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Readercon: Books That Deserve to Remain Unspoiled

Books That Deserve to Remain Unspoiled.
Jonathan Crowe, Gavin Grant, Kate Nepveu, Graham Sleight, Gayle Surrette (moderator).

In a 2013 review of Joyce Carol Oates's The Accursed, Stephen King stated, "While I consider the Internet-fueled concern with 'spoilers' rather infantile, the true secrets of well-made fiction deserve to be kept." How does spoiler-acquired knowledge change our reading of fiction? Are some books more "deserving" of going unspoiled than others? If so, what criteria do we apply to determine those works?

I was going to write up this Readercon panel, really I was, but the car accident and the lost passport and SteelyKid's minor dental surgery have eaten so much of my time that I am nearly pulling my hair out in frustration. So here is (a) the super-short version and (b) a video embed.

The super-short version, based on what I can reconstruct out of two very small notepad pages:

I view spoilers as a contextual question about the reading (viewing, etc.) experience, which is why my self-introduction was "I believe in enthusiastic consent for spoilers as well as sex." (Which got the laugh I was, shamelessly, angling for, but nevertheless I do believe it.)

No one was impressed with King's quote.

There was a lot of discussion about surprise and plot and what else can be spoiled (worldbuilding, definitely, see the Steerswoman books), and if spoilers are privileging an emphasis on surprise and plot in narrative. (I brought up how that can play into creator engagement with fans, sometimes to the work's detriment; see the Wheel of Time, arguably A Song of Ice and Fire.) Late in the panel Graham suggested a spoiler model of empathy, of taking a journey along with a character and not wanting to separate from them by knowing things they don't, which I think is very useful though not universally applicable.

Some discussion of whether a work is unspoilable, unfortunately the only example I remember now is Gene Wolfe's Peace which I don't know, so I can't help much there. I think the idea was that it was so weird that even a thorough description didn't convey the experience?

I believe someone in the audience suggested that a spoiler emphasis in advertising was capitalism at work trying to manipulate people into seeing (for instance) The Crying Game for themselves. Fair point, but I think the rise of asynchronous media consumption has more to do with why it's prominent now and that's a concern driven more by individuals than creators.

We were asked what work we would decree could never be spoiled. I remember Graham mentioned "The Lottery," just because that boat has well and truly sailed, alas. I think I said Agyar.

Anyway. This felt a bit slow in places to me and probably could have benefited from opening up to audience questions sooner. But there were some good bits, and here's the video if you want to listen to it in the background (but you'll probably want headphones, because the volume is understandably low). *carefully makes note not to wear that shirt for public sitting-down appearances again*

Thanks to Scott Edelman for the video.

So: what are your favorite horror stories about being spoiled? (Let's put the work name in the subject of the comment, and then ROT13 or black out the comments: <span style="color:#000000;background-color:#000000;">TEXT HERE</span> ) If you had the power to enforce no-spoilers on a particular work, which would it be? What works do you think ought to be spoiled? (Someone had a story, I just remembered, about a critic or reviewer who hated some author's use of suspense or suchlike, and thus made it a mission to spoil those works. That is a jerk move, in my opinion, but there are times when I sympathize.) What else about spoilers do you want to talk about?

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