Friday, July 9, 2010

Readercon XXI: Friday, Part the First

Exhausted, mostly because I am full of ideas and other people's words. I had a good first day atReadercon. We got there without getting lost for the first year ever (their address foiled GPS in the past) and got set up in our room and registered quite smoothly.

The panels were not all fantastic, but mostly solid. The first panel was "Interstitial Then, Genre Now" which had some heavyweight critics in the panel. John Clute and Michael Dirda seriously interrogated the idea of interstitial fiction, while Peter Dubé, attending his first SF convention, provided some fresh thoughts to how to strategize and envision the idea of writing between genres. Theodora Goss, a participant in the Interstitial Arts Foundation and co-editor of the firstInterfictions anthology, guided the discussion but had to think fast to deal with the depth of the panel's critique of the idea. I am going to do a much fuller, reflective write-up of this panel later.

The next panel, "History & Memory in Historical & Spec. Fic," ended up being a much more personal discussion by the panelists than I had anticipated. Howard Waldrop told a great story about an ancestor who fought in the Confederate War, N. K. Jemisin talked at length about her preacher grandfather and his influence on her work, and David Anthony Durham discussed how he projected feelings about the father-son relationship into his portrayal of Hannibal in Pride of Carthage. The anecdotes were compelling, but were much more linked to individual history than ideas of history in fiction. I had hoped to hear about both during the hour, about how personal memory/history and larger ideas of the historical are channeled into an author's work.

I was pretty excited about the next panel: "New England: At Home to the Unheimlich?" Another stellar group of panelists were on hand to discuss the peculiar resonance of the region to horror and the uncanny. Everyone on the panel contributed to the discussion, but I wanted to hear about more than how Stephen King influenced everyone and how the change of seasons is significant to fiction set in the region. I appreciated how people kept coming back to the deep, peculiar history of New England, and I loved the idea of Cotton Mather as the first regional horror writer, and there were a number of moments where you could see how region and genre interacted, how this setting influences a number of tropes and can be both rote and surprising.

The last panel I attended before taking a break was "Non-Western Cultures in Fantasy." Theodora Goss once again led a spirited discussion about respect, cultural appropriation, and getting a feel f0r walking around in other people's skins. There was some tension in the discussion of owning people's stories and a rather unreflective take on the idea of universalism, but Cat Valente did a smashing job of reformulating the idea of borrowing with the metaphor of renting/leasing stories. Nalo Hopkinson provided some strong advice on writing about other cultures, including the need for writers to realize that regardless of who the subject is, you cannot write about "the other" without creating some friction, and it is important to have not just respect, but a moral compass when deciding how to write about things outside of your personal experience.

It was a thought-provoking morning. I had a lot to digest as I headed to the Bookshop.

More tomorrow!

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