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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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….
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.)
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.
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.
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.
This is very late in being posted. First thing we did is start packing and get ready to check out. My panel was at 10:00.
10:00 AM – Digital Marginalia: A Conversation with Your Future Self
Panel: Michael J. DeLuca, Gayle Surrette, Neil Clarke, Ruth Sternglantz, and David G. Shaw (moderator).
Discription: Electronic reading devices allow us to carry huge libraries wherever we go. They also provide us with the ability to highlight, annotate, and share what we read. In a 2012 blog post, Clive Thompson described this enhanced reading experience as “a conversation with the author, with yourself, and in a weird way, if you take it along as a lifelong project… a conversation with your future self.” According to Craig Mod, “The book of the past reveals its individual experience uniquely. The book of the future reveals our collective experience uniquely.” What tools will we embed within digital texts to signal this shifting relationship with literature, and how will readers use them?
This panel was quite interesting for me. The discussion ranged over whether or how we write or mark up our books. Did we treat electronic books differently? Are there some books you don’t mark/highlight/write in? And what would be our wish list of features we’d like to see in an ebook reader?
For my part I mark up Advanced Reader Copies of books. I often will mark up Reference works that I keep for myself. However, other finished books, I don’t mark up — or rather I very seldom mark them up (using post-it notes instead or taking notes in a file).
Other panelists had their on ways of dealing with books. Mention was made of century old books marked up by the monks that give a glimpse into their thoughts and beliefs.
I really enjoyed this panel and have been thinking about my ‘use’ of books ever since. Do I really use print books differently than I do ebooks? I do enjoy having many books on vacation or trips with me without adding pounds of paper to the luggage. I’ve also noticed that I prefer heavy books (those door-stopper type books) to be electronic so the weight isn’t an issue when I’m trying to read them (wrists just aren’t what they used to be).
We decided with a 12 hour or so drive ahead of us to leave after the panel. We planned to stop in Providence, RI to visit my son on the way back to southern Maryland and hopefully get back before Monday. (We came close in that we pulled into our driveway at about 2:00 a.m. Monday morning.) Dragged stuff in from the car. I got to get to bed and Hubby slept on the couch with the cat since he cried and meowed his disapproval of being left home from the minute we came into the house until hubby sat on the couch with him — then Emnot was all purrs and cuddles.
The cat became velcro-cat for a couple of days after we got back — just as he was when we got back from Discworld. My guess is he has abandonment issues. Since he’s a rescue cat, that’s probably a fair guess.
But inevitably, I managed to get tired out and worn down enough from the convention and drive to catch a terrific summer cold. I’ve been coughing and hacking for the past week and am just now finally feeling human again. I’m always amazed at how a simple cold can befuddle and confuse a person’s thought processes.
Checked the crack in the windshield and it hadn’t gotten any bigger overnight — big yeah. Just hope it doesn’t do anything
awful until after we get home.
Got a late start this morning, so didn’t make a panel until noon, missing two earlier ones that I really, really, wanted to get to. Just one of those days. I’m now down to one coffee a day — and hating it, a lot.
Just lost everything below here twice as my spam software suddenly decided that my site wasn’t safe or didn’t exist — it couldn’t make up it’s mine so there was an immediate change of software and the misbehaving software is now in time out.
Noon – Constellations of Genres
Panel: John Crowley, Veronica Schanoes, James Patrick Kelly (leader), Ted Chiang, Gary K. Wolfe, and Kit Reed.
Description: On Readercon 23’s panel “Genre Transference,” James Patrick Kelly cited four genres a book can have: “The genre of the writer’s intent, the genre of reader expectation, the genre of the critical review, and the commercial genre.” Let’s dig deeper into this idea. Are there more genres than these four? How does the constellation of a book’s various genres change the reader’s experience, or the writer’s career?
As genres seem to be evaporating because the walls between genres seem to have become porous. The tropes of one genre are now showing up in others. However, often those who are not familiar with the originating genre of the tropes don’t have the same depth of understanding of why/how/where the trope is used. Then there was a lot about the conversation between the author and the text and the text and the reader and whether other genres want to talk to each other in any type of conversation.
1:00 PM – Authorial Metanarrative
Panel: Glenn Grant, Alex Dally MacFarlane, Theodora Goss (leader), Lila Garrott, Sonya Taaffe
Description: A number of authors build in subtle links between otherwise unconnected works. A link may not be something as literal as a common character or name; perhaps, instead, there’s a repeated trope or event. Leah Bobet, discussing Patricia A. McKillip’s works in a 2011 blog post, described this as writing “epic poetry, and the whole of [McKillip’s] output is the poem.” How do such links affect a reader’s interpretation of or approach to a body of work, and what motivates authors to link their works together?
Some author’s have put in links that connect their stories — these links can be a secondary character that shows up in a work where they don’t necessarily have a part, or events from one story are mentioned in another, or symbols reoccur in multiple stories. These can be either intended by the author or happy happenstance. Discussion of what does an author do when such reoccurring items are pointed out to them. Are they gifts to the readers or a frustration because to understand you have had to read all the author’s works not just a selection? Does it work between author’s or only for the one author? Can these items tell their own story across the author’s body of work?
2:00 PM – The Relationship of Reality and Fantasy
Panel: Andrea Hairston (leader), Julia Starkey, James Morrow, Scott H. Andrews, and Anil Menon.
Description: In a 2012 essay titled “PSA: Your Default Narrative Settings Are Not Apolitical,” Foz Meadows addressed the notion that “deliberately including POC, female and/or LGBTQ characters can only ever be a political action.” She demonstrated that history, the historical record, and commonly accepted historical narratives are in fact three distinct things, and pointed out the irony of fans who accept magic and dragons in their fantasy but balk at the idea of female pirates or a black Lancelot because they’re “unrealistic.” Whose reality does fantasy need to reflect in order to be believable? How can we use fantasy to shape and change our realities?
This more or less, in my opinion only (remember I’m caffeine deprived), focused on the nature of reality with a work and how it is best achieved. Also led into a discussion of Truth, truth, real, reality, and reality within context.
Visited the Book Shop (Dealers’ Room) — lots of really interesting books and I hope to get back tomorrow to buy a couple of the ones I spied today. Readercon’s Book Shop is just that all booksellers — new, used, and collectable, and sometimes all with the same bookseller. It’s a bookaholics dream come true.
7:00 PM – Woldbuilding by Worldseeing
Panel: Romie Stott, Sarah Smith, John Crowley (leader), and Harold Vedeler
Description: Kipling’s Kim, Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor, Dickens’s “sketches”… who is writing about the present day this way, and what can worldbuilders learn from these Victorian-era worldseers? All these observers were at some remove; how does observation differ when one is part of the culture one is observing?
The discussion focused on the need for writers to write what they know and if you don’t know to find out. You should get your facts straight. If writing modern urban fantasy, you should know the city of your story and get the details and environment of that city right. If a character works in a garage, pizza parlor, or coffee shop, for example, talk to someone about what it’s like to work there — learn the details of the job. Getting the background right helps to ground the story when the fantasy elements come into play.
8:00 PM – The Gender of Reading Shame
Panel: Natalie Luhrs (leader), Jordan Hamessley, Ann Tonsor Zeddies, Julia Rios, and Trent Zelazny.
Description: In a 2012 post on Book Riot, Amanda Nelson wrote about bookstore shoppers who display signs of shame or embarrassment about their reading choices. She concluded that this behavior is highly gendered: “If men read ‘unliterary’ but stereotypically masculine genres it’s fine. If women read ‘unliterary’ but stereotypically feminine genres it’s deserving of a brown paper bag in the form of increased e-reader sales so you can read in public in peace.” Our panelists discuss their own experiences with reading shame or lack thereof, whether the gender hypothesis holds true within the speculative fiction–reading community, and why we read books we’re ashamed of or feel shame about what we read.
First ‘unliterary’ was defined to be non-genre. As you can imagine this was a panel with lots of personal accounts as well as recent research and anecdotal impressions. There was also the problem of the title and description as it implied binary gender ignoring the spectrum of gender as it is today. Everyone agreed that having an ereader so that you didn’t have to deal with a book cover giving you away has taken a lot of the stigma of reading those items that you personal feel uncomfortable about.
As always your thoughts and impressions about the topics are welcome. Leave a comment.
Morning is not as fun as you’d think it would be when you’re sleep deprived. Just took a while to settle down once we were in last night. The hallways were quiet but some banging started outside our window pretty early in the morning — nothing out there on the roof except the usual hotel roof equipment. Could not figure what it was but it was from that area. Eventually gave up and got up.
Got to registration and got our name tags, program book, and other stuff. Also this year the con is using an electronic program guide that you down load onto smart phone, a notepad (iPad or equivalent) and it stays even when you loose connectivity. It lists program items, participants, and the program descriptions. If you click on a panelist you get that person’s bio. If you click on the box next to a program item it puts that item on MyCon so you have a list that’s just the things you want to go to so you don’t get confused looking things up.
We had to get books out of the car for one of the booksellers and noted that the crack in the windshield hadn’t grown any while sitting in the parking lot. In the evening, we went to get into the car to go out to dinner and found that the crack had grown about 2 inch since we’d last looked at it. So, we added more crazy glue. The local dealership called back and said they don’t do window replacements and didn’t have any local glass people to recommend. So, we’re trying to hold out until we get home and to our own dealership and local businesses.
Now here’s the program items we went to today:
11:00 AM – Comforting Fiction: Faux Estrangement in Fantasy
Panel: John Clute, James Morrow, Graham Sleight, Ruth Sternglantz, and John Stevens (leader)
Description: In 2011 China Miéville, discussing literature of estrangement and literature of recognition, referred to “the clichés of some fantasy” as “faux estrangement.” Yet these clichéd, faux-estranging works are often tremendously popular. What’s so appealing to writers and to readers about recognition disguised as estrangement?
This was an interesting panel with far ranging discussions about estrangement, faux estrangement, and recognition. It’s really hard to capsulize the conversation so I won’t try. I suggest you read the articles by China Mieville and then come back and leave a comment:
1:00 PM – What the Future Is and What the Future Is Not
Panel: John Crowley, Glenn Grant, John Shirley, Bud Sparhawk, and Vincent McCaffrey (leader).
Description: While looking backward, we can examine a past moment in time. Much of what we find there is with us today: part of our lives at present. Were we prescient enough, we could predict things and ways that would survive from our present into the future. Successful predictions would make our children rich, could make us famous (or infamous), and might change the world to come. This open discussion, led by Vincent McCaffrey, will attempt to predict which ideas, things, and methods will be useful or meaningful parts of the lives of those yet to come.
Talk ranged over nuclear weapons, global warming/climate change, surveillance technology and it’s uses and, of course robots. They also stressed that the future isn’t here yet and when it is here it’s today so everything they talk about is simply speculation and guessing.
3:00 PM – Knit One, Print Two: Handicrafts, Replicators, and the Future of Making
Panel: Natalie Luhrs, Adrienne Martini (leader), Eric Schaller, David G. Shaw, and E.C. Ambrose.
Description: Take your average 21st-century American knitter on board the Enterprise and the first thing they’d do is replicate a heap of yarn and some needles, or roving and a wheel to spin it with. The replicator might obviate the need for real plants and animals as sources for raw materials, but not the desire of people to create beauty out of those raw materials, or just to do something with their hands on long trips. Given this, why do we almost never see handicrafts in SF futures with replicators? What can futurists learn from the recent simultaneous booms of 3D printers (which are arguably proto-replicators) and handicrafts, both under the header of “making” and often employed and enjoyed by the same people?
There was a lot of discussion about the need to create and whether a replicator that can make what you want would essentially snuff out the desire to make items with our own hands (no likely). There was some talk about how artisans and craftsworkers are important to society and in some potential post-apocalyptic events could become essential for us to survive. Also how wealth allows people to do crafts, gardening, wine making, etc. because you need money to get started.
4:00 PM – Questioning the Ostensibly Reliable Narrator
Ian Randal Strock, Sheila Williams, James Patrick Kelly (leader), John Kessel, and Rick Wilber.
Description: In a recent Locus roundtable discussion, several authors and critics agreed that, in Andy Duncan’s words, “all fictional narrators are, to some extent, unreliable.” Some may be deliberate liars; some may be prevaricators omitting crucial information (as in Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd); some may believe themselves to be reliable (such as Doyle’s Dr. Watson); and some may distrust their own perceptions (such as Imp in Caitlín R. Kiernan’s The Drowning Girl). How does fiction featuring supposedly reliable narrators change when it’s approached by a reader who questions everything they’re told?
This was one of the most interesting, informative, and thought provoking panels of the day (genetics was a close second). Just how important is a reliable narrator and how does it impact the reader when the narrator is unreliable. Can a 3rd person narrator be unrealiable? (This took up a bit of the time.) What about when the 3rd person narrator becomes so close that it collapses close 3rd person into a character?
One factor I found interesting was whether an unreliable narrator who detailed exactly what happened really unreliable if his/her interpretation of events does not mesh with ours (in our present time and societal beliefs).
8:00 PM – Genetics
Lecturer: Michael Blumlein
Description: If the genetic code is the musical score, then epigenetics is the music. Our genetic sequence is only part of the story. The other part is how and when and why any particular gene is turned on or off and how these genes interact. This is the science of epigenetics. Unlike the fixed genetic “code,” epigenetics is fluid. It changes in response to any number of factors, and it can evolve and adapt rapidly. Can such rapid changes be inherited? Can inheritance be driven by purpose, as Lamarck believed, or is it always the product of random chance? Dr. Michael Blumlein will explore these and other questions of genetics, epigenetics, and what lies beyond.
Epigenetics is about the bits that turn things on and off and how it fits together with traditional genetics which we all learned about it school. If I tried to put the lecture in any short form I’d just mess it up so the first sentence is my best attempt. But it was very interesting and I’ll certainly be looking into this subject more later.
We drove up from Brandywine, Maryland. It’s a 10 hour trip, or at least it was this time, we had some really good luck with traffic. However, it was a bit tense since we got a crack in our windshield. Crazy Glue on the inside and outside of the crack seems to have it stabilized and we’ll get the windshield replaced Monday when we get back home.
Got to the hotel and found a wall as soon as we came in the doors. Surprise. The hotel is being renovated. First response was a feeling of displacement because things weren’t where they should be. We’ve been coming to this convention for years. There’s a sense that things should be the same as we left them. But there’s essentially no noise and the convention people have everything under control — as they always seem to do.
The only real problem is that all the nice seating areas for relaxing with friends between panels is gone and what few seating areas that remain are just not enough.
Thursday night, I was on a panel at 8 PM. after that, exhaustion won, and I turned in for the evening.
8:00 PM – The News and the Abstract Truth
Panelists: Adrienne Martini, Robert Killheffer, James Morrow, Gayle Surrette, and David G. Shaw (Leader)
Description: The controversies surrounding Mike Daisey’s The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs and John D’Agata and Jim Fingal’s The Lifespan of a Fact arose when art and truth collided. While fiction can play fast and loose with facts in order to tell a compelling story, monologues and essays are held to a higher standard. The authors of these books were surprised by audience reactions to the discovery that their “factual” accounts were fabrications; they claimed that their work was more “beautiful” or “lyrical” than the truth. But which are more important: true words, or beautiful words? Why do some writers think it necessary to take liberties with the truth in order to create great “nonfiction”?
My personal feeling is that nonfiction sets up a contract with the reader that what they are reading is fact and you should not then make up things and present them as fact. If you are going to use non-verifiable information then you need to present it as supposition or in some other way signal to the reader that this isn’t ‘fact’.
I’m not sure but I think most, if not all, of the panelists felt the same way. Talk did touch on how much fact checking fiction required and where it was okay to let imagination take over.
My feeling is that those facts that are stated should be checked and if they can be checked they should be accurate. However, those that are not ‘checkable’ (the number of planets in habitable range because so far science hasn’t checked it out or can’t yet check it out) are given a pass for the sake of the story.
I’d be interested in hearing the thoughts of my readers — leave a comment.
We got a late start and by the time we had breakfast and got ready to hit the panels, we’d missed the 10 am panel we wanted to see. Then in the lobby, we got into a conversation and missed the 11 am panel. But we did make it to the noon panel.
NOTE: The photos of the panelists were taken with available light from two or three rows back so are a bit grainy. I did some Photoshop work to get the panelists to stand out from the darkness. But hope you’ll get the idea of who was there. Panelist are always listed left to right from the audience point of view or as you look at the photo.
Noon: Unexamined Assumptions in SF.
Panel: Mikki Kendall, James L. Cambias (leader), Kenneth Schneyer, Darrell Schweitzer, Anil Menon.
Description: In a 2011 blog post, James Cambias complained of “[convention] attendees and panelists dusting off old, unexamined assumptions” in SF. For much of its history, SF developed a set of unexamined assumptions that became default conventions of the genre—that space exploration will move systematically outward from the moon to the planets, that the explorers will be cisgender heterosexual American or European males, that aliens will fight us in (peculiarly two-dimensional) space battles, and so on. 21st-century SF has made some notable efforts to roast these chestnuts, but it has its own set of assumptions, which this panel will mercilessly dissect and offer alternatives to.
Some questions were raised and dealt with such as: Why would you have clone slaves when born people are certainly cheaper. Why would any alien want to come all the way to Earth when whatever the book/movie/whatever gives as a reason could certainly be found in their own solar system? Schweitzer suggest the only reason would be if people of Earth tasted good making us alien sushi.
There was also a lot of talk about the economics of SF and fantasy and how they seldom, if ever, seem to apply. Why is a post apocalyptic society uniform? Shouldn’t they all be varied by which small group survived with their culture attached but changed for the harsher environment?
The thought was raised that in many SF stories they could just as easily take place without space. Why doesn’t any SF story show how we got from here to, say, the Star Trek universe where everything is peacefully one Earth government and a kind and benevolent Federation? Does the expectations of the audience fashion the story?
1:00 PM. The Autopsy, Postmortem Changes, and Decomposition: A Primer for Writers.
Speaker: Laura Knight.
Description: What happens after we die? Despite the incredible surge in popularity of forensic science in popular media, many myths and misunderstandings continue to surround the autopsy, and postmortem changes like rigor mortis and subsequent decomposition are often misrepresented. Further, medical examiners and coroners have often been depicted as insensitive and crude, eating a sandwich in one hand while wielding a bloody scalpel in the other. Dr. Laura Knight, a forensic pathologist and medical examiner, will present actual autopsy photographs, along with a non-sensational narrative description of the autopsy process and a detailed explanation of the changes to the body after death.
Dr. Knight gave an enlightening and tight presentation that actually fit in the time allotted and allowed for a short Q&A. She had a slide show to accompany her talk. She began with the difference between Coroners and Medical Examiners (M.E.), the training required for an M.E., then she went over how an actual autopsy is performed (the sequence, the standard items that are looked for, and some of the problems that arise).
The room was very warm and the pictures rather graphic. A couple of people had to leave during the talk. If any author is writing a crime story and needs to have a forensic autopsy as part of the discover of the cause of death, they would find this topic extremely helpful — It’s not like seen on CSI Anywhere.
2:00 PM. The City and the Strange.
Panel: Howard Waldrop. Ellen Kushner, Stacy Hill, Leah Bobet, Amanda Downum, Lila Garrott (leader).
Description: In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs writes, “By its nature, the metropolis provides what otherwise could be given only by traveling; namely, the strange.” N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance trilogy demonstrates that epic-feeling fantasy can still take place entirely within the confines of a single city. Fictional metropolises such as Jeff VanderMeer’s Ambergris, China Miéville’s New Crobuzon, and Catherynne M. Valente’s Palimpsest are entire worlds in themselves, and the fantasy cities of Lankmar and Ankh-Morkpork shine as centers of intrigue and adventure. In what other works, and other ways, can cities be stand-ins for the lengthy traveling quest of Tolkienesque fantasy?
The panelists talked about some of the differences between real cities and made up cities. Made up cities must have a feeling to the reading of a history of culture and they need to work. Real cities are not homogenous they have small pockets or neighborhoods that vary from those neighborhoods that surround them. It was agreed that some of this information could be supplied via impressions rather than specific information.
Someone on the panel said they remembered a quote that, I paraphrase from my notes, “the city is where you go to meet people you don’t know and aren’t related to.”
Further discussion centered on hidden world cities or 2nd world cities in fantasy and the city as a wilderness or unknown territory as much as the country setting could be unknown territory.
3:00 PM. Theories of Reading and Their Potential Insights into Fantastika.
Panel: Shira Daemon, Eric M. Van, Gayle Surrette, John H. Stevens (leader/speaker), Suzy McKee Charnas, Rick Wilber, Kate Nepveu.
Description: We talk about reading at Readercon every year, but we rarely talk about our understanding of reading as a mental process of cultural practice. John H. Stevens will summarize some recent theories of reading from neurological, psychological, anthropological, and literary perspectives, followed by a discussion about what these ideas might be able to tell us about how we engage, interpret, and codify fantastic literature. In what ways is fantastika read like any other sort of text, and in what ways might we read (and write?) it differently?
I was on this panel but as with the other panelist, just got to listen to John’s presentation from a front row seat. The top photo above were the three of us to the left of John Stevens from the audience point of view and the smaller photo are the panelists to the right of Stevens. Unfortunately, Suzy McKee Charnas was directly behind Stevens from where my husband was sitting so doesn’t show in the photo.
John’s talk took up the entire time for the panel since there were several questions from the audience. His material is fascinating and he’s writing a book on the topic covering theories of reading from several different disciplines — anthropology, sociology, and neurology. He’s also been blogging about his research and musing on SF Signal in his column The Bellowing Ogre.
Visit to the Book Dealers Room:
One of the wonderful things about Readercon is that they have only book sellers in their Dealers’ Room. Unfortunately, even though I review books, I also buy a goodly number of books. I also love looking at the covers of books that I’ve only see the advanced reader copy of — and most of the time with no cover art.
Then we met friends for dinner and catching up on what panels they went to while at Readercon.
8:00 PM. Critical Fictions & Other Fabulous Beasts; or, Learning to Read and Write All Over Again.
Speaker: Henry Wessells.
Description: You think you know how to read? This look at critical fictions and other modes of reading/writing will suggest that it might be time to learn it all over again. The critical fiction is a piece of fiction or poetry where form (story) and content (critical function) are inseparable, a work of art that explicitly declares itself as a critique of another work of literature and explicitly makes use of that earlier source text. Henry Wessells will cover the precursors, techniques, and current practitioners of the critical fiction, and tell you why. Is it literary mash-up for people who shudder at Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? Come find out. See the suggested reading list at http://criticalfiction.net/readinglist.html.
I was excited by the topic description but rather disappointed in the actual lecture. The room was warm and Mr. Wessells read several poems and a short story, as well as an introduction to a book. The introduction he read might have been more interesting if it had been pared down to the part essential to forming a definition of ‘critical fiction’ rather than so centered on the one author and book. I totally fail to see the difference between critical fiction, homages, and pastiches. When asked about this he said it depended on the author’s intent, guess that’s a great reason to read the introductions and forwards to books and stories — to get a heads up from the author.
I plan to check out the link to the suggested reading list, since I’m sure that my failure to grasp what Wessells was more on my side than his due to the hour and the temperature of the room. Any one interested in the topic based on the description should check out the site listed in the description.
We then called it a night but on the way to our room got folded into a conversation in the lobby — thus another late night for us.