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.""