Thursday, August 7, 2008

Small Adventures in a Large WoldCon – Part 2 – August 7th, 2008

Live from the Starbucks on 16th street, downtown Denver, courtesy of the local free WiFi….

After getting to talk to a few writers and a Hugo-award winning reviewer last night in the hotel’s lounge, and working on one of my stories, I ended up going to bed pretty late.

Day 2 started at 8 am, where after a brisk shower, shave and review of the day’s goals I joined the “Strolling with the stars” crowd a few minutes before 9 am, by the Big Blue Before in front of the convention center. We did indeed take a gentle stroll around a couple of blocks and I got to introduce myself to some nice folks. Finishing at around 9:30 am, I decided to go back and buy extra mineral water and an energy drink for later (since drinks are exorbitantly priced inside the Con) at a Ride Aid we had passed on the stroll. Inside the convention center once again, I donated one of my water bottles to one of the fellow strollers, which was kind of impulsive and maybe stalker-ish (?!) but I was just trying to be nice. Hopefully they didn’t take it as anything except a donation of H20 to a fellow attendee…. Then on to the first panel.

Panel 1- Short Fiction: On it's way out or a way to break into the market? – 10 am
Panel Blurb: Does anyone read short stories anymore? The increase in original anthology collections, coupled with both the internet and paper magazine market would tend to say yes. But many fans tell us they just don't read short fiction anymore. What's the real story?
Participants: ( m) David Levine, Ellen Datlow, James Patrick Kelly, Lisa Mantchev, Sheila Williams

Very cool way to kick off the day. A lot of insightful comments, including query letters, the submission process, editor’s preferences, the anthologies market, etc. I particularly enjoyed Lisa Mantchev’s take (maybe because where she is professionally is the next step I’m shooting for, so I could really appreciate her experiences with on-line markets, for example) but everyone was great, and D Levine did a fantastic job moderating. It was also exciting to see how many people in the audience were avid readers of SF in the short form. Short fiction -- definitely NOT on its way out, and just maybe still a way to break into the market...

Panel 2 - Trends in new SF: Where are we going and why? – 11:30 am
Panel Blurb: What is new and different in the SF&F of today, and what will we be reading tomorrow?
Participants: Charles Brown, Jim Minz, ( m) Ken Scholes, Sheila Williams

Oligatory panel to attend, imho. Gary Wolfe joined it, which was a delight. The panelists quickly agreed to change to focus to “New trends in SF” and some interesting stuff came out of it: Wolfe talked about the “colonization” effect of recent SF of other themes and non-genre stuff, quoting the new Paul McAuley and other works as examples (the recent Baxter quartet which starts out as historical fiction and in retrospect becomes SF by virtue of the alternate history elements in the last volume), and the “displacement of the United States” theme or subtext present in many works. “Progress” was confirmed as far as pictorial cover depictions, much improved over the last several decades, and it was basically ascertained that SF, by its very nature, seeks things which are new and exciting, and therefore one cannot identify the “new trends” in the genre until they’re pretty over (C Brown emphasized this). When C Brown commented that it might have been more useful to have new writers like Daryl Gregory on this panel, rather than “four dinosaurs,” Wolfe came back with the excellent rejoinder that he preferred to think of himself as “early mammoth.” Wolfe talked briefly about his doctoral dissertation and the application of formula fiction to the market, citing that it didn’t exist in SF in the same manner it did in romance and other genre categories. There was also some great discussion around non-written media and media tie-ins and novelizations (the Halo novels appear to be the biggest SF sellers, with over a million copies in print so far!, an excellent tidbit shared by Jim Minz). I fumbled a question at the panel: Malzberg talks about sub-genres like alternate history and cyberpunk being the result of the irresolution of the central dichotomy of SF (ideal examination versus commercial demand). If that’s the case, would that mean an end to “new trends” if that dichotomy was resolved? I should have phrased the question more succinctly; the panelists responded that there would always be new trends and new “sub-genres,” because inventiveness of ideas was one of the genre’s staples. Whether that assumes that the driving dichotomy will therefore not be resolved remains an open question. At the end I got a few words in with Sheila Williams, who was really nice – now all I have to do is finish a couple of the stories I’ve been laboring on over the last few of months and send them to her magazine. If I’m lucky I may get a semi-personalized rejection, which at this point would make me happy!

I skipped the third panel I’d planned, and went out for a bite to eat (New York style pizza, anyone?) and some brief R&R at the hotel room. I ended up working on one of my new stories through this “lunch break” and headed back to the convention center at 2:15 pm.

Panel 3 - Timeless Stars: Olaf Stapledon – 2:30pm
Panel blurb: A retrospective on a critically acclaimed author who gave shape to the science fiction genre during the first half of the 20th century.
Participants: ( m) Evelyn Leeper, John Hertz, Robert Silverberg
Awesome stuff. Knowing the panelists, the conversation quickly sidetracked into an appraisal of some of the technical merits of Nabokov’s LOLITA and other fascinating matters. Unfortunately I had to step out of this one early since I had agreed to meet my panel moderator at 3 pm for some prep time.

Christian Suave, the moderator, did a fantastic job of bringing copies of his cheat sheet with many interesting questions for us to review, and he and I exchanged thoughts and experiences about these issues for about 45 mins. Pat Cadigan happened to be in the same prep room for a few minutes and I got her to sign her name next to the story “Jimmy,” a really strong piece in the Datlow anthology (one of my favs). Another very polite exchange – gosh, everyone is so nice!

Panel 4 - Fandom and SF outside the English speaking world – 4 pm
Panel blurb: Do you have to read English to be an SF fan? Certainly not! But it helps. International fans describe the joys and pleasures of reading SF and participating in fandom in non-English speaking countries.
Participants: Alvaro Zinos Amaro, ( m) Christian Sauve, Rani Graff, Sarah Hoyt
A blast. I really enjoyed Christian’s style of moderation, which included taking questions from the audience as we went, rather than at the end, and made the whole panel a lot more engaging and interactive. Cheryl Morgan had some nice comments about FinnCon, which she’d recently attended, and other audience members also contributed insightful comments about EuroCon and Swedish fandom. We covered a ton of ground, though it was maybe half of the points summarized on the cheat sheet, from the way that translations affect the perception of authors in other countries, how other languages are intrinsically better suited to certain styles, the economics of fandom and cons abroad, etc. etc. Rani’s comments about the Hebrew translation of Dune were fascinating, and Sarah made some great points about the non-organized nature of fandom abroad (panels where people show up on time in Portugal, what??). I plugged my blog at the end and had some follow-up questions by a few people who seemed to have really enjoyed it, and who added their own insightful takes. I got to meet a fellow reviewer from The Fix, which was tight. The audience was quite marvelous.

At around 5:30 pm, I decided to skip the fifth panel I’d planned (four may just be my top for a day) and headed to the dealer’s room. There I ran into Rani and asked him about the story “Shiva” in Datlow’s anthology—turns out he knew the author, etc. Another fun exchange of opinions. I also bumped into Mike Resnick and whipped out my copy of his book on how to edit and revise short stories, PUTTING IT TOGETHER, which I’d been reading on the plane. Mike was really nice and I got another personalized book for my collection.

Once back at the hotel, I started thinking about how to get in touch with a writer I’d exchanged a few words earlier in the day (he had some really neat philosophical ideas and an almost contagious energy) when I ran into him right outside the elevator! He was really graceful about my request to talk a little more and if time permits on his end I’ll get to do just that tomorrow. Yay!

And now? I’ll plan for tomorrow, get some dinner, walk around a bit, and continue working on the new story. SF is in the air.
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