What a great weekend. I am like to die of caffeine poisoning now.
I went to panels and I talked to people and I had an excellent time. I'm really glad we got rooms at the hotel instead of commuting, because panels went way late and started early too, so commuting would have meant missing out on a lot of cool stuff.
My personal schedule:
ConTenTion: Stand up and argue about things! Various audience members arguing various things, starting with Perdido Street Station: mess or masterpiece? (verdict: both). Included brooksmoses and andres_s_p_b on opposite sides of some argument or other, with the observation that this was very like our standard dinnertime.
"So, bug sex not quite on a level with Tiptree." -- the 'masterpiece' side of the Perdido Street Station argument, granting the 'mess' side a point
"I'm 'despicable moral abomination', you're 'it's a good book'." -- Stephen redefining the terms of the Ender's Game argument
"But we can't know that Card knew that Bean knew that, when he was writing the book." -- audience
Future Cities of the Past: How has the view of the future city changed over time? One interesting point I recall is that the vision of the future city has become more like the present city as you look at later and later presents (not everyone agreed with this; it was attributed both to increasing realism [less shininess, more consideration of workers/crime/'grit'] and to a decreasing willingness to project into the far future). A lot of attention was paid to the differences between visual arts futurism (very shiny) and literary futurism (more realistic); popular non-fiction future prediction, at least in the 50s-60s when it was really popular, seemed to fall more on the visual arts side.
"Fuller, Wright, Solieri -- what do they have in common? Their roofs leak." -- David Levine
Segregation in SFnal Cities: This, like a lot of the city panels I went to, wound up being mostly about real cities, and the different patterns found in them, and not as much about fictional cities as the panel descriptions tended to imply. I don't actually remember much about it, but I enjoyed it at the time.
Lift-Off Party: This was the fancy-dress party. They set the room up for cocktail-party style standing mingling, which did not mesh well with the crowd, who mostly wanted to sit down with a plate while chatting. It was really noisy, so at some point brooksmoses and suzanne and I went and got pizza and decompressed a little. Then I had planned to go to the alt.polyflock serenejournal arranged, but I was a little crowd-noised still and there was a really neat-sounding panel, so I stuck my head in and waved at the collecting flock, then went to the panel instead.
The Monster in Speculative Fiction: I felt like this panel didn't really gel until towards the end. I wanted to do it again when we finished, because we were just getting to the interesting parts! The panel description focused on why monster protagonists or sympathetic monsters seem more common lately, which is interesting, but the discussion wound up really roiling around different competing definitions of 'monster', which all sounded totally plausible but were entirely incompatible. I wanted to really sit down and sink my teeth into the definition problem until we'd hashed out a good thorough listing of the different meanings of monsterhood and what they represent and how they're used in fiction and how each different one is attractive in its own way (or not!) and and and and and. A whiteboard might need to be involved.
"You are the monster if you are different from me and you threaten me." -- Karen Williams (?)
"If I can identify with a vampire who kills people in back rooms while giving them blow jobs, I can by God identify with a libertarian!" -- Nabil Hijazi
How to Destroy Your City and Enjoy the Wreckage: Post-apocalypse cities in SF. I don't actually remember much about this panel, because it started at 9:30 p.m., and I don't seem to have taken down any quotes.
Then there was an evening and a morning and breakfast in the consuite! (I love consuites. They are the best idea in the history of ever.)
A Sense of Displacement: How do writers write about places they've never been, whether that's because they've never visited or because the place doesn't exist? Interesting chewy personal examples from the panelists, including a story about how the internet affects research from Chaz Brenchley. He was writing a book set in an alternate Palestine, and included a bit in which eight strong men carried a pair of teenage girls across the desert in a litter. He had no idea how far eight strong men carrying a pair of teenage girls would travel in a day, and mentioned this on the internet somewhere. Quite promptly, eight strong members of the SCA built a litter, tossed a teenage girl in in, marched around on a field for a few hours, and performed some multiplication.
"However accurately we write about an actual city, we are still writing about a fictional city." -- Chaz Brenchley
"Readers read the book they want to read, which is not necessarily the book you've written." -- Chaz Brenchley
Rapidfire Reading from Broad Universe: Fun, varied. A tendency towards stories using science fictional ideas as metaphors, rather than as worked-out realistic events.
My City Goes to 1011: Can internet communities be described as cities? (Verdict: not really, although you can make a case for the entire internet as a kind of city, with different communities as neighborhoods within it.) There was general agreement that cities require physical infrastructure, and discussion of how that impacts different people differently (wheelchair users being excluded by stairs, etc.) and I thought that could have been taken in an interesting direction as regards internet infrastructure equivalents in the form of different browsers, Usenet newsreaders, RSS feeds versus original blog pages, mailing lists vs. digests, and other ways in which different people on the internet have different experiences of the same content, or the ability to access different parts of that content, but that's not where the discussion went. It can go there now, though! Look, a comments section! Infrastructure for discussion!
Menace of the Spoiler: This was a wide-ranging and often very funny discussion of spoilers, what they are, why some people hate them (and some positively require them, in the form of trigger warnings or reading the last chapter of the mystery first or just knowing that this is a romance novel so the leads will get together in the end), and why the cultural consensus around spoilers has become much more stringent in recent years. That last is interesting, so I will expand: The internet (and increased inter-regional communication in general), along with DVRs, TV shows being released on DVD, and differing publication/air dates in the US, the UK, and various other places, means that the people who are interested in seeing a show or reading a book do not all have access to the material at the same time, but do have access to each other. Therefore there is a much greater opportunity for people who have already experienced the material to discuss it somewhere where people who haven't had a chance yet but would really like to can overhear the discussion. Also, there are more serieses now, and TV shows with long-running arcs, so that people are emotionally invested in the early parts of the series and therefore care a lot about spoilers for the later parts of the series, in a way that they wouldn't necessarily care about spoilers for a standalone work they haven't read.
Pat Murphy Honored Guest Presentation: Pat presented some questions and guidelines to herd us all through writing a story in an hour (individual stories, not a group collaboration). It was interesting, but I didn't quite finish my story. I wound up with more of an emotional arc than a plot, exactly, from the questions, and I wasn't able to put enough words on it to get it across in an hour. Most people seemed to have a good time with it, though -- I heard a lot of folks explaining their stories to each other as we left the room.
Why London? Nod Nolyhw?: Why is so much SF set in London, or in mirror/underground/sidewise London? This question turns out to have a very simple answer: because London was the first city in England, for a long time the only real city in England, even now the financial, political, artistic, literary, etc. etc. center of England, and nearly all English-language literature is written by people who are members of cultures descended from the British empire, so London is in a very real sense the center or heart of the English-speaking world. Many cool little facts about history (and fairy folklore) were shared. I think this is the panel where someone asked Chaz Brenchley (the token Brit) "How does it feel to be fetishized?" and he tried to hide under the table (as he had not, to that point, felt particularly fetishized, but here was this whole audience nodding along and looking alertly interested in the question...). It may also be the panel that produced "A British accent is the literary person's equivalent of a nice ass."
What Happened to "Punk"?: This panel wanted to know what the suffix "-punk" means in cyberpunk, steampunk, and other -punk genres. The eventual conclusion was that it doesn't mean anything, it's just a nice hard-sounding suffix to tack on to some other word to create a useful marketing/category label. It could mean something, it perhaps should mean something, and the panelists were all very angry that it didn't mean anything, but it doesn't. It was a great hour and a quarter getting to that conclusion, though, and exploring possible more useful meanings or connotations of "-punk". There was a lot of cussing, and yelling, and general enthusiasm.
Then there was an evening and a morning and a consuite! And games, and karaoke, while those last two panels were happening. In the consuite, I had a drink that was on fire. Well, I had the fire, and then I gave the drink to andres_s_p_b, because holy wah the rum fumes hurt my nose. But the fire was cool!
Between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m., there was interstitial programming, which was both hilarious and very helpful in reminding us to set our clocks forward.
Power Structures in F/SF Cities: Again, this wound up being mostly about real cities instead. There was quite a bit of discussion of overt vs. covert power of various sorts, which doesn't summarize well except to warn you all to be nice to the secretaries. They write the minutes.
I Saw You Palm That Ace: Authors set up a world in which to ask questions, but they also use that world to answer those questions. This discussion centered around what sorts of world descriptions are 'cheating' and what sorts aren't. It mostly investigated examples rather than deriving general principles, but there was a general division of 'not cheating' into two categories: either the author can leave the questions open-ended and describe the world in a way that is realistic and lends itself to multiple viewpoints, or the author can show their work, explicitly laying out what their viewpoint is and why their created world supports it. People get very upset about authors 'sneaking in' hidden didactic or political viewpoints.
We've Got to Stop Meeting Like This: Intended to be a discussion of unique or underused kinds of first-contact stories, this panel instead touched upon the meaning of intelligence, the necessity of communication to contact, what language is, and of course many examples of first-contact stories of many kinds.
FOG Dissection: This was the feedback panel, in which the concom sat at the front of a room and invited the entire rest of the convention to tell them what they'd done wrong. They were very brave (and we will remember them fondly). Actually it went well -- the con was fantastic, especially for its first year, and I think most of the people who made comments were pretty careful to include that in their comments, even when they were being more critical. There were a few issues, most of which the concom was already aware of and nearly all of which were just the sort of miscommunication that happens when you're working with a hotel for the first time.
At the end of the con, we piled into the consuite and chatted until our brains liquefied and leaked out our ears, and then we went home and scraped the liquefied brain onto the internet just for you. Hurrah!
We are totally going back next year.