Off to ReaderCon

Off to ReaderCon once again to hold a Wold Newton Reading Extravaganza. The convention, held in Burlington MA, is dedicated to speculative fiction books, and is full of amazing writers. The Wold Newton event will have music by Brian Francis Slattery and co, and featured Jeff VanderMeer, Veronica Shanoes, Jaym Gates, Daniel Jose Older, Matt Kressel and Jo Walton!

I'll post video of the event here when it's all over.

The ReaderCon 2011 Interviews

Once again I interviewed many wonderful people at ReaderCon, though I aimed for fewer interviews with more in depth questions this time. Click "Read More" for video interviews with Junot Diaz, Samuel R. Delany, Barry Malzberg, John Clute, Kelly Link, Neil Gaiman and Neil Clarke!

ReaderCon Update

ReaderCon was amazing; stay tuned for new interviews with Neil Gaiman, Samuel Delany, Junot Diaz and more as well as footage of the Wold Newton event!

The Meaning of Novelty: Convention, Form, Genre and an Existential Crisis

What is a Convention?

Allow me to describe a conception of art based around the twin poles of convention and novelty (which I will resist calling Convention and Novelty, because I am not French). A convention is simply a norm or collection of norms, and all art exists within certain conventions. In the visual arts, applying paint with a brush is a convention of method, and a landscape is a convention of genre, containing its own, respective conventions that can differ from time to time and place to place, as illustrated by the clear differences between traditional East Asian landscape paintings and traditional European ones. (European landscapes tend to be wider than they are high and emphasize the horizon, while East Asian landscapes tend to be higher than they are wide and emphasize scale. Each convention produces a remarkably different effect.) There is no art, or even expression, without conventions of some sort; conventions are the means by which things are expressed, the (sometimes literal, sometimes figurative) vocabulary and grammar we use to convey things. In this sense, conventions are a type of language.

The ReaderCon Interviews

ReaderCon is the science fiction and fantasy convention devoted specifically to books and reading, and attracts some of the best authors in the field (and in some cases, out of it). Below are my interviews, mostly about the future of publishing and genre, conducted with (in chronological order) Gavin Grant, Charles Stross, Barry Malzberg, Cathrynne M. Valente, Junot Diaz, Samuel R. Delany, Elizabeth Hand, John Clute, John Kessel, Alexander Jablokov, Ted Chiang, Gary K. Wolfe and Peter Straub.

Down and Out in the SF Ghetto

Attention people who argued with us that fandom isn't creepy, or who claimed I was wrong about the convention culture enabling predatory behavior, please consider the following:

Yeah you want to say, isolated incident and look how the community is responding to support the victim?

read this:

To rephrase my own point on this: the atmosphere of anything goes that exists at SF conventions wherein people are routinely not challenged on their bullshit behavior and there are panels advocating dangerous sexual practices to be openly accepted is irresponsible and ugly. It leads to bad things and empowers the emotionally retarded and predatory to act on their darkest impulses.

Given this latest spat that no doubt will soon devolve into something like RapeFail 2010 as people take sides, well, I rest my fucking case about how broken the SF Ghetto and Con Culture are.

Considering Fandom

One thing I seem to have gleaned from the flurry of comments to Tuesday's post about Arisia is that I went to the wrong convention. In the words of one of the commenters:

Arisia started as a "reaction" to another more literary "Con" - Boskone. To make it short, Boskone was trying to focus more on literary works, and in short become more "serious". Arisia was started as a "fun" con. There was a very specific focus in the early days on - Costuming (in the halls and masquerade), Parties, and an openness to movies/anime/"whatever". (Please be aware that I am simplifying grotesquely here) But the basic idea behind Arisia fundamentally is that it's a less "serious" con, even though there's a strong contingent of interest in literature & Science/Science Fiction.

Looking at the schedule for last year's Boskone and the guest list for this year's, I see none of the "alternative lifestyle" material of Arisia and quite a lot more writers I enjoy and topics that look interesting to me personally. Had I done any research whatever, I might have discovered this and saved myself a lot of bother. I won't be going to Boskone next month, for a number of reasons not the least of which is I'm a little conventioned-out after Arisia, though I may go next year while I don't think I'll be attending another Arisia. (I do wonder if I'll find myself something of a pariah at conventions from now on because of my posts. I suppose I'll have to go and find out.)

Fan Service

"When I moved here from the west coast," said Marlin May, a black, homosexual SF fan who I met first on Twitter, and who compared "coming out" as an SF fan to "coming out" as gay, "I didn't know a lot of people. But when I started going to con[vention]s here, I felt like I was home. I was back where I belong."

It was a sentiment I heard over and over again from people at Arisia, New England's Largest Science Fiction Convention (attendance: about 3,000). On one panel, the moderator opined that cons are “where we seem to fit. In other places is where we're playing roles,” with the deliberate irony that the convention was full of role playing games. One woman I talked to referred to Arisia specifically as a “lifestyle con”. This was a convention run by fans for fans to come and hang out and play and fuck. Which helped explain the lack of corporate presence that one finds at your average comic book convention. There were no booths for major publishers here, no b-grade sci-fi actors being paid for autographs, no developers giving advanced previews of their latest video game offering. A panel on the future of Doctor Who, which at New York or San Diego Comic-Con would have been made up of writers, producers, and/or stars of the TV show, was instead made up entirely of fans. The moderator began “Well, we've only got fifteen seconds of footage to go on, so I'm not sure what we're going to talk about,” and then the panelists started talking about their favorite episodes of the show instead. Most of the panels were simply manned by other fans, who didn't seem any more qualified to talk about a given subject then those in the audience, which was probably why the audience felt so entitled to give their own opinions at length whenever the mood arose, as if everyone was part of the panel.

Off to Arisia

I'm on a bus (with WiFi!) to Arisia, "New England's largest and most diverse science fiction and fantasy convention". I decided that after the wonderful time I had at ReaderCon, I should take a look at a more traditional SF con. I'm skeptical as to how interesting it will be for me; looking at the schedule, the literary portion of the sf world seems to take a side role to television, films, and role playing games, and there's far fewer names I recognize on the panels. But I'm willing to keep an open mind.

Also, sadly my cell phone is in the shop, which means I probably won't be able to twitter up the storm I normally do at conventions (we'll see if there's any wifi at the con). On the other hand, I now have a video camera, which means there may be some interviews to be had.

Stay tuned.

ReaderCon: Afterward

It wasn't what I expected.

As I've said before, I've been to a lot of comic book conventions. I have little patience for most of the superhero fare that's considered "mainstream" in the comics world, but I am a great fan of the more "literary" work (Clowes, Ware, Hernandez Bros, et al) as well as better SF stuff that crops up there (Morrison, Ellis, Gaiman, et al). I had no reservations about going to comic book conventions because comics are a medium, not a genre, and while at the larger cons there are people dressed up as Batman, there are also quiet corners where the folks in plastic framed glasses get together and talk theory. And best of all are the small press cons like Mocca and SPX where the indies come together free from the rank and file "underwear perverts" (as Warren Ellis likes to call superheroes).

I honestly didn't think there was anything like that in the SF world, because SF is a genre. For a long time, I thought any SF con would be like a comic book convention where they only let the superhero fans in.

I was very wrong.