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.
The Guardian has a short photo slideshow of the 10 best characters in Jane Austen’s novels chosen by Paula Byrne, who wrote The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things (HarperCollins, January 2013).
It’s an interesting mix of characters. I don’t really have a problem with the characters they chose but some was a bit sidetracked by the actors they chose or didn’t show who had portrayed those characters. For example, Mansfield Park has been made it to the screen (TV and movie) several times yet they showed the bookcover rather than Mrs. Norris — wonder why.
What your take on this. The link to the slideshow is:
10 Best Characters in Jane Austen’s Novels.
The 47th Nebula Awards were present this evening, May 19th, 2012, at a ceremony held in the Hyatt Crystal City hotel in Arlington, VA. The Toastmaster was Walter Jon Williams.
Keynote speaker, E. Michael Fincke, Col. USAF (Ret) NASA Astronaut, gave an inspiring talk that thanks the science fiction and fantasy community for their imagination, because so many engineers believe that what they write is not only possible, but actually work to bring it to fruition. His talk was highlighted with pictures of the international space station and some outstanding film of Earth from space.
The Service to SFWA award was presented to Bud Webster for his work in tracking down the estates and heirs of writers who are no longer with us, to help protect their works.
Solstice Awards were presented to Octavia Butler and to John Clute.
The Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy went to Delia Sherman for her book The Freedom Maze.
The Ray Bradbury Award for Dramatic Presentation went to Dr. Who: The Doctor’s Wife written by Neil Gaiman and was directed by Richard Clark. (BBC Wales).
James Patrick Kelly presented the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award to Connie Willis, who gave a humorous and touching acceptance speech.
The short story award was presented to Ken Liu for “The Paper Menagerie” published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction March/April 2011.
The award for novelette was presented to Geoff Ryman for “What We Found” published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction September/October 2011.
The award for novella was presented to Kij Johnson for “The Man Who Bridged the Mist” published in Asimov’s Science Fiction October/November 2011.
The award for novel was presented to Jo Walton for Among Others published by Tor.
The start of a whole new day. Managed to get down to the Book Shop to open on time. We moved one of our bookshelves in order to help get traffic to our table when authors are doing signings. We’re right next to the autograph tables and when the lines get long they block off our table because we’re closer and we become inaccessible. Moving one bookcase seemed to ease the press so even if the lines were longer we still got customers. Of course this move was aided by the author close to us moving his chair closer to the other author’s chair so they could talk and none of the rest of the day’s authors moved it back to center on that table.
But still business so far is far less than it was last year but the conversation about books, reading, the rise of ebooks, and other topics has been entertaining, enlightening, and fun. If tomorrow doesn’t improve in sales we’re not even going to break even this year with the travel and hotel costs.
11:00 AM: Book Design and Typography in the Digital Era.
Panelists: Neil Clarke, Ken Liu, Erin Kissane, David G. Shaw (leader), and Alicia Verlager.
Description: Design and typography can heighten the experience of reading a written work; in the case of poetry, typesetting can be crucial to comprehension and interpretation. eReaders can change font sizes with the press of a button, making books far more accessible to people who have visual limitations or just their own ideas about how a book should look. What happens when these worthy goals are at odds? Will the future bring us more flexible book design, much as website design with CSS has become more flexible as browser customization becomes more common? Or will we see the book equivalent of Flash websites where the designer’s vision is strictly enforced.
Ken Liu gave a quick history of the book from scroll to codex. First there was the scroll but you didn’t have random access to it — you always had to roll and unroll the entire thing to find what you wanted. With a codex or book you could go right to the page. More of the development of the book driven by the desire to print the bible and get access quickly to the parts you wanted.
China also had the scroll and they went to whirlwind books. These books were still more scroll-like but the bottom layer was a long scroll page and the top was a slightly shorter one and so forth. When unrolled completely the shorter layers curled up looking like whirls. This was developed for a dictionary and it was a way to solve the random access problem.
Now we have the ebook which handles the random access aspect quite well to search for an item but the return to the section you were reading is not always easily or correctly handled.
They talked about design issues and the conversion problems of print to ebook. For newer books you still have the electronic file and that makes conversions a bit easier but for older books the scan, OCR, run through converter formula that many places are using create awful books, making those who run into these badly converted/formatted books think all the books are like that. There was general agreement that more quality control for editing the OCR’d book and cleaning up HTML needed to be added. It’s mostly the small publishers doing this and the larger publishers are watching and learning from them.
Verlanger, who is blind, and has a technology blog where she writes about accessibility issues with technology among other tech-topics, spoke about the problems of back code which make the books inaccessible simply because they can’t be read by the programs used to translate text into speech. Scanners on the lowest quality setting sometimes create files where the images are not even identified as images by the OCR programs and weird groupings of letters are are added into the text/speech confusing the listener. Also DRM came up, in that a lot of the programs DRM for PDF and other formats identify the text-to-speech programs as illegal pirating software and do not allow the access at all.
Many issues were discussed and if you were interested in book design and conversions to ebooks and their utility this was a panel with a wealth of information for the audience.
Then it was back to the Book Shop and our table for an hour.
1:00 PM: Urban (Fantasy) Renewal.
Participants: Toni L.P. Kelner, Craig Laurance Gidney, Leah Bobet (leader), Ellen Datlow, and John Clute.
Description: The term “urban fantasy” has encompassed the work of Charles Williams, a contemporary of Tolkien who sometimes situated his fantasy in London or suburban settings as opposed to a pastoral secondary world; the novels and short stories of Charles de Lint, Emma Bull, or Robin Hobb (as Megan Lindholm); the phantasmagoric cities of China Mié or Jeff VanderMeer; and most recently, the magical noir of Jim Butcher and Charlaine Harris. Is it possible to reclaim “urban fantasy” as a useful critical term? Rather than wring our hands at how it no longer means what it did, can we use it to examine what these very different writers have in common, and to what degree they reflect different eras’ anxieties around and interests in the urban?
John Clute read a definition that he’d put together for his Encyclopedia of Fantasy. It was a good one and quite long and I couldn’t write it all down. One part I remember and I’m pretty sure it’s from this section was that the city is so much a part of the story and the characters environment that it’s just “the city” — any big metropolitan city but usually London, NY, Paris…
There was also some talk about urban fantasy that wasn’t contemporary but most felt that modern readers expected urban fantasy to be contemporary rather than set in the distant past.
The panelists also tossed around the term rural fantasy, suburban fantasy, and paranormal romance and how it differed from urban fantasy. Urban fantasy and paranormal romance differ in how central to the story the search for a mate is. In urban fantasy, you may find your mate but it’s not the central core of the story while in paranormal romance it is the central to the story.
An interesting panel with some very interesting views on labels and these labels in particular.
Worked with Hyperion at the SFRevu table until closing at 6:00 PM. We then had an hour until my panel at 7.
7:00 PM: The One Right Form of a Story.
Panelists: John Langan, Meghan McCarron, Gayle Surrette (leader), Marilyn “Mattie” Brahen, and Judith Berman.
Description: Quoth Mark Twain: “There are some books that refuse to be written…. It isn’t because the book is not there and worth being written– it is only because the right form of the story does not present itself. There is only one right form for a story and if you fail to find that form the story will not tell itself.” Anyone who has adapted a fairy tale for a poem or developed a short story into a novel might disagree, yet many authors have also spent years chasing stories that evade capture until they’re approached in just the right way. What makes some stories easy-going and others stubborn? Is the insistence on a story “telling itself” a red herring? And what does “form” really mean here?
This was one of the easiest panel I’ve ever moderated. From the first question the panelists just played off one another, building on or suggesting ideas until I opened it for questions. Each shared experiences where the story didn’t work and wouldn’t come together as they imagined it until they found the core or the character that the story was about. That form was when all the pieces fit because the creative and intellectual side worked together and the writer found the thread the story wove around. (This is my comprehension of the discussion and I was avidly listening but also concentrating on seeing that everyone got a chance to contribute.)
8:00 PM: I’ve Fallen (Behind) and I Can’t Get (Caught) Up
Panelists: Michael Dirda, Jennifer Pelland, Craig Laurance Gidney, Don D’Ammassa, and Rick Wilber.
Description: In a recent blog post for NPR, Linda Holmes wrote, “Statistically speaking, you will die having missed almost everything…. There are really only two responses if you want to feel like you’re well-read, or well-versed in music, or whatever the case may be: culling or surrender.” How do you choose among the millions of books that you could be reading? Do you organize your “to read” books or are all your books “to read” books? How useful are books reviews, Amazon recommendations, Goodreads, LibraryThing, etc.? How do you budget your limited reading time? And how do you cope with the knowledge that you will never read everything you want to?
In other words — how do you pick what to read in your TO-BE-READ (TBR) pile when it’s larger than any one person, no matter how fast they read, can read in a lifetime?
D’Ammassa has an actual written schedule of when he reads (3 hours every morning and another 3 hours before bed). I can’t imagine being that organized but maybe it’s something to strive for.
Dirda said he hasn’t read for pleasure in years. Just about every book he reads, he writes about. That’s at least two books a week. He also said he’s a slow reader because he moves his lips when he reads. (I have a little person in my head who reads me the books — in other words I can’t read any faster than a person could read the book aloud. I was so happy to learn that Michael Dirda has a similar tic that slowed his reading down.)
All of the panelists stated that they read at different speeds for different types of books — dense text or non-fiction being slower than other books.
Time is always a problem. Dirda said he’d given up TV and movie watching. Other said they read on their long commutes to and from work and missed that reading time when they changed jobs to one closer with less travel time. Airplane trips are great reading times with few interruptions. Pelland said she got a lot of reading done in the Laundromat because there wasn’t anything else to do there while the machines ran.
The issue of ebooks was raised. They avoid the stacks of books but putting them on the drive of the machine and the device was easy to carry and handle rather than hauling around lots of books to read. Also, they avoided the appearance of hoarding.
In many ways this was a slight variation in the Bookaholics Annonomous panel that Readercon usually has during the convention. As someone who could insulate her house with the books she plans to read someday — I appreciated the issues raised and the ideas tossed out by the panelists and the audience.
We got in late yesterday for Readercon 22 — too late to setup in the Book Shop and too tired to attend any of the Thursday evening events. Instead we got our luggage and personal items out of the car, checked in to the hotel and crashed.
Friday morning. The hotel has a Starbucks in the lobby, so getting something for breakfast was simple. Then shower and look over my notes for my first panel at noon. Then at 10 a.m. we got our registration material and began to unpack the car to set up our table in the Book Shop (usually called the Dealers’ Room in most conventions except Readercon only has books sellers in the room no jewelry or other fannish items — it is a convention for readers).
A bit before noon, I stopped into the Green Room to check if the other panelists were available — no luck on that one.
12:00 PM And They Lived Happily Ever After, Until they Died: Retelling Russian Folktales.
Panelist: Patricia McKillip, Gayle Surrette (leader).
Description: Ekaterina Sedia’s The Secret Histories of Moscow, Catherynne M. Valente’s http://www.amazon.com/o/ASIN/0765326302/ampedesistud-20/” target=”_blank”>Deathless, Patricia McKillip’s In the Forests of Serre… it appears we’re in the middle of a renewed interest in fairy tale retellings–and specifically, postmodern, genre-challenging fairy tale retellings–based in the folklore of Russia. Is there a specific element to Russian stories that makes them particularly fit for contemporary adaption?
Originally there were going to be other people on the panel but they dropped out. Patricia McKillip had written two books using elements of Russian folktales. I’d hoped to moderate a panel and ask questions about the subject matter that I thought would give a chance for the authors to discuss their works and how they used the tales — which Patricia did, talking about her view of Baba Yaga and Koschei the Deathless that was very interesting. However, I’d only crammed for three days on the tales and, faced with just me and Patricia on the panel, most of that knowledge fell out my ears.
Luckily, two young women in the front row of the audience were Russian and willing to add their experience with the culture and stories. About half the audience had read The Secret History of Moscow and half had read Deathless with some overlap of the two groups. Opening the topic up to the audience for comments and questions produced an interesting discussion of the differences between Western fairy tales and folk tales (Grimm and Anderson) and Russian folk and fairy tales. The discussion ranged from how folk tales were a way to teach young children how to behave in the world and what to expect, to how the differences between and strict top down governmental structure (Tzar or Communism) and a more general representational government could change expectations of what behavior would increase your chance of survival. Is seems many Russian folk tales are about endurance while western ones are about moving up socially or becoming a success/gaining treasure.
It’s always hard to judge how a panel I’m on goes, but I feel that this one actually worked better because of the audience participation and the sharing of knowledge that occurred. I know that I learned a lot that will have me thinking in new ways as I read through the many Russian fairy/folk tales that I found on Project Gutenberg.
After the panel, I rejoined Hyperion at the SFRevu table in the Book Shop to help finish the setup. The Book Shop opened today at 3:00 PM and closed at 7:00 PM.
3:00 PM Global Climatology for Worldbuilders. Lecture by Gwendolyn Clare.
Description: The major patterns of global climate here on Earth–including atmospheric and ocean currents–can be directly derived from basic physics principles. These patterns, along with the location and shape of continents, let us predict the types of ecosystems found anywhere on the globe. After the talk, we’ll brainstorm different ways to alter the global climate system to suit our fictional needs.
I go to the science for writers programs as much as I can, and a good 80% of time, they’re pretty much worthless to me. This one was quite solidly in the 20% of goldmine territory.
Ms. Clare started off the discussion by asking the audience what things they thought most strongly influenced the climate. Several answers were offered up, but as one might expect, the biggest factor is simply the sun. There are dozens of other factors that modify and complicate climate, but the sun is the alpha point that starts the whole thing. Without an energy source, there’s no climate worth speaking of.
With just a couple of simple slides, I now actually understand what causes tropical rainforests zones, the desert bands, not to mention the coriolis affect, and why it bends the way it does where it does. There are times when information, which has been fuzzy and vague for a long time, suddenly clicks into clarity like finally getting a proper pair of glasses. This was one of those times.
More slides clearly showed sample causes for major warming and cooling periods over the last hundred million years or so, ranging from volcanoes, and particularly effective carbon dioxide eating planet, and the random actions of plate tetonics.
The last part of the talk centered around the audience calling out modifications to planets (rings, size, different stars, rotation speeds, different proportions of water to land, lack of plate tectonics, and my own very minor offering of blasting open the isthmus of Panama to rework some of the Atlantic currents) and what kind of modifications to climate these changes would inflict.
Lots to think about, and lots of new things to do more research on.
5:00 PM Feeling Very Post-Slipstream.
Panelists: Leah Bobet, Paul Di Filippo, Elizabeth Hand, Chris N. Brown (leader), F. Brett Cox.
Discription: Bruce Sterling’s definition of “slipstream” was based in the experience of living in the (late) 20th century. Now we’re in the (early) 21st, and present/near-future-set works like Mira Grant’s Feed and William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition are starting to evoke a distinctly 21st-century sensibility with frank discussions of fear, anger, religion, security, and ever-present cameras. The only terms we have for these books right now is “post-911”. We can do better. What do we call books that leave you feeling angry, scared, and angry about being scared?
I was a bit late for the panel and when I got there Elizabeth Hand was saying that she didn’t like labels; that (and I’m really paraphrasing here) they tended to keep people out or putting up as many barriers as they were supposed to help by putting things in boxes. When she reviewed for the science fiction magazines, she could use terms that when she wrote for the popular press she needed to explain those same terms.
The discussion continued and it was fairly agreed that some terms gained traction and some didn’t. Some that gained traction were: Slipstream, Cyberpunk, and now Steampunk. Steampunk is also a fashion and culture so it’s more than a literary subgenre.
Someone said that slipstream sort of pulls the rug out from under the readers expectations. Another panelist asked what would you call the post-slipstream writing if the rug is already pulled out from under the reader.
Also mentioned that slipstream was about the feeling of strangeness when reading the story. Similar to horror, it’s the feeling you get when reading it that determines its place or label.
Discussion turned to a narrative and the failure of the narrative. For many, especially young college age students, Bin Laden is the only bad guy they know about. In movies and books, when a bad thing happens it’s solved in a month. It took ten years to find Bin Laden for 9/11. In disaster films, the disaster happens and everything is worked out and solved within the movie (or book) in a relatively short period of time. Then there’s Katrina and here we are years later and the area still hasn’t recovered fully and we’ve had even more disasters (tornado, floods, drought, etc.). The narrative has failed to match the reality.
At this point, Elizabeth Hand piped up with, “What would you call that, Failstream?” The audience and the other panelists liked the term and congratulated her for coining it. She tried to say she was joking but they insisted she own the term. Once the panel opened up for comments and discussion with the audience — failstream was used for the first time. (Guess she’s stuck with coining a new term when she doesn’t care for labels — too bad the term is so apt).
Then it was back to help Hyperion in the Book Shop until closing. Then the inevitable search for food (note breakfast muffin and coffee and only water until 7 PM when we ate) and now writing up the day and off to bed and to face Saturday when I have a 7 PM panel on The One Right Form of a Story.
If you’re reading this and you were at the Russian Fairy Tale panel, I’d love to hear your impressions and comments. If you just have comments and weren’t at the panel or even Readercon — leave a comment.
SFWA, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of American, announced the winners of the this year’s Nebula Awards at their annual Nebula Awards Weekend held in Washington, DC. You can read the full list of nominees and winners on the SFWA website.
Best Novel: Blackout/All Clear, Connie Willis (Spectra)
Best Novella: “The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen’s Window,” Rachel Swirsky (Subterranean Magazine, Summer 2010)
Best Novellette: “That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made,” Eric James Stone (Analog Science Fiction and Fact, 9/10)
Best Short Story (a tie):
“How Interesting: A Tiny Man,” Harlan Ellison (Realms of Fantasy, 2/10)
“Ponies,” Kij Johnson (Tor.com 1/17/10)
SFWA Service Award: John E. Johnston III
Alice B. Sheldon / James Tiptree, Jr.
Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation: Inception Christopher Nolan (director), Christopher Nolan (Screenplay) (Universal)
Andre Norton Award: I Shall Wear Midnight, Terry Pratchett (Gollancz, Harper).