We arrived at the con late Friday night, after a strange interlude in which the T driver just drove off with the car only half-full, leaving us behind. Despite that oddity, the Riverside station is much more convenient for us than Alewife, and we shall have to use it again the future (parking in Boston being about what you'd expect). Arrived too late for any programming, so just gathered our badges, plotted our days, and went to bed.
We had a great view out across the river of MIT. The bed was never a queen but quite comfortable nonetheless. Note to self: the hotel internet connection was rather flaky and seemed to want to make initial connections through Internet Explorer only, though once connected other programs would work fine. If it won't connect after sleep mode next time, try IE first before rebooting.
I got a slow start Saturday, missing a 10:00 panel that I'd hoped to attend, on the theory that it was more important to start the day in a non-rushed mood. As always, the amount of notes I took varied inversely with the number of panels I'd attended—so I have lots of tidbits from the 11:00 panel "The Editorial Eye: How the Views of Editors Shape Their Book Lines," [*] with David G. Hartwell (Tor), Betsy Mitchell (Del Rey), Patrick Nielsen Hayden (Tor), and Ginjer Buchanan (Ace/Roc) (moderator). All paraphrased:
[*] Full panel descriptions can be found at http://www.nesfa.org/boskone/b41/schedule.html.
- Yes, of course personal taste matters.
- Writers aspiring to publication were recommended to seek out newer editors, because they're the ones who are more likely to have the time and enthusiasm to get behind unknown writers. As PNH put it, the scarcest commodity in publishing is not money but attention.
- It is not, actually, in new writers' interests to imitate blockbuster novels in their length. Chains are getting very price-sensitive and don't want to buy hardcovers over $X (a number I didn't write down) by unproven authors.
- House specialties:
- These are partly a matter of, one can't be expert in everything, and partly building on past successes—which can be good, for instance Octavia Butler effectively allowed the creation of an entire new line, or bad, if it leads to stereotyping.
- I believe someone asked, given this, how a house keeps things fresh. The answer appeared to be, well, you just to have buy what looks interesting. Laurell K. Hamilton was, I believe, cited as a gamble that created a sub-genre. Tor also has lots of contributing editors.
- Tor is currently working on "Women in Fantasy" (targeting buyers) and Canadian programs.
- Hartwell said that he ran a line on no budget by buying lots of first novels and lots of novels from really good people who had recent commercial failures (James Morrow, Nancy Kress, Terry Bisson): they all eventually moved on, but that was okay, because the publishing had served its purpose for everyone.
- Following up on that point, a panelist said that sometimes
people just need to move houses with no ill will at all. For
instance, sometimes a house is just stuck seeing an author as at a
certain level, and the author needs to move to break out of that.
- LMB fans: someone asked if Bujold was an example of this, and the panel said no, the Chalion books were put up for auction, which was a decision of LMB and her agent, not a publisher matter. Everyone there seemed to have bid on them, too.
- I asked, of the books the panelists had been responsible for,
which one they thought had been or would be considered the most
influential, and whether that was the same as the one they were
proudest of. The answers didn't really differentiate the two.
- Mitchell: Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora
- Hartwell: Age of Wonders
- Buchanan: she doesn't care, it's the author's book
- Nielsen Hayden: China Mountain Zhang, with the caveat that canon-predicting is a tricky business (that wasn't how I'd thought of the question, but I suppose it's one way of looking at it)
- I thought I heard someone say that truepenny was writing for the Jacqueline Carey market. (PNH described the Carey books as "The Story of O in the world of The Wheel of Time," which almost but not quite makes me want to read them.)
- There was a fairly long digression into the practice of editors taking a credit on the copyright page, with Buchanan strongly against.
- And with regard to that, PNH said that he was maybe changing
his mind, because he'd just been told that people were writing Tor
editor slash. (!!!)
And on that note, the panel ended.
- Computers are general machines, not specific ones. "This machine won't do that" is a stupid plot device.
- Complexity of problems does not scale linearly.
- A panel member was tired of AIs easily and spontaneously coming to consciousness and deciding to take over the world just like that.
- Another was tired of binary immortality.
- Independence Day was inevitably mentioned.
- With regard to VR interfaces, two words: "bandwidth latency."
There was an interesting discussion of how robots and computers are basically the same thing, but don't get treated at all the same in fiction: you wouldn't think of applying the Three Laws to computers, after all. Factors mentioned were: mobility; anthropomorphization (Frankenstein's monster, Pinocchio); ubiquity (computers are everywhere and they're stupid); and possibly the uneasiness many feel around the mentally ill or disabled.
Charlie Stross said that when he was 14 and read Neuromancer, he would've run out and got plugs; and now, he'd run out and get a brain firewall. This prompted much riffing on spam (pacemakers sending Viagra spam, etc.).
At 1:00 p.m. I headed for lunch, and then realized I wasn't hungry and took a short doze instead, getting up for the 2:00 "A Look at the Best Recent Fantasy." This suffered badly from not talking about the best recent fantasy. I came out with just the following written down:
- The Mistress of Spices, by Chitra Divakaruni (according to Google), recommended by Ellen Kushner as excellent fantasy shelved in literature
- Gates of Fire, by Steven Pressfield, a historical novel about the Battle of Thermopylae; also his novel about the Amazons, presumably Last of the Amazons
- Fire Logic by Laurie Marks
- Arcanum, by Thomas Wheeler (forthcoming), a loopy secret conspiracy history, recommended by Alex Irvine (who is obviously fond of that sort of thing)
- Books the panelists wished they had written:
- Kushner: The Vintner's Luck, by Elizabeth Knox
- Irvine: The Intuitionist, by Colson Whitehead, and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, by Michael Chabon
- Nancy Springer, who is apparently a YA author
And that was it. For an hour.
There were long digressions into what people needed to have read to work in the field or be well-read, and into whether people were pushed to have magic in their books, and into the tyranny of genre. There was a statement from George R.R. Martin that made me want to spit nails: paraphrased, it was, "too often, people are only looking for the book just like the last book they liked." Excuse me, but if you are now rich and famous for an enormous multi-part series that depends on people liking the last book and wanting to read more of that story, it hardly becomes you to denigrate those readers. Yes, yes, it's one story in parts and not multiple cookie-cutter sequels—but the lack of awareness into the similarities there just took my breath away. I suppose it may have also been the lack of sleep talking.
From there I went to a panel on the new space opera, "Across the Galaxy: The Rebirth of Space Opera," at which my lack of familiarity with the old space opera was brought home to me. Definitions from the panelists:
- Karl Schroeder: Things blow up. On other planets. (Someone, and it may have been him, later added that they feel a marker of space opera is future tech plus present-day social structures: admiralties, etc.)
- Walter H. Hunt: Star Wars.
- Peter Weston: widescreen baroque (via Aldiss?).
- Kathryn Cramer: interesting mini-lecture of the history of the term and its trips into and out of pejorative-ness.
And there was talk about the prior war porn panel, and humanizing the enemy, and bringing sociology and ethics into space opera, and other stuff for which my notes have failed me. Schroeder rather stopped the show by saying he has been commissioned to write a novella for the Canadian army. As best I can recall, the army had a conference or something about its path for the next X decades, and he was hired to put the results in a form generals could understand.
I stopped in at the 4:00 panel on macroengineering in post-9/11, but realized partway through that I was panel-ed out. Note to self: you really can't manage more than two panels in a row before getting burnt out. So I went to the dealer's room, and found a lending copy of The Dragon Waiting and a copy of Timesteps, a poetry chapbook, both by John M. Ford. (Poor PNH, I spotted him across the room and ran over with Timesteps open to the table of contents, demanding to know how much it overlapped the forthcoming Heat of Fusion and Other Stories; because he is polite, he didn't tell me to leave him alone to browse, and informed me that well, he didn't edit it so he wasn't really sure. Sorry, Patrick.)
I stopped by autographing to say "Hi, I don't have anything to be signed, but I liked your Ukiah Oregon books" to Wen Spencer. We chatted for a bit. There aren't any further Ukiah books in the queue, as it was very difficult, in the forthcoming Dog Warrior, getting the backstory down to a reasonable amount. If anything, the story of Rennie meeting Helena is more towards the front of her brain (note: I didn't get the impression that this was in progress or definitely going to be written).
Thence to dinner with prince_eric and spouse, and hanging out for a while until we could go off and look for the Tor party. Which, whoops, isn't being held this year for logistical reasons. I was very cross at myself for not asking—I'd skipped pnh and tnh's Kaffeklatsch, on the theory that hey, I'll see them at the Tor party, and just said hi to marykaykare in passing, on the same theory—and I'd really been looking forward to catching up with them, too. Bah. So we hung out in the hotel bar and chatted for a while. On the plus side, we did get to bed at a reasonable hour.
So, I have resolved, first, to make actual plans to meet up with people at Noreascon, rather than rely on happenstance (even though there will be a Tor party there). And second, if there isn't a Tor party at the next Boskone, I think I will throw a rasf*/LJ/blog/people-Kate-likes party. (I'm assuming that any Tor party would be on Saturday, which is the only night that we could manage.) I'm pretty sure we can manage it financially (after all, Noreascon is our summer vacation this year and we aren't flying to it), but thinking about the logistics is rather daunting—if this happens, I foresee lots of e-mails to experienced people like marykaykare saying things like, "what's the best way to get a bathtub's worth of ice up into the room?"
So I was a bit late to the "Best Books of 2003" panel, and took a seat in the very front as penance for interrupting to get a handout (Locus's Year in Review issue). The Locus Recommended Reading List is online; I'll only note things that weren't on the list or that were expounded on.
Things I'd never heard of, that the panel described:
- The Line of Polity, Neal Asher (Tor UK). Very fast-paced sf, soon to be published in the U.S.
- Felaheen: The Third Arabesk, Jon Courtenay Grimwood (Earthlight). Alternate history, third in a series, also to get a U.S. publication.
Things I'd heard of but didn't know much about:
- 1610: A Sundial in a Grave, Mary Gentle. "If you read Ash, you'll like this." "Will you like it if you read Ash and didn't like that?" "No."
- The Salt Roads, Nalo Hopkinson. Very gritty magic realism, not fluffy but good.
Thing I was surprised to see on the list and inquired about:
- The Briar King, Greg Keyes. Keyes is apparently attempting to reinvent himself (from J. Gregory).
Things that weren't on the list, but were recommended by panelists:
- Storyteller, Amy Thompson
- Zulu Heart, Steven Barnes
- The Separation, Christopher Priest
- Walter H. Hunt's books
- A fun Varley juvenile; I appear not to have written down the title. Is this Red Thunder?
A preview of next year's panel: Mortal Love, a forthcoming book by Elizabeth Hand, which at least one person said was the most exciting thing he'd read for some time. I believe I'd heard it mentioned in at least one other panel, too.
After that panel, I headed to the dealers' room and art auction; I was determined to win a orange-ish polymer-clay dragon perched on a marble, and bidding closed at noon. I'd had a bluish one, but it was picked up too often by the dragon in various moves and disintegrated. I really liked it and wanted a replacement for it to go on my desk in my spiffy new office, so planned to hover over it to make sure I got the winning bid.
While waiting, I bought Walter H. Hunt's first book in paperback, The Dark Wing, because he seemed like a nice and interesting person on the space opera panel, he'd had one strong recommendation in the prior panel, and nothing jumped out on a flip-through that overrode those. (On the other hand, I'd seen Ill Wind, by Rachel Caine, recommended on Usenet. I flipped it open to a scene in which our first-person protagonist loses her virginity to power a magical working, and promptly put it back down.) Hunt was actually by the table as I was picking it up, so I said hi and told him I was buying one of his books. While I was in artist-egoboo mode, I also found Ctien to tell him that I loved his photographs and if I only had $400 or so, I'd bid on one. Oh, and I picked up a couple of Heyer reprints that I hadn't read.
I was a little late to James D. Macdonald's talk on loopy theories about the Knights Templar, having safely seen my dragon won in the auction. These theories were, indeed, just as loopy as one would expect from his Peter Crossman stories. The sequel to The Apocalypse Door is, alas, still in progress. I didn't take any notes so can't report more than that. The audience was quite enthusiastic, though.
[ ETA 2/21/04: The New York Times has a review of a book that was mentioned in passing at the panel: Holy Blood, Holy Grail. ]
I was quite late to the next panel, "The Dreaded Mary Sue," since it started at the same time as the auction re-opened for payment. I bumped into batwrangler in the process, but was tired and in a hurry and generally a dork and so didn't have an actual conversation, which I regret. I also ran into the consuite for snacks in lieu of a timely lunch, and talked with Priscilla Olson about the J.D. Robb panel on Friday night that I'd missed. (The new book is out and I hadn't even known—they've moved to hardcover and so I must head to the library.) And then I slid into the panel.
If you didn't make this panel, the ginormous Making Light thread "Namarie Sue" will give something of its flavor. TNH, as always, gives good panel; according to veejane (another LJ person I didn't talk to! this was just how my weekend went, dammit), her impromptu co-panelist was Faye Ringel, who was also interesting and mentioned the "Jane and the Illuminated Baron," illuminated as in fnord, not as in tattooed or glowing from within. I shall refer the interested reader to veejane's report for a fuller description of the panel, as I am rapidly running out of steam and my hands hurt.
(People at the panel accused Wimsey and Lymond of being Mary Sues. I continue to be very upset and completely inarticulate at this idea; I thought sitting on it would help, but apparently not. Surely this has been discussed before? Pointers, anyone?)
- veejane's report.
- Elisabeth Riba: parts one, two, and three (or start with one and scroll up).
- orzelc's over at Uncertain Principles.
- marykaykare's report.
- Christopher K. Davis's report: parts one, two, three, and four.
- Daniel Dern for SFRevu.