The first portion of the con report follows after the jump.
Summary: a good start to the convention.
The day began with work, followed by work, with an 80% chance of more work. Also, lunch in there somewhere.
What with one thing and another, I didn’t get to the rental agency to pick up the car until 1530 (and it took a while to get the car). After that? Hit the road and immediately hit traffic. (Friday afternoon traffic on I-93? What an incredible surprise. Gee, I wonder why I don’t own a car….)
Arrival at Burlington wound up being around 1630, which was a bummer since it meant I’d missed the first half of the 1600 panel on political systems in fantasy. Figuring that I may as well take the time to do some other stuff rather than hitting a panel likely to be moving at a fairly quick pace by that point, I hit the bookshop (Readercon’s version of the traditional dealers room). I made my saving throw vs. booksellers and avoided buying anything. Go me.
1700: “Libraries in Imaginative Literature”
This panel (see also Yoon Ha Lee’s impressions) was itself a great place for me to start the convention. I really like the Readercon “comfy living room” panel setup, I really like libraries, I really like SF.
This panel started with each panelist reading a passage dealing with an imaginative library. Given his role as the Dead GoH and mention in the panel blurb, Borges was naturally the first to be read (by Greer Gilman). Other authors read included Ray Bradbury, Mervyn Peake, Paul Levinson (read by himself), Walter Miller, and Gene Wolfe. Someone (I don’t remember who and my notes are unhelpful) said “We have an anthology.”
Other comments I noted: “forensic librarianism”, and Gilman’s role in chasing down a book-slasher. The fact that pre-Columbian explorers of the Americas predated the printing press, resulting in their visits being effectively unrecorded and uncommunicated. The printing press, therefore, became a driver of the Age of Discovery.
Sandra McDonald said that she didn’t see paper going away any time soon (I agree; the “paperless office” is very much not so) and extolling its usual virtues (durability; ability to be used without power or additional hardware or knowledge of encodings beyond the alphabet, syllabary, or ideographs; portability).
Fred Lerner made The Comment Of The Panel: “if I could have one book from an alien society, it would be their library cataloging system.” This is one of those statements that is plainly obvious in retrospect, but which most of us would never think of ourselves. I can see the comparison just between the Dewey Decimal and Library of Congress systems and their different focuses; it’s notable that the Boston Public Library uses LoC, where most public libraries use Dewey.
1800: “War of the Worldviews”
This one made my brain hurt. I had some trouble keeping up with the panelists just in terms of the speed of the discussion, let alone the content! My notes make telegraph messages look verbose. My pathetic attempts to reconstruct them follow.
China Miéville started off with a strong assertion that “progress” is a late Victorian idea, WWI was the crisis in the rational worldview, and only JRR Tolkien and HP Lovecraft were able to recognize that and bring it into fiction. “Campbellian SF is post-facto propaganda for a failed idea; the Campbellians are bullshitters and they know it, that’s why they’re so nervous.”
James Morrow then opined that the French Revolution was the true crisis point, when “the guillotine replaced Occam’s Razor”. He felt that Disch’s On Wings of Song (which I, being an illiterate philistine or at least feeling like one already at this point in the panel, have not read) saw the situation we’re in now, and had the courage to specify that the Christian argument was causing the problem.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden made comments about “chino” (Christian In Name Only) folks who despoil widows and orphans while going into eschatology. [I fail to remember enough of the context around this comment to do it justice and my notes suck here.] She also said that WWI is still with us [a comment I can understand! hooray!].
Barry Malzberg then brought up Virginia Woolf, who apparently said something about human nature going wrong around 1910. He asked “what is so rationalist about Campbellian SF?” He referenced some comment Lawrence Janifer made about reading Malzberg and feeling that it was “like a man using a megaphone to denounce megaphones” and something about “how can you say science doesn’t work when everyone’s carrying a cell phone”. [More suckage in the notes here as I continue to fail to keep up.]
Rosemary Kirstein’s Steerswoman books are SF disguised as fantasy, and rational methods of thought allow her protagonist to discover the workings of her world.
F. Brett Cox wanted to say “ok, your turn” but felt some interesting points had emerged. Something about WWI being a turning point that smashed both Enlightenment rationality and romanticism.
James Morrow noted Campbell’s interest in psi, Dean Drive, Scientology vs the perception of him as “rationalist”.
Miéville called WWI the “collapse of a crude vulgarization of the Enlightenment”, said that Woolf was a Fabianist so of course she had to blame human nature for the failure, and something about the Island of Doctor Moreau. (People acting like beasts? More not-keeping-up in the notes.) Miéville also said that Lovecraft saw rationality used to mow down the flower of a generation, and Cthulhu is WWI (the large, impersonal force that just wipes people out or drives them mad? something like that).
Teresa Nielsen Hayden pointed out that Spock is the most debased image of rationality, because he uses logic on things it’s not applicable to. Mentioned his penchant for rattling off “exact odds” that don’t apply.
Kirstein: science and logic are not sufficient in themselves, they’re just tools to use in a conversation with the universe. Same with math.
Some audience member asked if the “other side” wrote SF, and the Left Behind books were mentioned.
Morrow said that the secular humanist dream is to “domesticate the dark side of religion”, and that people live mythically (that’s what the notes say, I think it was that people live by creating myths).
Teresa Nielsen Hayden: the parallels between millenarians and survivalists. Kirstein: both want a clean slate to start over with.
1900: “Readercon 101″
After the brain-melter that was the previous panel, I figured this might be more my speed. Training wheels, maybe. I didn’t get notes on who said what in every case.
Greer Gilman: “not the same as tropism”. (laugh)
Judith Berman: “a piece of genre convention”. Like a motif.
Debra Doyle: “specifically a liturgical ornament” (something about the etymology)
Unknown: How do we decide something is a trope or cliché? “Nobody calls past tense a cliché.” Discussion of folk stories and the idea that original is bad rather than good. Myths accreting new bits. The use of new ideas with attribution, like the Langford basilisk.
Gilman: “a memetic lexicon”.
Doyle: something about “floating ballad verses” which I have forgotten the context for.
Unknown: Slogans, tunes, earworms, phrases/words that propagate. “Zero draft” given as an example.
Stuff not shelved as SF, but still of interest. Neal Stephenson’s early books The Big U and Zodiac were mentioned.
Doyle: The Handmaid’s Tale as “SF in funny glasses”.
Berman: other literary traditions have different boundaries. Russian literature, or “magic realism”, have fantastic elements.
Doyle: “a set of spectacles you put on to read a work”.
Unknown: If there’s a scene described in detail, the genre will cause it to be read differently. In a mystery, the reader is looking for the clue. In mainstream, the reader will see it as a metaphor for something. In SF, it’ll be looked at for worldbuilding hints or “incluing” (a Jo Walton term that has spread, see above under “meme”).
The Delany example of “her world exploded”. In SF, perhaps literally…just ask Princess Leia.
Reading protocols are what the reader brings to the book.
I have a line in the notes reading “gateway SF: can you write it intentionally?” that I cannot remember the context for.
“real year”: Clute’s term for the time the story is grounded in (not set in or written in). [I think of this as “this is a very 50s story” for example.]
Doyle: The Handmaid’s Tale is actually The Stone Pillow, it’s just written by a Canadian feminist instead of an American navy veteran.
Some discussion of “speculative fiction” vs “science fiction” and the origin and evolution of the term. Notes too fragmented to reassemble.
From there, the rest of the evening was a mix of mostly-social activities, including hanging out and socializing (including a not-too-bad ham sandwich in the hotel bar) with various folks who were fun to talk to, both people I had met previously and folks new to me.
The evening also had me catching part of a reading, going to the Meet the Pros(e) party (I didn’t try collecting the quotes, but had fun anyway; more people who were fun to talk to), and then returning home to sleep.
© 2006 ckd |