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Cosmonaut Keep by Ken MacLeodThe Far Enough Window by John GrantFurnace by Muriel Gray

A Good Ten Year Old

Neil Williamson

This year, the World Science Fiction Convention attracts fans and professionals to Scotland from all corners of the globe. You almost hear them asking: why Glasgow? Why Scotland?

These are fair questions. Scotland might be a great place to trace your ancestors, or take in a classic round of golf, or sample whisky the way it should be made, but what has Scotland contributed to the fields of the fantastic? On the face it, with its oral Celtic tradition on one hand and its engineers and innovators on the other, Scotland should have produced bags of fantasy and SF writers. The antecedents are there --Robert Louis Stevenson, J.M. Barrie, James Hogg, George MacDonald -- and there have been the occasional glimmerings down the years -- David Lindsay, J.T. McIntosh, Alasdair Gray -- but until relatively recently you could have counted Scots genre writers on the fingers of one hand.

At the last UK Worldcon, in 1995, also held in Glasgow, there were few Scottish names on the list of attending authors. Iain M Banks, of course, was highly conspicuous. But who else were the Scots stars of 1995? Ken McLeod and Jack Deighton both launched their novel careers at that convention; Chris Boyce and Angus McAllister were also around, but where was the rest of the local talent?

Well it's possible that there were a few drams of inspiration downed in the SECC bar that year. Five days of rubbing shoulders with the biggest names in the genre world set a few raw, rookie chins in a determined fashion. You might think of it as a casking of talent and resolve.

Writers groups often get a bad press among the ranks of professional writers. They're cliquey, they're bitchy, they're plagued by old ladies writing poems about their cats, and they're also full of wannabes. While the first three of these can, unfortunately, be true, the last is surely a requisite. The Glasgow SF Writers' Circle, originally set up in the late 1970s by Chris Boyce and Duncan Lunan, was resurrected by Lunan in 1987 to give entrants for The Herald's short story competition a venue for improving their work. From the very beginning the Circle had three basic rules:

  1. anyone was welcome,
  2. criticism had to be both honest and constructive, and
  3. the aim was to progress each member's work towards the ultimate goal of professional publication.

Towards professional publication. Pretty much the definition of wannabes.

By 1995, some of the Circle's members had achieved this goal. Lunan's own stories had appeared in the likes of Analog, while Fergus Bannon, Gary Gibson and Michael Cobley had been seen between the covers of Interzone. Steps were being made in the right direction. To celebrate this the Circle joined forces with its Edinburgh counterpart to produce an anthology, Shipbuilding, which was distributed free to members of the convention.

Ten years on, and that '95 spirit of inspiration has been distilled and matured into a malt of pure determination that has toasted the beginnings of several novel-writing careers, with Michael Cobley, Gary Gibson and Hal Duncan all promoting new books at the 2005 Worldcon. The Glasgow Writers have arrived, but this Scottish flourishing doesn't end there. As well as Deighton, the East Coast Writers' Group now boast adopted son, Charles Stross, among their number, and their off-shoot spoken-word group, Writers Bloc regularly entertains packed Edinburgh audiences with their dark and frequently blackly comic stories.

Banks and MacLeod have become giants of the field, as have Grant Morrison and Mark Millar in the world of comics. Glasgow is home to Richard Morgan and Muriel Gray, while the Lothians have seen the return of Deborah Miller (AKA Miller Lau).

An event like the World Science Fiction Convention should live up to its name: it should be truly global. Unlike the World Series, science fiction and fantasy are not sports played and spectated on exclusively by Americans; they are a cultural experience that is shared world-wide, and in every corner of the globe the game is played with a local style, cheered on in a different argot. You bring the Worldcon roadshow with all of those legendary names to Toronto, or to Melbourne, or to Yokohama, or even to Glasgow, it's going to be a whole different ball game than you'll get in Anaheim, Boston or Chicago. More to the point, an event on that scale is going to attract locals who may never have attended a science fiction convention before, but will relish rubbing shoulders with those famous writers. Maybe some of them will be wannabe writers with their own politics, and their own language, and their world-view unique to wherever it is they happen to live.

We look forward to raising a glass to them in years to come.

Lanark by Alasdair GrayThe Krugg Syndrome by Angus McAllister Lore Bringer by Miller Lau

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