So, I’m back, fresh from CONVergence, which was fun and invigorating despite the fact that I was in excruciating lower-back pain when I arrived and literally couldn’t stand up each morning without thirty minutes of half-starts and moaning. I got successively better each day, thanks in no small part to the kind attention of the awesome convention staff, who ordered me to eat my stoicism and get myself onto a massage table several times. I’m sorry if I bumped into anyone reading this while I was at the height of my pain (Thursday and Friday) and was weird or impatient as a result.
Speaking of CONVergence, I am absolutely delighted to be returning in 2014 as a guest of honor; I hope to be a great deal bouncier and to do more programming and events than are healthy or sane. CONVergence is the first con I ever attended and has remained special to me across the years.
In a nearer timeframe, I will be attending READERCON this weekend, July 12-14, and my programming schedule is as follows:
FRIDAY, JULY 12
This is a two-for-one deal, as I will be Kaffeklatsching with my partner, the illustrious Elizabeth Bear!
SATURDAY, JULY 13
A New Mythology of the Civil War
Dennis Danvers, Mikki Kendall (leader), Scott Lynch, Romie Stott, Howard Waldrop
In a 2012 piece for the Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote that the Lost Cause mythology of the American Civil War has settled so deeply in U.S. culture and historical understanding that it penetrates even our science fiction. (He was speaking of John Carter of Mars but might have been referring to many other works of SF.) “What we now need,” he wrote, “is new stories, and new narratives, that not only refuse to revel in historical escapism, but also resist the lure of blaxploitation. People like James McPherson and Benjamin Quarles have gifted us with a new history. What we need now, is a new mythology.” Who, if anyone, is undertaking the building of these new myths? And what are they reckoning with along the way?
Readercon Blog Club: “The Uses and Value of Realism in Speculative Fiction”
Elizabeth Bear (leader), John Crowley, Rose Lemberg, Scott Lynch
In response to the Readercon 23 panel “Why Is Realistic Fiction Useful?”, Chris Gerwel wrote a blog post exploring the aesthetic uses of realism in spec fic and other literature. He says, “To be effective, fiction must communicate or reveal something true…. That truth is not necessarily factual (such-and-such happened), but is rather more nebulous and insightful (such-and-such could have happened).” Gerwel goes on to argue that “realistic” descriptions of fantastic things can be a way to help the audience to deal with these concepts, giving them better access to the underlying metaphors of a dragon or a spaceship. He closes by saying, “I believe that quotidian speculative fiction has its place in the genre. And that is precisely because it speaks to different truths than most speculative fiction: it speaks to the little heroisms of daily life, and to the practical challenges that arise from our human and social natures” an idea that echoes discussions of early science fiction stories written by women, and offers an alternative to the conflation of “realistic” and “gritty.” We’ll discuss the place of the quotidian in speculative fiction and other aspects of Gerwel’s complex and intriguing essay, which resides here.
The Xanatos Gambit
Jim Freund (moderator), Yoon Ha Lee, Scott Lynch, James D. Macdonald
The tangled webs of schemers both good and bad have always had a presence in imaginative fiction. There are the wily king-killers, the intrigue-fomenting spinsters and widows, the bard who hides the knife beside the harp, the indispensable keeper of secrets, and more. What are the challenges in writing an especially clever character? How has the role of the schemer evolved, and what versions do we no longer see?
SUNDAY, JULY 14
Pining for the Fnords: The New Nostalgia
Elizabeth Bear, John Benson, Andrea Hairston, Elizabeth Hand (moderator), Robert Killheffer, Scott Lynch
Well-received novels like John Scalzi’s Redshirts, Jo Walton’s Among Others, and Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One pointedly allude to the SF of decades past. In a controversial review in the Los Angeles Review of Science Fiction, Paul Kincaid suggested that contemporary SF is suffering from a feeling of exhaustion; “the genre is now afraid to engage with what once made it novel, instead turning back to what was there before” or reverting “to older, more familiar futures.” Others view this type of SF as celebrating its heritage. What’s driving this backward-looking urge, and to what extent is it positive or problematic?
I will not be doing an individual signing but I am always happy to scribble on anything brought to me at just about any other time.