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Potlatch 24

I had intended to spend Friday evening at Potlatch, but I was so emotionally drained by a personnel crisis at work that exploded on Wednesday that I decided to bag it. Then I got an email from Spike asking if I wanted to meet her and Tom Becker for beer and dinner, and that sounded good. We met at the Big Time, and it turned out that Scott Kreidermacher, Ulrika O'Brien, and Jack William Bell (GeekWire's Geek of the Week) joined us as well. After a couple of beers we headed to the Shalimar for some curry. It was a welcome break from the work drama, but I was still feeling so wiped out that I went home afterward.

The next day I felt refreshed enough to face the horde, and I made it to the Deca Hotel, where the convention was held, just in time to join Tom, Glenn Glazer, Julie McGalliard, Janna Silverstein, a friend of hers whose name I lost, and Jerry & Suzle for lunch at a new restaurant called Seoul Tofu House & Korean BBQ. My spicy squid was good, and the conversation was a blast, ranging from an anthropological analysis of puns (including Julie's take that puns in fandom are a kind of mating display) to a discussion of military SF as written by women and whether, for example, the increasing role of American women in combat will change the kinds of military SF stories American women write. On the way back to the hotel Janna told me what an excellent, intelligent science fiction movie Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was up until the bog standard action finale that destroyed character continuity and derailed the whole thing for her.

Back at the convention I went to three panels. The first was the second half of "Living in a Fantasy World: The 21st Century Appeal of Fantasy Fiction," with Tom Whitmore moderating (as if!) Ellen Klages, David Bratman, and Nisi Shawl. The main focus of the panel was the evolution of fantasy as a publishing category, although the discussion frequently got into the roots of the genre as well. I believe one of the contentions hovering over the panel was that genre fantasy (perhaps roughly defined as fiction about magic) has overtaken science fiction in popularity, both in terms of what's on the shelves and what's winning awards. Perhaps lurking behind that contention is the idea that this is caused by the increasing number of women who both read and write fantastic fiction.

Next up was "Women Destroy Science Fiction: Not Again!", which was about the book of honor. Panelists were Kate Schaefer, Eileen Gunn, and Debbie Notkin. Debbie wondered whether it still made sense to be putting out women-only anthologies, or whether that was becoming a form of ghettoization. Eileen argued that she is marginalized by articles like her entry in The SF Encyclopedia that portray her as not really a science fiction writer. (" Much of Gunn's work, which is not copious, could not be described as sf.") Kate talked about how Gordon Van Gelder, who has been the editor and publisher at The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction for a number of years, was publishing only 20% stories written by women. She also compared the Lightspeed anthology to Pamela Sargent's 1974 anthology, Women of Wonder, and commented that the tone of the stories in the Sargent was angrier and those in Lightspeed more celebratory. In one of those moments that make Potlatch and SF conventions so wonderful, Vonda McIntyre spoke up from the crowd to tell the story of how Women of Wonder in part resulted from an angry letter she wrote to the publisher of a Best SF anthology that only included stories by three women out of a total of something like forty stories. When the publisher wrote back to ask Vonda if she'd like to put together an anthology of women writers, she connected them with Sargent, who she knew was shopping Women of Wonder.

The third panel I went to was "The Culture, Remembered," with Andy Hooper, Jane Hawkins, Chip Morningstar, and John D. Berry talking about Iain Banks' Culture novels. Jane probably put her finger on the core concern of the series when she said she doubted that an artificial intelligence (which in the Culture are called Minds) would have any motivation or reason to do anything. She also talked about how technology in the Culture has allowed everybody to be sane (unless they choose to be not-sane), and she tied that to her own struggles with depression and (getting back to her point about the Minds) the attendant inability to motivate herself. There was also a discussion of how Banks' stand-alone space operas, Against a Dark Background and The Algebraist, might take place in the same universe as the Culture without anyone knowing. Andy said he hopes to set up another panel about the Culture for Sasquan in August.

After that I headed up to the consuite to sample some of the beer that I had helped to acquire earlier in the week. Various dinner parties formed, but I wasn't feeling very hungry, so I hung out talking to Misha Williams and others who wandered in and out. Unusually for me (and no doubt only because Misha was there and isn't as introverted as I am) I ended up talking to a few people I didn't know, and that was good fun. Early on a woman whose name was something like Jessie joined us for a discussion about Sondheim's Into the Woods. When she mentioned that she'd stage managed a production of it, she and Misha bonded over how stage managing can ruin a beloved play for you. But eventually friends returned from dinner and I mostly went back to talking to people I knew. Then again, it was room full of people I knew, some of whom I don't see very often, so I talked to a lot of people! There was much talk of beer, and also a fair amount of talk about the revolution at Wiscon. Chris Wrdnrd invited me to sample some sake, and I joined a circle with her boy Andy, Luke and Julie McGuff, and Rich McAllister. Eventually, Scott, carl, and I headed down to Jack's room to sample single malts, and before I knew it I was staring at 1:30 in the AM and a long, drunken walk home.

Well, it was all a lot of fun, by grab. I chatted with Paul Wrigley and Debbie Cross in the dealer's room (mostly about beer), but the only book I bought (and not from them) was The Stone Boatmen by Sarah Tolmie, which was urgently recommended by Tom Becker. On the exhibit side I was deeply moved by the display of Stu Shiffman's artwork that Jerry and Suzle put together as a memorial. I hope we can do something similar at Sasquan. I got a lot of egoboo for the beer, other than one minor complaint about the relative paucity of stout. The book of honor provided a great framework for the weekend, and Ulrika O'Brien did a great job of building a program around it. Potlatch can sometimes leave me feeling a little alienated, maybe because I'm envious of all the writers and wannabe writers involved, and it's true that even this time I didn't spend a whole lot of time there. But in the time I did spend there what I saw was the gathered tribes voicing their enthusiasms and grievances in smart, engaged, thoughtful, feeling, funny, scathing ways, and it seemed to me that I was part of something that's still growing and evolving into strange and compelling forms. If women are destroying science fiction, it's only to create it anew.


( 28 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 10th, 2015 06:51 am (UTC)
On the one hand, it was NICE to not be constantly surrounded by WisCon talk. On the other hand, i actually do wish i could have at least listened to some of the conversations about WisCon -- not to put my oar in, but just to hear what people are thinking on the subject. The convention shouldn't be revolution-ing in a vacuum.
Feb. 10th, 2015 03:50 pm (UTC)
Is there a vacuum? I didn't get that impression, but then again I'm obviously not in the thick of things.

And thanks for the sake!
Feb. 10th, 2015 05:10 pm (UTC)
Anything else i'd have to say would be better said over lunch, but i just want to ask this: How many WisCon concom people did you see in conversations about WisCon this weekend?

Always glad to share sake! I still lament the loss of Showa in your neighborhood.
Feb. 10th, 2015 05:14 pm (UTC)
Okay, well, I've clearly stepped into something I don't know anything about, so I'm just going to shut up.
Feb. 10th, 2015 05:20 pm (UTC)
I didn't mean to make you shut up! Crap, maybe i've stepped in something i didn't know much about. Now i'm curious what i missed at Potlatch. Let's have lunch? I'll email you.
Feb. 10th, 2015 05:21 pm (UTC)
Sure, lunch is always good!
Feb. 10th, 2015 05:20 pm (UTC)
I certainly saw some I-believe-now-former Wiscon concom members in conversation, but my sense is that their conversations were private because dealings with some of the insurgent committee members have created a minefield around a bunch of issues. There were also a number of open conversations about Wiscon.

My own experience with being on the inside of certain sensitive conversations is that with the existence of social media it's readily possible for public conversations to turn virulently toxic and damaging quite quickly if they touch on hot button issues and that daylight as often produces more heat and smoke and wreckage than actual illumination.
Feb. 10th, 2015 05:32 pm (UTC)
"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships in flame wars off the shoulder of the Twitterverse."
Feb. 10th, 2015 05:40 pm (UTC)
Yessir, yessir, three bags full.
Feb. 10th, 2015 08:06 pm (UTC)
If this thing had a Like button, I would click it on this comment.
Feb. 10th, 2015 11:16 pm (UTC)
Me too. In fact, if I wore slogan t-shirts, I would definitely have it put on one. As it is, I'm thinking maybe mug or button. Or GIF, I suppose. It could be a GIF...
Feb. 11th, 2015 02:18 am (UTC)
Urge to make this my Twitter bio.
Feb. 11th, 2015 02:18 am (UTC)
Back in the autumn, Jane had suggested a possible panel that would look at WisCon and other conventions that had experienced revolutions. At the time i couldn't stomach the thought of more WisCon talk. Now, i feel like it could have been a great panel -- or maybe a bit of nano programming. That is, if anyone *would* have been up for talking about it. Debbie and Jeanne might have. I had long chats with each of them over the weekend about past and present concom stuff.

I think that social media has been great for a lot of discussions, but for others i entirely agree with your comment about heat and smoke. Social media makes it really easy to get caught up in an argument when what we need to do is take a big step back and two (or more) deep breaths.
Feb. 11th, 2015 07:21 pm (UTC)
That sounds like an awesome idea for a panel, if some of the usual suspects would have been willing to do it. Alas, I only learned of it now or we might have done it.
Feb. 10th, 2015 07:42 am (UTC)
The contention you saw hovering over the fantasy panel was put there by an article by Lev Grossman cited by the con as background reading for the panel. Grossman thinks fantasy is taking over from SF, and he has various implausible "technology is taking over our lives" reasons for suggesting this as a backlash. Grossman believes this is a quite recent phenomenon. But, as John Hodgman said to Jonathan Chait on a different subject, 'twas ever thus, and we all agreed that it dates back at least as far as the '60s, and for the same reasons then too. This was why I cited the drift of Star Wars, since Grossman cites it as an example of the abandoned tradition of SF, while one of the writers in Women Destroy SF says of course it isn't SF. (cf Eileen Gunn finding that she is no longer writing SF, to her own surprise.)

So we all agreed to drop the Grossman article and talk about why fantasy is read today.
Feb. 10th, 2015 03:52 pm (UTC)
It's true that I haven't read the Grossman article, and from what I've heard about it I'm not feeling much urge to rectify that.

Speaking of fantasy, have you heard anything about The Stone Boatmen? Tom was very enthusiastic and made it sound like something I might like and I *did* like the first couple of pages. Hadn't heard a thing about it before, however.
Feb. 10th, 2015 03:57 pm (UTC)
Great con report--and it was lovely to see you, something I do far too little of. I have yet to post my own report, which I ought to do because I have Thoughts about it all. It's coming. In the meanwhile, this was a fine recap.
Feb. 10th, 2015 05:14 pm (UTC)
As I said in the "Women Ruin War" panel, one of the many, many smart things about Anne Leckie's Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword is that she addresses the problem of motivation for AIs quite directly and believably: the architecture of the warship AIs includes emotional attachment to their crews (and although it's not explicitly stated, some capacity for moral outrage as well) because it was found that AIs that had no emotional commitments never got around to taking any kind of action because they were too busy happily chasing down the rabbit hole of possible actions, however irrelevant to the immediate situation. Although the first generation of ship's AIs had to be tinkered with after it was found that they got so very attached to their captains that if the captain died the ship might well commit suicide out of grief, immolating their crews and any nearby ships or space stations in the process.
Feb. 10th, 2015 05:17 pm (UTC)
Interesting. So the AIs are programmed to have emotional attachments, or did they somehow develop them on their own?
Feb. 10th, 2015 05:22 pm (UTC)
It's clearly programmed, though it's not clear to what degree the scope of the programming is fully understood.
Feb. 10th, 2015 06:02 pm (UTC)
Leckie is somebody I obviously need to get to Real Soon Now.
Feb. 10th, 2015 06:14 pm (UTC)
I'd say so. It may take you a little while to get into the first book -- you get dropped in fairly medias res and it can take a bit of time to get oriented and find reasons to care about the characters -- but if you manage that trick they're really rewarding books on a bunch of levels. Lots of stuff to chew over and think about while still telling a completely engaging story.
Feb. 10th, 2015 11:03 pm (UTC)
I suppose that the AI gets reprogrammed if the captain is re-assigned, much like sports fans get reprogrammed if their team's star player is traded.

In too much sf, captains never get re-assigned. See Captain Kirk, ad nauseum. This is far less believable than a lot of stuff in Star Trek.
Feb. 10th, 2015 11:37 pm (UTC)
That's not quite the way it worked in the Ancillary universe. In the history prior to the novels' present day, there was a regime upheaval in which captains loyal to the losing side were executed for disloyalty by the winner and many of the ships who lost their captains in that particular event committed suicide. At that point, the programming of the AIs was tinkered with so they wouldn't form such strong attachments to their officers that an unjust execution would trigger suicide, but there's no indication that the re-programming granularity was so fine-grained as to control whom they loved. Officers clearly come and go over the lifetime of a ship (the post-humans in this universe can live for hundreds of years, but ships live for thousands), receiving promotions or retiring, and individual ships care more for some officers than others but their capacity for caring is (in theory) no longer so great that it would lead to self-destruction or other inappropriate responses to the ultimate fate of their officers. Saying more than that about it might get into spoiler territory.
Feb. 11th, 2015 05:22 pm (UTC)
Janna told me what an excellent, intelligent science fiction movie Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was up until the bog standard action finale that destroyed character continuity and derailed the whole thing for her.

I think I was talking about Rise, but the titles are so similar I may be getting them mixed up. My other issue with the battle scene--and with battle scenes in general in American films these days--is that they seem to be a sort of rote requirement, a special-effects show-off so that the audience feels like it's getting its money's worth. (Also, so that the producers feel justified in spending stupid amounts of money of the production.) Once the battle starts, you could leave the theater, hit the loo, get a Coke, and resume watching at the battle's conclusion without having missed pretty much anything since, well, the end of such battles is usually a foregone conclusion. But we have to go through the exercise. The requirement of going through the exercise just feels like a waste to me. This was my experience, to a greater or lesser extent, with Rise and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the Hobbit films, and Guardians of the Galaxy (as crazy-fond of that film as I am). I find I have less patience with these things, the trope having become so established. Any battle scene that makes me yawn and stretch and say, "OK, let's get this over with" is a problem.
Feb. 11th, 2015 05:38 pm (UTC)
I initially had it down as Rise, but then I wasn't sure which was which, so I looked it up and discovered that Dawn was the second film. I thought you were talking about the second film, but maybe I was wrong about that.

I largely share your feelings about the Big Action Finale of modern blockbuster films. It's one reason why I haven't been a big fan of superhero films. Actually, one Big Action Finale in a recent film that I did get a kick out of was the one for Fast and Furious 6, which takes place in and around a a plane that's screaming down a runway trying to take off. This goes on for 20 minutes. When the Good Guys finally defeat the Bad Guys, the plane comes to a stop ... right at the edge of the runway. The knowing joke in this was a hoot. There's a somewhat related joke in the finale (or coda to the finale) of Tsui Hark's The Taking of Tiger Mountain.
Feb. 11th, 2015 05:51 pm (UTC)
I was definitely talking about the second film. I always get the titles mixed up, partly because the words "dawn" and "rise" could be mistaken for synonyms.

Weirdly, I still dig the Marvel films, even if the big battles at the end of them are rote, and it really has to do with character and dialog. Those films are generally well-written and the actors are clearly enjoying themselves.
Feb. 11th, 2015 07:39 pm (UTC)
I just finished watching my way through "Saturday Night Lights" last night (not a series I would have predicted falling for, as it's about the players, coach, and coach's family of a small town Texas high school football team). One of the things I have to admire is the choice of the director/creator not to play out the action of the final game of the final season of the show. We see snatches of the game, but just flashes, and then we find out that it's down to one final pass in the last seconds of the final quarter that will either win or lose the game for 'our' team. The ball is snapped, the QB has to scramble to let the receivers get in position for a 65 yard throw, he makes the throw, we see the ball go up, soaring in this perfect arc. Our view cuts to the faces of the head coach, his wife, the QB's mom, a former QB's grandma, more families and boosters, each face rapt, everyone's eyes on the ball, everyone obviously praying for a completion, and we cut to the ball again, caught in the glare of the lights against the night sky, and there's a fade cut, and it's a different football, against a daylight sky, and it's 8 months later and another player in another uniform catches it in practice on an unfamiliar field. We never do find out if that last ditch, game-winning pass was completed or not. Instead we get a montage of the various people we've followed, and where their lives are after all the changes that were pending on that last game of the season. It makes a just right comment on the way that, however tensely monumental these moments may seem, they are only moments, and life will just keep flowing by in the aftermath. It is largely the diametrical opposite of the obligatory battle scenes you speak of.
( 28 comments — Leave a comment )

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