Eating Authors: Adrian Tchaikovsky

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Adrian Tchaikovsky

Welcome to the first Monday in July, which if you’re in the USA you very well may have off from work as it’s what we like to call Independence Day. Which is as good a reason as any that this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest is from the UK.

Adrian Tchaikovsky is known far and wide for his popular (and currently ten volume strong) Shadows of the Apt series, which can be (poorly) described as a universe with assorted human-like races that differ from one another on the basis of various insect properties as well as whether or not they can wield magic. You know, that old trope.

He’s since started a new fantasy series, Echoes of the Fall (which begins with The Tiger and the Wolf), as well as a more traditionally SF novel (Children of Time). Meanwhile, his newest work, Spoils of War, comes out next week, the first book in Tales of the Apt, a companion series which will doubtless thrill fans of the earlier decalogy with a range of short stories addressing questions, events, backstories, and more that weren’t covered in the original novels.

Reaching out to new fans while managing to keep the old ones happy. Does it get any better than that?

LMS: Welcome, Adrian. Thanks for being here. Now, please tell me about your most memorable meal.

AT: This is going back to 2012, and the British national SF convention (aka “Eastercon”), which that year was named Olympus and happening at one of the big Heathrow hotels. I had only really attended small conventions before, but had been lured to this one by the prospect of George RR Martin as guest of honour. I had no idea what I was getting into. Eastercon is a four day gig, and in this particular case it was taking place in an enormous hotel with pretty much no windows in any of the con spaces, and I was still relatively new to the SF scene and knew very few people there. It’s not an unusual first time con experience I suspect, given how many in the fan community can be introverts and loners.

Empire in Black and Gold

Speaking of GRRM, I think this must have been just about one of the last cons he could attend without being swamped. The Game of Thrones TV series had just had its first season, if I’m remembering correctly, and everyone was going wild about it, but I remember being in the bar late at night, and seeing him just wander in on his own without a trail of people demanding when the next book was coming out or anything like that. The difference between Olympus and Loncon 3, the UK Worldcon a few years later, was startling. At the latter he turned up with an entourage whose primary job was pretty much to give him some breathing space from the fans and the media, and even then I think it was a constant battle.

Anyway, dialling back to 2012. For the first couple of days I got on just about OK, although I made a serious habit of failing to talk to GRRM at every possible opportunity – I was kind of star struck, really. Also, I am really no good at getting to know people, and after a while that began to wear on me. These days I’m long enough in the tooth that I can generally find someone I know to hang out with at conventions, but right then I was basically cut loose at an event that had decades of history and tradition that everyone else seemed absolutely down with, but that was completely new to me. And, on the subject of food, the breakfasts were terrible. I swear they boiled the bacon. I’m not citing that as a major contributor to my growing disorientation but it helped.

The Tiger and the Wolf

Between the social isolation and the complete natural light I hit a kind of crisis point towards the evening of the second day. I remember sitting in the atrium bar, not really having any sense of what time of day it was, and staring across the crowd at a guy dressed head to toe as a Klingon warrior. This wasn’t a cosplay-heavy Eastercon – in fact I can’t remember anyone else there in costume at all, right then. So I looked at the Klingon, standing tall in the middle of a crowd of people in Doctor Who T-shirts, and was not entirely sure whether there was, in fact, a Klingon there, or whether I had gone a bit off target.

And there, in that weird moment of existential, Star Trek-related crisis, I was found by a band of SF academics from Oxford who I very tentatively knew, mostly through a common acquaintance with Paul Cornell (who is the Kevin Bacon of the UK SF scene). And like some kind of choir of angels they took me from the windowless confines of the convention hotel, first into the Outside, which I had almost forgotten existed, and then off to a Chinese restaurant with a bunch of other fans.

Children of Time

I cannot honestly say what we ate. I remember the food as being good, but to be honest the only food within arm’s reach of the convention was McDonalds, so any variety would have been welcome. The main function of that meal, for me, was giving me back some mental resilience via the company of interesting and pleasant people. As someone who spends my time writing about giant insects, it’s easy to overlook the importance of some basic human contact. It must all sound a bit trivial to someone else, but I really do feel that meal saved my sanity. It stabilised me so I could go back to the con and actually enjoy it, which in turn led to me getting into the convention scene on a regular basis, which is something I’ve never regretted. Without that very kind invitation I would probably have turned my back on the whole business and written off conventions as a hostile and estranging experience I didn’t want to repeat, and my life as a writer would have been impoverished by it.

Thanks, Adrian. I can’t help but wonder (though I’m sure he’d deny it — and what more proof do we need?) if the fellow you saw dressed as a Klingon wasn’t in fact actually Paul Cornell.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

#SFWApro

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