We had planned to leave early on Sunday but, when we looked at the program for the morning and early afternoon we knew we’d be stay ’til 2 pm. So we got up early, packed, took everything out to the car, ate breakfast, and checked out of the hotel. And just made it to our first panel.

Wish Fulfillment for Happy Adults

9:00 AM – Wish Fulfillment for Happy Adults.
Panelists: John Benson, LJ Cohen, Ann Tonsor Zeddies, Sheila Williams, Betsy Mitchell.
Description: Wish fulfillment for teenagers and wish fulfillment for adults with happy stable lives are necessarily going to be different. Speculative stories are great for navigating the trickiness of coming-of-age, but there’s precious little for those who are already of age and have started to prioritize comfort over adventure. Female readers in particular often turn to romance novels for stories about families and love and kindness, and to mysteries for stories about grown women with agency and purpose. Can speculative fiction draw in those readers by fulfilling different sorts of wishes?

One of the participants said something that struck a nerve with me. As we grow up, we make choices and the choices we make narrows the field. We chose to work for good grades or not. We chose to go to college. We choose a mate and marry. We choose to have or not have children. We choose a career. Each choice narrows the possibilities of the field for the next choice point. Thus, perhaps adults read to see what different choices or different lives than are own would be like.

On the other hand, young people may read to see what might be the results of various choices that they face.

There was the discussion that adults read for comfort and young people read for adventure. I think both — yes, both are true and not true. Personally, I read for my job. But I read for adventure, a change of scene, to gain new ways of looking at things, and for more adventure. I also — when under high stress — turn to stories for the comfort they offer — knowing how it will turn out, enjoying spending time with characters that I like, spending time in a world/time/culture/universe different from my own.

Palantir in Every Pocket

10:00 AM – A Palantir in Every Pocket.
Panelists: Chad Orzel, Daryl Gregory, Ted Chiang, Jeff Hecht, Ken Liu, David Shaw (leader).
Description: In Charles Stross’s “Not a Manifesto,” he writes that the 21st century is “by turns a cyberpunk dystopia and a world where everyone has access to certain kinds of magic. And if you want to explore the human condition under circumstances which might plausibly come to pass, these days the human condition is constrained by technologies so predictably inaccessible that they might as well be magic. So magic makes a great metaphor for probing the human condition. We might not have starships, but there’s a Palantir in every pocket.” This suggests that urban fantasy, which literalizes the “magical” aspects of modern life, provides valuable tools for examining and reflecting the experience of living in the simultaneously glorious and terrible present day. But to what extent does urban fantasy fall prey to uncritically accepting key elements of the here and now instead of exploring and debating them? If urban fantasy is a mirror of the present, are we standing too close to that mirror to see ourselves clearly?

When does technology become so advanced it is considered magic? Or, does all technology we don’t understand seem like magic. Most of us can’t explain how the internet works, but we use it. Does not knowing how something works necessarily mean we’re afraid of it? I don’t think so.

One panelist said something that resonated with me. When I first use some new app or technology, I often try to figure out how it works. I come up with a scheme that makes sense to me with my technical background. Sometimes later I must do some actual digging into code and learn more about it — that’s when I begin to think it’s magic — because a lot of the code doesn’t make sense for what the output is. Eventually, I may have a deeper understanding of what’s under the hood, but in the in between space where my schema and the actuality doesn’t match and the real digging into the bits/bytes begins that where it all looks like smoke and mirrors.

Good panel that raise a lot of interesting ways of looking at technology and our relationship with it.

[Paul’s addition] Both a GPS unit and a pair of 7 league boots are items that anyone can use. Most people have absolutely no idea what goes on inside other than “satellites in orbit” and “spells” respectively. So exactly why is one accepted as Magic, and the other is blithely dismissed as mere technology?

Who Owns SF

11:00 AM – Who Owns SF?.
Panelist: Jim Freund, Diane Weinstein, Kathryn Morrow (leader), Judith Berman.
Description: Writers, fans, and reviewers can all feel a sense of ownership for the genres they love. But different feelings of ownership from different perspectives can clash, leading to litmus tests, competing definitions, and unresolvable arguments about what lies at the heart of a genre. We’ll examine the ways that social power structures influence the question of who gets to define the genre, and discuss paradigms other than ownership—such as exploration or collaboration—that might help readers overcome their differences and learn how to share.

This panel was an interesting discussion of who has ownership of SF. Nothing was solved but some of the history of SF was brought up to lay some ground work for the discussion. The teapot tempest of the Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies and the Hugo Nomination Process was touched on also.

Concepts of Privacy in SF

12:00 PM – Happy Goldfish Bowl: Concepts of Privacy in Speculative Fiction.
Panelists: Jim Freund (moderator), Tom Purdom, Meriah Crawford, John Benson, Ian Randal Strock.
Description: Speculative stories and novels have explored and challenged the concept of privacy by positing technology, magic, laws, and societal changes that bring shadowed parts of a person’s life or thoughts into the spotlight—or help them stay hidden. Some portray universal openness as the goal (Spider Robinson’s Telempath) while others dread it (Isaac Asimov’s “The Dead Past”). How have depictions of privacy changed over the decades, and how have those depictions influenced the development of privacy-challenging speculative elements such as telepathy and the omnipresent AI?

This topic has been popular lately at conventions and, while the basic topic is the same, the discussion around that base topic seems to differ from convention to convention.

Our privacy is being eroded by technology and ourselves. Some people use all kinds of tactics to avoid others being able to track them on the internet, while others don’t seem to care what is out there in the wild about them. One member of the panel, said that you shouldn’t make it too difficult to find you because if another ‘naughty’ person that has the same name and you can’t be separated from that person by available data you get tarred by the same brush.

On the other hand, it is fairly easy to hide in plain sight as there is so much data that sifting through it for a specific person or item is time consuming and difficult. Aggregate data for groups is easier to deal with — or not.

All in all, a nice discussion with no real conclusions as you’d expect from the topic.

Transformative Works and the Law and You

1:00 PM – Transformative Works and the Law and You.
Panelists: Sarah Smith, Toni Kelner, Adam Lipkin, Max Gladstone.
Description: Let’s discuss the state of transformative works today. Copyright law and case law in this area is changing rapidly, as is the way big publishing treats transformative works. Remix culture is the cutting edge of 21st-century creativity, and we are all postmodernists. Is the law finally catching up with that, or lagging far behind? Will the fate of copyright and transformative works ultimately be decided by the whims of corporations and powerful literary estates?

This was basically a panel on copyright. Some of the history of publishing and the differences between European and US copyright was touched on. Also touched on was the issue of using items that are no longer under copyright protection (in the public domain).

Somehow, the discussion veered to a discussion of literary executors and how to protect your works after your death. Some interesting examples of where things can go wrong were pointed out. Suggests that a writer’s literary executor should be one person and that person should be someone familiar with your work and what you want done with it. (Cautionary tale was an author whose family didn’t like what he wrote and will not allow reprints.)

Again, a good discussion that opens up new things to think about.

All in all, we had a good time at Readercon and signed up for next year before we left. Next year is in a new hotel.

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Our day started bright and early as programming began at 9 AM. So, arise in time to be pressed and polished with moderately open eyes, and at least not tripping over our feet. Muffin and tea for each of us and off to the first program item.

Zombies as a Crisis of the Ecosystem

9:00 AM – Zombies as a Crisis of the Ecosystem: A Holistic Perspective.
Panelists: John Benson, LJ Cohen, Meriah Crawford, Catt Kingsgrave, and Gwendolyn Clare.
Description: Zombie plagues, like all pandemics, are ecosystem crises. What aspects of the human ecosystem make it possible for such a plague to spread? (Long distance air travel, say, or science fiction conventions.) What would its effects be on agriculture, infrastructure, labor availability, public health (aside from the plague itself), telecommunications, and other elements of human civilization? Where most disaster novels zoom in on the struggles of a few people to survive such a crisis, we will zoom out and consider large-scale, long-term questions.

Each of the panelists had some knowledge of the topic and could add their own bits of knowledge to the conversation. Basically, the discussion among the panelists was fairly free-ranging regarding the interconnectedness of our infrastructure and its vulnerability to disruption.

We, as humans, have come to rely on our technology. If a zombie outbreak occurred we would rapidly lose our transportation, GPS, electricity, water, and thus most of our food supply. In times past there would be storage facilities, but now we rely on ‘just-in-time’ manufacturing and delivery so the slimmer stockpiles of food and replacement parts would run out pretty quickly.

Depending on how the contagion would spread, rate of transmission, time between infection and showing the symptoms, things could happen over a very quick period. First responders would probably be the hardest hit and then people would be without general medical care personnel.

Then how would people react — bond together to survive, or every person for themselves? Would people panic and violate quarantine? If it was nationwide or worldwide how could you quarantine anyone? How would it end? Would the disease run its course? If it was a virus would it just start up again as those who survived came out of hiding?

This raised the question of how would civilization be re-established. If the outbreak lasted long enough, who would know how to grow crops, butcher a pig (or other edible animal, and would they be infected also), fuel would run out (how would people access what was in storage tanks). We’re on the cusp where most books are electronic; would the libraries survive the chaos and would they have the reference and how-to books needed to learn survival skills. What about medications? They’d run out and you’d need people who knew herbs and how to use them.

Most stories don’t deal with the psychological effects of the outbreak on those who survive. What happens after is rife with story possibilities.

10:00 AM – The Bookstore.
We decided to spend the next hour in the bookstore. We got to talk to a few friends while checking out the books. As usual we bought way too many books from Larry Smith since Paul remembered to bring his list of his already owned Girl Genius books so he could pick up what he was missing. I picked up a book that struck me as being different and interesting (aren’t they all) — even though it is volume two of a Steampunk series.

Wen Should We Argue with Reviews

11:00 AM – When Should We Argue with Reviews?
Panelists: Amal El-Mohtar (leader), Adam Golaski, Michael Dirda, Resa Nelson, Vinnie Tesla.
Description: When is it appropriate to argue with reviews of your own work? The usual rule is “never”—but that “never” is a one-size-fits-all solution to an increasingly complex issue, especially when the categories of reviewer, reader, and writer are increasingly blurred. Is “appropriate” the same as “advisable”? What are the limits and ethics of responding to or arguing with reviews?

The general rule is that an author should never argue with a review. The panel thought this was a good guideline, but that no one rule covers all cases. One of the panelists said that a bad review was used as a blurb on the back of the panelist’s book because, to his mind, it stressed the factor that most people would find to actually be a good reason to read the book. Another panelist mentioned seeing a negative review of a book the panelist had read, and commented on the negative review in the panelists own review of the book because the panelist felt the review was more about the reviewer than the story.

In an age of social media the edges between reviewer, author, and readers have gotten fuzzy. Twitter, Facebook, and others allow people to read all about a person and their life without actually meeting them. Does that knowledge impact expectation when a reader picks up a book — whether that reader is a fan or reviewer. What if the reviewer is a ‘friend’? Mention was made of an author who didn’t like a review of the book that the author wrote, who then posted the reviewer’s name and phone number and asked fans to act in the author’s defense. Does that cross a line?

Personally, unless there’s a factual error in the review, it is probably best to just let it go.

At noon, Paul and I decided to go to different panels. I attended Insider Tips and Tough Truths of the Publishing Industry. Paul attended and will add his comments about the panel he attended, Our Panel of Experts….

Insider Tips and Tough Truths of Publishing

12:00 PM – Insider Tips and Tough Truths of the Publishing Business.
Panelists: Neil Clarke, Brett Savory, Gordon Van Gelder, Sheila Williams, and David G. Hartwell.
Description: SF/F publishing can seem intimidating and shadowy from the outside. This panel of experienced professionals in the field—authors, editors, agents, and others—will shed light on some of those dark corners and share insider secrets and other key information about the current state of the industry.

I’m going to just list some of the items the panel mentioned. Many of these items have been mentioned in books on writing but they really do need repeating.

* When submitting a story or book to an editor, mention that you’ve looked at other books/stories edited by this editor/press and feel it would be a good fit. Make sure that you actually did your research and that it does match with other things that have been published by this editor/press.
* Make your cover letter or pitch specific to the editor not ‘to whom it may concern’
* Don’t list all your previous rejections in your cover letter.
* Know your market. Don’t send a short story to a book publisher. Don’t send a novel to a short story publication.
* Real excellence will trump everything else but don’t count on it because it may not be as good as your friends and relatives tell you it is.
* Don’t resend a story that has been rejected to the same market unless you’ve been specifically asked by the editor to fix ‘x’ and then resend. If it is not clear, they didn’t ask.
* When sending a cover letter, keep it short. Include your name, mailing address, and correct email address.
* Editors share stories, so if you do or say something negative/awful/insulting about an editor or press they will hear about it. Same thing goes if you post it online.
* No agent is necessary for short stories, but are very, very helpful for novels.
* Most of the editors on the panel don’t like to get short stories that got rejected for an anthology — and they usually know about the anthologies that are collecting stories and can tell which one your stories might have been rejected from.
* Every editor wants to be the one to publish a new author. If your story is well written and interesting it has a chance provided you’re also professional in how you approach the business end of submitting your story.

Our Panel of Experts

12:00 PM – Our Panel of Experts….
Panelists: Chad Orzel, Scott Andrews (leader), Gwendolyn Clare, John O’Neil, Bud Sparhawk.
Description: Having trouble creating your world? Are there social complexities or changes in scientific laws that are confounding you? Bring your very specific questions about worldbuilding in your current project, and polymath scientists will do their best to answer. No advance sign-ups; five minutes of answering per question.

As stated in the description, this panel was more of a question and answer session, with people in the audience explaining problems they’d run into in their writing, and getting some suggestions on how to get over them. Naturally, being put on the spot did not exactly result in in-depth or rigorous answers, but the panelists managed to do a good job of pointing people in, if not the right direction, at least a direction they could work from.

Questions ranged from:
* Passing on knowledge from one generation to another, when there are no teachers available to hold the knowledge.
* Physical ways to actually make bizarre nano-tech aliens seem real enough to be believable.
* How to fix problem with 0g in asteroid mining.
* Time travel paradoxes.

The last one was interesting, given that the panelists, in general, believed that paradoxes in time travel weren’t really a problem. That almost all the time (you can create real ones if you try hard enough), paradoxes get resolved if you just look at them from a different frame of reference.

Programming from 1 pm to 3 pm didn’t really catch our interest that much. After that it was interviews with the guests of honor but we decided to go eat lunch. Then do some walking at the mall since we’d been sitting all day. By the time we got back it was the dinner break and there wasn’t any panels scheduled for the evening. From 8:30 – 9:30 there’s a Most Readerconnish Miscellany but it also didn’t grab us. We decided to write up the day, read for a while and make an early night.

Tomorrow is the last day of the convention and once we leave to head home we’re looking at a 10-12 hour drive. An early night is looking pretty good from here.

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Thursday evening, Readercon has a few program items that are available to anyone who shows up whether they are members of the convention or not. It’s sort of a come and get a taste of the convention. Those who enjoy themselves and then want to attend can purchase a membership on Friday when registration opens. So, far, even though we always plan to arrive in time to attend a few of these items, we’ve never made it in time or, by the time we finally get in, we’re so tired we just check-in and sleep. Didn’t manage to break our missing Thursday events streak yet.

We got up this morning, checked registration hours, and found they didn’t open until 10 am (programming beginning at 11 am). So we managed to get in line while it was quite short (since we’d pre-registered last year before we left). We picked up our registration packet and name tags and sat down to figure out what we’d like to go to.

This is the first year in a while that I have not been on programming, so it was nice to be able to just attend panels for a change. There were, as usual, a few times when there were two things I’d like to see at the same time but then that’s life.

NOTE: Panelists are listed in order, left to right as they appear in the panel photo.

SF Mystery Crossover Panelists

11:00 AM – Mystery and Speculative Crossovers.
Panelists: Meriah Crawford, Chris Gerwel, Greer Gilman, Nicholas Kaufmann, and Adam Lipkin (leader)
Description: There are many books that draw from both the speculative fiction and mystery toolboxes, in both macro ways (China Miéville’s The City & the City and Peter F. Hamilton’s Great North Road are catalyzed by hard-boiled murder investigations) and micro ways (urban fantasy was initially defined by its relationship to noir, now often more evident in tone than in plot). Where is this crossover most satisfying? How do magic and advanced technology open up new avenues of investigation or methods of befuddling the detectives? How have trends, tropes, and developments in each genre influenced crossover works?

Since I’m an avid reader (and reviewer) of speculative fiction and mysteries, I was looking forward to hearing what this panel thought of the crossovers. Speculative fiction and mysteries each have many subgenres and one thread of the discussion was on whether some areas overlap more/easier then others. Urban fantasy seems a natural crossover since usually the main character in urban fantasy fits in very well with the role of the noir mystery main character.

When you think about it, most stories have a mystery of one sort or another at their core, so crossovers would seem natural in many cases.

I think it was Greer Gilman who said something like, speculative fiction elements can make the similes real. It stuck with me because it seemed such a potentially interesting idea for writers.

SF and challenge of Climate Change Panelists

12:00 PM – Writing in the Anthropocene: SF and the Challenge of Climate Change.
Panelists: Vandana Singh, Michael J. Daley, Max Gladstone, Gwendolyn Clare, and Michael J. Deluca (leader)
Description: Science fiction and fantasy have often dealt with fictional apocalyptic scenarios, but what about the real-world scenario unfolding right now? Climate change, or climate disruption, is the most challenging problem faced by humankind, and some have called it a problem of the imagination, as much as economics and environment. In the wake of the latest scientific reports on what is happening and what might be in store for us, we’ll examine how imaginative fiction conveys the reality, the immediacy, and the alternative scenarios of the climate problem.

Most of the panelists felt that the problems were those of the conflict between Science and Culture. Science is conclusive, but the culture is one of ignoring the problem. We need to change the culture in order to begin to deal with the problems. Regardless of how we got to this state, we need to address the ramifications of climate change and how it is going to impact life as we know it.

There are many interconnected issues that need to be dealt with. But we need to realize that change is coming and whether it is apocalyptic, or only mostly so, or would we as a species choose to act to see that we change enough to mostly adapt to the changing environment.

The basic question is what do you do when the culture doesn’t want to listen to or believe in the science?

Ethics in Reviews Panelists

1:00 PM – It’s Actually About Ethics: Reviewing the Work of Colleagues and Friends.
Panelists: Kathryn Morrow, Jason Heller, Liza Groen Trombi (leader), Elizabeth Hand, Jonathan Crowe.
Description: How do we develop a culture of reviewing and criticizing writing within genre communities where everyone knows everyone else to varying degrees? What are the ethics of engagement when we’ve shared ToCs with the people we’re reviewing, or been published in the venue we’re reviewing? What about when we’re friends with the authors, editors, and publishers whose work we’re reviewing? At what point is it appropriate to disclose relationships, and at what point is it appropriate to recuse oneself from reviewing? Is full disclosure enough of an assurance of good practice? How full is full? What other considerations should we include?

Basically, it seemed to come down to the fact that no one rule fits every situation that could arise. Whether or not to recuse oneself from reviewing an item is always something that reviewers deal with.

Panelists said that the focus should be on the text and that a grounding the journalism ethics would be helpful. (I’m leaving out names of who said what since I don’t have exact quotes so the above is my memory of what was said.)

Future of SF Magazines Panelists

2: 00 PM -The Future of Speculative Magazines, Part 3.
Panelists: John Benson, Neil Clarke, Leah Bobet, Scott Andrews (leader), Ellen Datlow, and Sheila Williams.
Desciption: At Readercon 20, there were two very well-attended panels that looked at the future of magazines: “The Future of Speculative Fiction Magazines, Part 1: Print Magazines,” and “Part 2: Online Magazines.” Six years later, we return to this issue to discover what worked, what didn’t, whether magazines are any better off, and what the near future might hold.

I didn’t attend the previous two panels on this topic but managed to catch this one.

* Things that didn’t work were usually those that weren’t adaptable.
* Making money from donations or advertising is problematic.
* Pay walls don’t seem to wok.
* Pay for convenience models do seem to work.
* Kickstarter as a business model doesn’t seem to work but for a single project it does much better.

By 3:00 pm, I couldn’t stand sitting any more so my husband and I decided to go to the mall and walk for a while to loosen up my cramping leg muscle and get something to eat. So, the next panel we attended was at 6 pm.

Solarpunk Panelists

6:00 PM – Solarpunk and Eco-Futurism.
Panelists: Rob Kilhefer, Michael J. Daley, Michael J. Deluca, Jeff Hecht, Romie Stott (leader).
Description: In August 2014, Miss Olivia Louise wrote a Tumblr post proposing the creation of a new subgenre: solarpunk. Solarpunk, sometimes called eco-futurism, would be set in a semi-utopian future visually influenced by Art Nouveau and Hayao Miyazaki, and built according to principles of new urbanism and environmental sustainability—an “earthy” handmade version of futuretech, in opposition to the slick, white, spacebound surfaces of 1980s futurism. Solarpunk blogs have since proliferated, as Tumblr users like SunAndSilicon create and aggregate concept art and brainstorm solarpunk’s technological and societal shifts, enthusiastically building a shared-world fandom with no single owner or defining central text. For some, building solarpunk is an escapist fantasy. Meanwhile, in San Francisco there have been meatspace conventions to develop some kind of manifesto, with the hope of eventually moving realworld society in a solarpunk direction. What, if any, are the precursors to this kind of grassroots genre creation? Is it an inevitable outgrowth of fan-funded niche publishing through crowdfunding? Is solarpunk’s locavore pro-tech optimism in the face of climate change a distinctly Millenial backlash to Gen-X dystopias? And can the inevitable contradictions of a crowdsourced utopia survive the rigors of critical reading?

More discussion of climate change and culture. Is solarpunk a movement similar to cyberpunk? Will it be able to show us more than just a post-apocalyptic future or a hopeful one where people come together to solve the problems we’re facing now.

Lots of discussion with plenty of ideas but no real (not should there be) answers to what will grow out of this literary (political) movement.

How intelligent are we Panelists

7:00 PM – How Intelligent Are We, Anyway?
Panelists: Judith Berman, Ted Chiang, Gwendolyn Clare, Alex Jablokow (leader), John O’Neil.
Description: Countless science fiction novels include intelligent beings, whether aliens from another planet, artificial intelligences, or uplifted animals from Earth. But what does it really mean to be intelligent? Will reason and self-awareness automatically emerge in a sufficiently complex mind? Or is there something unique to humans that makes us different? How have different authors and novels answered this question in the past?

This panel was a lot of fun — mostly for the play of ideas among the panelists. Some random statements:
* Humans learn from what has gone before rather than starting from scratch every time.
* Intelligence feeds adaptability.
* Physiological differences between animals and humans may have had an impact on development of intelligence.
* Short discussion of relationship between intelligence and consciousness.

There’s a lot of think about in this topic and the panel only touched the surface but it was stimulating to the audience judging from my reaction and the questions from the audience.

By this time I was in too much pain from my cramping leg to go on to the next item we wanted to see. So, retired to our room for a soak of the muscle and to write up the day. There’s a good selection of panels to attend tomorrow and I really look forward to them.

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