Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Few Brief Meta-thoughts on Readercon

We've taken a break for a couple of hours and after a dinner of Guinness and carefully-selected bar food (including an astonishingly fresh salad of genuine mixed greens), we went back to our room to assess book finds, tomorrow's schedule, and our aching feet.

I am going to post more about the con specifically tonight, but something struck me this afternoon that I want to get down: a lot of the panels this year have spent more time questioning the topic, specifically the definition of the central term, than actually discussing the topic. That struck me strongly when Barry Malzberg, on a panel about unpleasantness in fiction, wanted to know if they were making it into a genre or something. He seemed quite displeased with a discussion of unpleasantness as a concept. And much of the conversation about the topic got bounced back to Peter Straub (who had some great comments on the idea of writing in an unhappy vein) and related to questions of genre. And I thought "so, when will they actually talk about the presence and tropes of unpleasantness in fiction?"

This happened even more forcefully in a panel on anarchy in speculative fiction earlier in the day. Two of the participants were so completely stuck on an idealized, overdetermined idea of anarchism that they spent the panel denigrating it and fighting almost any attempt to discuss it. I give a lot of credit to the panel leader for trying to keep people on-topic, and to Graham Sleight for consistently returning to the topic, the presence of the idea in speculative fiction, with actual books recommendations. And while at times the other participants came back to the general purpose of the panel, they would quickly go off on a tangent and go back to beating the dead horse of their very myopic definition of the term.

I saw this to some extent yesterday as well, although in the first panel I thought that John Clute and Michael Dirda did a fantastic job of critiquing and exploring the idea of interstitial fiction. But they were not just questioning or deriding the idea; they engaged it, and they contextualized it both as a term and as a literary strategy. They were neither dismissive or eliding; they took the notion seriously and tackled it head-on. I think that first panel has been the best I have attended thus far, because you learned something about the idea and its usage in literary production and you came away with a lot of thoughts to ponder.

I think this is a good topic for my next Apex post.

I also wanted to say that the readings I have attended thus far have been stellar. Liz Hand read the beginning to her new Cass Neary novel Available Dark last night, and it was creepy and compelling. Around lunchtime today Robert Shearman (Shirley Jackson Award nominee) gave a delightful and funny reading of a new story. I went to this reading based solely on his hilarious performance on the Bookaholics panel last night,and was not disappointed. I have not read any of his work, but this reading made me want to find his books immediately. Sadly, none were to be found in the Bookshop.

I want to read some of his plays also, because I think I could glean a lot from his sense of pacing and timing.

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