My 4:00 conference call was rescheduled, and through the heroic efforts of my secretary, I was able to get out early. (And to drive while Chad dozed, my very small contribution to his programming efforts.)
Seen at the Prudential mall while getting dinner: signs saying, "The Shops at Prudential Center Welcome Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections."
Friday: blogs, Einstein
Friday 8:00 pm Gardner: Weblogs — Addiction or
Force for Social Change?
Mary Kay Kare (m), Parris McBride, Sandra McDonald, Chad Orzel
This was Chad's Very First Panel, and so I had to go, even though the topic does not particularly interest me.
(I met rilina in the hallway before and sat on both sides of her—sequentially not simultaneously, as a very smelly person came in late and sat down near me. Some time after I moved, said person left, possibly in a huff that Mary Kay wouldn't permit the panel to be hijacked in the direction said person wished.)
As for the panel itself, I only took sketchy notes. MKK pointed out that the options in the panel's title aren't mutually exclusive. She also pointed out that blogs are addicting because of their instant feedback, a comment that other panelists echoed later. I believe that McDonald specifically said that writing blogs gives her validation as a writer. (As a reader, she said that reading a good book is like living another life, and that blog-reading addiction was similar.) MKK said that part of the addiction was socializing.
Chad was of the opinion that if blogs effected social change, it would not be as a new form of journalism (they're not, they're a new form of punditry), but by marginally increasing the literacy of society, though people writing their own stuff.
The political aspects of blogs were discussed, with numerous anecdotes about the last campaign. The general consensus seemed to be that a few people aside, their use was largely as communication and mobilization, rather than conversion. The distributed research efforts of blog writers re: the Jeff Gannon thing and other stories were mentioned. The gender split in "big name" blogs was also discussed at length.
Friday 9:00 pm Exeter: Einstein
The year 2005 is the hundredth anniversary of Einstein's Annus Mirabilus when he wrote four papers, each of which had a huge impact on physics and would have capped a career for anyone else. And it's fifty years since he died. Take a look back at the man, what he learned about the universe, and how it changed us.
Mark L. Olson (m), Chad Orzel
Mark started off the panel with the Brownian motion paper (explanatory essay), which he thought was unjustly neglected, because in 1905, it was possible to be a chemist and still assert that atoms didn't exist. A hundred years really is a long time . . .
I didn't take many other notes. Chad's "divide by zero" analogy, explaining the apparent paradox that special relativity resolves, can be found here and here. (Chad has an index of all his physics posts.) I expect that Chad will post about some of the other topics, such as the photoelectric effect and the importance of taking ridiculous ideas and running with them, over on his own blog. I'll just note that the room was pretty full and the audience seemed to enjoy the panel, posing some good questions and making appreciative noises at appropriate points.
In conversation after the panel (while Chad was explaining laser cooling to some people who'd come up to ask), I learned that Gregory Benford is or was teaching a course on persuasive science writing (not just for grant proposals, as I initially thought, but for journal papers and other writing). It sounds like there are still some things to be tweaked about the course, but the concept is interesting and might make a good con panel in its own right.
Saturday: Pierce Kaffeklatsch; J.D. Robb; Catastrophes; 'The Fairy Tale'; Saturday Night Dead; Atlanta Nights Reading
Saturday 10:00 am Commonwealth: Kaffeklatsch
I'd skipped this last year as they were always really crowded, but there wasn't anyone else signed up Friday night when we got in, so I said why not?
Pierce handed out very nice pins to the attendees. I kept the Winding Circle pin (a circle with a single line spiraling inward), and gave the other three (Tortall's arms, Copper Isles' arms, and a badger's claw) to veejane because she knows children's librarians who would find them good homes. All but the Copper Isles pins were done up by Pierce herself, rather than her publishers.
- Yes, she had something specific in mind for the last murder in
Cold Fire, but she decided that it would be pushing YA
too far to say what (ROT13: "qvq
lbh rire frr gur cvpgher bs znel xryyl nsgre fur jnf xvyyrq ol wnpx
gur evccre?" V unira'g frra n cvpgher, ohg gur cbfg-zbegrz vf zber
- There will be a standalone book about Briar in Yanjing, because he's suffering from PTSD in the forthcoming The Will of the Empress (formerly titled The Circle Reforged, changed for marketing reasons), and there are a lot of references to the traumatic events. Tris in Lightsbridge has been bumped back to make room for it.
- (She also had to soften a historically-based practice in The Will of the Empress re: possession of noblewomen because this is YA fantasy, not history.)
- Owen is going to marry Wyldon's youngest daughter (!).
I hit the art show and dealer's room at this point. There were some very striking masks by Luis Fernando Velasquez Diaz, and gorgeous and not-affordable Ctein prints (I think this website is new, and will be browsing it later for the specific prints I liked at the show). I also bought Victoria Strauss's The Burning Land and Tamara Siler Jones's Ghosts in the Snow, with an eye towards stockpiling paperbacks for the cruise.
Saturday 12:00 noon Republic A: Why Fans Get
What's going on on that island? Deadly rumbles in the jungle, survivors from another party, possibly paranormal powers, freakin' polar bears — this stuff would scare the pith out of Professor Challenger's helmet! Panelists exchange wild-eyed surmises and reasons for the popularity of this new ABC-TV series among genre fans.
Claire Anderson, MaryAnn Johanson, Michael Marano (m), Priscilla Olson
The moderator hadn't ever seen the show, and listening to him nevertheless try to come up with probing questions was painful, so I left part way through.
Saturday 2:00 pm Kent: J. D. Robb Review
Eve Ackerman, Timothy E. Liebe, Priscilla Olson (m)
Slightly less freewheeling than the first one or two incarnations, but still a great deal of fun. People didn't throw things at me for suggesting that someone needed to die or be permanently incapacitated, and I found quite interesting the discussion over the relative merits of Mira or Feeney in this regard.
Saturday 3:00 pm Dalton: Coming Catastrophes
We all know about global warming (or was that the return of the Ice Ages?) and the Big Falling Rock. But the recent Big Wave was a bit surprising, really. What else might that mother, Nature, have headed our way anytime soon?
Chad Orzel (m), Alastair Reynolds, Don Sakers
People have a lot of opinions on catastrophes. I was amazed that something like five different people chimed on the consequences of an earthquake at Panama that opened a wide channel between the Pacific and Atlantic.
Saturday 4:00 pm Republic B: The Fairy Tale
The original fairy tales were for adults who believed in fairies. Later, they included moral lessons, and happy endings. Many popular fairy tales now are being re-interpreted and usurped in mainstream fiction. What about the fairy tale continues to inspire readers and writers? What makes a fair tale memorable?
Judith Berman, Greer Gilman, Kat Macdonald (m), Jane Yolen
This was after Orson Scott Card's Guest of Honor speech, which seemed to be both well-attended and well-received. I have heard that Card was very gracious and accessible all weekend; certainly, judging by the sounds, he stuck around to talk with people outside the room for some time.
I took fairly detailed notes here, feeling obscurely like I'd been slacking in this regard.
Macdonald, who is doing a thesis on the folk process (and is also a daughter of Debra Doyle and James Macdonald) started by asking the panel to define fairy tales in one sentence.
- Yolen wailed in immediate response.
- Gilman said something like, "not a story but Story; some arrangement of molecules that seem necessary . . . part of what it means to be human." This is pretty much her mode of speaking on panels, and my notes get even further compressed, so I can't promise that my reports of her comments will make any sense at all.
- Berman responded, that definition included myth, which as an academic she doesn't want to do.
- She then mentioned, though I have lost the transition, a history of Goldilocks' evolution, saying that it condensed over time as the non-meaningful parts were sanded off.
- Yolen said she called this "tongue-polishing."
- Macdonald said that she thought that fairy tales were when folk tale or myth were written down; they're a form of literature.
Macdonald asked, what are the particles that keep fairy tales going? Gilman responded that the folk and oral tradition is about the strange attractions and strange compelling forces, why things happen and (my notes abbreviate) the other journalistic questions. I think she said that she considers written-down tales to still be part of the oral tradition, but my notes are particularly cryptic on this point.
Berman responded that written-down fairy tales tell not just an ancestral story, but the story that the writer wants to tell. She talked about an epic story of murder and revenge well-known in (community that I didn't write down), the final episode of which was much-told by elderly women. It uses the point of view of a niece, who is living with her mother and her mother's brother. The revenge-seeking man has disguised himself as a woman and married the niece's uncle, and every time the niece points out that something is very wrong here she's shushed up by her mother. It ended with the uncle being slaughtered in the room above their bedroom, her telling her mother "something's dripping on me," and being shushed—though it's blood and not the bodily fluid her mother thought. This (to very heavily paraphrase) has sex and death which are always popular, but is also about women and their lack of voices.
Gilman said that one of the fun things about writing fairy tales is the tension between tongue-polishing and wanting to do Goldberg variations on familiar tunes.
Yolen recounted something from Child's introduction to the ballad collection, that stories are all changed by three tellers, but that if told properly, the core remains the same:
- the nursemaid, who makes moral changes for the child in her care;
- the blind beggar, who makes pacing and other changes to please his audience and receive payment;
- and the clerk, who is the writer who sets it down and leaves the audience out of it, communicating only with story
(I don't think I agree with Child about the clerk, by the by, but it was orthogonal to the discussion.)
Macdonald asked, what is the core that remains the same? Berman gave coming-of-age as an example. Yolen responded but my notes are very cryptic; I think that she said that there is no answer, fairy tales are like kaleidoscopes, changing depending on how you look at them: revenge, truth, family relations . . . (I may have got this wrong, or she may have disagreed with the Child assertion that she recounted.)
(I suppose now is a good place to say that according to Yolen's journal [no permalinks, February 18-20, 2005], she was suffering from food poisoning all weekend and had no idea what she said on any panel.)
Macdonald: why is there a fairy tale panel at a sf convention?
- Gilman: back to the Goldberg variations again.
- Berman: they're about human situations, and situating humans in the universe. SF is more conscious about roots of narrative, and the fantastic is aiming at our own roots (not sure about the last).
- Yolen: the writer has authority, and can make changes that belong to that writer alone. Tor has asked her to do a Tam Lin novel, and she is finding it a challenge to do something particularly hers.
The panel then went into Disney, part of which I missed. When my notes pick up, Gilman was saying that Disney has too much weight and overwhelms the folk process. Someone (Yolen?) made a comment about the blind beggar in a pimpmobile. Berman pointed out that it matters what order a person encounters a tale, as well. Yolen thinks that Disney keeps the fairy tales encapsulated in a very 1930s-1950s vision of stories, especially regarding girls; they aren't allowed to grow with the culture as folktales do. Macdonald wondered how, say, Cinderella is doing compared to Mulan or other more recent Disney movies with stronger women. People thought this was an interesting question but no-one knew the answer.
(According to the IMDB, Mulan grossed $120.6 million at the box office and $66.3 million in rentals. Snow White grossed $80.9 million in rentals. I don't see, on a quick pass, video and DVD sales figures for either. And of course this doesn't break them down by time.)
Berman said that print stories evolve more easily because there's already an element of imagination on the part of readers. Macdonald disagreed, saying that she saw print and Disney to be roughly equivalent, taking away from the facets that the oral tradition provides. Yolen said that she does both oral and written tales, and even when telling her own stories, she does things differently when reading to an audience.
(An audience member opined that Disney has as much privilege as anyone to change stories, if the story isn't a single authors [so The Little Mermaid will never be okay].)
Yolen mentioned The Trials & Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood [Amazon link] and a similar volume on Sleeping Beauty as something she really enjoyed, seeing the richness of so many variants. To be stuck with just one version, limits everyone. Gilman suggested that back in the villages, people were basically stuck with just one version, unless they had travelers come through. Berman told a long story about a totem pole and varying family recollections of its significance (I think; I missed part of this). Yolen noted the difference between shamanistic tellings and family stories.
Yolen related an anecdote about one of her children's preschools, or the preschool in the area when her children were growing up. The teacher presented three variants of Little Red Riding Hood to the children, and asked them which they liked best:
- Little Red Riding Hood gets eaten, end of story.
- LRRH and her grandmother are eaten, but the woodcutter comes by and kills the wolf by cutting off its head.
- LRRH and her grandmother are eaten, but the woodcutter cuts them out and then LRRH sews stones into the wolf's belly. When the wolf wakes up, he goes to take a drink, falls into the water, and drowns.
She said it was very odd, in liberal crunchy Amherst, that all the kids liked the third one best.
An audience member observed that it was interesting to see fairy tales fall in and out of moral fashion.
- Macdonald: some fairy tales were moral from the start, like Perrault.
- Berman: Disney has a certain kind of morality, but it overwhelms the story and kills it dead.
- Gilman: in the 1920s, fairy tales were thought bad for children.
- Long discussion of Struwwelpeter (online with
original illustrations), which I'd never heard of before now. I
didn't know that the Scissor-man from Hogfather was
based on an actual story! Anyway, they're really horrible stories
about what happens to bad kids (my thought was that they sounded
like Shel Silverstein without the humor). Edward Gorey's
Gashlycrumb Tinies was working off nostalgia for
these, in part. And The Hapless Child is very much
like actual Victorian-era stories; they didn't have a taboo about
killing children then, so Gorey was playing off that.
[ETA 2/23/05: the NYT has a review of a musical, Shockheaded Peter, that is based on Struwwelpeter.]
Question from audience: when did fairy tales become for children only?
- Yolen: there were always teaching tales, but children were just part of the community that was listening to them.
- Gilman: at the invention of the nursery, when a separate world was created for children. Tolkien and "On Fairy Stories."
Question from audience: one favorite fairy tale from each panel member, and why?
- Yolen: "Faithful Johannes", because even knowing he would be turned to stone, he still did the right thing (she also noted its very oddly happy ending); "Little Brother and Little Sister", for the sibling relationship; and the story of the good girl who dropped pearls from her mouth and the bad girl who dropped toads, because it is the perfect writer's story.
- Gilman: the Twelve Swans, which is also a writer's story: transformation and knitting things together; and the Ice Queen, which is probably Hans Christian Anderson's "The Snow Queen", based on her mentions of puzzles and Northern Lights and a strong young woman.
- Berman: "Puss in Boots", because she liked the cat, the imagery, and how he got all the rich stuff, though now it seems morally problematic; and the Two Sisters or the Cruel Sister, which is another writer's story.
- Macdonald: Bluebeard, because there are lots of bodies in the closet!
And then we were out of time.
Then Chad and I took a nap and were nearly late to dinner at Legal Seafood with marykaykare and Jordin. My stomach was kind of unhappy, but I quite enjoyed my lobster bisque (the popcorn shrimp I had as a side dish were kind of strange). I also had an extremely scrumptious hot chocolate with Bailey's and raspberry liquor. Mmmmm. On the way out, we also exclaimed over the works at the Pavo Real Gallery.
Then we went to Saturday Night Dead, which was winding down by that time but still a lot of fun. I tried the graveyard toss, and got my face painted, and watched kids ducking for ducks (including devil ducks). There was also blackjack and fantasy tarot readings and other games, plus the King of the Dead election; I didn't vote, getting there too late, but I still say Cthulhu-Elvis should've won (not that I have anything against Michael Burstein). The atmosphere seemed very cheerful and friendly, and seems to have gone over as well as its model, First Night at Noreascon (which I missed). The subsequent award ceremony (started by a kazoo parade) was very short, and MC'ed by Card, as he was (inevitably) "Speaker for the Dead." (I asked Geri Sullivan later if the pun was cause or effect; she said it was a happy revelation after they'd come up with the idea of "Saturday Night Dead.") Tamora Pierce won the Skylark, which I personally think was very well-deserved.
We stuck around for the reading from Atlanta Nights; participating were James D. Macdonald, Allen Steele, and Mary Catelli (that last based on checking the chapter she read against published lists of chapter authors). Macdonald gave a history of the sting and why PublishAmerica sucks (Making Light has a bunch of links; the manuscript is downloadable as an rtf or as a free e-book at Embiid), and then various people read. Steele's section was almost not that bad, actually, despite being written and read with the considerable help of tequila shots. Catelli's had a lovely excess of adjectives; apparently her first pass was too short, so she added three adjectives before every noun:
There was an elegant, gracious, wide stairway to the second floor that had gilt on the black iron railing. It was orthogonal and it curved around it. The carpet was bright, vivid, glorious red. The French windows in the vestibule were open to the patio, and the sound of tennis games came in, and the scintillating, witty, sparkling chatter from the black wrought iron tables and chairs with all their twisting twining cingulated vines in their arms and legs there, where lunch was being served and the smell of the food came in, too.
Macdonald and Steele also read from the computer-generated Chapter 34, which took some skill because it is complete gibberish.
And, I believe in closing, Macdonald read from the infamous Chapter 23, about which all I can say is: "hot little juicy love-box." That is all.
People asked a bunch of good questions about why PublishAmerica sucks (short version: no selectivity and a production process that introduces errors; they're non-returnable; and cover prices are too high—which means that bookstores won't stock them, which leads people to buy lots of their own books to try and sell them—which is how the publisher gets its effective vanity press fee out of authors), so it wasn't just fun, but it was plenty of fun too.
And then to bed.
Sunday: Space Opera; Design
Sunday 10:00 am Hampton: The Joy of Space Opera
Is it more than just simple-minded fun featuring soaring emotions, exotic worldbuilding, hardy heroes, vile villains, Very Large Objects and the even larger explosions that obliterate them? Why is it more enjoyable than satire, or horror, or mythology, or dystopia? Is there a fantasy equivalent? Who's writing space opera right today, and how?
David G. Hartwell (m), Chad Orzel, Frederik Pohl, Allen Steele
(Pohl didn't make it to the panel.)
I find myself seriously running out of steam, and most of the panel was about the history of the term, which you can read about here. The panelists were asked for recommendations of recent space opera; Steele suggested Alastair Reynolds and Iain Banks. The panel agreed that to the extent there is a New Space Opera, and to the extent it's British, it's Banks. Hartwell said later that A Fire Upon the Deep created an American model for new space opera, and there's been a lot of trans-Atlantic mixing.
I asked for unjustly overlooked space operas. Chad held up the book he'd brought to the panel because he was reading it, Glen Cook's The Dragon Never Sleeps. Hartwell plugged John C. Wright's The Golden Age and Scott Westerfeld's Risen Empire and The Killing of Worlds (which I don't really think are overlooked, either of them). Steele suggested Edmund Hamilton's last work, the Star Wolf series (Hamilton was much discussed from a historical perspective).
Oh, and I suggested Issola as a fantasy equivalent, which no-one responded to.
Sunday 11:00 am Republic A: Layout & Design
Do you love good graphic design, lovely fonts and great layout? Join two graphics artists to talk about their craft.
Irene Gallo, Geri Sullivan
This was nice and low-key. I'm triaging notes like crazy here:
- Sullivan, as part of a panel-long thread on trends: when economic times are bad, corporations do their annual reports in black and white—even though it costs as much or more than color (four-color process black & white, if that means anything to you), because it looks austere.
- Gallo: truism that if the book does really well, it's because the author wrote a great book; and if it doesn't, it's the cover's fault. But it's genuinely hard to tell; she's been in meetings where people say, well, the book was good, the cover was good, but it didn't do as well as it should and we have to change something for book 2—and the cover's easiest.
- Gallo: in mainstream books particularly, illustrators are having a hard time because it's getting so easy to download some images and put them together. It's not as much a problem in SF, though, which is more distinctive.
- I am going to start calling certain kinds of fantasy covers "over hill, over dale" now.
- Gallo: it was fun when Tor started the Starscape line, because YA books are less categorized than adults. I mentioned the very cool illustrated Pinocchio. She said that was a lot of fun, and started because they'd gotten that artist, Gus Grimly, to do the cover of Joan Aiken's The Cockatrice Boys. He fell in love with the book and said he was doing illustrations for it too. Tor said, ummm, we don't have the budget for that; he said, well, I'm doing it anyway! So he did and they were great, and Tor found the budget somewhere. His Pinocchio came out of that.
- Gallo: Interior illustrations are expensive, both for the publisher and for the artist (because black & white doesn't pay as well as cover paintings, though it's as least as much work, or more because you have to read the text a lot more closely). Tor has just got a new interior designer, though, and so we'll be seeing more interior ornaments (which I believe means things like the dragons at the start of chapters and by page numbers in Tooth and Claw).
And then I bought a birthday present for Chad's grandmother, and then we had lunch with prince_eric and infant, and then I drove us home.
Links to other people's reports:
And now I'm going to bed, minimal proofreadings and all.