…Jim Macdonald and I have, in a spirit of reluctant responsibility, abandoned our tentative plans to attend this year’s Heliosphere convention, since we had so much fun at the last one. We hadn’t yet bought memberships or gotten a hotel room (we’d been planning to stay at a cheap offsite hotel for economy’s sake), which means at least we aren’t out any money. But the Tarrytown Doubletree is uncomfortably close to the hot spot in New Rochelle, and we don’t want to be the folks who bring the virus home with us to Colebrook, so there it is.
Worldbuilding Within Epic Fantasy at the Dawn of a Modern Age
14 Feb 2020, Friday 17:00 – 17:50, Marina 1 (Westin)
Fantasy is real, but so is scientific discovery. When an epic fantasy is set during the transition from a rural society to an emerging, world-transforming industrial age, how does the setting help define the parameters of the story? How does it affect the creation of characters? Is a Victorian-Era feeling inevitable? What other examples can be used as models? When magic is at play, how might it alter the evolution of an industrial revolution?
Reading: Debra Doyle and James Macdonald
14 Feb 2020, Friday 20:00 – 20:25, Griffin (Westin)
The Future of Libraries
15 Feb 2020, Saturday 10:00 – 10:50, Marina 4 (Westin)
The card catalog is already kaput. How long can stacks, carrels, and tome-laden tables last? How soon till the world’s One Big Library is seamlessly interconnected with everybody’s local, a collaborative sharing space with digital pipes to every seat and a helpful robotic assistant “manning” the “desk”? Any room left for the most systematically refined information storage technology of all: the book?
Reading: Debra Doyle and James Macdonald
14 Feb 2020, Friday 20:00 – 20:25, Griffin (Westin)
Editing from Agent, to Editor, to Publisher
15 Feb 2020, Saturday 14:00 – 14:50, Marina 2 (Westin)
Writing is only half the work when crafting a story, novel, or article. Once the words are on the page, what happens next? Our panel discusses the review, revision, rewriting, and more needed at each stage of the process before the finished piece lands in the hands of a reader.
Seeing Through the Tech Hype
15 Feb 2020, Saturday 16:00 – 16:50, Marina 3 (Westin)
With so many new innovations and discoveries, it’s easy to get carried away by the possibilities of what a shiny new technology can actually accomplish. What questions should you ask to see through the tech hype surrounding everything from driverless cars, gene editing, and artificial intelligence to VR gaming and 3-D printing? What’s really possible? How do fiction and entertainment media affect the writing, publication, and understanding of actual scientific and technological advances?
Format: Children – DragonsLair
16 Feb 2020, Sunday 11:00 – 11:50, Galleria – Dragonslair (Westin)
Jim Macdonald does stage magic.
When Is Death?
16 Feb 2020, Sunday 14:00 – 14:50, Burroughs (Westin)
Death is as intrinsic to the human experience as life, but what does death really mean in fiction … or in reality? Do we pass on to another existence? Will we be written back into the sequel? Will we be uploaded into a quantum network to exist as long as the hardware doesn’t fail? How has our imagination affected our understanding of death over time?
(Unless something horrible and unexpected leaps out of the bushes at us beforehand — which has, alas, been known to happen.)
Anyway. We’re going to be attending the Heliosphere sf/fantasy convention in Tarrytown, NY, and while we’re at it we’re going to be tacking a day or so onto the trip to do what Jim Macdonald is referring to as The Major Andre Tour. All the sites associated with the unfortunate entanglement of Major John Andre (even his enemies liked him) with Benedict Arnold (even his friends thought he was a dick) are within a few miles of each other in the nearby area, so it seemed like an opportunity not to be missed.
Jim will undoubtedly be writing it all up for his blog when we’re done, so keep watching this space (or his space) for details.
We’ll be doing the Tour on the Friday before Heliosphere, working out of a base in Nyack. Jim has the itinerary all worked out, with GPS coordinates and everything — once a navigator, always a navigator, I suppose.
It should be fun.
It was a good Arisia, despite the many and varied problems the con experienced heading in to the occasion. Returning to the Park Plaza for a year was an exercise in nostalgia (was the hotel layout always this confusing? were the rooms always that small? were the locally available restaurants always that much better and more plentiful?†), but mostly in a good way in spite of everything.
I was on a total of five panels, including one 8:30AM panel (note to self: let’s not do that again), with no real dogs and two standouts — the panel on sidekicks, and the panel on the problem of writing near-future sf when the present keeps catching up with and passing the tech. We had one really good dinner out, at the Marliave restaurant, where Jim Macdonald had the Beef Wellington and I had their Sunday Gravy (i.e., slow-cooked beef, pork, and lamb in tomato sauce with gnocchi. Macdonald’s verdict , after tasting the latter: “If you were to find a recipe and make that at home in the slow cooker, I would eat it.”)
We broke our trip on Sunday night in Merrimack, because of the winter storm that was even then dumping much snow on the middle and northern parts of New Hampshire, and returned home Monday to this:
That’s the path leading up to the front deck. Note the level of drifted snow. Note also the depth of the path cut through the fallen snow by our recently acquired snow thrower.
And this is the older Subaru, left at home for the weekend to accumulate its own blanket of white:
We’d had the forethought, born of bitter experience, to leave all of the faucets in the house on the drip, so at least all of the water was running and the toilet was flushing on our return. The cats, left for the long weekend with fresh water from a dish in the kitchen sink (see, on the drip, above) and an entire roasting pan full of dry cat food, have more or less forgiven us now that we have demonstrated the continued existence of wet cat food in the world.
So, all in all, not a bad road trip.
†Answers: If possible the layout is even more confusing now than it was before; I think that most of the rooms are even smaller now that they’ve renovated the place; and yes, there are a lot more, better, and cheaper restaurants near the Park Plaza than there are near the Westin.
Or, where we’ll be and what we’ll be doing this coming weekend, while we’re attending the Arisia Science Fiction Convention at the Boston Park Plaza.
The Sidekick Lounge
Cambridge Sat 11:30 AM
Where would our protagonist be without a trusty sidekick? Sidekicks are an invaluable part of storytelling, serving as everything from an audience stand-in to comedic relief. Let’s talk about the roles sidekicks can play, why they’re important to protagonists, and clever inversions of common sidekick tropes.
Giving Characters Big Damn Hero Moments
Beacon Hill Sat 5:30PM
Achilles in front of the gates of Troy. Hurin in the Battle of Innumerable Tears. Daenerys and “Dracarys!” Speculative literature often includes moments of mind-blowing awesomeness where a character uses combat, skill, or persuasion to save the day. Panelists discuss favorite moments in literature with Big Damn Hero moments, but also techniques to bring these moments to their full epic potential.
Siblings in SFF
Winthrop Sun 8:30 AM
Let’s explore fantastical siblings! Join the panelists as they talk about everyone from the general harmony of the Weasleys to the conflicts of Ender, Peter, and Valentine Wiggin. We’ll discuss our favorite sibling rivalries, sibling bonds, and when it’s obvious that the author writing a story was an only child.
Writing About a Future That’s Already Here
Cabot Sun 10:00 AM
Has enough attention been paid to the way our world has changed in the past decade? How has the ubiquity of cell phones, social media, and on-demand manufacturing already made standard tropes of speculative fiction obsolete? Panelists will consider which technologies writers need to be aware of and how they impact characters and plots.
The Past in Present Tense: Escaping Flashbacks
Cabot Sun 2:30 PM
Whether through flashbacks, exposition, or time travel, speculative fiction often needs to travel backward before it can go forward. How have authors handled the question of backstory besides writing a flashback? What are the advantages and disadvantages of introducing elements of the past through other means (fragments of written records, fever dreams, reality gem illusions, etc.)?
Franklin Fri 8:30 PM
In the 80s and 90s, nerd culture was less about superheroes or space wizards, and more about invincible masked murderers hunting and killing large numbers of teenagers through increasingly ornate and unlikely means. These were the glory days of Fangoria, a magazine that covered and celebrated the world of horror on film for decades, and was due to make a triumphant return in 2018, its 40th year. We’ll look back on the slasher genre, and the way Fangoria helped build a culture around it.
100th Anniversary of the Great Molasses Flood
Whittier Sat 5:30 PM
On January 15, 1919, the Purity Distilling Co’s molasses tank burst, sending a flood of molasses that killed 21 people, injured 150, and killed a large number of horses as well. What were the scientific and engineering reasons that caused it? And why has it (thankfully) not happened since?
Writing Fights That Matter
Newbury Sun 1:00 PM
Fight scenes take many forms in speculative fiction–space battles with improbable physics, wizard duels, and your classic bar scene dust-up, but at heart, a fight is an argument fought without words. This panel will focus on convincing readers that no matter what form your battle takes, the stakes are clear, enormous, and compelling. How can a writer make every fight not just plausible, but memorable?
We’re going to be at Scintillation, a science fiction convention in Montreal. Except for being in a different country and all that, Montreal is actually more local to us than Boston, or even Manchester. (Reminder to self: Must go to Montreal more often.)
Scintillation is more or less a successor-state to Farthing Party, the convention that Jo Walton ran for eight years from 2006 to 2013. Jim Macdonald and I made all of them — even the year when we had to do the con as a Saturday day trip because we were moving our younger daughter into Simmons College in Boston on the following Sunday — and we were sad to see it go. When we saw that Jo was running a Kickstarter to bring a convention back to Montreal, we jumped onto the bandwagon right away.
(If you’re going to be at the con, don’t miss Jim’s presentation on A Century of Dead Magicians, which looks at the history of modern stage magic through the lens of a succession of magicians who had some really bad days.)
This weekend, Jim Macdonald and I are going to be at Albacon, in (surprise, surprise) Albany, New York. This will be the first convention we’ve fully attended since Arisia, back in January — Readercon was a bar-and-lobby con for us this summer, for one reason and another, so we didn’t get the full experience with that one.
Albacon isn’t one of your big crowded conventions that sells out its hotel room block within 24 hours of reservations opening up, and then goes on to fill an overflow hotel or two. It’s a pleasantly-sized regional con that won’t overwhelm a newcomer. So if you’re in the area, why not swing on by? Jim and I will be wearing name badges (and so will everyone else) — if you greet us, we’ll say hi.
(Well, I’ll probably squint at your name badge and try to remember exactly where I know you from, because I suck at remembering names and faces. Just say, “I read your blog,” and that’ll be introduction enough.)
Fantasy writer Jo Walton is running a Kickstarter for Scintillation, a small convention to be held – provided the Kickstarter succeeds — in 2018 in Montreal.
Jo (who deservedly often has Homeric epithets like “acclaimed” and “award-winning” affixed to her name) ran the Farthingparty convention in Montreal from 2006 to 2014, before time-management issues and the stress of worrying every year whether or not the convention would draw enough members to break even brought the run to an end. She’s coming back now with the new Kickstarter model, which she explains in detail on the project page.
I really really want this Kickstarter to succeed. (Yes, I’ve already thrown in my mite, and will throw more as more becomes available.) Farthingparty was the closest convention to where we live,† and I think we made every single one of them, even the one which we had to do as a Saturday day trip because we were moving one of our offspring into their dorm in Boston on Sunday. I’ve missed it ever year since it ended, and having a new convention we could attend in Montreal would be a wonderful thing.
†Yes. We live that far north in New Hampshire.
The internet, as usual, has changed everything.
These days, any young sf/fantasy reader or watcher with access to a computer can connect with other likeminded souls in a matter of minutes, if not seconds. They may not be able to meet up face-to-face, but that’s not necessary, and wasn’t necessary even in the olden days. It’s enough, most of the time, just to know that there’s somebody else like you out there.
Back before the internet, things were harder. If you lived anywhere other than a major city, your chances of encountering another reader who shared your particular obsession were low. (I was fortunate; my best friend in high school also read sf, and the local news and magazine shop owner must have been a fan as well, because the shop carried all the new paperback releases and all of the major sf magazines, as well as some of the second-tier sf mags.) As a result, a young fan’s reaction upon encountering a large, organized (for fannish values of “organization”, which is to say, not very) fan group, or a science fiction convention, was often something along the lines of “My people! My people! I’ve found you at last!”
A note: It’s also necessary to understand that this era came not just before the internet, but before the Geek Ascendancy. People who liked sf and fantasy and computers and techy/sciency stuff in general were pretty much universally regarded as weirdo loners, rather than as weirdo loners any one of whom might possibly have a greater net worth than the entire city of Chicago.
When a collection of weirdo loners (and yes – I, too, was a weirdo loner) come together and discover that they are not alone in their weirdo-hood after all, the community that is created has both good and bad features, and a lot of those features are connected like good and evil twins. The fandom of those days, to give just one example, was tolerant of all sorts of social awkwardness and nonconformity (because we were entirely too aware, most of us, of our own flaws in that regard); the flip side of that virtue, unfortunately, was a willingness to put up with just about any bad behavior short of running away with the cash box.
Post-internet fandom is . . . well, it’s different, in ways that as a pre-internet fan I’m not entirely capable of understanding. But the old pre-internet fandom is still around, and still inhabiting a lot of the same virtual and actual spaces as post-internet fandom, and the places where they rub up against each other sometimes chafe.
I’m not sure what can be done about this problem, or even sure that it is a problem of the needs-something-done-about-it variety. The best we can do, I guess, is be kind to each other, and remember that we all love the same thing even if we don’t necessarily do it in all the same ways.
Himself and I will be at Albacon in Albany NY this weekend — it’s at the western edge of our traveling periphery, and it’s a small, low-key convention that we’ve always enjoyed whenever we’ve been able to make it. All too often, it used to coincide with the Viable Paradise workshop, but now it’s moved back to the spring — which is tougher on our pocketbook but easier on our schedule.
Right now — such are the joys of the freelance life — it’s still up in the air as to whether we’ll be doing the con in shoestring mode or have a bit of leeway for nonessentials. (At least the con hotel’s complimentary full American breakfast takes care of two meals for the weekend, which helps to stretch out the shoestring.)
But if you’re in Albany NY this weekend in a congoing mood, you could always drop by and listen to Himself do his presentation on “100 Years of Dead Magicians” on Saturday night.