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Thursday July 10


8:00 PM The Games We Play. Erik Amundsen, Yoon Lee, Alex Shvartsman, Romie Stott (leader), Gregory Wilson.
Video games and tabletop games are an influential part of our imaginative lives. Are there times when you're reading a book and feel the game mechanics too clearly beneath the prose? Or do you enjoy imagining what a character's stats might look like? We'll look at tie-in books (like R.A. Salvatore's Chronicles of Drizzt and David Gaider's Dragon Age prequels), book-based games (like The Black Cauldron, Lord of the Rings, and the Mists of Avalon–influenced Conquests of Camelot), and the pleasure of reading gaming sourcebooks.

Your comments on this item: "I proposed this one. I've invented and run a number of tabletop-type rpgs and some of my friends are video game designers who also write fiction. I'm nerdy enough to have read some videogame tie-in works (and quite a bit of fanfiction) and boardgames appear in a lot of my work. Plus as someone with an econ degree, game theory is never that far from my mind. I have to be careful when I design magic systems or write horror that I don't quantify it too much and make it overterrestrial." (I got scooped by The Guardian, who like me recognize the awesomeness of Joshua Newman's Shock.)

9:00 PM If Magic Has Always Been Real. Karen Burnham, Lila Garrott (leader), Max Gladstone, Romie Stott, Walt Williams.
Regarding the challenges of "the world we know, but with magic!", Monique Poirier wrote, "If magic has always been real, why did colonialism and genocide roll the way it did?... It couldn't possibly be the world we know without all the painful, fucked up history. And what good is magic if it can’t have altered that?" Naomi Novik's Temeraire books address this by keeping many elements of history familiar but dramatically changing others. In Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire Mysteries, paranormal entities have always been there, but they hid from ordinary humans for safety and therefore lacked the ability to influence the course of history. How do other authors of historical fantasy and urban fantasy balance the inherently world-changing nature of magic with the desire to layer it on top of the world we have?

Your comments on this item: "For the last 10 years, I've intermittently worked on an alternate-history fantasy novel set during WWII. It's the hardest thing I've ever written because with almost every sentence I struggle with the question of how a world that works SO DIFFERENTLY could have come to a point in history that is so similar to ours. But I also have to set that aside and say "because this is the story I'm telling, and this is the reality I want to examine, with fantasy elements to allow me to work allegorically.""

Friday July 11


6:00 PM Solarpunk and Eco-Futurism. Michael J. Daley, Michael J. Deluca, Jeff Hecht, Rob Killheffer, Romie Stott (leader).
In August 2014, Miss Olivia Louise wrote a Tumblr post proposing the creation of a new subgenre: solarpunk. Solarpunk, sometimes called eco-futurism, would be set in a semi-utopian future visually influenced by Art Nouveau and Hayao Miyazaki, and built according to principles of new urbanism and environmental sustainability—an "earthy" handmade version of futuretech, in opposition to the slick, white, spacebound surfaces of 1980s futurism. Solarpunk blogs have since proliferated, as Tumblr users like SunAndSilicon create and aggregate concept art and brainstorm solarpunk's technological and societal shifts, enthusiastically building a shared-world fandom with no single owner or defining central text. For some, building solarpunk is an escapist fantasy. Meanwhile, in San Francisco there have been meatspace conventions to develop some kind of manifesto, with the hope of eventually moving realworld society in a solarpunk direction. What, if any, are the precursors to this kind of grassroots genre creation? Is it an inevitable outgrowth of fan-funded niche publishing through crowdfunding? Is solarpunk's locavore pro-tech optimism in the face of climate change a distinctly Millenial backlash to Gen-X dystopias? And can the inevitable contradictions of a crowdsourced utopia survive the rigors of critical reading?

Your comments on this item: "I proposed this one."

7:00 PM Modern Gods. Amal El-Mohtar (leader), Natalie Luhrs, Romie Stott, Ian Randal Strock.
Corporations, multinationals, and governments (or seats of office) can be like modern gods: they exist solely because people believe in them and build up rituals to affirm and perpetuate that belief. Non-governmental entities often have political power, and they can theoretically live forever if they can find ways to remain relevant. They fight with other "gods" and may be broken into multiple demi-gods, a place from which they rise again or simply fade away. How do portrayals of gods reflect our interactions with the godlike legal and corporate entities of the modern world? When works such as Ken Liu's The Grace of Kings, Max Gladstone's Craft sequence, and Daniel Abraham's Dagger and the Coin series explicitly address corporations, systems of government, and economic systems in fantastical settings, how do those stories resemble or diverge from folklore and fantasy about more literal gods?

Your comments on this item: "One that leaps to mind immediately is "the spectacle" (proposed by Guy Debord in a 1967 treatise), which subverts and commodifies rebellions to return people to passivity. Derrida and other French theorists also wrote about this, and it absolutely reads like SF but is philosophy."

Saturday July 12


2:00 PM The Definition of Reality. Anil Menon, Kit Reed, Kenneth Schneyer, Sarah Smith, Romie Stott (leader).
Many forms of entertainment conflate fiction and nonfiction. It's well documented that so-called reality TV is highly staged, directed, and manipulated to highlight conflict and manufacture happy (or tragic) endings. A number of memoirs have been revealed to be fiction. Some still want to believe professional wrestling is real. Fiction provides plenty of conflict, coherent narrative arcs, and satisfying endings, so why do we also demand those things from our nonfiction? Does believing something is "real" make it more entertaining? Or is this an expression of our dissatisfaction with the loose ends, bewildering occurrences, and interrupted stories of our own lives?

Your comments on this item: "There's an entire film festival devoted to work that blurs the lines between documentary and fiction; when done artfully, it sometimes happens because you can't (or can't legally) see the real thing, or have to make a choice about which of a few competing eyewitness accounts to believe so that you can move forward in the story. There's also increasing attention to the prose style called "Creative Nonfiction," which uses fiction techniques to tell heightened autobiography. I think also of Joyce Carol Oates' "Dark Water," which is fiction that doesn't really stand on its own but absolutely relies on your knowledge of the Chappaquiddick incident. Meanwhile, there's a tendency for audiences to obsessively believe that fiction is "based on" something in the author's real life, and to use an author's fiction to psychoanalyze the author. Although I want my reference nonfiction (newspapers, textbooks, trial transcripts) to be unimpeachably nonfiction, I think there's a lot of blurriness that's inevitable when you try to condense reality into some kind of orderly narrative, and it makes for a lot of guessing about what's "real.""
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[This is the outline of the talk I gave at Readercon 25 about Dystopian Economies. I am currently in talks with glyphpress to expand this and some other writings into a sourcebook for gamebuilders and GMs that use the Shock system (and for anybody interested in inventing fictional but reality-influenced futureworlds). You can download the original Shock: Social Science Fiction here, or buy the follow up, Human Contact, here. ]

INTRO:

 

I'm going to start with a personal anecdote. When 9/11 happened, I was a senior in college.

                - changed majors late (operations engineering; program folded)

                - taking all econ classes

                - in-class experiments. You play games as a teaching device.

                                a) prisoner's dilemma

                                b) deciding how to split money

                                c)  choosing to give $5 to class or $1 to self

                - 9/11 "broke" the games.

                                a) always a little broken; people not perfectly selfish even "Best" of times

                                b) measurably more generous with each other

                                c) similar effect across country

                                d) has happened after other national tragedies

                - after a year or so, tapers off, like our response to Katrina, Boston Marathon. Back to "normal."

 

My point is: you don't make people better by changing the game. By which I mean:

                - incentives are important, as are penalties

                - but behavior is too complicated to "fix" with conditioning tricks

                                a) don't get rid of criminals by making perfect laws

                                b) don't get rid of kindness in concentration camps

                - I say this even though there's a sub-field, econometrics

                                a) tries to quantify, predict, measure effects of policy change

                                b) Psychohistory

                                c) CBO, Fed - if futurist, be following their press releases

                                d) econ like weather forecasting

                                                i. real science

                                                ii. better than random chance

                                                iii. but a lot of chaos

 

I don't believe an economic utopia is possible.

                - not a SYSTEM which fixes the problem independent of PEOPLE

 

I do think you could get to a kind of utopia even in a very compromised system

                - it's the goofiest thing in the world, but the answer really is LOVE

                - family, social bonds

                - seeing yourself as part of something bigger than you, something noble

 

So I'm going to talk about economics, and what I'm going to say is mostly about the bad actors

                - because antagonists are good for stories

                - and I trust you all know how to be good guys

                - RIGHT? (laugh line)

 

Anyway, keep in mind when I talk about EVIL corporations it's because I'm talking about EVIL corporations.

                 - "not all men"

                - yes, I know.

                - OK….

Read more... )
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Thursday July 10


9:00 PM G What Won't You Write? John Chu, Kameron Hurley, David Shaw (moderator), Romie Stott.
Charles Stross has said publicly that he won't write about children being harmed or exploited. Seanan McGuire refuses to write about female characters being raped. Many other writers have no-go topics. Panelists will discuss their personal choices for off-limits subject areas, and their reasons for the ban.


Friday July 11


12:00 PM CO Welcome to Readercon. Kip Manley, Graham Sleight, Romie Stott, Emily Wagner (moderator).
Tropes, "reading protocols," "the real year" of a book, "slipstream" fiction, "fantastika," "intrusion fantasy": Readercon panel blurbs (and hallway conversations) borrow vocabulary from a wide range of sources that new attendees may not have encountered. Veterans of other conventions may also be wondering where the costumes and filkers are. Readercon regulars and concom members provide a newcomer's guide to Readercon's written policies and well-worn habits as well as a rundown of our favorite critical… um... tropes.

1:00 PM ENL Dystopian Economies. Romie Stott.
Romie Stott's "Economic Systems Past and Present" talk at Readercon 24 provided an overview of the economic terms and tools available to writers. This stand-alone follow-up talk will focus on dystopian economies. Stott will discuss what corporate states could look like (essentially, what happens if current multinationals get even more powerful and/or develop space programs), as well as other un-free economies like prestige economies and the ways conspicuous consumption and patronage change power structures. The talk will wrap with theorized utopian economies and why they are not likely to sustain expansion to a global (or universal) level, and more odds-favored ways heroes might seek to limit dystopia.

3:00 PM ENL Speculative Poetry Workshop. Romie Stott.
Romie Stott leads a speculative poetry workshop for poets of all levels. Writing prompts will be provided, and poets are welcome to request feedback and collaboration from other participants.

5:00 PM F Retroactive Genre and Literary Identity. Erik Amundsen, Matthew Cheney (leader), Jack Haringa, David Hartwell, Veronica Schanoes, Romie Stott.
Robert Jackson Bennett wrote in a blog post, "The constantly-changing opinions on genre bear a striking similarity to ongoing debates in psychology, sometimes, with opinions on, say, manic-depression slowly growing to be the dominant opinion; and, maybe, that opinion on who these people are, what they do, and how they feel, will change to become something else in five years. However, just because a psychological opinion changes does not mean the people being studied change with it, much like how birds are happily oblivious to any sea change in ornithology." Can books or authors be "happily oblivious" to shifts in the popular understanding or construction of genre? When we retroactively apply genre labels that didn't exist when a book was created, such as referring to Frankenstein as science fiction (or even as steampunk), how does that affect our reading of the work?


Saturday July 12

12:00 PM ENL Writing and the Visual Arts. Greer Gilman, Shira Lipkin, Eric Schaller, Romie Stott (leader), Diane Weinstein.
Writers who are also photographers and visual artists may find that the two fields influence each other in surprising ways, whether by bringing narrative to image-making or by writing from a camera-influenced viewpoint. Panelists will discuss this experience and the ways they find the written and visual media complimentary or antithetical. Does the camera never lie, or does it create fiction? Is a picture worth a thousand words or is a word worth a thousand pictures?
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Part 1
Part 2

What were the responsibilities of a medieval serf, and did they result in an efficient use of land? Could the EU or African Union provide a blueprint for a federation of planets? Romie Stott will offer an overview of economic systems past, present, and theoretical, touching on gold standards, mercantilism, oligopolies, usury laws, non-Soviet communism, competitive advantage, and how tax policy can motivate altruistic behavior or create a black market. If you've ever wondered why diamonds cost more than water and whether that would change with replicators, this is the place for you.

This was my solo talk, and the reason I was invited to Readercon. I wish I'd had more than an hour (which was really 50 minutes); I covered ground as fast as I could. It would take pages and pages to summarize what I said; the outline alone (which I've posted below) ran to 4 pages.

I could summarize the entire talk like so:

Currency is an emergent property of sufficiently complex human society, and if your techno-utopian future does not include currency, you have predicted wrong. (Hard SF analogy: It is possible to write about a non-spherical planet. Are we going to find one that is naturally occurring or that will last long? No.) When there is a stable society but not a reliable currency (for instance a cooperative culture but not a stable government), you get variations of feudalism, which protects what exists but is a kind of stasis.

Once you get a stable currency again (or for the first time), technological advances and free movement of labor become possible, and society moves out of feudalism to a market economy. There is no future next step past market economy, only varying levels of market freedom and market efficiency. There are distortions and levers you can play with (with various real-world examples), but obliterating money just gets you neo-feudalism (even if you call it something clever like a "gift economy" or "prestige economy" or "communism"). Even with replicators and eternal life, there is such a thing as opportunity cost. However, there are situations in which money does not matter or is not useful, including subcultures within the dominant culture (such as families and inter-office relationships).

Of course, it's the specific examples that are interesting and give you story hooks - hence my my four-page outline below.

I didn't say this specifically in the talk, but these are the two popular misconceptions I'd like to clear up about economics as a field.

1. Economics as technology

Economics is a science - essentially a sub-field of anthropology which focuses on public transactions (sales of land, labor relations, voting systems, etc.) In other words, economics is an attempt to explain what is already happening. It can be predictive, in the same way geologists can warn you an earthquake is coming or oil is more likely to be found in one area than another area. Along these lines, when we talk about economic advances, we're not talking about inventing anything, any more than advances in astronomy invent new stars; we're talking about getting better at seeing and explaining what was there in the first place.

What I'm getting at is, economics is not a technology - it's not something that lets us do more things than we could do without economics, and we're not going to invent a "new" economics that will replace our "outdated" current economy. As a science, economics simply describes. It's not really about should, not in a moral sense. It tells you what people in your area are paying factory workers, and why, not what you ought to pay factory workers, or even whether you care about making money beyond what it takes to keep the doors open.

2. Economics as applied to individual behavior

As such, economics is about groups and averages, not individuals. There are ways you can apply economic thinking to your life - you might, for instance, decide it's worth spending an extra $100 to fly home a day early because you'd save that much on the cost of a hotel and eating out. You might conversely decide it's worth an extra $100 to fly home a day later, because being away from home that extra day relaxes you as much as spending $200 for a therapy session. But these are also decisions you could make without thinking of them in economic terms, just by thinking "hey, what do I really want."

Don't get me wrong: economics is hardly useless. If you want to know whether raising DUI penalties or closing bars earlier is going to cut down on drunk driving, or how much money you're going to make if you install toll booths on a bridge (which is going to make a certain number of people stop using the bridge), you do an economic analysis. But economics is not going to tell you that your neighbor is going to be one of those individuals who is really annoyed about the toll bridge and will want to talk to you about it every day, and will successfully run against you in the next election by promising to cut property taxes since now we're paying for things with the toll bridge. Economics can tell you that a bank could succeed at a given location, not whether your bank will succeed.

In other words, economics does not tell you how to win at money or solve the world's problems. It tells you: given these preconditions, if you change these things, these other things will (or won't) shift in this direction by about this much. And if you don't change things at all, the future will tend to look like this. When it comes to the future, at least at present, economists won't be able to give you a clear timescale. Pretty much every economist knew for 10 years that the housing market was a bubble and a collapse was imminent, but in the meantime a lot of people made a lot of money out of the rise in prices. Ballpark, I'd say we've gotten good at guessing big things within about 5 years of when they happen. If we try to get too precise or too broad or too far out, we run into the same kinds of problems as meteorologists.

Economists themselves are to blame for largely to blame for these misconceptions. We like to make ourselves sound like cool all-powerful rock stars who can hack the planet and give you the keys to an easy life and simple tricks to cut down on belly fat. What we do is cool and can cut down on human misery in a wide range of areas. Or it can be used as an excuse to act totally horrible to other people. Like just about anything.

On to the outline. Which obviously simplifies quite a bit for expediency, as did the talk.

Read more... )
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[I'm gradually (and very casually) pulling together my notes and what I can remember from the Readercon panels I was on or attended. Part 1 is here, and covers "Have You Seen Me?: The Absent Children of Urban Fantasy" and "Apocalypse Then"]

A New Mythology of the Civil War
Dennis Danvers, Mikki Kendall (leader), Scott Lynch, Romie Stott, Howard Waldrop

In a 2012 piece for the Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote that the Lost Cause mythology of the American Civil War has settled so deeply in U.S. culture and historical understanding that it penetrates even our science fiction. (He was speaking of John Carter of Mars but might have been referring to many other works of SF.) "What we now need," he wrote, "is new stories, and new narratives, that not only refuse to revel in historical escapism, but also resist the lure of blaxploitation. People like James McPherson and Benjamin Quarles have gifted us with a new history. What we need now, is a new mythology." Who, if anyone, is undertaking the building of these new myths? And what are they reckoning with along the way?

Predictably, the panel had some interesting people on it who had some interesting things to say, and the audience was somewhat trollful - specifically the kind of trollery where one person in the audience thinks he's on the panel (let's be honest; it's usually a him) and more expert than the panel, and shouts his answers over the panelists' to make sure he gets the last word (usually a "nope"). Good lord, straight middle-aged white guys, you maybe don't know everything, and maybe a panel about how straight white guys haven't come up with the best takes on the Civil War isn't the time to insist that you have the answers to All The Problems, particularly when it means trying to talk over two women, one of whom is black and one of whom is queer, not that you asked.

(And maybe if you say that the Lost Cause mythology came from one source and I say it predates that source, just saying louder that you're right because you read a book does not invalidate the fact that I have a primary source that predates that book.)

Also, a lot of audience members were shocked and horrified that the Civil War is not really being taught well in modern public schools and had to be told several times that yes, really. Yes. It's not. Yes it was different when you went to school. No it is not in the current core standards, we promise. Yes, all the textbooks are being written to satisfy the Texas market and this is how Texas does it, which is that it doesn't.

But, anyway, the panel.

Mikki focused on under-told stories, particularly those which took place in black communities shortly before and shortly after the war. She talked about the complexity of a lot of the state and local laws, and the ways they worked to divide black families. For instance, in a number of areas, you had freed black men buying their wives and children, but then keeping them as slaves, because a change in their status would have forced them to leave the state or county. In other cases, you might have an owner free one member of a family but not the rest, and that freedman would therefore essentially be exiled.

A lot of it reminded me of modern immigration policies and how "documents" have become more important for belonging than degree of cultural integration in the community or degree of threat from "illegals" (and the ways contemporary Americans often sanctify their personal citizenship by birth, without realizing how arbitrary it is).

Mikki touched on the ways "one drop" rules could entangle family trees in the notably heritage-focused South - so that a white family might tell stories of a lost branch of the family that moved West and joined an Indian tribe, and then one day, generations later, a member of that branch might turn up, turn out to be black, and turn out to have been in the next town over.

Finally, she talked about how much black-on-white violence there actually was, which tends to get glossed over in favor of jumping straight to Martin Luther King Jr. You have people who have been enslaved and abused, you set them free and can't track them, and they do kill a bunch of people and then run off. You have black families acknowledging these murders matter-of-factly, or even embellishing them, as an example of justice, but these stories tend not to make it into recorded histories because the killers didn't get caught (and because for self-protecting PR reasons you don't want to say "yes, Southerners, you were right that freeing the slaves would suddenly put you in a lot of danger"). The point being that black people weren't all sweet and saintly children, and some of them behaved the way you might expect from abused insurgents.

Dennis, who is based in Richmond, talked about the degree to which facts of the past are ignored to create a more beautiful narrative, and how irresponsible this can be. He pointed to Lincoln's Dream, by Connie Willis, which is about Lee rather than Lincoln and which never uses the word slavery, and also the ways Steampunk tends to enjoy playing with the technology of the mid and late 1800s, but doesn't want to engage with the cultural forces.

He also told the story of the burning of Richmond - a fire which was started by Confederate troops as they retreated, in hopes of denying supplies to the advancing Union Army, and which was put out by the first regiment on the scene, a black regiment, who then distributed the food the Confederate troops had hoarded and then tried to burn even though most of Richmond's besieged population was by then starving. He noted that when the burning of Richmond is alluded to by Richmond museums, it is in an attempt to include Richmond in the arc of Sherman's March (i.e. devastation caused by the Union to force the South to surrender by attacking civilians), which is the opposite of its true story.

I suggested that much of the reason we have had trouble coming up with a just and compelling literary narrative of the Civil War is the fact that we still haven't resolved it in the real world. In order to reunite the country, both North and South had to almost immediately pivot to "we both had our differences, but we're all good people and that's behind us," like a couple trying to save a marriage. That narrative did its job, but let terrible structural inequalities go unresolved and terrible injustices go unpunished, and people who are now alive benefited and continue to benefit from that history of oppression, but are far removed enough we aren't the same bad (or good) actors who caused the problem. We don't know how to fix it, although we know it isn't fixed (as the disproportionate incarceration rate of black men shows).

We also run into other basic narrative problems: it is easy to tell a narrative that follows an individual struggling against the oppression of an individual, but difficult to tell a narrative that encompasses an entire society, particularly a society of people who are disempowered and can't exactly protag. (This stuff isn't impossible, but it is difficult. It goes without saying that not every writer has the skills of Chinua Achebe.)

This is particularly complicated while working in a genre that is, to one degree or another, escapist. SF likes positive endings (or tragic endings that are somehow poetic and awe-inspiring). We also have a long history of liking underdogs, which winds up working in favor of the Confederacy, and tend to get sidelined into battle stuff, if we like the Civil War, because it's fun - here's a time when you have a combination of WWI and Napoleonic strategies and technologies, and SF loves technological shifts.

However, the most significant thing that I think science fiction needs to examine is the degree to which our familiar narrative structures are grounded in the Western, in stories of the loner pushing the frontier forward and/or building a new society that ignores the past and promises a fresh start. In a lot of these original Westerns, the main characters are ex-Confederates, and the society they are moving away from is the society of the federal government.

When we replicate the archetypes from these stories - which we are often aping from other SF stories, and not directly from the Westerns, which we may not have read - we uncritically bring along a lot of "Lost Cause" baggage, which is perhaps all the more powerful for being invisible. We portray the individual as noble and the government as intrusive, and suggest that the past is something one wants to escape from and ignore (and is therefore not culpable for). We advance the notion that it's heroic to pit oneself against the frontier instead of getting entangled in "politics" and regulations, without considering who those politics and regulations might have been working to protect or compensate.

I think it is no coincidence that contemporary Libertarianism has been embraced fervently by the techy geek set in Northern California, who believe, despite evidence to the contrary, that we have reached a meritocracy and government is not needed. Science fiction has baked the Lost Cause into the foundation of our stories, and in doing so set the stage for an SFWA that has been plagued with hideous recent racism and sexism, with some members suggesting that women should be kicked out and at least one stating outright that black people are less evolved and we should take up guns against them. There are consequences when, to represent life beyond the stars, we unthinkingly mimic a frontier society that was made up not only disproportionately of men, but disproportionately of men who were traumatized combat veterans. Combat veterans from the side that wanted to perpetuate inequality and used violence to do it.

I am not saying that this is the only way to read these stories, or that there is no place for them. But it is something we, as SF authors, need to take a hard look at when we center our fiction on the individualistic and rootless adventurer, or say things like "the protagonist needs to protag." To build a new mythology, it is not enough to stick women or non-white characters into these roles if we tell the same narratives with the same unexamined ideals.

As a counterexample, I pointed out Jonathan Lethem's excellent Girl in Landscape, which not only deliberately subverts the John Wayne archetype, but includes one of the only evocations I've seen of one of the stranger aspects of Civil War-era Southern culture (and race relations in Haiti immediately prior to their successful slave revolt) - the tendency to view black people as invisible and threatening at the same time. You had Confederates discussing their plans and airing their beliefs that black people were violent and crazy in the same room where they were being waited upon by black house slaves, and there was never a moment of "oh, wait, they could kill me in my sleep." (In Haiti, as Mikki pointed out, the black slaves were asked to carry the guns.) Girl in Landscape brings humans into contact with an alien species, and the question isn't simply what their rights might be, and whether they might be violent, but whether humans could get along fine by pretending the aliens aren't there. (If you haven't read it, read it.)

We all agreed that regardless of whether or not we like it, Firefly is problematic. Scott Lynch refilled everybody's water, like a tea party, apparently a holdover habit from the time he spent waiting tables.
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I've been working on this in bits of time over the past week; the trouble is that even very quick and piecemeal impressionistic writing about hour-long panels is relatively time-consuming to write, and it tends to run long. So rather than one monster post, I'm going to chop it up and post as I complete sections. Part 1 covers the two panels on Thursday.

This was my first time at Readercon - or really at any writers' convention or SF convention. (My world is film festivals and sometimes academia, and my world is even more an abstinence from potentially entertaining large gatherings because I'm busy.) I had forgotten how dry conference room air is; I drank All The Water and still feel I could have stood to drink more water. Program descriptions of most of the panels I reference here.

Have You Seen Me?: The Absent Children of Urban Fantasy

Pretty much a dud. Being the first panel of the first day, nobody had really gotten into the swing of things. But beyond that, the person who proposed the panel was not there, nor were the people whose writing was referenced, and all of us on the panel basically disagreed with the premises that (a) children were absent (b) children have an inherent sense of wonder (c) urban fantasy is cynical. Aside from which, half of the panelists were Romance writers who seemed to think that urban fantasy was a synonym for paranormal romance, whereas I feel these are extremely different genres, drawing on different traditions, written for different audiences to satisfy different needs. I am now contemplating those differences and why I feel they exist (which is not something I was able to explore within the context of the panel), so I suppose that's something.

Veronica Schanoes, a badass professor who does intense research on the origins of fairy tales, mentioned as part of making another point that the Brothers Grimm, who we usually think of as trusty purveyors of the "dark" versions, actually cleaned things up a bit, and in particular switched a lot of mothers into stepmothers because they felt all the mothers killing children reflected badly on Germany. Hansel & Gretel, Snow White - the villains were originally their biological mothers. (Cinderella, which traces back to B.C. China, seemingly always had a stepmother.)

I offered a quick explanation of why we see fewer children on television than we used to (combination of changes in child labor laws and the move to single-camera instead of multi-camera shows, which means much longer shooting days), and this made a significant impression on some audience members. (I have noticed that being involved in film and TV, even on a totally insignificant level, often makes me the closest thing available to the man behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz.) I closed by proposing a writing exercise I made up on the fly based on an audience comment about Charles DeLint's work: instead of writing backstories for child characters, try writing forward stories. Figure out who they are as adults and then figure out the children and adolescents who would become that. This is probably the quickest way to break out of writing "kid" characters to instead write characters.

Apocalypse Then

This was quite good, although hard to pull small threads out of. Leah Bobet had to cancel last moment and was replaced by Maria Headley. I was moderator rather than a panelist, which means that I mostly asked questions and made sure everyone got roughly equal time to talk.

I liked everyone on this panel - all smart, all prepared, all with clear points of view. In discussion of survivalist fantasies, Sabrina Vourvoulias pointed out that the idea that a disaster is a chance for personal redemption is very Christian, and she contrasted it to the long community process of reconciliation after society-devastating wars. Maureen McHugh mentioned that the original meaning of "apocalypse" is in the book of Revelations - that it is the apocalypse, and there can only be one, and it is the end, so that one could not have a post-apocalypse. An audience member helpfully pointed out that it came from the (I believe Hebrew) word for uncovering.

Everybody agreed that The Road is overall very irritating. After a ranging but focused discussion that included different cultural tellings of The Great Flood, personal experiences with survivalist culture, personal experiences in the aftermath of natural disasters and political violence, doomsday cults, the appeal of declaring the world has ended or narrowly averted ending (as with the Renaissance representation of the "dark ages" and various "end of Rome" declarations at various points of Roman history, as well as more modern examples), the American cultural idea that a clean slate is the best way to fix a problem, and more, often with a very communitarian bent. However, it was acknowledged that writing about communities instead of individuals is very difficult, simply because the scope tends to be too large for a book.

I asked, as a final question, for each panelist to share what "live like there's no tomorrow" means to them. For me, the most resonant answer was McHugh's; she was diagnosed a few years ago with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, and spoke about how it took her quite some time to be able to take tomorrow for granted, and that this was a goal - that it is a relief to be able to treat everyday life as banal.

Moderating this panel was probably my favorite part of Readercon; I liked the topic and liked the panelists. I also like moderating; it's great fun to figure out how to help a group of people present as their best and most interesting selves, and to tweak and support that in the moment. Being a discussion leader or emcee is something of a native talent (the connection to the role of "director" is not insignificant), but it was also interesting to note in myself that I have probably picked up a few tricks from transcribing a lot of panels on CSPAN, interviews by Charlie Rose, and other similar programming.

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