Kate (kate_nepveu) wrote,

Boskone Panel: The Best Things in the Worst Books

Panel report two of two. Again, very minimal unpacking (limiting self to 30 minutes so I can go to bed); requests for clarification welcome.


Editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden has said, "Sometimes the unkillable merits of otherwise terrible work are a lot more interesting to discuss than the several perfections of the best." Let's see if we can prove him right.

Kathryn Cramer (m), Wen Spencer, Teresa Nielsen Hayden

(It is a coincidence that both panels I went to were based on PNH quotes. Honest.)

Panel notes:

Cramer: first drew blank when looked at this description, then thought of books that thought were great at first, re-read then realized terrible

Her example: Bram Stoker's The Jewel of Seven Stars [I am pretty sure, based on context and what words I did hear; the acoustics were not good and there were no mikes]. Read first at 12, best book ever written; the King Tut exhibit was disappointing in comparison. Really terrible book, but something about priestesses coming back from dead because of embalming was completely engaging

Spencer: works inspiring fanfic come to mind: obviously something there that's clicking but even fans going but-but-but; Anne McCaffrey's Pern: fans, many say gave up after X book, but unconditional dragon love strikes something

Cramer: guy in Poland read all of space opera anthologies but thinks their whole purpose is as background for games; different way of reading, doesn't matter whether it's good from a reviewing standpoint

Saberhagen book in high school, liked a lot, then assigned to write review of it and discovered not actually as good as thought

[TNH arrives, is filled in]

TNH: her example like Seven Stars: Trial of Terror, Jack Williamson; mentioned to him a few years [apparently not to favorable reaction] and promised will never read again. But most amazing book at time (included psionic mirror? in which see self as actually are, and owner loves watching reactions; idea of tracing piece of metal (?) back through time)--dizzying, remembers pictures in her head

Cramer: Hartwell would say to defend genre have to understand flaws [didn't hear all of this]

van Vogt? some author, anyway, wanted SF so packed full of ideas, that set alarm for each hour to write down ideas in head as dreaming

TNH: aghast

audience member: get that effect by having baby

TNH: Zelazny never finished scene without [something inaudible] but tremendously idea-rich

audience member: cites Herbert, some non-Dune book

Cramer: flip side, people who write fiction that other people really think is excellent & worthy, that she's completely unable to read: just allergic (prose, thematics)

TNH: her example is a fantasy that names things the wrong names!

Spencer: a childhood experience: Xanth (much audience reaction)

TNH: "the book that you remember is the book that you read." No-one can say you didn't enjoy it when you read. Listening to comic book pencillers talking about how much detail, how they remember particularly well-beloved sequences in comics: remember panels being bigger on page, and have motion & sound

audience member: something about a bad author who nevertheless pulls you in, makes you fill in details

TNH: news for you, all you readers: you're already doing 90% of the work

Spencer: character over four books is described in total as middle-aged, gray eyes, and she gets readers saying "this actor!"

Cramer: Hartwell's first SF: Tom Swift and His Television. Read all the TS books, asked librarian for more like these, led into adult SF section

TNH: "another one just like that" = way that book made me feel

Cramer: when writing for teens, ideas are new, have [inaudible] reaction to them; so yeah, newness; and sometimes hot new writer is most interesting first time read them

TNH: sometimes writers run out

Cramer: yeah, but sometimes audience is just not interested anymore

audience member: curious: different reading experience when acting as critic, and something is terrible but I have to find something good in it? Speaker writing reviews of self-published novels.

TNH: Charles Lamb? literary critic on minor Elizabethan playwrights; found something good to quote in everyone, in some cases the only good lines they ever wrote; but it's a tough trick to do without condescending

audience member: anything you cherish in particularly notorious bad works?

TNH: Eye of Arogn: vigorous and clearly in love with the material, not at all disengaged

Cramer: sincerity of author comes through

audience member: reading bad books just because contain [bulletproof kink] trope . . . ?

Cramer: has one of those. When working for antiquarian book dealer, reading through motif index, one summary was just too wonderful: "An Uncomfortable Night," by Charles Loring Jackson, Harvard chemistry professor--he donated a copy to Harvard, and in 1985 she was first person to check it out. [Web says he lived 1847-1935.] About house haunted by ghost of passionate woman which attempts to make love to male traveler: delightful summary but really very bad written. She happened to mention it in passing in the introduction to an anthology, and the Chicago Sun-Times didn't read any of the stories and mentioned it in a review as the clearly worst in the book!

audience member [me]: seems like a ritual list of things once read or are still reading even though bad--Xanth, Pern, Mercedes Lackey, Laurell K. Hamiliton--which seem mostly to be spoken of by women. Is there a similar category that mostly has male readers?

TNH: boy v girl versions?

audience member: Dresden Files, for boys

TNH: borrows Steve Brust's rant: hear two guys talk about the Destroyer novels, "yeah, those books are really bad--especially #36!"

(f) audience member: Star Trek novels?

Spencer: went on kick of 300 Regency novels in 1.5 months

(f) audience member: guy fantasy equivalent = D&D tie-ins, at least for college acquaintances

TNH: Saberhagen

Spencer: Thomas Covenant (audience member: oooh [though me, I doubt])

Cramer: went through a stage of reading where paid only most superficial attention to name of author, but one she read a lot of was Poul Anderson: sometimes good, sometimes not (all of his books in house = 42 books). There is the voracious reader period.

audience member: took long time as reader to give self permission not to finish bad book (much audience reaction)

TNH: first time ever privately burnt a book was also very liberating (privately because public burning is a political statement). The Wolf and the Dove, historical novel (whoo, Kathleen Woodiwiss!)

Cramer: was working on little poetry magazine, used to count number of words necessary to determine whether to reject, thinks fewest was five

[Sounds like a contest prompt to me: come up with 1-4 opening words that would get a poem immediately rejected!]

Spencer: one blurb request caused her to say OMG someone bought this?!

TNH: very useful phrase: "this is the kind of book I rave about"

Cramer: Year's Best: even if story is published, gets to reject all over again

TNH: editors cannot cultivate a long attention span, because your readers won't

audience member: what about editors who oversee 100 D&D books: do they read & say, "ooh best one yet!" or just dump into production after thirty pages confirm that, yup, D&D novel

Cramer: if hiring process correct, found someone like Greg Cox who likes tie-in books

TNH: who also has very good taste in other books

Spencer: John Morgan (last editor at Roc): edits on last book would be little one-sentence notes here & there, and then a one-page note on how she read Batman wrong. He now edits DC tie-in novels.

TNH: very hard to edit something don't like

Cramer: authors can tell, audience can tell

TNH: sometimes only thing can do is embed really weird jokes in cover copy. No-one gets to escape reading book for publication.

[digression into spoilers in cover copy]

audience member: slush, what do you when it has one great element but rest sucks?

TNH: sometimes send a little note to author, but if can tell author will never have more than a first date with the muse of literature, not a lot of reason to encourage

audience member [me]: anything held up better than expected?

TNH: Golden Treasury of Myth & Legend. Fritz Leiber, Zelazny, who she didn't appreciate at time

audience member: Wrinkle in Time holds up; amazed that no references that date it

another audience member: but Swiftly Tilting doesn't!

another audience member: Manly Wade Wellman, Silver John stories

Cramer: Dr. Seuss

TNH: Pinkwater

audience member: Mad Scientist Club (?)

audience member: does reading as editor affect fun reading?

TNH: mmm-hmm. *sad face*

Cramer: does spoil light fluffy prose

Spencer: even as writer, start seeing seams & the bones; husband hates watching movies with her because she dissects the story progression

TNH: Joanna Russ short stories hold up; she's someone who got to certain age before realizing that other people could not tell what would happen on TV show within first few minutes and *didn't want to be told*

mentions ML Cloverfield post, comments saying hate having plots dissected

audience member: can you turn off reading analytically?

TNH: *shakes head, sad face*

Cramer: [?? something about re-reading? something that worked, anyway]

TNH: "Black Air," KS Robinson: first time reading, told friend who recommended: "I couldn't possibly tell you if there were any typos in it." For her major high praise because can't usually turn that off.

The Warlock in Spite of Himself: dorky plot skeleton bolted on that no-one remembers, what remember is the good parts version

Cramer: another kind of terrible fiction: great prose, terrific lines, doesn't go anywhere

TNH: Thomas ____, author with great dialogue & no plots

made a bad mistake with a first novel that she loved, but too compressive for average audience based on sales, reviews

audience member: sword & sorcery as a genre [has a lot of bad stuff that's still readable, I think]

TNH: a whole lot of story will get you past bad prose

Cramer: that's what spent most of hour talking about


(Half an hour on the nose. I told you this takes surprisingly long . . . )

Tags: boskone, boskone 2008, cons

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  • moderating convention panels

    troisroyaumes asked for advice on moderating con panels, and I kind of blurted out words all over in response. Here is a tidied-up and…

  • WisCon final schedule

    Behind the cut. This is exciting! I'm Not Your Metaphor: Explaining Oppression with Analogies - Fri, 9:00–10:15 pm, Conference 5 Ian K.…

  • upcoming conference on females in SFF

    Here's the conference program for Pippi to Ripley: The Female Figure in Fantasy and Science Fiction, being held at Ithaca College in NY on May 5.…