I’m headed to Worldcon later this week in Chicago! There will be fun! Thrills! Hijinks! A non-zero chance of derring do!
And me, sitting off by the side somewhere, trying to make eye-contact with somebody I know so I don’t feel like I’m alone. This post is my official invitation to make eye contact.
Actually, no – scratch that – that would be weird. This is my official invitation to introduce yourself like a regular person and we can have a nice conversation about science fiction and stuff.
Barring that, if you’d rather observe me from afar or find me in a predetermined place, here is where I’ll be:
Panel: The Care and Feeding of Your Tabletop Game Group
Friday, 9/2, 1pm, in McCormick
Successful and enduring game groups don’t happen by accident, they require careful thought and regular maintenance. In this panel we draw on our decades of experience to give you advice on setting the tone, picking games, cultivating good sportsmanship, picking the ideal location, and establishing ground rules—to ensure that fun is had by all!
Table Talk: Auston Habershaw
Friday, 9/2, 4pm, in Crystal Foyer
Auston Habershaw is the author of over 25 short stories in places like Analog, F&SF, and ZNB Anthologies. He has published four fantasy novels with Harper Voyager and is a longtime presenter at PAX East about storytelling in TTRPGs.
This is just me, at a table, with a small group of people having a conversation about…well…anything at all! To sign up for this Table Talk, visit https://chicon.org/tabletalks All sign up are available starting Wednesday August 31st at Noon central, and you will be notified at least 12 hours before the Table Talk time if you were chosen for a spot. More details available at https://chicon.org/tabletalks.
I really hope people sign up for this, because sitting at one of these tables by yourself is a trifle demoralizing. Come talk to me! I promise I’m nice!
Group Reading: Zombies Need Brains Authors
Saturday, 9/3, 10am, in Roosevelt 1
Join Auston Habershaw, Elektra Hammond, and Joshua Palmatier as they read from works published through Zombies Need Brains.
I have no idea what I’m reading yet, but this should be fun! There may be more of us there than just us 3, too, so who knows who you might run into? Check it out!
Online Panel: One Hero to Save Them All
Saturday, 9/3, 2:30pm (CDT), in Airmeet 3
Many stories set in dystopias or featuring a revolution focus the narrative on a single, solitary hero. But is this realistic? Is it fair, either to the hero who must do all the work or to the secondary characters? Is it fair to readers, looking to effect changes in their own societies, to read about hyper-competent characters who can do it all? Come join the panelists as they explore and question examples of solitary heroes.
So, there you have it – I’ve got one of everything, here. Take your pick! And if you see me in the dealers hall or wherever, say hi!
Looking forward to meeting you!
Boskone is upon us! New England’s longest running science fiction and fantasy convention hits the Westin Waterfront Hotel this weekend in my home town, Boston! Not only will I be there, but many, many really interesting writers, editors, agents, artists, fans, and more! If you’re in the area, you really should swing by – it’s a really good con. For those already coming, I hope I’ll see you there! Also, check out my mini-interview here, on Boskone’s blog!
Here’s my schedule:
Editing Your Manuscript for Submission
Format: Discussion Group
15 Feb 2019, Friday 17:00 – 17:50, Griffin (Westin)
Join our panel of editors and agents for a discussion on what they look for in a submission. Is submitting to an agent different from submitting to an editor? Are they seeking the same or different things on first reads? Do you submit a precis, a chapter or chapters, the whole manuscript, or other material and, if so, to whom and when? How do you prepare your novel for submission? What are some tips and tricks on how to cut, embellish, or shape a manuscript?
Joshua Bilmes (JABberwocky Literary Agency) (M), Auston Habershaw (M)
The Trouble with Time Travel
15 Feb 2019, Friday 19:00 – 19:50, Harbor II (Westin)
Let’s consider the difficulties of time travel in the ever-changing multiverse. Can we change the past or not? What other interesting difficulties might real time travel present to real time travelers?
Ellen Asher, Kenneth Rogers Jr. (Lost Imaginations), Auston Habershaw, William Hayashi (M), Clarence Young (Zig Zag Claybourne)
Reading by Auston Habershaw
16 Feb 2019, Saturday 14:30 – 14:55, Independence (Westin)
Breaking Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth
17 Feb 2019, Sunday 10:00 – 10:50, Marina 4 (Westin)
Mythographer Joseph Campbell’s formula of the “hero’s journey” — an oh-so-familiar sequence of questing, crises, victory, and return — may not provide the only way to construct a story. But can narratives that don’t use this structure reach us as deeply? Is the hero’s journey applicable also to non-Western storytelling? Our panelists discuss Campbell’s “monomyth,” and whether and how to deviate from it. (For helpful graphics and resources, see http://www.sfcenter.ku.edu/Workshop-stuff/Joseph-Campbell-Hero-Journey.htm)
Auston Habershaw (M), John Clute, Teresa Nielsen Hayden (Tor Books), F. Brett Cox (Norwich University), Faye Ringel
Gimme That Old-Time Space Adventure
17 Feb 2019, Sunday 13:00 – 13:50, Harbor II (Westin)
The subgenre has been around a long time — but people still love a good space adventure story. Why? What are the greatest space sagas of the past, and what are the new classics of the field? How are they similar or different from each other? Do the new ones still have that good old goshwow sensawunda?
Brendan DuBois, John P. Murphy (M), MR Richardson (Room 10 Publishing), Auston Habershaw, Dan Moren
There you have it! See you all there!
Last weekend I had the immense pleasure of traveling to Charm City for the 2018 World Fantasy Convention! I had a blast. Unfortunately, this meant I barely took any pictures, so I guess a lot of what I’m about to relate you’re going to have to take my word as having happened. One of these days I’ll go to one of these things are remember to document stuff. Anyway:
The Con was held in the Renaissance Harborside Hotel. It was a nice hotel with a fairly sizeable convention space so that, if I hadn’t wanted to, I could have never left the hotel. As it stood, I barely did anyway – one dinner trip a five or ten minute drive away, a couple trips across the street. It does look like I was missing a lot, given the view out my window: dockside attractions, wooden tall ships, and naval vessel, etc..
Also, just by luck of my arrival, got upgraded to a suite for free since they didn’t have any rooms with king-size beds. I hadn’t really needed a king size (it was just me, after all) and had only selected that so that people who were sharing rooms could have one with two beds, but the hotel seemed to think they had made a grave error and so gave me a room with a slightly smaller bed, but with about three or four times the amount of floor space, for which I had absolutely no need whatsoever. It was weird, sleeping alone in a room that big. I don’t know how the crowned heads of Europe managed it without getting fat heads. (is handed note) Oh.
Oh, I see.
Most of my convention was full of professional meetings with my agent and others, so I didn’t attend as many panels as I usually do. I went to three:
You Got SciFi in My Fantasy! You Got Fantasy in My Scifi!
This was a panel about genre bending. It was evidently set up to be a fight, but nobody felt much like fighting – everyone basically agreed that bending genres was fun and exciting. The issue, it seemed, was only one of marketing: how does one get the powers-that-be in publishing to buy a manuscript they can’t figure out how to label and sell. Judging that Aliette de Bodard was on the panel as well as Scott Edelman, I think it’s safe to say doing so is very possible.
The Future of Fantasy
This panel was a discussion on what the Fantasy genre has in store for the future. It was, in essence, a panel about representation of marginalized groups in the genre, in which a panel of women and persons of color trumpeted their arrival as key players in the future. This is, of course, excellent news for the health and diversity of fantasy fiction, though the panel didn’t much delve into speculating what kinds of stories or conventions would be popular so much as the authors’ identities. They did name a wide number of antiquated, colonialist, and male-centered tropes that they wish would go away forever (fridging the girlfriend, for instance, or anything having to do with rape), to which I add a hearty hear-hear. We can all do better.
Monsters in Fantasy
This panel discussed the role of the monstrous in fantasy fiction and was my favorite panel of the convention. The discussion circled around monster-as-metaphor (“we want the monster to represent the terrible things in the world as that makes the story, ironically, safer for us”) versus monster-as-actual (war, fascism, humanity as monster). Line of the panel goes to my friend, Teresa Frohock:
People want to humanize Hitler by saying he liked dogs. Hitler only liked dogs because they were something he could control and dominate and train. Liking dogs didn’t make him less of a monster.
Like I said, it was a fun one.
Then I had my own reading! Previously, such readings have been, shall we say, sparsely attended, but this time I had
a pretty full house! Maybe 20 people (15 at least!) showed up to hear me read “The Lord of the Cul-de-sac,” a short story I published in the May 2016 issue of Galaxy’s Edge. It really went over well! People were laughing and enjoying my performance (I do voices, by the way. Weird, I know, but I can’t help it) and the rest of the con I had people coming up to me to shake my hand and tell me how good they thought my reading was. It was great!
I also got to meet another writing friend of mine, Ruth Vincent. Unfortunately she had only come out for the day and we were headed in opposite directions at the end of the reading, but at least she got a photo of me, Teresa, and her!
This, of course, leads me to the best part of the convention: the people. I ran into so many people I knew and had so many good conversations with new friends that this was one of the best conventions I’ve been to thus far, and certainly the best World Fantasy since I started going about three years ago. I saw Sarah Beth Durst several times (and got her to sign my daughters’ copy of The Girl Who Could Not Dream, which they loved). I chatted Dungeons and Dragons with BCS editor Scott Andrews. I met Mike Mammay and introduced him and his wife to the wonders of the Cheesecake Factory. I was taken to dinner by my agency, where I talked with a lot of very interesting people, including Neil Clarke and Aliette de Bodard. I hung out with my editor a bit and got to sit at the Harper Voyager table with SA Chakraborty and her family while we waited to hear if she’d won the World Fantasy Award (she didn’t, but we all had such a great time it scarcely mattered). If making friends and connections are what conventions are about (and that is what I think, anyway), this one was a resounding success.
I also met a lot of new and upcoming authors and a lot of people trying to get published or who are just fans. I had a lot of good conversations with them (at the Beneath Ceaseless Skies 10th anniversary party, for instance, we talked about race and gender in fantasy and it got pretty heavy) and walked away feeling like my world was a little larger and me a little less alone. I hope they felt the same way, and I look forward to seeing them at the next con.
See you all at Boskone this February!
Every once in a while, somebody I know (a fellow writer, usually), points out that I should belong to Codex. Codex is a professional writer’s forum and, to be a member, you need to have sold some amount of pro work (don’t ask me how much). It is a networking site, a place to find critique groups, and often has postings by editors and such advertising various themed anthologies and so on. In other words, it would be a really great idea to belong to Codex.
I do not belong to Codex.
I honestly can’t adequately explain why not. I don’t really consider myself shy and I’m not any more socially awkward than anyone else. And yet I’m reluctant to join a community. Indeed, I am regularly reluctant to join communities of any kind. I had to have my arm twisted to join social media. My wife signed me up for Facebook without my knowledge and then just handed me my profile and said “here, your friends miss you.” If there was a club or an organization in school I was a member of, I never really felt like I was part of it. At the jobs I have held, I’ve done my best to remain a competent employee who is, nevertheless, not really central to the office culture or society. It’s a weird and probably destructive habit. I feel as though it alienates people, and why shouldn’t it? I am deliberately alienating myself from them.
When I was 8 years old, my elementary school had a chamber orchestra for little kids. They trotted out the violin, the viola, and the cello. Everybody chose either the violin or the cello; I chose the viola. Why? Because everybody else didn’t pick it. When they could make my glasses prescription into contact lenses and everybody I knew was getting them, I didn’t – I stuck with glasses and stubbornly so. I don’t like shirts with sports team logos on them. I don’t own a single piece of clothing or paraphernalia with the logo of my college or graduate school on it. Just about my entire work history has been a story of how I could earn money without having to wear a uniform or work in a team or have to deal with coworkers.
Now, as an adult, I see this whole loner thing be nonsensical and immature. I like people, and I like making friends. I care about my job and I do my best to be helpful whenever tasked to work as part of a group. Indeed, the idea that I can somehow exist apart and away from everybody else is arrant nonsense. Where would I be without my beta readers? Without the feedback from my editors and my agent? Without the support of my family? Nowhere. Nobody does this alone. Hell, nobody does much of anything alone. It’s a myth.
The myth of the loner is, I think, probably tied up in the ridiculous notions of masculinity that get imbued into us as kids. Men are strong. Men don’t need anybody. Men can solve their own problems. I read stories of the lone knight slaying the dragon or the lone hero challenging the gods and took all that to heart. If you work hard enough, I thought, you won’t need anybody. You’ll be free.
So there I was, at Readercon this past weekend. It was a good con, by all accounts – my panels were all great and I met a lot of interesting people – but I still felt this discomfort. I was sitting there, talking with Ellen Datlow on a Saturday night about our respective allergies, and I thought to myself “I don’t belong here. This is their community. I don’t have a community, remember?”
Of all the arrogant, idiotic thoughts to have. I am – and should be – a part of the science fiction and fantasy writing community. Why the hell am I going to all these cons if I don’t want that to be the case? I am not different. I am not some kind of weird loner, living on the outskirts. These people have thrown open their doors and I ought to walk right in and start shaking hands, not lurk in the shadows and listen to the music from a distance.
So I’m writing this now as an entreaty to those out there who are like me: those who have long felt that they have no people and that there is no group large enough to hold them or shaped to fit them. That’s bullshit. That’s self-aggrandizing hornswaggle. Your people are out there. Hell, they are inviting you in right now. Being a writer doesn’t mean you have to be alone all the time. Get out of your basement, meet people, make friends.
Dare to fit in.
Hello, lovely people!
This weekend I’ll be attending Readercon – a local scifi/fantasy convention in the city directly adjacent to my lovely hometown, Boston. That city is Quincy, Massachusetts – the City of Presidents! Ah, yes – I spent many a childhood year in Quincy Center, lurking through the aisles of New England Comics, Hobbytown, and the two local bookstores. It remains the first place I ever saw a pigeon with no feet, and also was the place you were most likely to see someone smoking directly underneath a No Smoking sign. And that person would probably be a cop.
But I digress.
The convention is to be held in the lovely Quincy Marriott, high atop a rocky granite knoll, a little like Castle Ravenloft, but with significantly brighter decor and better guest amenities. I will be there along with many other writer friends from the Boston area and beyond, and I entreat you to join us!
If you have a hankering to see me this weekend, here’s where and when I’ll be about:
Friday, 11am: Gamification of Story Development (Panel)
Story-focused games can be useful tools for authors. What happens when a writer draws up a character sheet for their protagonist and lets someone else play it out? Which gaming systems are best suited to developing stories? How can games support writing without creating chaos?
Friday, Noon: Book Signing!
I’ll be signing any and all copies of anything I’ve ever written at the autograph table! Please come visit! I’ll even have a few books stuffed in my pockets for sale if they aren’t on the Dealer’s Floor.
Friday, 3pm: On Dislike: Between Meh and Rage (Panel)
Writers know that reading widely is vitally important for a multitude of reasons, including learning from great books and learning what not to do from poor ones. But what can writers get out of books they feel indifferent to? Or should they just DNF and move on?
Saturday, 1pm: Finding Fairy Tales (Panel)
Did Charles Dickens write a Little Red Riding Hood novel? Is Jurassic Park a take on “Sleeping Beauty”? Our panelists will embark on a fairy tale hunt, finding them in unexpected (and perhaps unjustified) places.
Saturday, 8:30pm: Reading
I’m doing a reading! Not 100% sure what I’m reading yet, but probably one of my previously published short stories. Please come! I promise to be entertaining!
So there you have it! I’ll also be puttering around the Dealer’s Room, going to panels myself, and am always happy to meet fellow writers, fans, non-fans, or even just people who seem nice. Hopefully I’ll see you there!
Hello, friends! Are you in the Boston area? Are you planning to attend Boskone? No? Why the hell not?
What’s Boskone, you say?
Well, it’s only the New England Science Fiction Association’s annual scifi/fantasy convention, held each winter in my hometown of Boston, Massachusetts! This year, it will be February 16th-18th at the Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel.
It really is a top-notch convention, too, drawing writers, editors, and agents from all over the country, but most particularly the northeast (which includes a little town called New York City) and even the UK (given that Boston is about as close as you can get to England and still be in the US). I went last year as a fan and had a ton of fun. This year? They invited me to participate!
So, if you’re coming, here is my schedule of panels and what-not. Most of it is on Friday and I have a signing on Sunday. Perhaps most interestingly, I’m hosting my own Kaffeeklatch! Basically, you sign up/sit down with me and a small group of people and get to pick my brain for an hour. I hope to see some of you there!
My Favorite Game
16 Feb 2018, Friday 15:00 – 16:00, Lewis (Westin)
Join us as we explore the wonderful world of board games. Our panel of expert gamers will discuss their favorites from the past 10 years. We’ll compare bragging rights, and swap tales of our victories (or defeats). Let’s include our top ten lists — feel free to bring and share your own!
Auston Habershaw, Walter H. Hunt (M), Carlos Hernandez, Dan Moren, M. C. DeMarco
Law and Justice in Speculative Fiction
16 Feb 2018, Friday 17:00 – 18:00, Burroughs (Westin)
In an SF or fantasy world, justice may be meted out by a familiar legal system, by religious hierarchies that rule through faith, by some corrupt order that props up an evil regime, etc. How do you show the complex evolution/interplay of a society and its justice system in a single tale? Why do so many stories concentrate on crime and criminals? How do you quickly sketch out a justice system for a culture that’s different from our own?
B. Diane Martin, Bracken MacLeod, Kenneth Schneyer (M), Alan Gordon, Auston Habershaw
The Sword in the Stone: A New Beginning for the Arthurian Legends?
16 Feb 2018, Friday 18:00 – 19:00, Marina 2 (Westin)
First published in 1938 as a stand-alone tale, T. H. White’s The Sword in the Stone departs from older sources to (wonderfully) imagine King Arthur as a boy in Merrie Olde England. What did it bring to now-popular tropes such as shapeshifting, the hidden prince, or the magical education? Later incorporated into the first part of White’s 1958 novel The Once and Future King, it helped spark the musical Camelot. (And, of course, Spamalot.) Would we remember much about King Arthur, his Knights, and their Round Table without these books? How did they influence the wider fantasy genre? Have they been replaced by the stories they inspired?
Faye Ringel, Elizabeth Bear, E. Ardell, Auston Habershaw, Heather Albano (M)
Kaffeeklatsch: Auston Habershaw
16 Feb 2018, Friday 19:00 – 20:00, Harbor I – Kaffeeklatsch 1 (Westin)
Autographing: Auston Habershaw, Christopher Paniccia, Max Gladstone
18 Feb 2018, Sunday 13:00 – 14:00, Galleria – Autographing (Westin)
Christopher Paniccia, Auston Habershaw, Max Gladstone
Come on down this February! I look forward to meeting you all!
First, allow me to apologize for my relative inactivity here over the past month. Things have gotten a little crazy in Habershaw-ville – there’s a novel deadline looming, the semester is in full swing, and a new baby has recently arrived, all of which has cut in to the time I use to keep this place updated. I’m certain my routine will stabilize sometime soon (I hope) and I’ll go back to posting once or twice a week.
But that isn’t why you came, is it?
This past weekend I attended World Fantasy Con in San Antonio and had a grand old time. I didn’t get on any programming myself, so I was worried it wasn’t going to be a productive trip, but boy was I pleasantly surprised to be wrong! Here’s what I did:
I got in on Friday afternoon and immediately attended some readings. I saw friend GV Anderson read from her story “I Am Not I” from the July/August F&SF. Then I went to see friend William Ledbetter read a bunch of flash pieces from various venues. It was a delight to finally meet both of them in person and their readings were very good.
During the rest of the weekend, I saw five panels.
Panel #1 – Borrowing From History: Intention and Appropriation
This panel interested me because, as a white man, I am concerned that I have not always done justice to other cultures I have portrayed (however indirectly) and wish to do better. I was hoping to get some tips on how to responsibly explore and portray cultures other than my own. Unfortunately, I didn’t really learn that. The panel was chiefly concerned with exclamations that appropriation is a problem (which I knew) and that publishers and gatekeepers have a lot of responsibility in giving persons of color greater voice (which, while true, wasn’t especially helpful for authors trying not to be exploitative). The general advice was to do your research and tell stories that do other cultures “well.” While I applaud the sentiment, such advice was sufficiently vague as to be practically useless.
Panel #2 – Religions of the African Diaspora: Beyond Zombies, Ancestors, and Giant Apes
This panel, made up almost entirely of African American academics and authors, was intended to discuss the vast array of African religions and discuss how to portray them in fiction. This, as it happened, wound up being mostly a panel about cultural appropriation, however it was much more useful and concrete from an author’s perspective. Panelists pointed out the hypocrisy of European views of Voudoun (“voodoo”), for instance, which is portrayed as a wicked blood magic when, at the same time, the Christian church frequently displays a corpse (the crucifix) and engages in blood magic itself (the Eucharist). It is not the ritual of voudoun that is frightening to a white audience, it is the fact that it is black people worshiping.
The panel was comprised of a lot of observations like this, demonstrating how so much history goes unresearched and unknown because of accepted cultural and racial biases. It did a good job of getting me to be aware of those biases in myself and give me places to look to dispel them, which made it a lot better (in my opinion) than the previous panel.
Panel #3 – Ancient Cultures, Modern Sensibilities
This one was all about how and whether to use problematic aspects of ancient cultures (human sacrifice, incest, slavery, etc.) in modern fiction and how to portray characters living in those times as sympathetic even though their behavior doesn’t mesh with modern morality and taboos. It was interesting, but I don’t have any tidy soundbites for you.
Panel #4 – Which Witch is Which? Power and Portrayal of Magic in Fantasy Literature
This panel contrasted fictional witchcraft with historical (and contemporary) practice. It was very interesting, especially from a world-building perspective, as witchcraft has an incredibly varied history, ranging from simply local women practicing traditional medicine to those identified as the political enemies of the church all the way to modern Wicca and other traditions.
Panel #5 – The Secret History of the Hyborian Age
This late-night panel was basically for Conan enthusiasts and fans of Robert E Howard’s work. Panelists – mostly anthropologists and Howard historians – explained new revelations about Howard’s life, his work (and world-building) and his correspondence with HP Lovecraft (which was quite extensive, apparently – those two fought like cats for decades). The basic thesis was that Howard was far more conscientious about his world building than originally thought and was in some ways a precursor to the complex fantasy worlds common to the genre today. Fascinating stuff.
Books and Signings!
As usual, the WFC bookbag was amazing. I would post a picture of it, but wordpress is not cooperating and won’t upload any files. It contained such highlights as Martha Wells’ All Systems Red (which I later had signed), Cargill’s Sea of Rust, The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera, an issue of F&SF, and a bunch more stuff, too. I didn’t take all of it home (limited suitcase space), but the satchel bag was nice and the haul was probably the best I’ve gotten.
At the mass signing on Friday night, I ran into a lot of friends. I saw Sara Beth Durst with her super-professional spread (her own bookmarks and everything!). I ran into Beth Cato, who was hawking her super cool short fiction anthology Red Dust and Dancing Horses and, as usual, had cookies on-hand. C Stuart Hardwick was there, too, sitting in the corner and pretending not to be a science fiction author among fantasy authors (and, seriously, don’t we all read both?). I met Martha Wells and got her to sign her book, said hi to lots of other people, and overall had a great time.
Beyond the official events, I spent a lot of time meeting new people and catching up with folks I already knew. I went out to dinner with a bunch of folks from my agency, had breakfast with Charlie Finlay of F&SF and a bunch of fellow F&SF authors, reconnected with Scott Anderson of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and met a bunch of folks from Boston, of all places, who happened to be out in San Antonio and also happened to know people from my Writers of the Future year.
As a final note, my friend GV Anderson won the award for best story! How awesome is that?
So, yet another good year for the WFC. Next year is Baltimore, which is a short trip from Boston. I’ll definitely be there – I hope to see you, too!
Now that I’m back from Finland and suitably recovered from jetlag to do substantive work, I feel ready to tell you all how it went. Curious? Read on!
One of the primary reasons for me to go to WorldCon this year was to just check out Helsinki, as I rather doubt I’ll have many excuses to get to that corner of the world again. Overall, it was a really nice place – calm, clean, and easy to get around. The convention gave all members a metro pass for the duration of the convention, which was super convenient.
Though I didn’t get a chance to see a lot of the city, what I did see showed me a few things about how much nicer some American cities would be if they made necessary investments into public transit and bike infrastructure. The noise level in Helsinki was surprisingly low, traffic and congestion were minimal, and everybody seemed fairly calm. The quality of life there looks pretty high.
I was worried when going over that I would have trouble communicating, as I was having a hard time picking up any Finnish. Lucky for me, most of the Finns I met spoke enough English for me to get by (and a great many were wholly fluent). Everybody was very nice and I really don’t have much to complain about regarding my stay.
The Convention Center
It became clear really early on that the Finns had vastly underestimated how many people were going to want to go to WorldCon this year. This wasn’t exactly their fault – they based their estimates on previous years’ WorldCons in Europe and expected, based on membership sales, to host about 3500 people. They evidently got about 6500, many of whom purchased in the final week leading up to the kick-off.
Messukeskus, the Helsinki Convention Center, isn’t the biggest convention hall and, with that many extra bodies, it was really crowded. The corridors were kind of narrow, making it hard to get around, and getting into panels was difficult. You really had to line up at least a half-hour ahead of time to make it into any given panel, meaning the best you could hope for was a panel every other hour. The first day I was there (Thursday), I failed to get into most of the panels I wanted to because I hadn’t quite figured this out yet. It was a bit frustrating.
To their credit, the organizers *did* manage to get some extra space for Friday and Saturday panels, but even still it was a mob scene.
My book signing was on Friday afternoon. It wasn’t exactly crowded, but I did manage to sign a few things and even sold a book to a convention goer (I had brought 4 books of my own, since the dealers floor didn’t have any of them – largely my own fault, as I should have been in better communication with my publisher). I also met urban fantasy author Russel Smith (writing under RA Smith), who was sitting next to me. We had a lovely chat.
Of the panels I attended, perhaps the most interesting was the last one – it was on how to write a fight scene and featured Elizabeth Bear, Sebastien de Castell, and a few others whose names are slipping my mind at the moment (sorry! Can’t find my program schedule!). Anyway, there was a lot of back and forth about how detailed a fight scene should be, but the biggest take-away was that fights aren’t interesting or entertaining unless the stakes were clear and the audience is engaged with the characters’ plights, which I agree with and is good to be reminded of sometimes.
I attended a bunch of other panels – too many to go over individually – but one thing I will say is that this particular convention had a much more academic slant than other conventions I’ve been to. Pretty much every panel had one or two academics on the subject present, rather than just a table of writers, editors, and agents. This gave a lot of the panels a more serious tone than usual and meant that a lot of the discussions reached into realms of literary criticism and academic theory rather than concrete craft-building advice or idea brainstorming. The academic side of me found this really interesting (at times), but the writer in me kinda wanted a little bit more practical and concrete writing discussion and less theory.
My own panels went well. The first – “Any Sufficiently Immersive Fantasy is Indistinguishable From Science Fiction” – featured me as moderator, Max Gladstone, Finnish academic Hanna Rikka-Roine, and British academic Farah Mendelsohn. The discussion was basically a genre distinction discussion: does Science Fiction do worldbuilding differently than Fantasy? The basic answer there was “not necessarily” and we talked a bit about what allowed fantasy or science fiction to be what was termed as “immersive.” One interesting point brought up was that science fiction more often had a clearer “what if” driving concept that affected how worlds were built, whereas fantasy often did not. Of course, all of these distinctions were subject to exceptions and variations and we were hasty to point out that rules in literature were made to be broken.
My second panel, on Saturday, was “It Can’t Happen Here.” It was a panel about the horror show of modern politics and how science fiction and fantasy can (or should) work to improve the world around us. It featured Cenk Gokce as moderator, me, Edmond Barret, Evil Ivo, and Cat Sparks. Overall, this panel was a surprising amount of fun (especially considering the subject matter) and, while we did spend a lot of time complaining about politics, we also spent a lot of time talking about how science fiction has the means to potentially reach people, give them ideas, and present problems in such a way that future generations can be inspired to find solutions. That is, of course, if global warming doesn’t kill us all first, I guess. Fun times!
While there, I met with my agent and my editor (good discussions both) and saw a few friends. I also made a bunch of new friends, too, including Russel Smith (my signing buddy), fellow swashbuckling fantasy author Sebastien de Castell, German military scifi author Robert Corvus and his friend Martin Schneider (who runs one of the best scifi conventions in Germany). I met a variety of Finns (Pasi Kallinen, in particular – hello!), Dutch, Irish, Americans, and British – new friends all. I also spent quite a lot of time alone, riding the trams and looking at the city.
I saw Max Gladstone (again) – I seem to see him at every con these days – and I met Joe Abercrombie for the first time (though I doubt he remembers me). I saw George RR Martin everywhere I went, but I didn’t talk to him (he always had a gaggle of fans around him). I met my editor’s wife (whom I gave a copy of
my book), and met a great many other people besides.
Overall, a successful trip to Finland for WorldCon 75! Hopefully I’ll be able to go next year, too. Maybe I’ll see you all in San Jose!
I am beginning to plan out my convention-attending plan for the year. As of a few years ago, I’ve made it something of a point to go to two or three each year. I’ve found them to be useful networking opportunities, I’ve usually come away with a few interesting ideas to turn over and apply to my writing, and I’ve always wound up having fun. So far, I’ve been restricting my travel to the lower 48 states. This year, though, a new opportunity presents itself:
This year, the World Science Fiction Convention (WorldCon) is going to be held in Helsinki. I had a lot of fun at WorldCon last year – met up with some old friends, made some new ones, ate some good food, and so on. I’d really like to go again. Finland, though, presents some difficulties. For one thing, I’m not really sure anybody I know is going this year (Finland is a bit of a hike for most of my writer-friends). Going to an American city all alone is one thing, but going to a completely foreign city where I don’t speak the language and also don’t know anybody sounds even more lonely. My first convention experience was just me wandering around a convention hall, not talking to somebody, until an acquaintance pulled me out of the crowd and started introducing me to people. Would this happen in Helsinki? Maybe. But I’d also be paying more money for that gamble – that first convention I just drove to.
Then again, there are some really good reasons to go, too. This year I might get to sit on some panels, which would be worth it. The cost is actually surprisingly low (living in Boston, I have probably the shortest distance to go compared to anybody in the US)–it would cost me about as much as it cost to go to Kansas City last year (well, a *bit* more, since I’d probably stay an extra night or two to make the 13 hour flight worth it). Also, from a sheer adventure standpoint, when is the next time I’ll have an excuse to go to Finland? That seems pretty cool, honestly.
So here I am, still going back and forth. Perhaps, as I often do, I should go back and read the old masters and follow their wisdom. Most notably, the gentlemen of Monty Python:
Hi there! Haven’t posted in a while. Did you think I was dead? Well, I was. As it’s Halloween, however, I have risen from my grave to tell you what I’ve been doing in the
Underworld Columbus, Ohio.
That’s right – just got back from the 2016 World Fantasy Convention! Great times were had and now, in brief and pithy statements, I shall explain such times to you.
First off, I have to say that, despite my little crack above, Columbus is a pretty nice little city. The food was good, the neighborhood around the hotel was really cool, and the weather was downright pleasant. As a highlight, I got to go to a burger place that served not just regular hamburgers, but also burgers made of turkey, duck, elk, wild boar, or bison. I had an elk-burger with bacon, pepper jack, and a variety of interesting mayonnaises and it was quite the flavor explosion. I could probably eat at that particular restaurant every day for a year and not get sick of it.
WFC is a convention of readers above all else. Nowhere is that more noticeable than in the book bag you get as a bonus for attending. Check out this spread:
Them’s a lot of books, folks. So many books, in fact, that after stuffing said haul into your suitcase by some feat of spatial gymnastics and raw strength, on the way into the airport on the trip home the TSA will yank that suitcase out of the X-Ray machine and hand examine it. The guy unzipped my suitcase, peered inside, and offered up a non-plussed “it’s…just a fine selection of books…”
Yes, TSA guy. Yes it is.
I went to see several panels over the course of the weekend and even sat on two myself (I’ll explain those two later). The panels and the highlights were basically as follows:
I Believe I Can Fly was a panel on the mystique of flight in fantasy fiction. I saw it because my friend, Dan Koboldt, was sitting on it and I knew he and I would be on a panel later together on a similar topic. I was worried I didn’t have a lot to say about flight, but it turned out that I totally did and I wound up talking a bit much during the panel itself even though I wasn’t on it (sorry, folks). One of the better comments came from Curtis Craddock (I think) who said that, as mammals who sleep on our backs and look at the stars, flight has always been important to us. Alan Smale was also on the panel, and his alternate history novel Clash of Eagles (where the Roman Empire has survived to the 13th century and invades North America) sounds cooler and cooler every time I hear him talk about it.
Trilogies? Small Stuff! This was possibly the best panel I saw. You got to watch Mercedes Lackey and Lee Modesitt argue over who has longer running series and more books altogether (the answer is Lackey, by a country mile as it turns out), got to listen to David Drake and Sharon Shinn and Kay Kenyon talk about how to keep from getting burned out (a lot of them switch protagonists or POV as the series develops) and all of them talked about the size of a story you were planning to tell. Quote of the panel was probably from Lackey: “My muse is my mortgage.”
L.E. Modesitt Jr. Guest of Honor Speech Listened to Lee Modesitt talk about how he wound up being an author (basically spending a lot of his life working in jobs he was poorly suited to), how he writes (2.5 mile walk in the morning, then breakfast, then writing from mid-morning until 7 or 10pm, with breaks to shop, eat, etc.), and how he wound up writing fantasy (he found himself as a junior author on a panel as the only scifi writer among fantasy authors. When asked “what do you think about modern fantasy authors’ takes on economics and politics his flustered response was “they don’t seem to know anything about either one of them!”).
Sword and Sorcery Today: Still Slashing Away featured moderator Scott Andrews (of Beneath Ceaseless Skies) trying in vain to get panelists Mercedes Lackey, David Drake, SM Stirling, and James Moore to talk about contemporary sword and sorcery but instead they mostly argued about what it was and whether they wrote in the genre or not and why it mattered.
How Does Who We Are Affect What We Read was an interesting one featuring Robert J Sawyer, David Coe, and others wrestling with the interaction between reader and text and, more importantly, to what extent can we or should we learn from past writers who held reprehensible beliefs by today’s standards (HP Lovecraft, for instance). I found the discussion really interesting and the panelists got very contentious at times, which itself was instructive. No clear answers were arrived upon, as expected.
Old Stories, New Twists talked extensively about re-tellings and fairy tales – a topic that I’m professionally interested in as a professor, even if I haven’t done that myself. The panelists explored how you get into your head to retell something (the stuff that annoys you about the classic tale and exploring that further) and what new you can bring to old texts. There was also a shout-out to the fact that Belle’s behavior in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is textbook battered wife syndrome, which is something I’ve discussed at length before on this very blog.
The Mass Book Signing!
On Friday night, all authors who were on panels or otherwise part of the convention gathered in the ballroom to meet and chat with fans and sign any books of theirs that happened to be present. To my mild surprise, I had a name tag and everything and was entitled to a seat at the table with everybody else!
Now, I had but one copy of my novel and none were for sale in the dealer’s room, so I figured I wouldn’t be doing much signing. I parked myself next to Sarah Beth Durst (read The Queen of Blood, by the way – it’s great!), who I expected was going to get a lot of traffic (she did!) and maybe, just maybe some of those folks, while waiting in line, would talk to me. It worked pretty well, actually, and I maybe convinced 4-5 people to buy my book.
Then, to my complete surprise, two people (separately, without coordination) came up and asked me to sign my short story “Lord of the Cul-de-Sac” in May 2016 issue of Galaxy’s Edge. So I did get to sign stuff, after all – cool! Of course, next year I need to remember to bring actual books or see that they’re stocked in the dealer’s room, at least.
I got to sit on two separate panels, both of which were a blast.
An Aviary of Beasties was a panel all about flying critters in fantasy and what kinds were at our disposal and what to do with them and so on. It was me, Dan Koboldt, EJ Stevens, Rajan Khanna, and Susan Shell Winston as moderator. I mostly talked about the difficulty of owning or training flying mounts in a fantasy world (what do you feed them? How do you train them? What do you use them for? How expensive are they?) and a fair amount about the evolutionary role such creatures should or ought to play in your environment. EJ Stevens talked a lot about the role of various fey creatures in her own novels and some discussion was had about the dichotomy between the really big flying things (Dragons, the Roc) and the really little ones (Pixies, sprites, etc.). Dan talked a bit about the meeting of high-tech drones and dragons in his work, and Rajan discussed how his post-apocalyptic airship setting had to do a lot with how flight was an escape – freedom, essentially. Me, being the party pooper of a modernist that I am, talked about how that could also be taken as a myth – how conflict can develop from wishing you were free and then finding that you aren’t.
The second panel, and the last panel of the convention, was Atheist Fantasy: Is God Dead? This one was a real treat, with me getting to share the table with Max Gladstone, Lee Modesitt, Larry Hodges, Kevin Maroney, and Jeff Minerd. This, as you can imagine, was a really heady one. We discussed the origins and purposes of religions and how such things were (or were not) distinct from belief in or the existence of a deity figure. I offered the question of whether or not you could have supernatural, super-powerful beings and not have gods (isn’t a god just a supernatural being with a fan club?) and where the line was drawn. Max, of course, was all over the topic (and if you’ve read the Craft Sequence, you know why. If you haven’t, do so!) and Lee Modesitt was an able and provocative moderator. He left as soon as it was over, though, so I didn’t get a chance to ask him to sign my copy of The Magic of Recluse. Alas.
Much of the purpose of these conventions is to meet people – fans, other writers, editors, agents, etc.. In that regard, this convention was a great success – much better than last year, where I knew no one and nothing. In addition to catching up a bit with Sarah Beth Durst, I met fellow Harper authors Kelley Grant-Kelley, Dan Koboldt, and Laura Bickle. I saw CC Finlay and met Gordon VanGelder (both of whom are the nicest people!). I went out to dinner with a whole lot of authors and editors, had lunch with aspiring authors and fans alike, chatted with people about Neal Stephenson and The Grapes of Wrath and Black Mirror and on and on and on. It was fantastic, and I’m excited to go again next year in lovely San Antonio.
That’s about it about that. I’ll be back to my regular posting habits soon, I’m sure. Just as soon as I beat back this encroaching con-crud. Ugh…
Has to be a downside somewhere, right?