A lot of text follows. It is probably incoherent and should be ignored:
I'm back in the states after LonCon 3, which was... amazing, intense, exhausting, and a lot of fun.
I got into London Wednesday morning, though it took me until about 2 in the afternoon to actually get settled in my hotel, because of what became a recurring theme in my travels in London: getting lost. I think I have diagnosed my problem to something that seems obvious and stupid in retrospect. Of course the cars drive on the left side of the road instead of the right in London, and that's one thing and it didn't really bother me because I wasn't driving anywhere. It meant my instincts about crossing busy streets, carefully honed on the streets of Manhattan, were wrong and I had to be careful that I was actually looking in the right directions, but otherwise it didn't affect my travel. However, because the cars drive on the left side, other things also move on the left side, which honestly had never occurred to me. Trains run on the left track. People climbing stairs cling to the left instead of the right. The slow lane on escalators is the left side, unless there's a sign indicating otherwise. So one result of this is that I was constantly walking in the wrong lane and having to correct myself at the last minute. But the result of this that got me lost is that after many years of taking NYC subways, my main technique for orienting myself upon leaving a subway is to use the direction of the track to tell me which way is North. The direction of the track is my compass. And in London, my compass was 180 degrees backwards, and about three times over my five days in London I walked a significant distance in the exact wrong direction, following the directions perfectly except for that one initial mistake, and got thoroughly turned around before I realized my mistake.
That afternoon was my main touristing in London time since the con wouldn't start until Thursday. I wandered central London for a while, enjoying the architecture. I saw the Tower of London, which had a special memorial to the World War I dead in the form of a display of poppies commemorating the dead, and walked the Tower Bridge. I climbed the Memorial to the London Great Fire, a spire designed by Christopher Wren which offers beautiful panoramic views of central London to anyone willing to scale its 300-some claustrophic spiraling stairs. I walked past 221B Baker Street, but mainly because it was on the way to a kosher deli I wanted to eat dinner at.
I planned to continue some touristing the following morning, but I overslept because, you know, Jetlag and crazy stuff like that. That would have been my best opportunity to visit the Tate Modern, which I really wanted to see and sadly missed. So I just made my way to the ExCel center for the Con.
One of the first things I did was to run a game of the indie rpg Tears of a Machine, a Giant Mecha game where the players play angsty teenagers entrusted with piloting giant mecha against an alien menace. If they fail to keep their overwrought emotions in check, their giant mecha will lose control. Tears of a Machine has fantastic mechanics for balancing these emotional questions, and I've been wanting to run it for a while. It came out pretty well. I was clumsy on the rules for the battle scene, and ultimately that was probably the least fun part of the session, but the stuff leading up to the battle, the various players struggling with ordinary teenage issues about school, family life, and relationships with friends, worked really well even though it was a bunch of players who didn't know each other. So I was pleased with how that turned out.
Then there was a panel on Raumpatrouille Orion, put on by the German SF Society, which I basically had to go to because of jetpack_monkey
. It was interesting, particularly when they discussed behind the scenes information and went over some of the trivia about how the special effects were done. Unfortunately I had to leave early because of a conflict with a lecture I really wanted to be at, which was the right choice because it turned out to be one of the highlights of the convention.
The highlight of Thursday at the Con, and one of the overall highlights of the Con, was a lecture by Kim Stanley Robinson about pacing in fiction. His primary examples were the writing of Virginia Woolf and Olaf Stapledon, contemporaries who both made use of speculative technique, though one is classified a Modernist and the other a Science Fiction writer. I want to set down some memories from this lecture because it dealt with questions I've been struggling with as a writer for years and have written about before.
Stapledon's masterwork, The Star Makers, is a history of the universe, spanning millions or billions of years in the span of a couple hundred pages. Woolf's writing in To the Lighthouse pioneered stream of consciousness technique that slowed the movement of time down by considering every action. But Woolf was interested in telling stories about the passage of significant periods of time, and Robinson advanced evidence that Woolf had looked to Stapledon in the technical choices she made in writing her final novel, Between the Acts- to some degree unsucccessfully, Robinson claimed.
To create a sort of rough tool for comprehending these choices of technique in pacing terms, Robinson proposed using an actual quantitative measure of story pace by dividing the amount of time passed over the course of a novel by the number of pages to calculate a time per page metric for evaluating books. Stapledon's book topped his metric, while a gimmick novel where the entire book describes a hallucination experienced by a drowning sailor in the minute or so it took him to die set the benchmark for slowest advancement.
Obviously in any novel this metric can be broken up more granularly passage by passage- pace will vary over the course of a novel. But what is the technique by which we vary pace? Robinson suggested it was the choice between expository writing and descriptive writing that gave writers control over pace. Descriptive writing allows the writer to tell what is happening at a particular moment, and is therefore putatively slower than expository writing, which has the ability to tell what happens over a long period of time rather quickly.
Robinson then mentioned the hoary trope of "Show, don't tell", which was clearly a bugaboo of his. Showing rather than telling, he said, is the Modernist aesthetic project in a nutshell, in a rejection of Victorian exposition. Showing rather than telling, in other words descriptive rather than expository writing, is an aesthetic choice rather than an objectively superior writing decision, and making the decision to fully commit to descriptive writing removes tools from the writer's toolbag that allow the writer to move the story faster. Meanwhile, as a genre of Victorian origin, science fiction has always been much more comfortable with making use of exposition, to move time forward faster and for other reasons, and Robinson traced this difference as the cause of the 20th century bifurcation between 'high' and 'low' literary culture: a difference in aesthetic between the Modernist preference for slow, descriptive pacing and the SF reader's preference for plotty, fast-paced stories.
As a synthetic principle toward overall more interesting writing, he suggested that writers should make conscious choices about the form of their writing in order to vary the pacing of the fiction. He said that his general principle, taught to him by the SF editor Damian Knight, is to speed up the boring parts and slow down for the exciting parts, but he said that even though this seems like the obvious way to do it, there are successful counterexamples. He cited Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin cycle as a successful novel that speeds up for the exciting parts (battles and such) and slows down for the boring parts (ordinary life at sea). So my main take away from the lecture was my writing will be more interesting and better if I think more consciously about how and why I use expository passages in my stories.
Afterward, I ended up at the OTW tent hanging out with a bunch of random fans for a while until I decided to head home. The OTW tent was such a cool thing to have: It was located in the 'Fan Village' where various fandom-related groups had pavilions for promoting their work and answering fan questions, but they decked out the OTW tent with pillows and chairs and made it a chill-out area for anyone who wanted to step away from the craziness of the con for a bit. I made use of the tent several times during the con, as a place to crash on a pillow when I was exhausted or to join into a conversation about how ridiculous the web of MCU character relationships are when I wasn't quite as exhausted. It was a place at the con that felt particularly emotionally safe.
The built up presence of transformative fandom at Loncon was noticeable and incredibly welcome. I wrote in my post on Chicon that it was frustrating how I felt in most spaces like mentioning my fanfiction would have been frowned upon, but between panels on fanfic, panels on fanvids, and the visible presence of the OTW, my sort of transformative fandom had a coming out party at Loncon, and it made me feel so much more comfortable at the con. Though there were moments like the guy who wandered into the OTW tent to inform a fangirl that shipping was obscene. ("And you do that on purpose? You just decide that two characters should get together?") As I seem to say to sanguinity
after every traditional fannish gathering I go to, "Oh fandom never change*" *I mean change! Change as much as you can, as fast as you can!
Friday morning I saw another panel involving Kim Stanley Robinson and the curative powers of exposition. This one also had Cory Doctorow and a couple other authors I can't remember, and it was less successful though still interesting. Robinson came off more arrogantly and the panel format didn't give him enough time to qualify all of his thoughts as much as they needed to be qualified, though I was really glad that he shot down the meme that "Science Fiction is the literature of ideas" by saying that realistic fiction in competent hands is also a literature of ideas.liv
organized a dreamwidth meetup on Friday, which featured jack
, and others whose names I didn't catch. It was fun to meet everyone, though obviously hatman
, it seems kind of silly we had to go all the way to London to meet in person for the first time when initially we met online in the nyc
DW usergroup. We should probably arrange to meet up some time in the City. I ducked out of the meetup for a half hour to see Jordin Kare's concert, because JORDIN KARE, but when I returned there were still a bunch of folk talking and the whole thing was fun.
JORDIN KARE! I didn't see as much filk as I'd intended, because I didn't see as much of anything as intended, but I knew I had to see Kare. He sang "Fire in the Sky", which made we weep on the Challenger verse even though, you know, I've heard the song fifty times and I was one year old when Challenger happened. "Fire in the Sky" is, in a nutshell, the reason why I go to filk shows, because this is music that speaks to my heart and my dreams for the future. Yet the gods do not give lightly of the powers they have made
And with Challenger and seven, once again the price is paid
Though a nation watched her falling, yet a world could only cry
As they passed from us to glory, riding fire in the sky
The rest of Kare's show was great, particularly a pair of songs about a machinist in battle with a designer that rang a little to uncomfortably close to him. I also ducked into Gary Ehrlich's show, which did not prompt quite so overt FEELS, but which was entertaining as I expected it would be.
After that, I headed back to my hotel room for Kiddush, to welcome in Shabbat.
I learned that I need to do a better job of thinking about Shabbat at Cons.
I've actually got Philcon down to a science, after several years. I had zero Shabbat problems at Philcon 2013. Low floor, refrigerator for premade foods, know where all the stairs are, know how to avoid the automatic doors, and in general, I know how to avoid things that pull me out of a Shabbos feeling.
But WorldCons by their nature are different each time, so I can't seem to learn lessons from one to apply to the next. At Chicon my only Shabbat problem was that the hotel put me on the 19th story. So I made sure that at Loncon I had a low floor room in a hotel with stairs and thought I was good. At Chicon, staircases in the con space were unlocked and used not only by Jews but by most of the con who didn't have mobility issues to move from floor to floor when elevators were occupied. At Loncon, the only ways to get to the rooms where panels were held was via escalator, with an elevator available for those with mobility issues. So in order for me to get up to the panels on Saturday, security had to unlock a fire exit and let me up the staircase, which only happened after I asked three or four different site security people, Con Ops, and two different people at the information desk (the second one with someone from Con Ops standing with me to apply a little extra pressure). As a result, I stayed up on that floor sitting in on panels for eight hours because I didn't want to have to go through that tzouris again. And then when I finally went down, I didn't go back up again until after sundown. I also underestimated the length of the walk from my hotel to the con, which turned out to be a lovely 3 mile walk to make at 2AM Saturday morning.
But I'm determined this time to learn the correct lesson. Rather than merely attempting to pin down the problems from the last WorldCon, like a farmer repeatedly closing barndoors after the cows have escaped, I've sent a message to Sasquan asking for their help dealing with any possible Shabbat accessibility problems, whether or not I've thought of them. The goal shouldn't be to make sure that my last screwup doesn't happen again, the goal should be to have a complete Shabbat plan ahead of the weekend. That means that before I go to Worldcon, I should know the answers to the following questions:
1. Am I lighting candles? If so, where am I getting the candles and where am I lighting them?
2. What wine/libation am I using to make kiddush?
3. What siddur am I using?
4. What am I using for challah?
5. What is my Friday night meal?
6. Am I going back to the con after friday night meal, and do I have a short, straightforward path back to the con that doesn't require me to use elevators, escalators, or electronic doors?
7. Do I have a clear path around the con that doesn't require me to use elevators, escalators, or electronic doors?
8. What is my Saturday lunch?
9. What am I doing for Havdalah?
10. Where/How am I davening?
11. What have I forgotten?
Because when I achieve that, my Con experience and my Shabbat experience can be really powerfully complementary experiences. Both are events that emphasize shared community, thoughtfulness, reflection, joy, song. They can work together to be a very positive thing.
Friday night I'd originally planned to go to the open filk, because it kind of feels like a substitute for the Shabbat tradition of the tisch, sitting around a table telling stories and singing songs. The open filk was up on the panel floor and I hadn't yet figured out how to get the stairs thing to work, so I stayed down at a performance by Mark Oshiro of Mark Reads fame. In which he read and tried to make sense of some of the most preposterous cracky fanfic I've ever seen... Robocop/Batman, Draco/Apple, Sailor Moon/WTF, Dean/Castiel/Pie. It was wildly entertaining.
Saturday I attended the Business Meeting in the morning, which was a learning experience for me. It was interesting to see the kinds of perspectives voiced at the meeting, and in some cases a bit surprising. There was a lot of debate about a motion to require changes to the WSFS convention to be ratified first by the business meeting and then by the whole membership of the following convention instead of as at present by the business meeting of two successive conventions. There was some good debate on the issue, and I think there are points in favor of both sides, with the pro side arguing convincingly that the proposal gives all members of the convention a greater stake in its governance, and the con side arguing that it will create space for nastier, social-media driven ratification fights and that it will make the ratification process less flexible than in person ratification debate can be. But there was also a smoffy undertone to the discussion about how only the people who show up at the business meeting care enough about the issues to vote wisely. Certainly not everyone in the business meeting felt that way- the motion passed, after all- but enough did that they felt comfortable saying so aloud without being defensive about it. [Sample dialogue: "I chaired a Worldcon several years ago and still found time to make it to the business meeting at that con. If you really want to, you make the time."] I feel like I learned a lot about how Worldcon as an institution is perpetuated, and for the most part I was impressed. There was a lot of thoughtful debate by people very experienced in the operation of conventions and committed to ensuring the continued health of Worldcon. I was also taken aback by how conservative the whole thing is. Conventions and our expectations for what they will provide have changed drastically over the last 70 years, and Worldcon is not really set up for drastic change.
Despite this, I was impressed in general with how well procedurally
the meeting was run. There was no acrimony, there were many thoughtful questions, and all this as very contentious issues went back and forth in the debate. Sometimes this kind of smoothness can signal that minority voices aren't being allowed to speak, but I don't think that was happening here. I just think it was a well run meeting kept moving effectively by people who know how to keep geeks from fighting with each other. I saw a lot of really substantial argument happening, and as I get a better feel for the politics I expect to get more involved in the business meeting in the future to try to make ensure Worldcon can move closer to being the thing I want it to be. (Though maybe that's a strike against the meeting... it definitely felt like a place where novices could not comfortably step in without learning how procedures worked first, another thing working against significant change.)
I attended both of such_heights
's vidshows, the first being a sort of general overview of popular and/or awesome fanvids, the latter being a sort of roughly chronological history of fanvidding vidshow with more discussion. Vids that are awesome on the big screen include: chaila
's "Hands Away" Olivia Dunham/Sarah Connor vid, franzeska
's "Baby I'm a Star" Carlton vid, bironic
's "Starships" space opera multivid, and "Hold Me Now" Princess Tutu AMV. It was especially great watching "Starships" in a room full of fans, getting the full impact of all the holy shit moments that vid celebrates. On the other hand, Lim's "Marvel", still technically a marvel of vidding prowess, was somehow less impactful on the big screen. starlady
and I considered this and thought it might have been because the extra space let you have the time to unpack the visuals a little more, so they didn't quite slap me around the same way they did on my laptop screen.
There was also a panel featuring Scott Lynch and others about the role of the D&D cleric archetype in heroic fantasy literature, whether that role had evolved over time, and what role it had in the future of the genre. I liked some things about the panel, but it was hamstrung by the panelists' lack of knowledge about the history of the D&D cleric trope, as laid out in Maliszewski's posts on Grognardia for example: The Original Cleric
and The Implicit Christianity of Early Gaming
, which would have made a far better baseline for the conversation. To Lynch's credit, he did mention some of this stuff, but the rest of the panel wasn't too interested in it, and so the conversation kind of wobbled at first on "But Tolkien didn't have any clerics" before discussion of present interesting use of religion in heroic fantasy revived it. I liked the conversation about how to use the tropey D&D cleric- with divine power and a mission to provide a support role to the other fighters- as a fantasy protagonist. The panelists discussed exploring religious doubt and its consequences on the cleric, as well as methods of using this character role with non-divine support characters such as medics. I also wished the conversation had talked more about the evolution of the cleric over the forty years of D&D history, and how that evolution might speak to the evolution of the character in heroic fantasy. The fourth edition version of the cleric is very different from the first edition version, and not only for game-balance reasons. There have also been changes in the aesthetic and thematic traditions of fantasy in that period that the game rules changes acknowledge. I may have a full post on this theme later.
And there was also a panel on "the state of British SF" that I attended in the hopes of getting recommendations, since, you know, you'd think that London fandom would have good recommendations for new British SF writers doing cool things. It was a terrible panel, populated by several publishers and several academics and no actual readers of SF, and so instead of talking about cool SF, they talked about the state of the market and the state of 'literary movements' and managed to fill the hour and a half while mentioning only about a half dozen names of writers. The only name I emerged from the panel with was Chris Beckett. And the highlight of the panel was when one of the publishers said that the reason she publishes more male than female writers is because she judges based purely on quality and the fact is she gets more male submissions than female submissions. This was the highlight of the panel because when she said it, the whole audience basically hissed in disapproval in unison, because we are fucking tired of that bullshit.
Then I disappeared for dinner and such, and slept for a while in the OTW tent, and then I resurfaced for Seanan McGuire's concert, because hearing Seanan sing "Wicked Girls" live for an appreciative audience is always a blast.
Sunday was the end of the business meeting and the second of such_heights
's vid shows and then I ditched the con for a while to see, at starlady
's recommendation, a music/art installation in a lighthouse that once belonged to Michael Faraday called Longplayer. It's a piece of algorithmically composed music for a set of Tibetan bells, programmed not to repeat a sequence over a thousand year period. You sit in this lighthouse, within London and yet set apart from the bustle of the city, and you just listen and contemplate your own insignificance. The music is barely music: we hear such a tiny fragment of the overall composition that it's impossible to get any sense of the shape of the piece, just twenty minutes out of the thousand years in my case. The single first chord of Stairway to Heaven comprises a larger fraction of the overall work than what I heard in my twenty minutes. You can't escape the sense that sitting there is a waste of time, because you're not getting anything out of the performance and even if you stayed for days you wouldn't be able to get much out of it, and yet... that experience of wasting time felt meaningful. It made you conscious of how we make choices about how to spend our time and even choosing to waste time doing nothing but stare out a lighthouse window at the London skyline while listening to meaningless music is a valuable choice.
My last panel of the Con was a panel on the growth of a sub-sub-genre in between SF and litfic that calls itself LabLit. I got bored of this panel after an hour and left it, but here is the movement's manifesto of retroactive incorporation into the genre: The LabLit List
. The panel was okay until it started to be a rant about science in fiction so narrow that it probably left the Mundanes out of its list. And I dislike the Mundanes quite a lot. Poor Gregory Benford, who writes just about the hardest SF I know, was pretty much left on the sidelines when another panelist said something about how time travel was impossible and therefore time travel fiction was all fantasy. [Benford's masterwork Timescape
is one of the greatest time travel novels ever written, I think, as well as being one of the most densely scientific novels of any genre.] I like the idea of LabLit, of fiction that tries to tell realistic and compelling stories about the experience of doing science. I expect to spend some time reading things from the list as I try to figure out how to write my own version of LabLit, an Avengers Team!Science fic that has been in the works for a couple years and whose stumbling block is my lack of experience with literary techniques for making this kind of story work. But the actual people who write LabLit turn out to be kind of obnoxiously self-regarding.
About the Hugo Award ceremony, I don't have all that much to say, except that it's fun to be at the ceremony giving an award that I've held in such esteem for so long. The Hugos really matter to me as a representation of how my community values the stories that compose its core texts. I was thrilled that Ancillary Justice won for Best Novel and the rest of the awards also made sense. Though I felt that Abigail Nussbaum deserved Best Fan Writer over Kameron Hurley, I am not upset, especially not after Hurley had Kate Elliot deliver such a fierce and powerful acceptance speech. Here, let us bask in its glory: http://www.kameronhurley.com/hugo-speeches-thanks-for-all-the-llamas/ I’m told blog posts don’t matter. I’m told words don’t matter.
I’m told this by storytellers who know that the only thing that matters is words – and the ideas we convey with them. I’m told this by storytellers with a deep fear of people ranting on the internet.
Fans and pros write for all sorts of reasons, chief among them being love. I write for free online out of love, passion, and often – rage. Rage that the very stories I love punch me in the face. Rage that storytellers, many of them my colleagues, grind to dust my most fervent hopes and desires for a future that includes me and others like me.
It was this rage, I thought, that would preclude me from ever being nominated for a Hugo. Science fiction does not like change. Creators don’t like being called on their BS. But in looking out at my fellow nominees, whose own work I admire so much, I suspect it is this rage, and this desire for positive change, that is fueling our future.
Thank you all for supporting this change. Thank you for championing the voices of myself and my fellow nominees. I know we have a long way to go. I’m glad you’re all on board.
So yeah, that was the Hugos. They're on a journey to recognize the full diversity of the SF community, and this year's ceremony was one more step on that journey. So that was good, though occasionally frustrating, as can be expected. Then I ran to my hotel, slept as long as I could, then woke up early to catch my flight home.
I've seen the usual post-Loncon reflections in the blogosphere about how unwelcoming the predominantly white, predominantly male core of old-school fandom was toward people from outside that set: Complaints of racist harassment, of women being shouted down or talked over by men at panels, of men mansplaining and lecturing and the like. I've noted several examples of the same in this post, and I saw others, and heard reports of others still from friends. Worldcon should do better and Worldcon must do better, and I hope that this year's posts will continue the conversation about how to make it do better. On the other hand, I want to talk about all the ways in which Loncon represented significant progress.
The OTW/Transformative Fandom tent and the Fan Activities tent represented the most obvious and important change from my perspective. For a lot of the con, the OTW Tent served as my home base at the con, a place I could go to regroup when I was low on energy and know that I was among fans who shared my basic approach to fandom. It represented more than that practical place for me, though. It represented the idea that finally Transformative Fandom was not going to be made fun of at Worldcon, that I could actually talk about my fic openly without expecting that people would explain to me why profic was superior or tell me the MZB Darkover cautionary tale in horrible condescending fashion. This idea was amplified by the presence of a whole track of Transformative fandom panels in the programming, as well as a sequence of panels about race and gender and sexuality in fandom, instead of there just being one sort of catchall diversity panel as there has been in the past. Not all of those panels were productive, and some of them were clearly problematic, but some of them were productive, and the presence of this stuff IN QUANTITY was a really big deal even if it clearly caused growing pains. I just hope Spokane can live up to the example Loncon set as far as this goes, and just keep pushing the conversation forward.
So then there was the flight home, wherein everything went fine until apparently a mail truck drove up to my airplane at JFK and carted a whole cannister of luggage out of the airport without telling anyone. So that was the end of my trip, and it was about as much fun as you would expect.