Tales from the Before Time: Finding Fandom

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.

Albacon, Upcoming

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.

I Think It’s a Rule

If you’re driving into Boston from out of town, you have to get lost at least once on Massachusetts Avenue.

Normally, our GPS navigator saves us from this, but the rules caught up with us this trip, because the navigator went toes-up on us shortly before departure.  Fortunately, we were able to access Google Maps via my phone — not by using the phone’s web feature, because it doesn’t really have one, but by calling our younger son back in Colebrook and having him find the necessary directions and relay them to us.

After that mini-adventure, we made it safely to the Westin hotel, and our first programming item is a signing at 2 PM in the Galleria.  We’re signing alongside Ken MacLeod and Charlie Stross, so if you’ve got a book (or a short story in an anthology, or a bookplate, or whatever), feel free to bring it in and we’ll happily sign it for you.

And if you’re one of the people who mostly own our stuff in electronic format . . . if you can figure out how to get us to sign that, we’ll happily do that as well.

(Surely somebody, somewhere, has invented an app for getting author signatures on e-books.  Heaven knows, they’ve got apps for everything else.)

The Unified Doyle & Macdonald Boskone Schedule

Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald
Autographing
Saturday 14:00 – 15:00, Galleria

(We’ll be autographing alongside Ken MacLeod and Charles Stross, a couple of overseas guests from the UK, so if you’ve got anything by us you’d like to have signed, feel free to bring it in so we won’t let New Hampshire down.)

Debra Doyle
Design Your Own Mythology:
Saturday 15:00 – 16:00, Harbor III

What goes into mythmaking? Panelists share their experiences in creating mythologies and pantheons — offering up dos and don’ts, tips on resources, and things to think about as you try creating a coherent mythology of your own.

James D. Macdonald
From Rapiers to Ray Guns
Saturday 16:00 – 17:00, Marina 1

From epic fantasy to space war, speculative fiction is rife with useful tools and weapons that can be used in battle. How much does a writer or reader really need to know about these weapons for fictional frays to feel real? What weapons work best for close-quarters or downrange combat in specific settings?

Debra Doyle
A Muddle of Mad Scientists
Saturday 20:00 – 21:00, Burroughs

From Dr. Frankenstein to Dr. Faustus, Mrs. Coulter to Dr. Horrible, genre fiction is filled with a long list of the crazily creative geniuses known as mad scientists. Why do we love them? What makes the mad scientist character so appealing in horror, comedy, and everything in between? Join us for a mad, mad discussion featuring some of our favorite screwy scientists/inventors from the past, present, and future.

James D. Macdonald
Abracadabra! Making Magic Real
Sunday 12:00 – 13:00, Marina 1

In writing fantasies — from epic to urban– how do you keep your story’s magic feeling fresh and new? It’s a challenge. Rules and boundaries can help, but how do you make the “science” of the supernatural seem, well, natural? Panelists discuss the perils and potentials of using magic in fiction.

Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald
Reading Sunday 13:00 – 13:30, Griffin

Snowbound

At least until the driveway gets shoveled clear.  Which is going to be a task which is not mine.

SnowDay

And we have more snow predicted for mid-week.  Fortunately, Friday is projected to be cold and sunny, because that’s the day we’ll be heading down to Boston for the Boskone sf/fantasy convention.  Watch this space for the unified Doyle&Macdonald convention schedule, to be appearing Real Soon Now.

Meanwhile, I have an editing gig to work on, which I have grievously neglected the past two days, because the household was afflicted not only with snow, but with a nasty but fast-moving bug that somehow slipped under this season’s flu-shot radar.  (Better last week than this coming weekend, is all I can say.)

It’s January, Which Means Arisia Is on the Horizon

Doyle’s Arisia Sked

What Lies Beneath: Adding Subtext to Your Story Alcott Fri 8:30 PM

    In real life and in storytelling, what -isn’t- being said is often more gripping than the actual dialogue between your characters. How can you use subtext to develop your characters and boost suspense? What dialogue tricks, body language, and setting communicate there’s a story which isn’t being told? Our panelists will teach you how to make your characters lie, dodge, and evade the thing they don’t want to face, all while foreshadowing the existence of inner demons.

Reading: Doyle, Ronald, Macdonald Hale Sat 10:00 AM

Expecto Patronum: Animal Symbolism in SFF Marina 1 Sat 5:30 PM

Symbolic and magical connections to animals are a standard trope in fantasy. But they are also prevalent in science fiction. From Black Panther to the Mockingjay, characters’ connections to particular animals can say a lot about them, especially in the context of the culture that produced them. What do animals mean in SFF, and how have they changed as we learn more about biodiversity and the changing natural world?

The 100 Year Old Barbed Wire: The Great War & SF Marina 2 Sun 1:00 PM

We are in the midst of the centenary of World War I. The US was not hit badly by it compared to Europe, and in 2017 the centenary of US involvement (6 April 1917) is coming up. How did the war and its aftermath change society and our idea of the future. Could “Brave New World” or “Things to Come” or other early classics of speculative fiction been written without the war’s impact? Why do so many alternate histories use earlier or later events as a changing point rather than this one?

Macdonald’s Arisia Sked:

Reading: Doyle, Ronald, Macdonald     Hale     Writing     Sat 10:00 AM   

Just the Facts: Vaccines     Alcott         Sat 8:30 PM

Why do we need a flu shot every year? Why do more people have to get vaccinated when the vaccine is less effective? What kind of harm _can_ they cause? And why is the U.S. having measles outbreaks again when Pakistan and India are eliminating polio? Come hear the science, the anti-science, and the ongoing discussions of immunology and epidemiology.
       
Pew-Pew-Pew! How to Write a Sci-Fantasy Gunfight     Hale         Sun 1:00 PM

Whether you write steampunk, gritty urban fantasy, post-apocalyptic fiction or futuristic sci-fi, chances are you’ll need to write a gunfight. What kind of firearm (gun, pulse cannon or ray-gun) should your characters use? How should they secure and store their weapon? What are their weapon’s limitations? What materials will provide cover when the enemy fires at them? Don’t let your gunfights be like the Stormtroopers who always miss!!!

Going Viral: How Pathogens Spread     Faneuil     Sun 8:30 PM

Zombies don’t really work, but viruses do. This is a look at fast versus slow pathogens and how they can spread. Maybe it’s time to buy that house in Madagascar?

Not How It Used to Be

This weekend, this year’s Worldcon in Kansas City announced the winners of the Hugo Awards – and the results were reported as news in a variety of non-fannish outlets, from the Guardian to Slate.

‘Twas not always thus.  Within the living memory of fandom,* the science-fiction community could carry out its debates and fanfeuds without anyone else caring or even noticing, because in terms of literary respectability, sf was a pariah genre, ranking well below mystery fiction or even westerns.  (Only romance fiction ranked lower on the respectability scale, possibly because it suffered from the added stigma of girliness.)  Newspaper and television reporting on sf conventions was heavy on the “look at these people in their funny costumes” factor and light on “listen to these people talking about everything from literature to politics.”

These days, we can’t count on that comfortable obscurity any more.  Science fiction and fantasy have become dominant storytelling modes in both film and television; mainstream authors are working with science-fictional and fantastic tropes more and more often, and doing a better job of it than they used to – sometimes, they don’t even try to pretend that what they’re writing isn’t sf or fantasy, which is another big change; the President of the USA is a Spider-Man fan who’s been known to engage in lightsaber battles on the White House lawn and to flash the Vulcan salute.

And it’s hard, sometimes, to let go of the habits and defensive reflexes from days gone by, before the geeks and nerds took over the earth.  But we’re fans.  We can adapt.

*Taking, as one does, oneself for a yardstick – I can remember being told by the writer-in-residence instructor of a creative writing class, back in my undergrad days, that I was “wasting my talent” writing science fiction.  (Everybody else in the class was writing “coming of age in the South” stories.  My position on that was that having come of age in the South and survived the experience, I ought to be exempt from having to write – or, for that matter, to read – about it afterward.)

The Unified Doyle-Macdonald Arisia Schedule

The Arisia Science Fiction Convention is being held this coming weekend at the Westin Waterfront Hotel in Boston, and (barring unforeseen disasters) Jim Macdonald and I are planning to be there.  Our schedule for the convention:

5:30 PM Friday  (Three bells of the First Dog Watch)

Thrown with Great Force:Classics We Won’t Finish – Literature, Panel – 1hr 15min- Marina 2 (2E)
This is a panel for all of you who didn’t finish LotR; everyone who needed to self medicate through Infinite Jest, exiled Frankenstein to the frozen wastes, or wanted to flush the Foundation. What did you fail to finish, which ones do you feel guilty about not finishing, and which ones do not make you feel any twinge of guilt at all?

    Kate Nepveu (m), Mark L Amidon, Vikki Ciaffone, Debra Doyle, Catt Kingsgrave-Ernstein, Ken Liu
10:00 PM Friday  (Four bells of the First Watch)

Trains and SF/F – Fan Interest, Panel – 1hr 15min – Faneuil (3W)
Perhaps the most iconic development of the Industrial Revolution was the steam locomotive, and science fiction and fantasy has made great use of locomotives and trains throughout its history. Whether the “lightning rail” of D&D’s Eberron setting or the popularity of locomotives in steampunk, SF/F is no stranger to the love affair and sense of wonder people have for trains. Come “all aboard” with Arisia ’16, as we explore this phenomenon in the realm of fantastic fiction!

 Dennis McCunney (m), James Macdonald, Daniel Miller
10:00 AM Saturday  (Four bells of the Forenoon Watch)

The Founding Mothers of SF/F – Literature, Panel – 1hr 15min – Marina 2 (2E)
As we know, women invented all our favorite stuff! Mary Shelley defined science fiction with Frankenstein; Baroness Emma Orczy invented the superhero with The Scarlet Pimpernel. Let’s discuss the founding mothers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

Catherine Lundoff (m), Debra Doyle, Greer Gilman, Victoria Janssen, JoSelleVanderhooft

10:00 AM Saturday (Four bells of the Forenoon Watch)

How to Write a Fight Scene – Literature, Panel – 1hr 15min – Grand CD (1W)
Come find out how viable your fight scene really is. An experienced panel of talented authors, martial artists, and maybe one hapless would-be victim will take your quick fight scene and act it out while our esteemed panelists help you work out the physical and literary kinks. Please no epic wave battles.

Keith R. A. DeCandido (m), Genevieve Iseult Eldredge, James Macdonald, Mark J. Millman
1:00 PM Saturday  (2 Bells of the Afternoon Watch )

Shifting the Language of SF – Literature, Panel – 1hr 15min – Marina 2 (2E)
Very few SF authors of the many who set stories in the far future ever speculate what language may sound like in following centuries and distant stars. Some formative works, like Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange and Orwell’s 1984 include this as a theme. Who else? What are the dangers of speculating vernacular? How might the language our descendants speak differ from ours? What works in SF imagine how the kids talk in the far future?

John Chu (m), Heather Albano, Debra Doyle, Greer Gilman, Lawrence M. Schoen

1:00 PM Saturday  (2 Bells of the Afternoon Watch)

Cinematic Writing and SF/F – Literature, Panel – 1hr 15min – Burroughs (3E)
SF/F literature gets a lot of its fans from other media, especially visual media like TV and film. How has it affected the writing of spec fic? Can writing be truly cinematic? What does cinematic literature look like? What techniques in SF/F point back toward more visual techniques in other media?

James Macdonald (m), Marlin May, John Scalzi, Sarah Smith, Ian Randal Strock