interests, and because it felt like a safe space right from the get-go. Nine Worlds is two fingers to those who say ‘con culture’s just like that‘ in response to stories of harassment (sexual and otherwise) at conventions. 9W’s based on a ‘no knobbers’ policy. It worked very well, without a dicksprout trilby* in sight.

I loved how normal it felt that the space had so many non gender-conforming people, and how it showed how arbitrary the differences are. You could be talking to a beardy bloke in a dress/skirt (a normal skirt, not a ‘it’s a utili-kilt, actually‘), or a person with a neutrois name, voice and appearance, and there would be no knobbers pointing. There aren’t many places you can do that outside, say, Camden town, which is full of meandering bellwhiffers taking up pavement space and people trying to sell you cheap weed that’s probably broccoli.

The scope of the con was amazing. Even though in itself it’s a relatively small con (around 1,300 attendees), there was such a spread of things to do and see. My 9W was largely mathematical and scientific with a dash of Game of Thrones, but someone else’s 9W could have been about Harry Potter, knitting and vampires, or creative writing, Doctor Who and Ponies. This was also the first UK geek & nerd con with a dedicated LGBTQ+ track.

I got to meet and re-meet some cool Twitter people, including @lingmops (we had supper in a pub and talked about Pacific Rim), and @agtheo (who jogged my memory of who he was by reminding me that we are currently fighting in the Moon League of Fallen London).

I attended several talks/activities, but not nearly as many as I’d have liked. In one time slot there were five concurrent talks that I wanted to see. I’ve written a little about the ones I saw, but haven’t bothered with the ones I mostly missed.

Sigil designing workshop:

I actually misunderstood the premise of this one, as I hadn’t clocked that the rooms were themed by track, and didn’t realise it was a Game of Thrones-themed workshop to design a badge in the style of the great houses. I thought it would be about the folklore of summoning sigils or something. It still turned out to be fun, drawing dinosaurs and sitting in a room with nerds talking about Game of Thrones, cats and nail varnish. I ended up drawing a Triceratops after deciding my stylised theropods looked too much like dragons.

Writing Alien Perspectives (Chris Farnell):

A good guide to what not to do, including the done-to-death ‘proud warrior race’ trope (the sole career available for at least the men is warrior, they use swords or something despite having invented space travel, and have a society based on a code of honour but it’s impossible to find out what is meant by honour because they use the word ‘honour’ the same way Smurfs use the word ‘smurf’).

It is Rocket Science (Helen Keen):

Helen Keen manages to make the space race funny, and does it with the aid of Powerpoint and audience participation, which works so well you wonder why more comedians don’t use an accompanying slideshow. It was almost a comedy lecture rather than a traditional standup piece. Included some dreadful puns. Keen made a volunteer wear a worm hat and told her she now represented the ‘Space-time continuworm‘.

Can’t Take the Sky From Me (Adam Christopher, Jaine Fenn, Stephanie Saulter, Gavin Smith, Charles Stross, Ian Whates):

This was a panel on the advantages and disadvantages of such things as sticking to only what we definitely know to be plausible. In it we learned (I can’t remember which speaker brought it up) that Venus is a viable option for space colonisation: the surface is a sulphuric hellhole but the stratosphere is a comfortable 20 degrees and has the same pressure as Earth’s atmosphere at sea level. Furthermore, a mixture of gases equivalent to Earth’s atmosphere would be more buoyant in the upper Venusian atmosphere than in ours, meaning a floating Venusian city with breathable air might actually be a possibility one day.

I got to meet Ian Whates later and buy a signed copy of one of his books. Unfortunately he’d sold out of part 1 of the City of Hundred Rows, so he let me have part 2 at a reduced price and he signed it for me.

Ian Stewart: The Deterministic Monkey Theorem or Chaos in L-Space:

I loved this. I haven’t actually read any of the Science of Discworld books, which is odd as I do like the novels. I know Ian Stewart as the author of Nature’s Numbers and The Magical Maze, two excellent popular science books about mathematics, the latter of which I really need to buy another copy of because I lent it to a teacher once and never got it back.

Stewart makes mathematics very accessible, and even when it’s beyond me I still think ‘I don’t quite understand this but I love hearing it anyway’. This talk was mostly about extremely large numbers and how they work, with the backdrop of the famous thought experiment of infinite monkeys typing Shakespeare.

The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets (Simon Singh):

This was fascinating. Many of the Simpsons and Futurama writers hold maths degrees, and it shows in their work for those who know where to look. In one of the earliest Simpsons episodes, Bart the Genius, Bart is sent to a school for gifted pupils after cheating in a test. In the playground are some girls chanting a skipping rhyme with the digits of pi. Except they aren’t – the digits are wrong. It’s because they’re reciting pi in base 8. (Think about why that would be.)

Science Fact or Science Fiction? (Brendan Owens):

I’d evidently decided this would be a SPACE-themed con for me. In this talk, Owens (of the Royal Greenwich Observatory) compared silver screen depictions of space sciences to their real world counterparts, as well as talking us through space-exploration technology in general. I’ve yet to get tired of watching Curiosity landing footage.

By the Fireside with Cara and Rhianna:

A nice way to round off the con: two bibeo gaem people talking about bibeo gaem. And soup.

Other highlights:

  • Normal hotel guests looking completely bemused.
  • The big south Asian wedding taking place at the Radisson, whose wedding photos are going to have Loki horns poking up in the background.
  • Having a go on the Oculus Rift rollercoaster demo.

*This is a fedora. It’s a cool hat worn by Sarah Berndardt and Indiana Jones. This is a trilby. It’s an unimpressive hat worn by dicksprouts who think it’s a fedora.