Readercon 2016 – Saturday, 9 July
Slept in this morning so didn’t get down to our first panel until 11. But feeling much better today with a bit more sleep last night.
11:00 a.m. Beyond Strong Female Characters.
Panelists: Ellen Kushner (leader), Terri Bruce, Kathleen Howard, Delia Sherman, Natalie Luhrs. (No Photo)
Description: In a 2015 post on Tor.com, Liz Bourke puts forth that “volition and equal significance are better ways to think about, and to talk about, women’s narratives and storylines and presences in fiction,” rather than agency or strength. Bourke goes on to discuss the possibility of different types of heroism, and the possibility of a character being able to make choices in one form or another. The essay ends with the questions “Is the female character represented as having a will of her own? Does the narrative respect her volition? Does it represent her as possessing an equal significance with everyone around her, even if people around her don’t see her as equally significant? Does it, in short, represent her as fully human? Fully human, and not a caricature or a type?” Panelists will discuss ways to give women equal significance beyond physical strength.
Some comments in no particular order.
Need true well-rounded characters that come alive on the page. However, most writers are also readers and we all have some shorthand phrases to sketch characters and indicate a type or trope and most overcome that handicap when writing.
Noted that there’s never a program on going ‘beyond the strong male character’ which says a lot about how men and women are viewed when the term strong comes up.
Strength does not need to be physical — sometimes it is endurance, logical response to situation cues, or other non-aggressive reactions. Need mental as well as physical abilities — to think outside the box sometimes.
One way to tell if you have a well written character is to think would this anger me if written by someone else.
Character must learn and grow not be TSTL (Too Stupid To Live). Must be able to change and be adaptable.
My husband attended the panel on Colonization….
11:00 AM Colonization and Beyond: The Fiction and Science of Exoplanets.
Panelists: Diane Martin, Gregory Feeley, Jeff Hecht (leader), Vandana Singh, Ian Randal Strock.
Description: In the last few years NASA’s Kepler space telescope has discovered over 2,000 real planets around other stars (exoplanets). But can we ever reach them? This panel will explore the differences between science fiction’s portrayal of interstellar travel with the reality of such a journey. Speculative concepts for humanity’s eventual settlement of distant planets have been the stuff of science fiction for well over a century. How has science fiction addressed exoplanets, and what technology—now in place or still fictional—will get us to those worlds some day?
While the panel was billed as discussing exo-planets, the discussion really ranged over the more general topic of planetary exploration in general, based on the idea as one panelist put it: Exo-planets are the new mysterious thing to look at because we’ve explored the solar system and found it boring. There are no canals on Mars, and no jungles on Venus.
Several tried and true topics were rehashed, such as whether or not we have the right to explore other planets, and if so, how much care should we take to not contaminate any indigenous (most likely microbial) life we might find there. Do we have the technology to reach other planets? Most science fiction is still wrapped around fantasy elements like warp drive and wormholes which, while scientific in concept, still have no basis in currently workable scientific theory. Colony ships were mentioned, but dismissed with the warning that they’d either fail due to extreme complexity, or that the people that arrived wouldn’t really be us. An interesting point was that it may be impossible (or at least extremely difficult) for a pregnancy to come to term outside the normal gravity of Earth. The panel was divided into two primary factions. One that seemed to take the view that we either can’t do it (too expensive, too difficult) or that we shouldn’t do it (ethics). The other that we can and should. We may not be able to do it now, but that’s never stopped us before, we just need a bit more bootstrapping. A final topic discussed was on the tone of science fiction. Strock believes that we need SF to recapture some of the old fashioned feel of going out and having adventures … proving that humans can be a force for good, if for no other reason that to stop it from being so depressing. Others on the panel disagree, feeling that the current SF, as dreary as it is, is a more accurate portrayal of the foibles of humanity that still need to be overcome, not just waved away with magically diverse and accepting Federations.
NOON. Engineering in Fantasy.
This sounded like such a good panel and I went to the room and found it had been moved next door which was a smaller room. It was packed with a triple line of people standing in the back and already warm so I moved to another Noon panel.
NOON. Red Planet Rover, Red Planet Rover, Will Humans Come Over?
Panelists: Ian Randal Strock, Jim Kelly, Sioban Krzywicki (leader), Jeff Hecht, Lisa Cohen.
Description: With talk of private space flight and one-way trips to Mars, is any of it really likely? Is it achievable in the near future? Is there any real demand and is it possible to ensure it isn’t only for the fantastically wealthy? What would it take to make Mars a round trip, even if it is a very, very long layover? We’re discovering that the void of space is far more hostile to humans than we’d thought; can problems like radiation, weightlessness, and boredom be solved for the near future?
Strong agreement that money is always an issue.
Yes, we can go technically on all issues but should we since it is very likely to be a failure on many points?
Personally, I felt that they panelists were unduly negative, but I could see their points. It is highly likely that not all possible variables can be pre-planned for because for a first try there will be a lot of unforeseen problems and deaths are highly likely and probably inevitable to some degree, possibly for everyone sent.
Other issues discussed was the medical problems of weightlessness and effects on the body and balance/coordination, radiation, and boredom. Again, lots of negativity when, in reality, all of these items can be overcome, even if they haven’t been yet.
Lots of time spent on whether we have the right to go to another planet at all whether or not indigenous life exists or not. We’d be terraforming it just by being there and do we have a right to do that. Should we wait until we’ve done a better job searching for indigenous life? Frankly I think that part is overstated. Mars is a big planet. A colony in one spot will not destroy evidence on the rest of the planet.
What about children born on Mars or on the trip out? Could they survive back on Earth if that became necessary. Again, lots of frowning, but very little research has been done on these points to determine if they’re truly a problem or not.
Lots of interesting issues to contemplate.
1:00 P.M. If Thor Can Hang Out with Iron Man, Why Can’t Harry Dresden Use a Computer?
Panelists: Elaine Isaak, E.J. Stevens, Gillian Daniels, Andrea Phillips, Alex Shvartsman.
Description: In a series of tweets in 2015, Jared Axelrod pondered “the inherent weirdness of a superhero universe… where magic and science hold hands, where monsters stride over cities.” This is only weird from the perspective of fantasy stories that set up magic and technology as incompatible, an opposition that parallels Western cultural splits between religion and science and between nature and industry. Harry Dresden’s inability to touch a computer without damaging it is a direct descendant of the Ents destroying the “pits and forges” of Isengard, and a far cry from Thor, Iron Man, and the Scarlet Witch keeping company. What are the story benefits of setting up magic/nature/religion and technology/industry/science as either conflicting or complementary? What cultural anxieties are addressed by each choice? How are these elements handled in stories from various cultures and eras?
Someone made the point (and I don’t remember who and I’m paraphrasing anyway) that SF is about the futures that we don’t want or are afraid of while Fantasy is about possible wonderful pasts that we wish we’d lived in. Personally, I think we have a lot of SF that is about futures we wish we’d achieve also, but that’s just me.
There’s a lot of fear of old ways of life being driven out by new ways — makes people nervous and afraid.
Fear that technology will take away our humanity — becoming cyborgs or robots.
I believe it was Phillips that said: Whether something is science or magic depends upon whether you deploy the word ‘quantum’.
Isaak said sometime along the lines of magic tending to be a limited resource and not everyone could do it. Science on the other hand was something that everyone could do if they learned how — once the machine was set up anyone could turn the crank and make it work (flip the switch and you get lights).
Daniels made and interesting comments about why Iron Man, Thor, and Scarlet Witch could all co-exist. To paraphrase: It’s like Marvel bought up a lot of different properties with completely different rule sets and mushed them into one universe.
There was also a fair amount of discussion on whether magic really remains magic if it’s been reduced to reproducible, controllable, science-like principles, rather than the older philosophy of wild and unpredictable forces, or if it just becomes a less-explained replacement for science.
5:00 P.M. Tim Powers Interviewed by Gary K. Wolfe.
Photo Order: Gary K. Wolfe and Tim Powers.
Very interesting conversation where Tim Powers explained where some of the bit of information joined to give him the start on several of his books. He also talked about finding the fantastical/off-kilter bits of biographical information where you could hang a plot within the actual events of a historical person’s life.
We took the rest of the evening off.