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!
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!