Nov. 21st, 2016 03:46 pm
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Philcon was great!

I left work early, picked up my little brother, and drove down Friday afternoon. We got to the con about an hour before stuff got started, met up with roommates and dealt with hotel setup stuff, then got ready for Shabbos.

I showed up at Kabbalat Shabbat services and was promptly told that the guy who normally leads the services hadn't shown up yet, and could I lead the davening? The Philcon minyan, such as it is, is an odd and extremely heterogeneous collection of people with extremely varying perspectives on Judaism and extremely varying levels of Jewish education- most are not capable to leading the Friday night prayer service, and none of the few that are are going to be able to manage to do it in a way that leaves everyone feeling fully comfortable and satisfied. So it was somewhat daunting- how do you lead a prayer service when everyone doesn't know the same melodies, some people want explanation and context and chizuk, some want to hear the familiar melodies of their childhood, and others want to smoothly move through the Hebrew in a way that lets them dig into the prayers? This is inevitably the challenge of doing a prayer service at a con, and I think I acquitted myself better this time than I have in some past instances, helped by the fact that someone actually spontaneously took up the role of gabbai calling out pages and offering a little context on the prayers and letting me focus on being chazan.

After that we made kiddush in our hotel room and ate dinner, and caught up on life and politics and so on, and then I went to be on a panel about the Hugo Awards.

This went well- we fortunately had a good moderator who kept control of the room and a thoughtful, cooperative audience, and we went through all the nonsense with 4 and 6 and EPH and EPH+, and then with about fifteen minutes left I had the thought to turn the conversation around to the YA Not-A-Hugo and we had a lively debate about the merits of that idea for the rest of the panel. And people actually came up to me afterward to thank me for the panel, so it clearly worked out okay. I had to flee the panel in a hurry because right afterward was my D&D game.

In general, The Quest for the Sword Trees was a success. We had varying experience levels at the table, from veteran D&D players to someone who'd never played an RPG before and was being dragged along by a friend, and 5E worked exactly as it's supposed to- offering cool powers for each player but otherwise being invisible enough that even the newbie rapidly understood what he needed to do to get in character and participate in the adventure.

The raison d'etre of the adventure was to give me a reason to use all of the nifty magical sword rules 5th edition has, and the adventure design grew up around that, into a story about the social and political dynamics of a magical forest populated by numerous fey creatures. My favorite moment in the adventure was when the players struck a bargain with the faerie king for transport to the sword trees, and then immediately spotted. after sealing the deal, both a loophole they could take advantage of, and a loophole that would screw them over. It told me that I had gotten my design of the faeries just right.

And the players were thrilled with their swords, except for the one who ended up with a cursed sword. (Me: "You grabbed the sword with the skulls carved all over it. What did you expect?" Him: I expected it to do cool skull things, not evil skull things!") I would have liked to have given them a little more opportunity to use them, but ran out of time, but enough cool stuff happened that I think it was okay.

The forest exploration stuff worked out pretty well- the players mostly stuck to the paths, but not exclusively, and they pretty quickly recognized that they didn't have to. That was definitely aided by [personal profile] sanguinity's suggestion about the ambiguity of paths, and my use of off-path sound and visual cues, and the players' idea to climb trees and see what they could see, but the biggest reason they came to the realization, I think, is something I completely hadn't though of: THEY DIDN'T HAVE THE WHOLE MAP IN FRONT OF THEM. I presented them a blank sheet of graph paper that I sometimes used to give them a rough idea of where they'd ended up and which paths they'd traversed, but they didn't have my nice, neat forest-as-dungeon map in front of them with all the paths laid out, which made it easier for them to realize that they could move in any direction- I'd overworried because I'd partially forgotten the information-asymmetry.

The only problem was the ending- a player had to leave a little before the adventure ended, and it sort of took the steam out of things. I navigated the players to their graduation ceremony and rewarded them, but... it didn't have the kind of finality I wanted it to. Oh, well, there's nothing you can do sometimes. After the game, I went to the traditional Eye of Argon reading for a bit and then went to sleep.

Saturday was fun and relaxing- I had no program responsibilities, so I got to enjoy myself. There was a Shacharit davening, which didn't quite manage a minyan, but which was still a nice experience.

Then I went to a panel which had Chip Delany and Lawrence Schoen and a couple other linguists and SF writers interested in linguistics talking about alien linguistics. It was deliciously technical and thoughtful and also asdfekjl Chip Delany is awesome!!! Schoen, who is an accomplished author, editor, and educator himself, turned into a total fanboy in Delany's presence, and the whole panel was just great. They talked a lot about how going back to the technical linguistic definitions of 'language' and 'communication system' can provide room for inspiration for thinking about kinds of writing that technically comply with various definitions, but in some slant way, or thinking about specific ways in which alien communication systems defy the academic definitions.

Then I went to a screening of an interview with David Kyle from several years ago. Kyle was at the first Philcon, 80 years ago. He was a small press publisher, a fannish organizer who chaired a Worldcon in the '50s, but all his life he was a fan first and foremost. He passed away about a month ago, and it was a loss that I felt at the convention even though he certainly lived a long life. David Kyle and Philcon feel inextricably linked to me, and in my head in addition to just seeing him as a kind and generous person, he represents the idea that fandom is a family that you grow up with, that dread 'the graying of fandom' is a feature, not a bug.

In the interview, recorded for the 75th anniversary of the first Philcon, Kyle talked about the early politics of fandom, both personal politics in terms of people liking or hating each other and scheming for power in fannish institutions and macro politics in terms of who supported different American political viewpoints and how that influenced fannish discourse. There's a certain degree of plus ca change, but there's also a real sense in his early stories of the idea that they were starting something new, a kind of interpersonal interaction that hadn't existed in this way for this type of people. And that the 'famous'/'infamous' stories of Fannish Exclusion Acts and so on came about because they were inventing this culture from scratch and making all sorts of mistakes along the way. And also, Kyle kept emphasizing this, because they were all incredibly young and stupid. None of the major organizers of the first Worldcon were older than about 22. This is weird to think about because a lot of them went on to major careers as professionals in the field of SFF, as authors or editors or publishers, so imagining them as punk kids fumbling their way through the creation of Worldcon requires a readjustment of perspective.

Then we did kiddush and lunch and a quick Shabbos nap before CJ Cherryh's keynote.

Cherryh's keynote was fabulous. She spoke about her early life, the obsession with writing that she carefully nurtured into a career that remains an obsession. And then she talked about science fiction as a way of seeing the world, as the idea that the world presents us problems and we have the ability, because of technology and our own ingenuity, to come up with solutions. It was breathtaking and frighteningly optimistic. I wish I had the full text of the lecture, but a sample quote a friend took down: "Science fiction is not the literature of colored lights. It's the literature of people overcoming things."

Then there was a panel on Star Wars and the Force Awakens and the state of SW fandom. Which was basically an hour of people squeeing at each other, and then we went out into the hall to talk about Star Wars some more. I am so excited about this new renaissance in people having Star Wars feels and I cannot wait for Rogue One to come out.

Afterward, I played a few rounds of Shadow Hunters in the game room, this simple, easy to learn intrigue game where the players all try to kill each other while trying to determine who is on whose secret team. I liked it a lot. Then I grabbed a quick dinner in my room and joined a Numenera rpg game.

Numenera is an rpg released by the legendary game designer Monte Cook a few years ago, and which I've wanted to try since then. Its fundamental concept is to create a system where exploration and learning more about the world is more important than combat, but that still features a robust enough combat system to function as an action rpg. Experience is awarded for discoveries, and player abilities are balanced against the presence of many powerful magical items spread through the environment- for these reasons it's more advantageous to players to explore and figure out how these magic items work than to grind xp by killing monsters.

The one-shot adventure was incredibly fun and satisfying to play. Combat was fun but quick when it happened, but the best moment in the adventure was when we put together the clues and figured out what was making the enemy machine work and how to stop it from attacking us. That's a hard experience to engineer in D&D to the same level that it was seamlessly easy in Numenera.

After the game I went to a party and drank some unidentifiable blue alcoholic drink (labeled Saurian Brandy or something silly like that) and talked with people for a while before sleep.

In the morning I didn't do much but laze around the room and read and check out of the room. Oh, I also nudzhed the rest of my roommates to hurry up and check out of the room faster. That was fun. I did a quick tour of the dealer's room, but didn't buy anything.

At noon was the panel on fanfiction and how it does things differently than published fiction. Our assigned moderator couldn't make it this weekend, so the rest of us looked at each other in puzzlement for a moment and then I volunteered to moderate. Which was great! The power rushed to my head and I took advantage to fix my problems with the panel description and plowed ahead with the panel I'd really wanted to have, which was about how the fact that fanfiction is written with the knowledge that it won't be published leads to all sorts of interesting features. My co-panelists went along with me and I think the panel went really well. We talked about notfic and how fanfic writers feel that it's okay sometimes to post stories that aren't quite stories, and how that sometimes opens up a lot of freedom to try things out and not care if people read them. We talked about remix and how the fact that we're already remixing canons means we feel free as well to remix each others' works. We talked about representation, how the fact that we're writing work without any interest in commercialization means we can write for small audiences, how we can write stories catering to all different types of identities. And we also talked about how that's not always as utopic as all that. One of the panelists spoke about her frustration with the comparative lack of F/F vs. M/M, and how 'Write it yourself' isn't always a satisfying answer. Another talked about how when you encounter a crappy Homestuck fic written by a twelve year old, you can just move on and probably find a similar story only better written somewhere else, but acknowledged that sometimes the niche is just too small and you have to accept the badly written story as the only one filling the niche you're hunting for. We talked about how AO3's tagging system is so great and how it means that you can hunt for stories fitting into whatever niche you're looking for, so that even if there does exist a published story in that niche, it is often much, much easier to find the fanfiction than to find the obscure published fiction.

We had a good, active audience and we had great panelists and this was finally the kind of panel I've known we could have at Philcon about fanfiction. :D :D :D

The last panel I attended at Philcon was about the intersection of science and visual art, and it was lovely and thought provoking and a great capper for the weekend. The panelists talked about things as varied as Cherenkov radiation and medieval cathedrals and strandbeests.

So that was Philcon. I had a great time. People spent a lot of time complaining about Philcon this year- it was too small, too staid, not enough good panels, whatever. I realized this year that I've hit the point with Philcon where I could not tell if that were true or not and couldn't care less. Philcon is just this balloon of space and time that makes me happy.
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
Philcon's fanfic panel this year:

Where is Fanfiction Going that Mainstream Media Still Fears to Tread?

What common themes in fanfic rarely appear in published works, and why? Is it a matter of publishers and producers only willing to put out stories based on formulas they know will sell, or is it the pros who are choosing to stick to more limited spheres? Fic archives are full of stories exploring sexuality, gender, unusual romances, and those used as a means to see the racial, religious, and abled diversity that published works aren't providing. There's clearly a huge desire for these kinds of stories, so why do we rarely see them in bookstores or on TV?

It is part of a continued trend of improvement in the Philcon fanfic programming, but it is still a somewhat frustrating panel spec. I saw the first draft of this when I was at Vividcon and got into a nice rant with some people who understood why. One of the reasons Vividcon was great was that it was full of people like that.

As is typical for Philcon fanfic panels, it's misguided in both directions.

A)It undersells published fiction by focusing on 'mainstream media' as the direct comparison, ignoring the fact that huge volumes of 'original' published fiction that transgresses mainstream norms is published, by small presses or by presses catering to niche audiences or by art presses. There is a lot of 'original' fiction exploring sexuality, gender, etc... and making minority identities visible. And I don't think we benefit from praising fanfiction by bashing published fiction, particularly by discounting the work done at the margins. Because fanfiction, too, is at the margins, no matter how much more visible it is today than it was.

B)It undersells fanfiction by acting like fanfiction is driven by some transgressive impulse, when the reality is most people writing fanfic just want Harry and Draco to bone. And you might say that that's not an undersell, that's an oversell, because it is a claim that fanfiction is more serious than a lot of people think it is. Usually saying that fanfic is just a bunch of people who want Harry and Draco to bone is the thing I'm fighting against, the thing people say when they want to dismiss fanfiction. But I think we've won that battle, or at least I'm no longer interested in arguing with people who dismiss fanfiction on those grounds. And so what I'm interested in fighting for now is the thesis that it's okay and important to our community to write fanfic that isn't trying to transgress mainstream norms, just as it's okay and important to our community to write fanfic that is transgressive along various axes. That the body of work that I once termed 'affirmational fanfiction' should not be discounted.

That said, there's a lot in this topic that I'm looking forward to talking about. And it is so, so much better than Fanfiction: Stepping Stone or Cul de Sac?

Edit For reference, my past posts on this subject:

2015: Fanworks that Deserve a Medal
2014: The Value of Transformative Works
2013: Fan Fiction: Stepping Stone or Cul De Sac?
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Last week was probably the worst work week of my professional life. It started with a rush to finish and ship a system that was on a wholly unreasonable deadline, so that I've been working late nights and weekends for the past couple weeks. Then after we shipped it, capped by a day I worked 8am to midnight (and as I told one of my Googler friends, when we work sixteen hour days, it's not sitting at a computer, it's working with power tools and it is not just unfun, it is potentially dangerous). Then there was the anxiety of overseeing the transfer from us to the crating company and then to the freight forwarder... and then on Friday the news that the system had been damaged in shipping after all that. The stress last week was crushing.

Then there was Philcon. I'm not sure it's the Philcon I did the coolest things at, but because of the emotional contrast and because of my desperate need, I think it was the Philcon I enjoyed the most.

It began, for the second year in a row, with a minyan for Kabbalat Shabbat. And, for the second year in a row, with one of the more traditional men saying "We have only seven people here" when we had eleven people, only four were women. And then, for the second year in a row, everyone else objected and pointed out that regardless of your feelings about ritual egalitarianism, it was not acceptable to suggest that women weren't people. Sigh. But we did end up with ten men and about five women, and everything else about the service was lovely and as I think I said last year, it's really meaningful to me that we can merge the Shabbat communal experience with the Philcon fannish communal experience. This year we added a Shacharit service and Havdalah. It feels like we are building a stronger sense of Jewish achdut at Philcon and that makes me so happy.

After Friday prayers I made kiddush and ate dinner with my roommates. I then ran a D&D game in the gaming suite- [personal profile] teal_deer's new Mesoamerican zombie velociraptor adventure for 5E. I had seven players in total, despite my worry that nobody would show up, including a total D&D newbie (who told me later the game had been her favorite part of the con), and it was noisy and fun and there was heroism and epicness and velociraptor feathers galore.

Then I went briefly to the filk room, listened to silly pun songs and "Dawson's Christian", and then slept.

In the morning, after Shacharit there was the panel on Jewish characters in genre fiction. (Technically cross-scheduled against Shacharit. Sigh. Everyone at the prayer service went to the panel, and we all got there fifteen minutes late.) The panel went well: even though I've been to several similar panels before and there was some repetition, I did get a few book recommendations, and we got to talk about some of the new stuff just out this year, like Lavie Tidhar's Jews vs. Zombies and Jews vs. Aliens anthologies, and Matthew Kressel's King of Shards.

Then I went to one of Musical GoH Murder Ballads's concerts, highlighted by a funny song about Han Solo trying to pick up a girl in a bar called "Kessel Run" and a lovely downtempo cover of Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off"- Taylor Leisurely, someone quipped. Then uh... I don't remember what I did next. I guess it was: Lunch, a little reading, a little hanging out with friends, a little gaming, a panel on Frankenstein's lessons for biologists in the 21st century about taking responsiblity for the consequences of research, then dinner, more hanging out with friends, then the panel on fanwork recs and the panel on Yuletide.

These, I should say first, were a disappointment as panels. There were five or six people in the room for the fanwork recs panel and three in the room for the Yuletide panel. Scheduled at 10PM and 11PM on Saturday night of the con, it's hard to see how we could have expected any other outcome- everyone was at parties. For the first hour, we passed a laptop around and shared fanvid recs, fan art recs, and fanfic recs. Someone recced [personal profile] bironic's "Starships"- I made sure we also screened [personal profile] jetpack_monkey's amazing monochromatic remix. I also inserted [personal profile] counteragent's "Still Alive" into the conversation about how complicated and frustrating Supernatural fandom is.

For the second hour, I explained a little about how Yuletide works and then we went back to talking fanwork recs. So it was fun but it wasn't what I'd wanted it to be.

On the other hand, the existence of the panels marks progress, and the attendance of even a few people showed that there are people at Philcon who care about this stuff enough to attend when everyone else is at parties. And most importantly to me, because the programming director was at both panels, I got to spend two and a half hours lobbying her about why we need to do this and how we can do this while navigating the convoluted fannish politics of Philcon. And I was also introduced to the other person who's been campaigning the programming director to add more fic programming, about which I say, in the words of Cordelia Naismith, "Ah. Allies. Good."

Too, the following afternoon had a better-attended panel called "Fans, Fiction, and the Formative Years" where the panelists, mostly fic-writers, talked about their initial exposure to fandom both as consumers of media and later as fan-creators. So... it felt like progress, but slow progress, toward creating space at Philcon where fan creators don't feel like we have to hide that part of our fannishness. Exciting!

Sunday had a messy but satisfyingly preaching-to-the-choir panel on the Hugo mess, a messy and unsatisfyingly preaching-to-the-choir panel on ending snobbery in fandom that was mostly about ending the wrong kind of snobbery in fandom rather than about ending all snobbery in fandom, some more board gaming, a good lunch, and a lot of goodbyes. All told, a really enjoyable weekend when I needed it.
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I feel like this is an important post to make. The past two years, I've written pre-Philcon posts about the limited fanfiction programming, itself a step up from the years when Philcon consciously and conspicously ignored the existence of fanfiction.

2013- Fan Fiction: Stepping Stone or Cul de Sac?
2014- The Value of Transformative Works

This is something I've been campaigning about for several years, and it's been a bit of a struggle to figure out the right people to campaign to, but I made contact with the new programming director this year and we had several good email exchanges and the bottom line is that there will be two! panels on fanfiction at Philcon this year.

One is titled "Fanfiction that Deserves a Medal" and appears to be a generic recs panel. Nothing objectionable about this, it's much better than the past panels in design, but it's a panel that can go off the rails in a bunch of different ways- insufficient common ground in fandoms of the panelists, disagreement about what kinds of qualities should be valued in fanfic, derailment from talking about goodfic to talking about badfic, etc..., and I have highlighted my concerns to the programming director. So that could be good.

The other is a Yuletide discussion I pitched and will apparently be a panelist on. I'm really excited about this, it's exactly the sort of more specific fanfic programming I've been pushing for, that introduces to the Philcon community the idea that fanfiction is a fannish field of sufficient scope to merit more detailed discussion. I pitched it with a focus on Yuletide as a venue for literary SF, to use the presence of fanfic of works by Asimov and Heinlein and Leckie and so on as a hook for Philcon people who don't know Yuletide. We can build on that!

Philcon is next weekend and I am really excited for it. :D
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So, Philcon happened, and it started with a wonderful surprise and kept on being excellent.

As I was waiting in line to register, a couple of men in yarmulkes walked up to me and asked if I would join their minyan. I grabbed my roommate [personal profile] freeradical42 and together with the already assembled folk there were seven men and one woman gathered to pray in one of the hotel meeting rooms the Con was using. We started praying the afternoon service and then when that was finished, we began Kabbalat Shabbat, the special prayer service welcoming the Sabbath. And as we started singing Lecha Dodi, the song that is the heart of the Kabbalat Shabbat service, more people started coming in. We got an eighth man, and a ninth man, and a second woman, and as each person entered the room the singing grew louder and more spirited and more joyful. And then the tenth man came in and together we all sang "Bo'i V'Shalom", the final stanza of Lecha Dodi, which ends "Bo'i Kallah, Bo'i Kallah": "Come to me, Sabbath Bride, come join me."

This was my fifth time at Philcon and the first time I've been able to find a minyan. It was definitely the biggest crowd of Jews I've seen at a convention. And the experience put me in such a good mood to start the Con, because it felt like such a powerfully integrating experience. Sometimes going to Philcon means I have to feel like I'm making compromises- doing things that aren't in the spirit of Shabbos, or doing things not in the spirit of Fandom, but opening Philcon with a beautiful Kabbalat Shabbat service made me feel like I could do both without having to compromise. That I could share in the joy of two of the communities that are most important to me- three communities, really, since my five roommates/companions for the Con were Alcovians, another of my most important communities.

After davening I made kiddush and motzi and then met up with [ profile] nathanielperson. Together we attended a panel on terrible science fiction we love anyway. The most enticing recommendation was a particularly bitter recommendation from one of the panelists for an alien romance novel called Captive Surrender.

Then I went to the Opening Ceremony and bailed after ten minutes when it became apparent that there was going to be nothing happening at the Opening Ceremony, while [ profile] nathanielperson went to a panel on the Square Cube law in SF and bailed after ten minutes when it became apparent that it was going to just be a panel about Godzilla. So we met up and caught the end of a panel on how laughable it is when old SF gets future predictions wrong, and then went to a really cool panel on the mechanics and history of the Antikythera device, an amazingly intricately geared mechanism that apparently was used to reasonably accurately model patterns of eclipses, lunar phases, and various other astronomical information approximately 100 BCE. Then a couple more friends showed up and we hung out for a bit and then I wen to sleep before midnight because I was exhausted and I knew that I needed the sleep if I were going to survive the weekend.

Saturday morning began with a really good panel on Sexism in Fandom. It was really well moderated by Orenthal Hawkins and after the requisite griping about how terrible gamergate is, it started to explore the psychology of the harasser and the way in which the growth of geek culture has forced these cultural confrontations out into the open. So that male geeks who had formerly established their own exclusionary hierarchy in opposition to the conventional mainstream hierarchy were being forced against their will to acknowledge that they no longer have as much power to act as gatekeepers to the geek hierarchy, and they are trying to abuse what power they still have left to hold on. But the panel also spoke about how parts of geek culture that aren't as public, places like Philcon that have sometimes been a bastion of male fandom in the past, also have to work to keep fighting sexism and make it so that there aren't places in fandom that offer a safe haven for bad behavior by abusive trolls. And everyone was well behaved and there was hardly any mansplaining and the panel just went off shockingly well.

Then we sat in on a panel on "Literary Hard Science Fiction" and whether the demands of "literary fiction" and the demands of "hard science fiction" were at odds. It took the panel all of six seconds to agree that they weren't, but what I really liked about this panel was that it didn't end up just being a panel of listing examples of literary hard SF that works or arguing about genre definitions, which are two things that could have happened and which wouldn't have been the end of the world, but which get tiresome. Instead, the panelists, all thoughtful writers led by Michael Swanwick and Tom Purdum, took a pretty sharp look at the challenges of pulling off both ends of the mashup. One panelist cited a Golden Age editor as telling their writers not to try to do anything too complicated with characters because it would distract the reader from the delivery of ideas. And obviously the New Wave pushed back in the other direction with SF that tried to add more emphasis on characters and prose styling, but it was interesting to me that the Golden Age model actually had reasoning behind it, rather than merely being (as it often imputed), fueled by lazy, bad, hasty writing. The conclusion the panelists drew, more or less, was that pulling off Literary Hard Science Fiction involves juggling a lot of pieces and is really hard to do well for that reason because both elements are fighting for the reader's attention.

Which led to an interesting observation that threw the panelists down an interesting tangent: As mentioned in the Friday panel about incorrect future predictions, readers find technology that doesn't match our experience of the world to be distracting. It requires time and thought to assimilate these new ideas and technologies. On the other hand, when reading about technology that we have already assimilated into our heads, this adjustment and thought isn't needed. Therefore, there is some literature, such as the work of Verne, that has sort of retroactively become literary because the tech no longer seems futuristic, and we can pay attention to the story and character elements.

So I think the trick to working effectively with both big technological/cultural ideas and big character ideas, to bridge the gap between rigorous SF and rigorous literature, is to make both unobtrusive. It's a tough trick, but I think framing it in that way makes it seem more approachable. The great thing about this panel was that it was completely from the writer's perspective. I don't think you would hear critics talking about literary hard SF in the same way.

Afterward I'd volunteered to be the locus for a meetup of the Central Jersey Geek Meetup, as I did last year. As also happened last year, nobody showed up. I sat in the lobby for twenty minutes reading a book and then cool people who weren't involved in the Central Jersey Geek Meetup showed up and we talked for a while. Then I had lunch and went to the game room for the first time.

Philcon has a really awesome game room. The folks who run it started out just getting a suite and hosting gaming because they didn't like the way Philcon ran gaming, and eventually after a couple of years of this Philcon realized that John and Ginny knew their shit and started supporting their game room and including it in programming. They bring dozens of games, they bring lots of snacks to fuel gaming, and they offer up their time to make sure everything runs smoothly.

I had brought a game I kickstarted called Coin Age, a little pocket sized microgame played with coins and a single custom playing card sized board. I'd wanted to try it out and I easily found someone willing to play with me. It turned out to be exactly what I'd wanted- simple, easy to teach, and shockingly complex strategically for such a simple game. I played it several times over the course of the weekend when I had time to kill, after this. Everyone enjoyed it.

Then, a great panel on Jewish folklore in contemporary Jewish fantasy. I got so many recommendations of authors and works out of this, and I got to share a few of my favorites- Benjamin Rosenbaum's Biblical vampire story "The Book of Jashar" and Richard Dansky's Pirate Rabbi adventure "The Thirty Ninth Labor of Reb Palache".

There was a lot of discussion of the Golem and how often writers and TV people get it wrong, and how as the most well-known Jewish folk tale it gets incredibly overused when other Jewish fantastic devices would have actually been more appropriate. There is so much else going on in Jewish folklore! There are thousands of years of tradition, traditions from all over the world.

I mean, in my own fiction alone we have the demon Ashmedai, the prophet-king Melchizedek, Noah's dove, and my own strange take on the Golem story. Plus dybbuks in a D&D oneshot I ran and Solomon's secret wisdom in my Storium game. There is a hell of a lot to work with.

After that, we sat through [personal profile] freeradical42's two panels, one on Ebola and epidemics and one on common medical mistakes in media. Jon and I spent the former panel making radio telescope jokes and cracking each other up, but they were both good panels.

I skipped the transformative works/ fanfiction panel in order to run a D&D game, but I do want to say a few things about it. First, I heard a few people say that the panel turned out well, and I have no doubts about that. My complaint was never that the panel would be bad, just that it wasn't a topic I thought needed to be talked about anymore. Second, I went to the feedback panel at the end of the convention and delivered a version of my rant from the previous post and almost got cut off, they were so fast to respond with "We're aware it's a problem, it's at the top of our list to fix next year, and it's a very high priority in particular for our new Head of Programming." So that sounded like very good news.

My D&D game was worth skipping the fanfic panel for. I ran a small section of the megadungeon Dwimmermount, converting it on the fly to D&D 5E. It's a really astonishing dungeon product, featuring 13 incredibly massive levels full of complicated interconnections and factions and story hooks. And it's so well designed and well laid out that it feels even bigger than the massive book that contains it.

After I ran the game, the people who run the gaming room asked me to poke them during the year about running a game next year, so that it can actually get listed in the program. So that may happen, and would be pretty cool.

The party, which called itself Three's Company (because they were sponsored by General Three), consisted of a human noble fighter, a human peasant fighter, and a halfling rogue. They entered the dungeon in high spirits, mocking each other and jostling each other, making so much noise that they alerted a group of orc guards watching the entrance. They defeated the orcs pretty handily, including the ones who split off to sneak around and ambush them from behind, then examined the room, which contained a group of large idols that had clearly been altered to feature the head of a heretical deity. They tried to smash the heads, but failed several times and eventually gave up.

Then they moved on in their explorations. Passing through a couple of hallways, they found a room with terrifying Thulian masks on the wall and started pulling them down off the wall without thinking, triggering a poison gas trap. The noble fighter survived the gas and was able to catch a gasp of fresh air, but for some reason the curious halfling rogue decided to lick the mask and died from the concentrated poison residue. [Fortunately, at just this point a wizard showed up and joined up with the newly renamed Four Minus One's Company.] The two fighters decided to take the masks, clean them carefully, and wear them for the added intimidation it would give them, then the exploration continued. They found a locked iron door and bypassed it, and then found a small chapel with six columns along the side walls, dedicated to the heretical deity Turms Termax. Inside, animated reliquary bones were primed to attack any visitors who did not worship Turms Termax, and so the party found itself defending itself against flying femurs and phalanges. One of those femurs knocked the noble fighter unconscious, but the peasant fighter managed to defeat the bones with some help from the wizard, and suddenly a cleric showed up ([profile] tealdear, tired of the DC2017 party) to heal the fighter.

The recovered Four Minus One Plus One's Company noticed that an altar in the back of the chapel showed evidence of being moved back and forth, and they pushed it out of the way to reveal a secret door to the chapel's treasury, where they found LOOT!

Then we all decided to call it quits so we could go to the Eye of Argon reading, an annual Philcon tradition of attempting to read the worst fantasy story ever written without laughing or misreading (saying a typoed word correctly count as misreading). Eye of Argon was great. It was decided to relocate to a party room when the actual turnout at the panel was low, so we had lots of booze and we had lots of unsuspecting people to initiate into the horror that is the Eye of Argon. After we made a good show of the Eye of Argon, we repaired back to our room, where we drank more booze and talked for a while before sleep sometime after 3AM.

In the morning my first panel was the only bad panel of the con, a panel on the topic of "Separating an Author from their Work" that I knew better than to attend. I totally knew better, but I didn't realize quite how terrible it would be. Highlights:

-Sharon Lee saying that she didn't understand why her friend thought she needed to recommend Lord Peter Wimsey with an antisemitism warning, "because Lord Peter is a progressive!" and when I tried to explain to her that seeing Lord Peter unexpectedly palling around with Nazis felt like a slap in the face and I would have loved to have gotten a warning, she shook her head and told me that I was being ridiculous.

-Peter Prellwitz, in the aftermath of a discussion about how to feel about Marion Zimmer Bradley in the wake of the revelations about her complicity in her husband's child abuse, declaring that it was unjust media harassment that killed Joe Paterno.

-A long rant from Oz Drummond about why everyone needed to understand that Requires Hate was a terrible person whose stories should never be read, in the midst of a panel where any criticism of Orson Scott Card was met with cries of "CENSORSHIP!"

-Ian Randal Strock repeatedly declaring his glee that after a similar panel at Arisia had been full of panelists who felt that Orson Scott Card's homophobia was reason to stop buying his books, this panel was full of rational people.

So yeah, it was a charming panel and I was nearly the only person in the audience challenging any of the things they were saying. Though I was really grateful that when I suggested that the Berkeley fannish community separating Marion Zimmer Bradley and Walter Breen as authors from MZB and WB as people was part of what had allowed the fannish community to ignore the mounting evidence of child abuse, someone else in the audience actually stood up for my position and backed me up.

Grah. I went back to my room afterwards to check out and rant at my roommates for a while. Very grateful that they let me rant myself out.

Um.. what else happened? There was a filk contest that produced a "My Favorite Things" filk about Klingons in tutus. There was some workshopping of one of my fanvid WIPs over lunch. There was a panel on Non-Binary Gender in SF that produced lots of interesting seeming recommendations and little else, and stalled out when [ profile] nathanielperson challenged the panel to name any SF featuring actual human transpeople instead of aliens with non-binary genders. And then the con ended with the aforementioned feedback panel where I was reassured that next year we might actually get decent fanfic panels at Philcon. Yay Philcon.

It was a most excellent weekend and then I went home and sleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeept.

Holy fuck, three thousand words of con report.
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
Last year, Philcon's single fanfiction panel was the charmingly titled "Fan Fiction: Stepping Stone or Cul de Sac?".

I sent a bit of a rant to programming this summer, and am cautiously optimistic that the panel will be an improvement. Except not a big enough improvement, because let me show you my rant and then let me show you the panel topic.

My Rant/Panel Suggestion

3] I want a panel (or more than one panel) about writing techniques for fanfiction, because I'm tired of the only fanfic panel at Philcon being the one that has to spend the entire hour justifying the existence of fanfiction. I want a panel that assumes fanfiction has a reason for existing, and actually talks about the ways in which it does exist. For example a discussion of writing techniques that can be used in fanfiction but can't be used in original fiction, or a discussion of common fanfiction themes that rarely appear in original fiction. Or a panel solely about the use of tentacles in fanfiction. Or a panel about making the transition from being a reader of fanfiction to a writer of fanfiction. Or a panel on how fanfiction can engage with canons that don't feature much diversity and open up their worlds. I don't really have strong opinions about the specific subject matter, I just want the panel to not have to spend any time on justifying the existence of fanfiction.

Philcon's 2014 Panel on Fanfiction

The Value of Transformative Works
A transformative work is one that takes an existing intellectual property (a character, story, or setting), and changes it in some way to provide a new purpose, sensitivity, or expression to the work. Examples can include everything from fan fiction or fan films, up to and including professionally licensed works like Gregory Maguire's "Wicked". What value do works like this have, both for us as fans, and for the original work itself?

<==Getting it
Philcon ===================================================================>


(I KEEP TELLING MYSELF, AT LEAST IT'S BETTER THAN "STEPPING STONE OR CUL DE SAC". [Also, I keep telling myself, Philcon will still be awesome this weekend anyway. My posse this year is big enough that we had to get two hotel rooms.])
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
Philcon was a pretty excellent time.

Logistics worked out this year much better than in past years. Room booked well in advance, low floor requested on account of stairs on Shabbat, and for the first time, request actually accommodated! That was a huge difference in being able to head back to the room on breaks to eat or just chill out. Also, requested a fridge, and acquired food that requires a fridge and that also made a difference in logistical success. Ate much better this year than at past cons. Oh man, the fiasco at Worldcon where they didn't have enough refrigerators and I used the tiny icebox to hold a turkey sandwich that ended up waterlogged despite being sealed in various plastic bags. :( I shared a room with my brother, plus [personal profile] freeradical42, [profile] teal_dear, and Jon who doesn't have an LJ/DW. It was great to hang out with all of them.

In general, the panels were not too great. One of the best panels I will not talk about because Yuletide spoilers, but the best panel of all was the First Annual Philcon Imaginary Word Spelling Bee, which was amazing. Contestants were quizzed on words from Nyarlathotep to Mxyzptlk, and I just barely missed out on winning the bee. I was a little annoyed that I had to miss the SF trivia contest for it, but it was so ridiculous and fun and I'm hoping it will continue to be a part of the con.

There was also a well done panel on Dangerous Visions, which took a broad and skeptical look at the place of the collection in SF history and ultimately I think did a very fair job of apportioning credit to Harlan where it was due without buying into the hype machine surrounding the anthology. Dangerous Visions is an amazing collection of stories, everyone agreed, and it did some things to give legitimacy to the genre as a source of thoughtful literary ideas, but it was also of a time and place where that was happening elsewhere. One panelist emphasized the role it had in bringing new female voices to peoples' attention, and another highlighted the way it helped bring sex and liberal politics into SF. But some people in the audience wondered if by partially legitimizing SF, Dangerous Visions had in some sense prolonged the ghetto and kept it from folding into the literary mainstream earlier, and this led to a nicely broad conversation about how these 'revolutionary anthologies' - not just Dangerous Visions, but also Mirrorshades and Dark Matter and others- changed the conversation around genre fic in significant ways without really fundamentally changing the nature of 'genre fiction'.

Hmm... what else was cool? Went to two performances involving the musical guest of honor, Heather Dale, which were both great. The former was the opening ceremony concert, a nice high energy filk set that highlighted Dale's beautiful vocals- the latter was the first solo show of her guitarist Ben Deschamps, which was a really fun set of filky instrumental folk, highlighted by instrumentals about zombies and dinosaurs and a poem setting of an SJ Tucker poem, recited by Tucker. I also went to a few other filk concerts that I enjoyed- the Denebian Slime Devils, Marc Grossman, and Sarah Pinsker. And there was a Sunday morning filk panel on ridiculous filk that saw a filk of Meercat Manor to the tune of Mozart's "La Ci Darem" and the most aggressive, hardcore filk I've ever heard about a dishwasher.

Saturday evening I signed up for a Ravaged Earth game- a high energy 1930s pulp rpg setting for Savage Worlds. [profile] teal_dear played a sentient robot butler, I played Captain Lightning, a superhero, and the other two players played a martial arts master and a mad scientist as we scampered around the naked city on a series of wild adventures. The setting was great fun and well matched to the system, and we all had a blast. The high water mark for me was flying down onto the hood of the cultists' automobile, punching through the windshield, and grabbing the driver by the throat. And then striking a heroic pose, to demonstrate to the American Public of This Fine Land that standing up for What Is Right is always worth it. In the game room I also played SET with an eight year old and tried out the new Guilds expansion for Dominion. I lost at Dominion, of course. I always lose at Dominion. I absolutely do not have the head for that game.

And then I suppose I should share what happened at the fanfic panel. If you were told that it wouldn't be a panel of profic writers trashing fanfic, it was exactly what you would expect the Philcon fanfic panel to be. It was a bunch of writers who had mostly gotten their start in 1970s K/S and had mostly transitioned to being profic writers. When they were sharing fandom stories from back in the day, the panel was great. When they were talking about their approach to fanfic and its relationship to canon, TPTB, profic, and tie-ins, they were so far on the other side of a cultural and to some degree generational divide from me that it wasn't even worth the time and effort to argue with them.

They believed that the reason they could write Trekfic was because Paramount let them/turned a blind eye, and they believed that when Paramount started recruiting fic writers to write tie-in novels, that amounted to Paramount finally paying attention to the fandom. I don't think they could have possibly understood the relationship I have with TPTB in my fandoms, that I don't care whether or not they want me to be writing the fic, that I often write fic that would be read as deliberately confrontational toward TPTB, except that I don't give a shit whether they read it because I'm writing in conversation with other fans, not in conversation with the creators. They can't comprehend how I approach contemporary copyright law as a thing to ignore when one is not politically inspired and to campaign against when one is.

So on the one hand I was profoundly relieved that it wasn't a wankfest about how fanfiction sucks compared to profic, but the cultural gap was significant enough that there was not much room for my fanfictional experience in the room.

The most fascinating bit of the conversation for me was when they all discussed the moment when they had moved from writing fanfiction that adhered as closely to canon as possible- deleted scenes, episode tags, casefic- to writing something that deviated. These were interesting stories- how one of them had created a fanzine represented as if it were an in-universe magazine, how one of them had introduced an OFC whose dialogue and approach to the world didn't match classic Trek dialogue- but what struck me was that that's how I was writing fanfic from my very first story. I never had that moment because I never had a phase of only writing episode tags and casefic and deleted scenes. Later in the con I was talking to [profile] teal_dear about how the transformative/affirmative fandom breakdown is interesting and somewhat descriptively powerful, but not always clean- the panelists seemed to me to be talking about making a transition between a sort of affirmational fanfiction and transformational fanfiction, as the hypothetical stepping stone toward origfic.

In any case, there were lots of other neat things, and I had a great time. Yay Philcon.
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
This year there's a panel on fanfic at Philcon, which would be mildly shocking except for its title:

"Fan Fiction: Stepping Stone or Cul de Sac?"

Oh, Philcon, never change. ;-)

(The description is possibly better than the title makes it sound: "Many writers nowadays start off writing fan fiction. Some stay and some move on. Is this a helpful stepping stone to other forms of writing fiction? Is it possible that fan fiction may be seen as an art form in its own right?")
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
Philcon was this weekend. I attended with my brother, and Jon showed up on Saturday.

I had a great time, but I always feel like I might enjoy these cons more if I weren't so omnivorously geeky. I feel obligated to see everything, when the reality is I would have more fun if I spent more time talking to people and less time running from thing to thing. If I were just an anime fan, I could just stick to the single-room anime track for the whole weekend and not feel like I was missing anything. But this con made me choose between sitting through Marvel/DC wank and D&D Edition wank, and... seriously, how could I reasonably choose and not feel that I was missing something? :P

I was probably happiest at the con on Saturday afternoon/evening, when I gave up on going to panels and just started hanging out in the gaming suite. I learned two new games that were fun, Tsuro and Smashup. Tsuro is a really elegant, casual puzzle game. Smashup is a card game where pirates, ninjas, fairies, wizards, robots, and aliens compete. It's gloriously ridiculous. And then after that we played a Dread scenario. Dread is a horror rpg that uses a Jenga tower as its action resolution mechanism. If the tower falls while you're pulling a tile, you die. The game went long, because all rpgs ever run long, and it was ridiculous and scary and funny in good measures, and I had a blast.

My other frustration with SF cons is starting to be the kinds of geekishness you can't talk about. It is almost spooky the way any reference to fanfiction is missing from the conversation, when you just know that a third of the con has some involvement in some way with fanfiction. But because of MZB-inspired paranoia, it is a mostly unspoken etiquette faux pas to mention fanfiction around published authors, since it might cause them to be eaten by brainworms. I had to swallow my tongue a few times in panels since I kept forgetting about this rule. There was a Space Westerns panel, which was actually really good, since it talked about Firefly a lot less than I'd expected and had a good, broad perspective on the idea of space westerns and what western tropes translate well to SF, but we made it through without discussing fanfic Space Western AUs, which bothered me a little. I guess I should just start going to fanfic-oriented cons, except those mostly seem to be slash fandom cons, and I am not exactly a slasher even though I have written slash. And I don't want to go to slash cons, I want to go to general geeky cons where I can bounce from the filk room to the lit SF room to the astronomy room to the anime room to the game room, and be able to talk about fanfiction without feeling like a criminal. Eh...
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
I went to a panel on 'experimental fiction' at Philcon. It wasn't exactly what I wanted it to be, but I did enjoy myself. It wasn't really the right set of panelists for the conversation I had. It didn't really seem to have too many writers of what I consider experimental fiction. Most of the writers there weren't interested in the experiment qua experiment. They were just writers whose stories didn't slot comfortably into any genre and who were therefore tagged as experimental.

I tried to push the conversation more in the direction of what I wanted by asking how the scientific method applied to the idea of experimental fiction, but this just got the sort of cutesy ideas about writing a story in the form of a scientific paper that I've been toying with for years and they seemed to think was novel. What I was really after was the idea of hypothesizing that a certain story technique might work and then trying it out to see if the hypothesis was correct. This is the method that guides my most interesting writing. It also guides most of my least interesting writing.

I've deleted more of my Yuletide story this year than I've left intact. Well, not deleted but cut and pasted into a rejected story file. I've also tried writing and then deleted two different story outlines. And that's because this story demands experimentation. It's requiring me to think of ideas I've never seen used in print before and pressing them into action. Many of them, I'm finding, have lain unused for a reason. Anyway, that's frustrating but kinda cool at the same time. Tell you what, though. I'm almost certainly not going to be done until I have the story outline figured out. This story requires a STRUCTURE. With two capital Ts.


Music! Lately I have been listening to the Goldberg Variations. Wait, that needs clarification. I always listen to the Goldberg Variations a lot, they're one of those pieces that I keep coming back to because I keep finding more depth. But this time is different. This time, lately I have been listening to the Goldberg Variations on the accordion. Teodoro Anzellotti's recording. Wow, it is lovely and unexpected. Highest marks.

I grabbed Fretworks' recording of the variations for viol consort at the same time, but haven't had a chance to give it a very thorough listen yet because did I mention Goldberg Variations on the accordion???!!!
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
I received a Dhalgren story for Kaleidoscope. "Optic/Nerve" is the title and I confess that since my request had suggested that a Wolverine&Kidd crackfic adventure would be fun, I thought when I saw the title we might see Scott Summers make an appearance. No matter, the story was wonderful despite its total lack of X-Men jokes.

I first read it at about 7am Sunday morning from my hotel room at Philcon while various other people snored or grumbled angrily at the morning sun. Reading it in that setting was a blissful, meditative experience. The story is subtle and extremely thoughtful and I love the way it cheats by relying on tiny allusions to the source material to tell an expansive and large story in only 1300 words. That's really beautiful technical execution, especially for a Dhalgren story. I have reread the story several times since then. I keep finding more in it.

Mostly what I keep finding is more and more love. This story is a revelation about the depths of the feelings Denny and Lanya and Kidd share. Dhalgren itself is so muddled on the question. The characters are confused about their feelings, confused about what commitment means when everything could change at any minute. It is one of fanfiction's most sacred jobs to ship characters that canon is unwilling to commit to shipping. This story makes Denny/Lanya/Kidd about more than just desperate, incoherent sex.

In any case, I think I would say I would be unsurprised if [personal profile] starlady wrote this story, but I don't feel confident in that guess. Meanwhile, my story is about as guessable as anything I've ever written. [personal profile] sanguinity guessed pretty instantly. I pretty much just crammed the story with all of the hallmarks of a [personal profile] seekingferret story, until it overflowed.


seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)

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