Conferences can be a touch dull — you register your name, pin on a name tag, and listen to a few speeches before adjourning for tea and custard creams. But when you spot a weapons code of conduct — “live steel is prohibited” — then you’re probably at Octocon, where things can get lively.
Octocon is the National Irish Science Fiction Convention — a weekend-long celebration of sci-fi fans’ favourite stories from books, comics, TV, films, and games. Running since 1990, when the first guest of honour was Terry Pratchett of Discworld fame, other guests have included Game of Thrones creator George RR Martin.
Octocon 2016’s theme is Rebellion. Guests of honour this year include Diane Duane, Peter Morwood, and Rhianna Pratchett. Duane, originally from New York, is perhaps best known for her Young Wizards fantasy series but also wrote scripts for Scooby and Scrappy-Doo as well as one of the earliest episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Belfast-born Morwood, who is married to Duane, is a fantasy novelist and screenwriter — his best-known works include the Horse Lords series.
And of course, Rhianna Pratchett. The only child of the late Terry Pratchett, she’s a director of Narrativia multimedia production company which manages her father’s work across film, TV, digital media, and merchandising. She’s also the woman behind the Lara Croft backstory. As Tomb Raider lead writer, she was brought on board to help create a more human, relatable, and likeable Lara, who was in some danger of looping as a 1D weapon-toting babe in a tank-top.
Rhianna obviously grew up with her own father’s work but loved all forms of fantasy and sci-fi. “There was a real trend in the ’80s for fantasy films and I loved all those — Willow, Princess Bride, Time Bandits. That died away a bit for a while but then things like Lord of the Rings films and then Game of Thrones brought it all back to a new audience.”
There is a perception among some that sci-fi and gaming are ‘not for girls’. But Rhianna notes that strong female characters have a part of some landmark films — without making them all about women either. She references Ripley from the Alien films and Sarah Connors, who battled the Terminator, as women who just go on with the story. And with other strong characters ranging from Lara Croft herself to Katniss Everdeen of the Hunger Games and virtually any of the women in Terry Pratchett’s books, this isn’t something Rhianna herself was particularly conscious of.
“I’m an only child so gender didn’t matter for me in the way it might if I had been told so by brothers or sisters. I looked to my dad for inspiration and he encouraged me to have a relentless enthusiasm to try anything — to never let anyone stand in my way of what I wanted to do.”
She has encountered some ‘boys club’ attitudes but this doesn’t faze her: “Some so-called hardcore games can be a bit snobbish but...”
The iconic Tomb Raider costume of hotpants and a rather tight vest mightn’t sit well with some feminists but Rhianna takes it in her stride: “Ah yes, the classic Lara outfit. In the reboot she dresses in a more normal way for her age and environment.”
Though Rhianna worked on Lara Croft’s backstory, taking the heroine back to when she was 21, she has a fondness for some of the more senior characters in her father’s own work: “He saw women as complex and textured characters — Granny Weatherwax is one of those. Some men can write great women.”
Rhianna herself turns 40 at the end of the year. And she’s not frantically ticking off any of those ‘40 things to do before you’re 40’ lists. “I believe in just getting as much done as you can in life — but also just enjoying as you go along,” she says.
Engaged to be married, and with two cats at home — she jokes that like most writers she likes “hard liquor and soft cats” — she has numerous projects on the go. She has previously written games and adapted scripts for film as well as writing for Marvel and DC Comics, and is currently working on a spin-off TV series of Terry Pratchett’s The Watch.
George RR Martin partied until the early hours
Octocon 2016 is on October 14 to 16 at Dublin’s Camden Court Hotel. Octocon.com; @Octocon or facebook.com/octocon Entry €24/ €35 pre-purchase; €40/ €25 on the door; U12s free with an adult.
George RR Martin, creator of Game of Thrones, was a guest of honour at Octocon in 2010 and seemed to enjoy it.
He wrote at the time: “Having a great, if exhausting, time at Octocon in Dublin. The Irish fen are wonderfully hospitable. I am still feeling borderline sick and my time sense is knackered, however.
“I hit the wall at seemingly random moments and have to stagger off to nap, absolutely can not keep my eyes open... but then I sleep for an hour or two, get a second wind, and wake up ready to roar late into the night.
“Last night I had to collapse after supper, but staggered down again in time to pick the raffle winners, then partied till three in the morning, swilling down coke after coke and arguing about sex in the books.
“Somehow I found myself between half a dozen women who want some explicit male/ male scenes in the books and a couple of dissenters who don’t... from there we wandered into Myrish swamps and were never seen again.
“It was a strange night. Today I’m paying for it.”