August 15th, 2014

wood cat

Loncon: The Superhero-Industrial Complex

We registered at Loncon late today, so we missed the huge lines (I don't know if that suggests any problem with the con itself or is just inevitable). The convention center that the con is in one end of is certainly very, very long. But on the bright side, that means lots of mall-food-court type food and lots of tables with chairs where people can hang out, which Chad & I did after our program items.

Anyway, my first panel was today. Here's the description:

The creation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been one of the most exciting pop culture developments of the last decade – and contradicts the decades-long strategy, followed primarily by DC, of keeping superheroes in their own worlds for their screen incarnations. Now DC have plans to follow Marvel's lead (and Sony are developing an entire Spider-verse), but will the "Marvel megafranchise model" work for others? Does an interconnected universe imply certain kinds of stories and not others? What are the advantages of solo films? And how are different studios using other media – in particular, TV – to further develop their properties?

Kate Nepveu, Jenni Hill, Glyn Morgan, CE Murphy, Gavia Baker Whitelaw

I was looking forward to this enormously, and it lived up to my expectations: it was well-attended and lively and fun (despite my feeling that I didn't quite do my best possible moderating job). However, I was kicking myself for not realizing that there were 90 minutes slots available and pushing for one, because it really needed it. I'd hoped to cover four things, and we really only got through two and a half, specifically:

(1) Everyone wants a cinematic universe / megafranchise because Avengers literally made a billion and a half dollars, but is being part of a cinematic universe necessary or sufficient for that kind of success?

(2) What are the pluses and minuses of cinematic universes from storytelling points of view?

(3) What about TV adaptations, how do they compare and contrast with cinematic adaptations?

(4) Diversity, please (damn it)?

And we covered the first two pretty thoroughly, got some digs in about the fourth along the way, but only glanced at the third and mostly through discussions of animated series, not Arrow and the many forthcoming live-action series.

We talked a lot about humor, about backstory and hoping to ditch or truncate the origin story, and the need for really good writing if you're going to connect up bits of a bigger universe with a standalone story without things feeling pasted on. With regard to the MCU, we talked about its structure and how its future scope depends on Guardians of the Galaxy (space; check!) and Doctor Strange (magic; unknown). Someone asked if there was anything Marvel could do that would wreck the MCU. I said that considering that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is currently atop the U.S. box office, we just have to accept that spectacle sells, sometimes regardless of whether it is accompanied by quality, so it's hard for me to imagine. Other people said that if Ant-Man [*] or Doctor Strange tanks, that's not such a big deal, but if the next Avengers is terrible . . . well, maybe you'd need two high-profile disasters before people lost their goodwill, but it was theoretically possible.

[*] Someone also pointed out that in any other situation, losing the director of a movie so close to its release date would cause a studio to just push back or shelve the movie; but since Ant-Man is part of the MCU, Marvel apparently views it as immovable, presumably because it is connected to or sets up things in other movies, despite the incredible time pressures that puts on production.

With regard to backstory, after the panel someone who lives in Europe and doesn't have English as a first language told me that interconnected movies are getting harder to follow without prior homework, which I thought was interesting, though Thor: The Dark World was specifically cited and I'm not sure I get the impression it made a lot of sense in English (I haven't seen it).

Ugh, there was a lot of other stuff but it's past midnight and I really need sleep. Chime in if you were there or ask questions if you weren't, jog my memory!

A few things I mentioned:

Max Gladstone on the appeal of small-f fellowships particularly as applied to Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy

Comics Alliance article about the MCU and diversity and how it's falling behind (a little more charitable than I would be, but I agree with the overall thrust)

And finally, if I didn't mention it I should have, a column from Forbes of all places about GotG:

But come what may this is a terrific start that firmly establishes that Marvel is a brand name unto itself and a more important marketing variable than whatever property it happens to be producing this time around.

[ . . . ]

Second, it means that Marvel can do whatever it wants now. So if they choose not to make a female-centric or minority-centric superhero film, it’s because they just don’t want to.

Oh, and before I go to bed, shout-out to the volunteer audience member who fiddled with the soundboard until our mikes turned on! We salute you, gentleperson, as otherwise we would have had to shout the entire time to be heard in that large room.

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wood cat

Loncon: Translating Genre

I went to the wrong panel at first (there are two doors into Capital 7, and I went into one of those thinking I was going into Capital 8) and so I missed the introductions.


Translations of SF/F books from one language to another offer a snapshot of the global SF/F scene, and in recent years it seems there has been an uptick in translated material available in the English-language market. But how representative is the sample of books translated into English? What factors determine which books get translated, and which don't? Who initiates a translation: does the translator work on spec, or are they commissioned by overseas publishers? How are translated books marketed to their new audiences? And why are so many SF and fantasy works by English-language authors translated into other languages, year after year, while so few from the rest of the world make their way into English?

Sue Burke (m), Gili Bar-Hillel, Tom Clegg, Elisabeth Vonarburg, Marian Womack

Shorted bios via program: Sue was born in the US, lives in Spain, and works as a writer, editor, and translator. Gili founded Utz Publishing House in Israel and is a translator. Tom was also born in the US, lives in France, and is a translator and the editor in charge of the SF imprint at Editions Bragelonne. Elisabeth was born in France, lives in Quebec, and is a writer and translator. Marian lives in Spain and runs a small press called Ediciones Nevksy.

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I don't know much about this topic so I found this pretty informative and a good balance of experiences and perspectives in the panelists.

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wood cat

Loncon: Fallen London: Recreating London in Games

My first panel of today, though second writeup because I have to turn paper scribbles into notes.


This panel celebrates some of the ways that London has been represented in games; including LARP, tabletop, point-and-click and videogames. We also explore some of the darker aspects of seeing London with a player's eye.

Kate Nepveu, Jonathan Green, Frances Hardinge, Christi Scarborough (m)

Fallen London is basically the only game I play these days (though I did bump into someone last night randomly from my NetHack days!), so this was a panel I was very consciously intending to keep my mouth shut for most of. And the other panelists were excellent and all was well. (Those of you who really like Frances Hardinge's books, you'll be pleased to know she's very smart and interesting in person.)

I have more notes than usual for a panel I'm on, because I was scribbling to keep myself busy while listening for something I could genuinely contribute to. I'm going to re-order things a bit to make them make more sense in a static report.

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I did not get to mention the gender selection text for Fallen London, which I will quote here because I love it:

May we ask whether you're a lady or a gentleman?

* A lady
* A gentleman
* My dear sir, there are individuals roaming the streets of Fallen London at this very moment with the faces of squid! Squid! Do you ask them their gender? And yet you waste our time asking me trifling and impertinent questions about mine? It is my own business, sir, and I bid you good day.

(That is about 85% of the reason I play as an individual of mysterious and indistinct gender, honestly. The spinoff, Sunless Sea, doesn't even ask you for gender, just how you want to be addressed.)

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wood cat

Loncon: Content and Form: Writing SF/F in non-Western Modes

Panel two of three that weren't mine today! I appear to be losing focus fast, so I apologize if my proofreading is inadequate; feel free to ask.


Sofia Samatar recently suggested [*] that SF genre writers and readers have "a tendency to focus on content rather than form", even or especially when engaging with marginalised perspectives. Does our genre inevitably tend towards the form and structure of western, English-language stories, regardless of what cultural tradition(s) are reflected in the content? How can a non-western or non-Anglophone writer engage with science fiction and fantasy while also operating outside of the conventions of western-style storytelling? Is it possible for western writers to engage with non-western traditions in an authentic way and produce a story that a wider audience will recognize as science fiction or fantasy? What are some of the different forms offered by non-western cultures that need to be told?

Amal El-Mohtar, Aliette de Bodard, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, JY Yang, Nick Wood

[*] source

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[*] Here's the whiteboard rec list for the African SF panel at Nine Worlds; thanks, [ profile] shaded_sun!

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wood cat

Loncon: Imagining Fantasy Lands: The Status Quo Does Not Need Worldbuilding

Last detailed notes for today! . . . getting really, really tired, especially since I had Opinions about this panel.


Fantasy world-building sometimes comes under fire for its pedantic attention to detail at the expense of pacing or prose style. Do descriptive passages clog up the narrative needlessly, when reader imagination should be filling in the gaps? Where does that leave the landscapes and cultures that are less well represented in the Western genre: can world-building be a tool in subverting reader expectations that would otherwise default to pseudo-medieval Euro-esque? If fantasy is about defamiliarising the familiar, how important is material culture - buildings, furnishings, tools, the organisation of social and commercial space - in creating a fantasy world?

Mary Anne Mohanraj (m), Tobias Buckell, Kate Elliott, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, Victoria Donnelly, Ellen Kushner

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Welcome to Night Vale (purple logo), Welcome to Night Vale

Loncon: Welcome to Night Vale

My second panel of the day, and last programming thing of the day.


The podcast Welcome to Night Vale exploded in popularity in mid-2013. It's a pastiche of community radio set in the US Southwest, in a small town where all the conspiracy theories are true, the dog park is forbidden to both dogs and humans, and no-one bats an eye at Cecil, the radio host, rhapsodizing over Carlos, a new scientist in town. This panel will discuss the nature of reality in Night Vale; how the show's long-term plotting is working out; the good and less-good ways the show treats characters from underrepresented groups; the traditions it works with, and its counterparts in other media; and the panel's favourite moments, characters and quotes.

Douglas Spencer (m), Jesi Pershing, Zalia Chimera, Kate Nepveu, Tanya Brown

(No Glow Cloud, but three Hooded Figures with signs about the Dog Park.)

I've talked extensively about WtNV here, so I'm only mentioning other things.

At least one person found the live show I went to, "The Librarian," more funny and less scary than the podcast. I had exactly the opposite reaction (well, still funny. But not much of the podcast actively gives me the creeps and the show came close.).

At least one person didn't get a very American vibe from Night Vale because it was so unmoored from a larger political context, which seemed to be a minority view; I said I put it down that down to the genre and was perfectly happy to believe it was somewhere in an alternate American Southwest, as did most other people.

I gave my spiel about disability in WtNV, now updated for Old Oak Doors! People generally agreed that those episodes were not very satisfying on lots of levels. Note to self: next time, be sure to preface by saying that this is what you understand from listening to disabled activists, but you are able-bodied and do not speak for all disabled people, who are indeed not a monolith. This was particularly awkward since there were two people in wheelchairs at the panel; I at least had enough sense not to appeal to them during the panel for validation. (They thanked me afterward for saving them from saying it, but still, I should have done better and next time I will.)

Someone asked whether the writers were going to have to keep making things weirder and scarier because the audience was getting acclimated. I & at least one other person on the panel were not wild about that idea: hard for new listeners who don't go through the whole backlog, and instead we get some pretty explicit reminders that Night Vale is a horrible dystopia, it's just _their_ horrible dystopia.

Uh. I asked about whether Tamika's name and Dana's mother's natural hair came across as signifiers that they were at least part African-American to non-Americans, but I'm not sure I got an answer. I attempted to formulate a theory on the fly about who gets last names in Night Vale, and failed.

. . . all the other things I can think of I'm pretty sure I've already written about before. But we can talk more about it!

Assume spoilers in comments for . . . everything except today's episode, let's say.

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wood cat

Loncon: some general stuff

Food notes:

Last night I got a club sandwich at the Fox and Connaught pub out the east end of ExCel. The thing is, if you insist that bacon not be crispy, as the English do, then you really need your bread to be actually toasted in order to have a satisfactorily texture-balanced club sandwich. This was not. (Also the chips paled in comparison to the ones we'd had earlier in the day.)

Possibly as a result, I was in the mood for something crispy at lunch today. Walking down the interior of ExCel, I ended up having a pasty as the best apparent value, which was hot and crispy but was subtly, well, foreign-to-me in flavor. Not that I blame it!

So for dinner I ended up having a sandwich from something that may have been called the Upper Crust further toward the west end of ExCel, which was ham & mozzarella heated up to melting on a sourdough baguette, and was very simple and satisfying and also not ridiculously expensive.

Then I had what purported to be a chocolate orange cheesecake from a place that does make-your-own-sandwich at lunch (can't remember the name), which was a lot more like mousse than cheesecake and possibly didn't agree with me, causing me to leave early tonight. (But I felt better pretty quickly.)

Other notes:

Between panels, I went to a stitching meet-up in the fan tent, and I had such a good time. We commiserated over lessons learned the hard way, showed off projects (either what we'd brought to work on or through pictures), admired different techniques, and used the wonder of smartphones to show each other pictures when we weren't sure if we were using the same terminology. By luck I was sitting near several cross-stitchers, and now I've seen evenweave stitched in the hand, which I could never get the hang of, and which I will have to try again because it looks a lot faster. And a couple of the people were self-taught and identified as newbies, so we got to talk about things they'd like to know and give them a few tips and reassure them that they were doing fine, all would be well, and it was just really delightful.

. . . wow, I have no idea what I was going to type next, I think I really need to go to bed.

Four panel day tomorrow! Breaking out one of my new dresses to give myself strength.

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