ConFusion 2018: The Setting as Character

(These are my lightly edited notes for a panel I attended at the ConFusion Fantasy and Science Fiction Convention in January of 2018)

THE PANEL: The Setting as Character (21 January 2018, 12:00)

DESCRIPTION: “In Science Fiction and Fantasy , settings can literally come alive–be it via the talking flowers of Through The Looking Glass or the rage of Peter Quill’s creepy dad-planet in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. In Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch universe where ships have minds, main characters can be both people and places at the same time. Are living settings a science fiction/fantasy extension of the classic “Hero Vs. Nature” story? How do they exist in conversation with real-world beliefs about whether the world around us has a will of its own?”

PANELISTS: A. T. Greenblatt, Cassandra Morgan, David John Baker, Suzanne Church

NOTES:

My thoughts:

This was a good general overview of the topic. I was kind of hoping that there would be more focus on concepts like Genius Loci and the like, but on reflection the panel’s approach makes more sense, as setting qua setting is the environment in which the story exists, not a personality with agency per se.

ConFusion 2018: Science Fiction and Philosophy

(These are my lightly edited notes for a panel I attended at the ConFusion Fantasy and Science Fiction Convention in January of 2018)

PANEL: “Science Fiction and Philosophy: Exploring the Connections”

DESCRIPTION: “SF has been called the literature of ideas, and the ideas explored in SF have become increasingly philosophical throughout the history of the genre. What are the most illuminating thought experiments in recent and classic SF? Which philosophical questions do they raise? And how are philosophers in today’s universities employing SF in their teaching and research?”

PANELISTS: Andrea Johnson, Dyrk Ashton, Ken Schrader, Nathan Rockwood

NOTES:

MY THOUGHTS:

This panel was interesting in that so much of the discussion revolved around listing works which address philosophical questions, and not a lot of addressing the questions themselves. This bothered me at first, but on reflection I realize that these panels are meant to be introductions and overviews, not necessarily deep dives into the subject; if for no other reason than that the panels all stand alone, and if two or more share a subject it is only by coincidence. That said, I appreciated the breadth of suggestions, and particularly that they included games. Computer games, if the narrative is sufficiently complex, can be seen as simulations and testing grounds for ideas which are not always easy for an individual to address in the real world.

Links and Notes for the Week of February 4, 2018

* This is how you give an acceptance speech: Ursula Vernon, upon receiving the 2017 Hugo Award for best novelette.

* Some words:
** “gigil” (Tagalog) – the trembling or gritting of the teeth in response to a situation that overwhelms your self-control. The powerful urge to bite or squeeze something cute.
** “Kummerspeck” (German) – lit. “Sorrow fat” or “Sorrow bacon” – the weight gained through stress eating.

* Over at Metafilter (user name: JohnFromGR) there is an excellent catch-all post covering the latest bullshit from the alt-right/neo-nazi contingent of genre fiction and fandom (Sad Puppies, Rabid Puppies, Happy Frogs, GamerGaters, MRAs, etc.).

* Though I have been aware of it for quite some time, I have never used Patreon. That all changed after I attended ConFusion and spoke with a number of writers who fund their writing through Patreon. Since then I have added my support to the efforts and good works of Kameron Hurley (on Patreon) and Apex Publishing (on Patreon). I really like this mode of providing support. It is a good balance to the per-project model of Kickstarter and similar services. Another way to look at it might be to say that it has the same highs and lows as Kickstarter, just smoothed out over a much larger time frame. In any event, a few dollars a month to support great writing in return for the opportunity to read that great writing, is money well spent.

* I have been following the Calvert Journal for a while now. Back in 2016 they ran an article about teens in Transnistria, which introduced me to the concept of states which are minimally recognized as such by other countries. Transnistria has been one such since the collapse of the Soviet Union. They, along with Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Artsakh, created the Community for Democracy and Rights of Nations (Twitter feed). I find places like this interesting because they exist on the edges and in the interstices of power, and thus may be fertile ground for new ideas of politics, sovereignty, autonomy and empire. If they survive.

* In your copious free time, you can amuse yourself with Monster Breeder. Capture monsters. Breed them. Make new monsters!

ConFusion 2018: Immigration and Refuge in Science Fiction

(These are my lightly edited notes for a panel I attended at the ConFusion Fantasy and Science Fiction Convention in January of 2018)

PANEL: Immigration and Refuge in Science Fiction (20 January 2018, 10:00)

DESCRIPTION: “Travel stories are classics in any genre, but in science fiction stories of travelling to a new home are often about colonization, or about intrepid explorers amongst the (primitive) aliens. Let’s talk about the science fiction stories that better reflect the experiences of immigrants and refugees in the real world.”

PANELISTS: Alexandra Manglis, Amal El-Mohtar, David Anthony Durham, John Chu

NOTES:

My thoughts:

There were many important ideas passed around in this panel, particularly in light of the racist, xenophobic, fascist policies of the current (c. 2018) U.S. president and his cabinet. One book which comes to mind which showed the POV of a refugee is What is the What, by Dave Eggers. Neither genre nor quite fiction, but a beautiful book all the same. As for fiction stories, well, I can’t think of any I have read. Not that they are not out there.

ConFusion 2018: Visions of Positive Masculinity

(These are my lightly edited notes for a panel I attended at the ConFusion Fantasy and Science Fiction Convention in January of 2018)

DESCRIPTION: From high fantasy adventures to noir mysteries to superheroes and war stories , genre fiction has meticulously catalogued the narrow roles society expects men to occupy: strong, brave, and powerful, but also angry, competitive, emotionally repressed, and misogynistic. What does a character arc look like for the man who has decided not to be the best at performing this toxic vision of masculinity? We’ve seen many stories about women who struggle and triumph against gender roles. How can writers use social expectations of masculinity to create challenges that their male characters have to overcome to save the day?

PANELISTS: David Anthony Durham, Jason Sanford, Jim C. Hines, John Chu, Pablo Defendini

NOTES:

  • Before discussing “positive masculinity”, perhaps a definition of “toxic masculinity” (“T.M.” henceforth)?
  • T.M. may appear in ways that seem innocuous
  • T.M. does NOT mean “All men are bastards!”
  • T.M. is something we are born into but can supersede
  • #NotAllMen is a symptom of T.M.
  • Kylo Ren is an example of T.M.
  • Poe Dameron is an example of a different sort of T.M.
  • We are at the beginning of the pushback against T.M. at the institutional level.
  • Part of challenging T.M. is challenging the idea of “masculinity”, i.g. “What is masculinity? What is masculine?”
  • Works which stand against T.M.:
  • Empathy can inoculate against T.M.
  • Good fiction creates empathy
    • “Write better books, make better people”
  • Can healthy, well-balanced protagonists make for compelling reading? YES!!!!!
  • We would like to see aspects of T.M. addressed in literature in the upcoming year:
    • Aggression
    • Conquest
    • Lack of empathy
  • “We want people to live up to Apple’s P.R., not necessarily Apple’s actions in the world.”
  • Big tech companies are often not aware of, or don’t care about, even the first-order effects of their actions (e.g. externalities, be they environmental, cultural, economic, et al.)
  • Being proud of ignorance is a huge signifier of T.M. Distrust of expertise and education and intelligence
  • Dismantling T.M. is MEN’s PROBLEM. It’s not on women to do it for men.

My thoughts:

This was quite eye-opening for me. I am aware of the existence of toxic masculinity in everyday life, and do what I can to expunge it from my personality and social interactions. Of course, as a guy, and as me being embedded in me, I am not always aware of how I am perceived by people outside of me. This panel was a good view into the various ways toxic masculinity can manifest. Of particular interest was that this panel happened right after an incident in another panel, which led to an attendee exhibiting stalker-ish behavior toward one of the panelists. T.M. in action. I expect I will add thoughts to this subject in future blog posts.

ConFusion 2018: How a Manuscript Becomes a Book

(These are my lightly edited notes for a panel I attended at the ConFusion Fantasy and Science Fiction Convention in January of 2018)

PANEL: How a Manuscript Become a Book (19 January 2018, 14:00)

PANEL DESCRIPTION: “‘I’m just an MS…sittin’ here on an editor’s desk…I hope and pray to be a book someday, but today I am just an MS!’ There’s plenty of information on the web about how to write and sell a manuscript , but the process after the deal is signed is often opaque to new writers. We’ll walk through the steps a manuscript typically goes through between deal day and launch day, and what authors can do to help the process go smoothly.”

PANELISTS: Cherie M. Priest, Navah Wolfe, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Richard Shealy, Yanni Kuznia

NOTES

  • On acceptance: It has to be a great book THAT THE PUBLISHER KNOWS WHAT TO DO WITH (Navah Wolfe)
  • You never learn to write A NOVEL. You learn to write THIS NOVEL. The same goes for editing.
  • Pointing out places that need fixing vs. recommending specific fixes. “This isn’t working” vs. “Maybe try this”
  • When the editors do their job well, you don’t notice them
  • “Junicode” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Junicode) variation of Garamond with loads of diacritics. Created to fill a need in academic publishing
  • “First pass” == “Uncorrected Proof” == “Galley”

My thoughts:

I mostly attended this panel as a sanity check to see if the rest of the publishing world did things similarly to how I did them. Therefore, for me, this panels was more about affirming than learning. Everything discussed jibed with my experiences as publisher and editor at Caffeinated Press. The notes collected here are the “aha!” moments of the panel.

ConFusion 2018: The Care and Feeding of the Subject Expert

(These are my lightly edited notes for a panel I attended at the ConFusion Fantasy and Science Fiction Convention in January of 2018)

PANEL: The Care and Feeding of the Subject Expert (19 January 2018, 12:00)

PANEL DESCRIPTION: “Writing science fiction and fantasy requires a ton of research. Having the internet at our fingertips makes it easier than it used to be, but sometimes we need to ask an expert. Many folks are delighted to geek out about their specialties, but we still need to do due diligence, respect their time, and make sure we’re asking the right questions. How do you find qualified experts? Do you approach them with prepared questions? When is it ethical to pick someone’s brain for free, and when should you insist on compensating your expert?”

PANELISTS: Marissa Lingen, Michael Kucharski, Monica Valentinelli, Patrick S. Tomlinson, Teresa Nielsen Hayden

NOTES

  • Sources at the start of a project are different from sources at the end of a project
  • Non-geek subject experts love it when writers take the time to get it right.
  • Being wrong is the best way to find an expert on the subject. When inaccuracies find their way into print the critics come out of the woodwork
  • A specific detail is an opportunity for your reader to argue with you. Don’t get it wrong
  • Is that particular specificity necessary?
  • Specificity can turn a work of fiction into a period piece. Accurate details (e.g. the price of things) can pinpoint stories in a particular time and place
  • We aren’t building worlds; we are building simulation of worlds. Therefore don’t add too much weight. Do specificity and detail in service of the story
  • SME can provide a sanity check. As in, is this right to the level of detail necessary to be meaningful to the story?
  • [Nature has a sci-fi section?]
  • How to reward/pay a SME: coffee, acknowledgement in print, dinner, money, Tuckerization
  • Wikipedia is a door, not a destination. The sources in a wikipedia article are the STARTING point for research.
  • [Mention of Jonathan Israel as SME for loads of European stuff]
  • If the SME’s response to a question is “it’s complicated,” it is a good indication that this person is, in fact, an SME. A facile or immediate and simple answer is not necessarily a well-thought-out answer
  • People who are weary about a subject are more likely to be experts than are the people who are excited.
  • “Englishing” – turning a translated text into a “regular English” text – is a Paid Thing

My thoughts:

I like the idea that subject matter experts may well be jaded about the subject in which they have expertise. It rings true. Not jaded in the sense that they find it boring; rather that the magic has become the mundane and they have integrated their knowledge into their lives and world-views. Being an expert in a subject doesn’t mean that you can simply recite dry facts.

Links and Notes for the Week of January 28, 2018

* Some words: Dialogue. Monologue. Analog. Dialect. Lecture. Lector.

* After some years of using GoodReads, I am trying out LibraryThing as a way to catalog all of my books. I can’t say I prefer one to the other, but at first use the LibraryThing UI is easier for viewing large volumes of data. Thus I don’t need to build a custom app to do this for me. Plus plus, the LibraryThing Android App can scan barcodes, which VASTLY simplifies the cataloging process.

* [UPDATE] After a week of using LibraryThing, I can say this: LT is very good as a cataloging system. It lacks some of the “friendliness” of GoodReads, but that is not a criticism. LT also makes sorting, filtering, and categorizing extremely easy. I think I will end up using both in parallel – GoodReads for the more public-facing view of all things literary in my life, and LibraryThing for the catalog of my personal library. LT will also be useful for outputting data for any custom apps I might build down the road.

* I’ve been studying up on Baba Yaga and Russian history for a writing project. One of the odd bits of trivia I have uncovered is that there is a community of Old Believers in a tiny town in northern Minnesota. Old Believers — staroveri (старове́ры), formerly called raskolniki (раскольники), which has interesting connotations vis a vis Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment — have communities all over the world, with the primary U.S. populations being in Alaska, Oregon, and Pennsylvania. Funny, the way the pieces of a story come together.

Links and Notes for the Week of January 21, 2018

* I have personal connections to New Orleans. My dad lived and worked there for many years, from the early 1980s until his passing in 2009. I attended Mardi Gras exactly once in all that time, in 2007. Unfortunately I did not get to experience the Krewe of Barkus, who are all Good Dogs.

* Since some people disagree that they are all Good Dog—and who has time or patience for that malarkey—it is sometimes necessary to clean house on Twitter. I have only recently begun to use Twitter as my primary social media outlet, as, though they are both objectively terrible, Facebook is worse. Barry Ritholtz, who I have been following for about a decade, has recently posted his strategy for dealing with trolls on Twitter. Time will tell if it is effective.

* Though I have subscribed to the RSS feed for a couple of years now, and I have been aware of its existence for somewhat longer, I have just now began listening to the Writing Excuses podcast, starting at Episode 1.1. My plan is to go through all of them in order and get caught up to present by the end of the year.

* Over in the day job, as I study up on React.js (which is actually kind of fun, now that I have played around a bit) I am keeping things interesting by using CSS Grids for structure and layout. In particular the Grid by Example website, created by Rachel Andrew, is a tremendous resource. While writing this post I realized that I met Rachel back in June of 2017 when I attended the O’Reilly Fluent conference in San Jose, California.

* Great googly moogly! Ben Firshman has built an NES emulator in Javascript, including my all-time favorite, Bubble Bobble! So much for productivity until Spring.