Tuesday, August 18, 2009

WorldCon - still more panels

Will she ever shut up, you ask? Soon, soon. I just wanted to write about a few more panels before I leave for San Francisco in a couple days. I'm afraid I'll forget everything if I wait till I get back. Here are a few more of the panels I really enjoyed:

Panel: Once Upon a Time There Was a Gender Variant Metaphor (with Wendy Gay Pearson, Violette Malan, and Rob Latham)

"For a long time, science fiction and fantasy was a safe space for coded discussion of homosexuality. now the closet doors are open, how can SF respond?"

Well, no one on the panel or in the audience could agree with the panel description - there was a lot of discussion about "coded" images of gays and lesbians in sf and fantasy - and really, if it has to be coded, how can that equate with a "safe place"? It was a bit baffling, but it made for some interesting comments. One of the panelists brought up her realization that Agatha Christie had some "coded" lesbians in her books, and how it was such a revelation for her, and also people talked about how if it's too coded, and only people "in the know" get it, then what is the point? And, of course, no one agreed that the closet doors are actually open to any great extent. One book a panelist mentioned that has interesting and open-minded portrayals of sexuality in science fiction is Ethan of Athos by Lois McMater Bujold, one of my favorite authors.

Things I plan to look for at some point that I wrote down in my notes include the November issue of Science Fiction Studies (I believe it's the forthcoming issue, but I haven't had a chance to look into it yet), which will focus on the issue of sexuality in science fiction; a controversial story from the 1950s by Charles Beaumont called "The Crooked Man;" and a book called Biological Exuberance by Bruce Bagemihl.

Neil Gaiman: Reading
I was pleased to get to the appointed room in time to grab a seat - we got there quite early, in fact, as I was surprised they'd located the reading in a relatively small space. It was standing room only by the time the reading started. He read two stories, one from a forthcoming anthology that is a tribute to Jack Vance's Dying Earth series (of which I think I've only read one book a very long time ago, but Gaiman's story made me interested in taking a closer look at it). I loved the story; it was full of that dreamy sense of wonder combined with humor and a touch of cynicism that make me enjoy his fiction so much.

He also read something he'd recently completed for a book of love letters that is scheduled to be released on Valentine's Day next year. I knew we were in for a treat when I heard that. Because it only stands to reason that if you ask Neil Gaiman to write a love letter for an anthology, it's going to be a surprising one! And it was. He is such a good reader that there was total silence in the room, and when he got to certain rather disturbing parts of his delightful love letter, the entire room shuddered as one. One thing that I found absolutely unbelievable was how many people insisted on taking flash photographs of him as he read - as though he were an animatronic exhibit in a Disney theme park (can you see it? The Hall of Writers? And Neil Gaiman there, dressed in black, ready to recite a creepy or fantastical tale. Next to - I don't know, Hemingway, the Bronte sisters, Dickens and Basho?). Finally he had to stop and beg for mercy. How on earth is someone to read when they have a big blue floating spot in front of their eyes? Sheesh. I'll definitely be on the lookout for that book of love letters come February.

Panel: White is Good, Curves are Great, but Seldom a Purple Face to Be Seen (I did not write down the names of the panelists for this one, unfortunately, because occasionally they differed from the ones in the program. I was too far in the back of the room to read their name tents. As listed in the program they are Aliette de Bodard, Rani Graff, Patricia McCracken and Doselle Young).

"Despite the ubiquity of aliens in a range of pretty colours, SF and fantasy art still seems to be rather averse to the presentation of humans in their full spectrum. How much of this is the market? How much is it thoughtlessness? How much is it a fear of 'exoticizing' and exploitation? How much is just old fashioned discrimination?"

There was a lot of discussion about Justine Larbalestier's cover on her latest novel, Liar, which you can read about on her blog. And one of the panelists mentioned reading a book by Octavia Butler when she was a teen and suddenly realizing that the protagonist was being described as having dark skin and nappy hair - but the image on the cover was of a white blond woman. I knew exactly what she was talking about, because I had that same experience with the very same book, and I remember feeling betrayed by the publisher. At the time I assumed the artist hadn't bothered to read the book, but later of course I learned that it is all about the money, of course. Although one of the panelists said that there haven't actually been any statistical studies conducted that examine at how covers depicting people of different races sell compared to each other, so it's all an unsubstantiated supposition. One panelist said that the general opinion seems to be that if there is a black person on the cover of a book, readers expect it to be about a struggle for racial equality, regardless of what the book is actually about. I think that's silly, and sad, too. I'm glad they changed the cover of Liar, and I sure hope that book sells well. I loved Larbalestier's Magic or Madness trilogy, so I may have to purchase a copy of Liar just to support the cause. :-)

Panel: Fairy Tales in the Comics (with Kevin Maroney, Bill Willingham, and Paul Cornell)

"How creators at big companies and small have adapted classic fairy tales into new graphic visions - DC's Queen of Fables in the Superhero books, to Fables itself at Vertigo, to Castle Waiting, Promethea, The Sandman, Starchild and Bone."

I really loved this panel! I have enjoyed the first in Willingham's Legends series, and I was interested to hear him say that the reason he started the series was simply that he loved all those fairy tale characters and had been wondering about them since he was a child. What happened to them after the stories ended? Now we know! I also found it fascinating that he originally wanted Peter Pan to be the big villain in the stories, but then he found out about the rights issues, and the children's hospital in London that gets the proceeds from the Peter Pan books - and he decided he did not want to be the person responsible for taking money away from those kids. And the villain he ended up with worked out much better in the end.

Paul Cornell said something that resonated with me. He was talking about letters from readers, some of whom become angry when the plot takes a direction they don't like, or if he kills off a character they love. He said he wants to tell them, "Fantasy is not your pet. It is meant to hurt." Wow. I turned that one around and around in my mind. Another panelist (sorry, forget which one) said that it is a good idea for a writer, as she/he sets up the story, to ask the question, "Who is it going to hurt?" And it had better be the reader, to a certain point.

Things that were added to my tbr list as a result of this panel included the latest League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Tales of the Arabian Nights by Kevin Maroney, and Captain Britain by Paul Cornell.

Panel: Writing for Teens (with Anne Harris, Ben Jeapes and Fiona Patton)

"How is writing for YA/Teens different? Do you just leave out the sex and long exposition, or is there more to it?"

This panel took place in an odd room where the tables were arranged banquet style, so we all ended up kind of sitting on either side of the long part, while the panelists sat beside each other at the short part. Eoin Colfer was supposed to be on this panel, too, but I'm not sure he ever even made it to the con, because he wasn't at the reading I went to, either.

Because of the small group that was there, after some introductory words from the panelists, it was more like sitting around a table and talking together than an actual panel, and I enjoyed the intimate feel. I have read and enjoyed Anne Harris's books for adults, but she has just written a YA novel under the name Pearl North, which I knew I had to read as soon as she described it. It is called Libyrinth, and it's set in an enormous labyrinthine library so vast that people easily get lost in it, and it's about a girl who can hear the voices of books. That was enough for me! It's on my list. Plus it has a cool cover.

Fiona Patton has been on my list of writers to read for ages, and I was interested to hear that her 11-year-old niece is a big fan of her books. I thought it might be fun to read one to my girls, and after the panel I asked her which one would be a good one to start with. She suggested The Silver Lake, so that is now on our list. My library shelves it in the adult section, so I may read it first to see if it's too old for them, since my younger daughter is only eight, and I'd hate to put her off a good book by reading it before she's ready for it. It can be a balancing act to find books that appeal to both of them for read-alouds when they are two years apart. At any rate, Fiona Patton seems to be an author who writes for adults, but whose books appeal to teens as well.

Ben Jeapes surprised me by saying that his book, which is published by scholastic, had been written for adults and features an adult main character, but it is marketed to teens. When his agent sold it, Jeapes was startled to discover that he'd written a YA novel without knowing it! He hadn't read much YA fiction before then, but he does now, he says.

Panel: Rainbow Futures (I wasn't able to see all the panelists' names from where I sat, but the program lists them as Catherynne Valente, Cecilia Tan, Graham Slight, Jason Bourget, Lila Garrott-Wejksnora - but I think there were only four people there. Maybe Devinoni remembers better?)

"How does media SF deal with gay and lesbian characters? Is the real world moving too fast for the genre? Can SF show us a future where sexual orientation isn't a big deal?

This was another fascinating discussion. Some things added to my list of things to look for include The Love We Share without Knowing and One for Sorrow by Christopher Barzak; Samuel Delaney's early books, particularly Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand; and The World Beyond the Hill: Science Fiction and the Quest for Transcendence by Alexei Panshin and Cory Panshin (and I think I actually own that last one but have yet to read it, sigh).

I have been wanting to read Catherynne Valente's Palimpsest ever since Nymeth reviewed it, and I thought her take on things was fascinating. One of the panelists was very irritated by Mercedes Lackey's apparent habit of making the villain a gay bdsm devotee (something I confess I had not noticed) - as well as for killing off one of the gay lovers in one of her series, which is apparently an often-used device to "punish" characters for being homosexual. And that is why many fans were so outraged about Tara's death in the Buffy shows. I can see the point, and I remember being heartbroken by both deaths, but I don't believe that was the intent in either case. Still, it raises questions. Does it mean that if there is a homosexual relationship in a book or movie, no one involved in it should die for any reason? That doesn't work, either - just as it doesn't work for other kinds of relationships. The story needs to go where it needs to go. But yeah, don't kill them off to "punish" them. That's just dumb.

That is the last of the panels. I'll shut up now. Thanks for listening, any of you who made it all the way through!


  1. "Will she ever shut up, you ask?"

    I would never ask and if anyone else does, tell them "NEVER!"


  2. Augh! Even when you're reviewing conference panels, you still add to the TBR list!

    "it's set in an enormous labyrinthine library so vast that people easily get lost in it"

    Um, how could I not immediately go see if my library has Libyrinth? (it does) and then put it on hold immediately? (I did)

    I actually came really close to just purchasing this one immediately, sight unseen, breaking all self-imposed rules.

    WorldCon sounds like it was wonderful. I'm wondering if I can get there sometime; I know I'd have a riot.

  3. No, we were NOT wondering when you were going to shut up! I can't thank you enough for the detail report, actually!

    The thing about the flash pictures is unbelievable. I think people have a bit of a tendency to forget that famous people are actual human beings too sometimes.

    And oh, you have to read Christopher Barzak! He's one of my favourite authors. One for Sorrow was one of my favourite reads of last year, and The Love We Share Without Knowing is very high on my list of favourites of this year.

  4. Keep talking. I'm learning so much from these posts about WorldCon!

    Gaiman is a great speaker....and I love these photos you included.

  5. I am enjoying these posts!! Don't stop! (Well, stop when you're done, of course ;)).

  6. J.Kaye - Aww. Thanks!

    Kiirstin - I'm looking forward to reading it, too - who could resist that description? Not us, anyway! :-) It would be fabulous if you could go to a WorldCon some time. Next year's is in Melbourne, so my hopes are not high for that one (but maybe some elderly unknown relative will leave me gazillions of dollars - who knows?). But after that it is in Reno, and I'm definitely hoping to attend that one. I'd love to see you there!

    Nymeth - Yay, I'm glad to hear that! It is the first time I've come home from a WorldCon and had anyone to tell it all to who cared. My husband is a sweetie, but the poor man can only take so much. :-) I knew I'd heard of that author somewhere - of course it was your blog! Now I really have to read them soon.

    Serena - Thanks! I would have had a creepier fountain pic, but of course as soon as I managed to dig my camera out of my bag, a big gust of wind came and blew most of the mist away. :-p

    Cat - I'm glad I'm not boring everyone to tears! I'd like to do a post on the art, and Devinoni suggested I do one on the parties - it would be fun to get some input from him on that - maybe even a guest post. He and I are going to write up an article about our merry adventures for our in-house library newsletter.

  7. I always thought it was unfair for people to be mad that Tara dies. Don't they realize that Joss Whedon cannot let anyone have a lasting, happy relationship on his shows and must inevitably break them up in some really brutal way and/or kill off half of the happy couple?

    Thanks for updating about WorldCon - I really want to go some year, but for now it's great hearing about it!

  8. I love the cover and the sound of Libyrinth, I want it!

  9. Thank you so much for posting this! At every worldcon (or every con I ever go to) I manage to get to the panels I'm on, but few of the others. It's like drinking water from a fire hose. So... thank you for sharing more of the con I didn't get to see!

    Frank Wu

  10. Jenny - Yes, you are absolutely right - no one can be happy for long in the Buffyverse. And one of the panelists did mention that, when Whedon was taken to task for it, he said he'd been completely unaware of the whole death/punishment thing. Not that it would have changed his actions. I loved the portral of their relationship - Tara and Willow's first kiss has got to be one of the most romantic on-screen kisses, ever. :-)

    Valentina - it is an irrestible premise, isn't it? Btw, I love your new blog pic. Perfect!

    Frank - Thanks so much for stopping by! I love your "drinking from a fire hose" analogy - it's spot on. I find it so frustrating not to be able to attend all the panels and activities I'd like to. I kept wishing for Hermione's time turner so I could scoot back in time and catch something else. :-) I'm glad you enjoyed my ramblings!


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