Possible Readercon panels (this weekend!), behind the cut.
5:00 pm F "The Singularity Needs Women!"
Elizabeth Bear, Kathryn Cramer, Louise Marley, Victoria McManus (L), James Morrow.
At Readercon 14 (2002), GoH Octavia Butler said "As the only woman up here, this may be a strange question, but I can't help wondering how much of this speculation about a post-human future has to do with men's desire to control reproduction." We sadly can't ask Octavia exactly what she meant, but we want to pursue this striking statement. Does the post-humanist ideal of freedom from bodily constraints clash fundamentally with the ideal of freedom for the more than half of the population with female bodies? Or might the Singularity actually be a means to the freedoms sought by feminism? Has anyone written fiction about how these ideals interact, and if not, is this an opportunity?
I don't know whether I'll get there in time for this; also, I don't read a lot of Singularity fiction. But I would have liked to see the change-bodies-at-the-drop-of-a-hat in Glasshouse done well.
8:00 pm ME The Readercon Book Club.
Judith Berman, Ron Drummond (L), Elizabeth Hand, Graham Sleight, Konrad Walewski.
In celebration of its 25th anniversary edition, an in-depth discussion of John Crowley's Little, Big.
No, I won't have re-read it, but I might be able to take notes for when I do.
9:00 pm ME F&SF Reviewing in the Blogosphere.
John Clute, Kathryn Cramer, Jim Freund (M), Ernest Lilley, Tom Purdom, Gordon Van Gelder.
A guide to what's online, and a discussion of the ways in which online reviewing differs from the print variety. What are the good and bad aspects of the more personal and informal tone of much online criticism?
I'm not sure I have much to say about this, but I did volunteer to be on a panel about reviewing for Worldcon.
10:15 pm F/H Meet the Pros(e) Party. (105 min.)
It was fun last time.
10:00 am F Must Great Narrative Art Have Humor?
Judith Berman, Paul Di Filippo, Craig Shaw Gardner, Barry B. Longyear, Eric M. Van (L).
(90-100 min.; continues in RI) (Was: Getting No Respect: Humor as the Rodney Dangerfield of Aesthetic Responses.) At Readercon 17, Eric M. Van presented the beginnings of a neuroscientific theory of aesthetic responses to narrative art. There were four fairly obvious responses, which corresponded to the standard qualities of beauty (of prose or cinematography), character, plot, and depth of meaning. The surprise was that humor seemed to be a fifth primary quality rather than a subset of any of the other four. The notion that humor is as fundamental a story quality as plot or character suggests that every great narrative work should possess it, an assertion we're not sure we've heard before. We'll analyze the nature of humor by looking at our favorite jokes, comedy routines, and prose passages, and try to answer the titular question. Can we name any great works of narrative art that are essentially humorless?
On one hand, this is an interesting question. On the other, it's long and dense for so early in the morning (and changing rooms partway through sounds like a disaster).
10:00 am ME Other Points of View.
David Louis Edelman, Laurie J. Marks (L), Maureen McHugh, Wen Spencer, Peter Watts.
In several places, Karen Joy Fowler's The Jane Austen Book Club adopts a first-person plural viewpoint: "we" are thinking about the conversation described, and the reader gets to think about who, exactly, "we" may be—not everyone in the room! While third person and first person singular are the standard viewpoints in fiction, here we talk about the alternatives, and when we (you?) can best employ them.
And POV is one of my hobbyhorses.
12:00 noon F James Frey Recapitulates Santa Claus.
Judith Berman, Karen Joy Fowler, Adam Golaski (M), Alexander Jablokov, Barry N. Malzberg, Maureen McHugh.
We don't have to tell you how valuable invented stories are to the human mind—after all, you're here at this convention. And yet James Frey was unable to sell A Million Little Pieces until he passed it off as true, and when it was exposed as mere autobiographical fiction, we were hugely pissed. In fact, our experience was the precise opposite of reading a fantastic narrative, as we suffered the unwilling suspension of belief. Which is furthermore what every five-year old undergoes when they learn the truth about Santa or the Tooth Fairy. It seems that for all the importance of made-up stories, true ones may be even more important, and learning to tell them apart may be the most important thing of all. Is one of the functions of fiction to teach us how to do this?
I was asking about this a while ago . . .
12:00 noon H Sense of Wonder, or Sense of Cool?
John Joseph Adams, Thomas A. Easton, Laura Anne Gilman, Ernest Lilley (M), Ian Randal Strock.
Sf seeks that sense of wonder, but we think much of today's best sf brings forth a different feeling. To some of us, stories such as those in Charles Stross's Accelerando sequence evoke a response more along these lines: "It really might be like that? Cool!" The emotion is less an awed contemplation of the universe and its inhabitants, and more the delight we have toward a new, really loaded computer, electronic gadget or online capability-what can we do with it, what are the implications? What the author shows us may be amazing, beyond present technology or knowledge, but it feels better understood and more under our control than the cosmic wonders of older sf. Cool is more widely shared than wonder, but less, er, wonderful. Can this be part of the reason for the decline in the popularity of sf-cool can be reliably found in more places? Does fantasy supply wonder more reliably today?
I don't read much SF these days, but I think it's a good question.
12:30 pm RI Ergonomic Solutions on the Cheap (And a Few Otherwise).
Discussion (30 min.). Discussants share ergonomic goodies, experiences, tips and tricks. With a hands-on demonstration of the semi-legendary Comfort Keyboard, the Cadillac of ergonomic keyboards.
Always a good thing to brush up on.
1:00 pm F Fantasy as Inner Landscape.
John Crowley, Greer Gilman, Kelly Link, Kathryn Morrow (L), Paul Park, Michael Swanwick.
It's easy to criticize fantasy for its apparent acceptance of outmoded social structures, and in fact we've done so in past panels such as "Efland Über Alles" and "The Return of the Prime Minister." But are the social structures of fantasy actually a metaphor for inner experience? The king, the knights, the aristocracy, and the noble peasants who aspire to one or more of the above-do these appeal to writers and readers not because of any fondness for their reality, but because they provide a map of human experience and growth? Readercon hopes to put the audio recording of this panel online at some point after the convention.
I have no idea what this means, but it sounds really cool.
2:00 pm F The Case for Archetypal Evil in Fantasy.
Ellen Asher, S. C. Butler, Jeanne Cavelos, James Morrow (L), Joshua Palmatier.
The pervasive trend in modern fantasy is to give the bad guys moral complexity and psychological depth-good reasons to be bad. This approach stands in stark contrast to the legions of past Dark Lords who were utterly evil because, well, they were utterly evil. Tolkien, however, wrote pages of philosophy on the nature of Melkor / Morgoth (published in Morgoth's Ring), suggesting that our rejection of the old model was a reaction only to badly done Dark Lords. Is there an argument for making things at least somewhat black and white (how much psychological depth does a human sociopath have, anyway)?
Immediate response: is the YMMV risk greater for nuanced bad guys? Like the reactions to Brandin in Tigana.
3:00 pm H Towards a Promiscuous Theory of Story Structure.
John Clute, John Crowley, James Morrow, Sarah Smith, Eric M. Van (L).
The world is bad, and there is a revelation as to how to make it good. That's fantasy (according to John Clute's theory of fantasy structure, grossly oversimplified). The world seems to be good, and is revealed to be bad. That's horror (ditto; see the blurb for "Awe, Horror!"). The world is good, and there is a revelation that it is becoming bad. That's the awful warning sf novel (according to us). The world seems to be bad (closed or restricted), and is revealed to be good (open). That's the most common version of the sf story structure known as "conceptual breakthrough" (ditto). All of these story structures share a contrast between two versions or views of the world and hinge on the discovery or recognition of the difference. Are there other specific story structures that use these two elements, perhaps in combinations different from the above? Just how crucial is the difference between a world that can and will be changed, and one that can't or needn't be? How about the difference between discovering the truth about the world, and recognizing a truth we knew but were denying?
I have no idea what this means, but it sounds really cool.
10:00 am H I am forced into speech because a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife: Horror and Social Observation.
Michael Cisco, Karen Joy Fowler, Laura Anne Gilman, Adam Golaski (L), John Langan.
It's easy to think of our two GOHs as being quite different—a writer of dark fantasy and horror, and one of fine observation of individual and social consciousness. But we've noticed that these seemingly disparate approaches to literature have a surprising common ground. In the novel of social observation, the protagonist often begins with an incorrect model or set of assumptions about the way the world works, and discovers through a series of revelations, some slowly accumulating and some shattering, that the world is in fact more complex and difficult to navigate. That sound a lot like horror to us—and, in fact, it's precisely John Clute's proposed archetypal horror novel structure (see the blurb for "Awe, Horror!"). What would Jane Austen and H.P. Lovecraft agree about? And where would they part ways?
I don't read horror, but cross-genre structural analysis is fun.
11:00 am F See it Like Saruman: Reconciling Fantasy and Progress.
Judith Berman, John Crowley, Ken Houghton (L), James Morrow, Michael Swanwick.
History is written by the winners. That explains why Tolkien never mentions that the destruction of Fangorn Forest and other efforts towards industrialization by Saruman significantly raised the standard of living for the wild men of Dunland, in fact creating (for the first time in Middle Earth) a comfortable middle class. While there is a natural opposition between the romantic and pastoral ideal embodied in traditional fantasy and the Enlightenment ideal of progress (especially in its modern industrial and technological modes), we don't believe they are completely incompatible. What works of fantasy have attempted to accommodate both? What interesting new direction might the heroic fantasy novel be taken if the true positive effects of modernization were acknowledged? Readercon hopes to put the audio recording of this panel online at some point after the convention.
Another really good question.
Hmm, so, it looks like a ridiculously packed Saturday afternoon and otherwise not so bad.