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World Fantasy Convention 2011 Report

I’ve been to conventions before and this year I started going to more small cons. I learned about the World Fantasy Convention being in an easily accessible place this year and decided to go. I am very glad I came to that conclusion when I did (in March) as this was a limited attendance convention. The list of seminars came out and it looked like everything was something I wanted to go to.

Unfortunately, due to an influx of paperwork goblins, I had to go to work as well. I said, “thank goodness I’m a local” and decided that I would try a series of very early mornings and late nights and that sleep was for other people.

That aside, I had an awesome time and enjoyed most of the panels I went to.

WFC2011-FaustianBargains

 

Thursday

The Material Culture of Undersea Civilizations would have been much better if more than one of the panelists had a little more exposure to oceanography and marine biology than a David Attenborough nature special. Also less focus on air breathing humans underwater would have been nice, especially since the ocean is known to have all sorts of at least semi-intelligent critters in it. The impromptu brainstorming about a potential cephalopod (squid, cuttlefish and octopi) undersea civilization was much more fun and I wish that it had started sooner.

WFC2011-Time Goggles (Small)You’ve got Science Fiction In My Fantasy! panel was more interesting as it seemed to be divided into two general camps: magic as unknowable or magic as an obvious system. While narratively there are advantages and disadvantages to both, from the writer’s perspective there should be some logic to how magic works in a setting with functioning physics. The main point was that in order to keep out of the domains of the RPG Rules Lawyer, any writer using magic is well advised to not explain the magic systems to the reader, regardless of if they set up a formal system for their personal use or not. The major portion of the seminar discussed how physics factors in with magical effects with a bit of a nod towards the slimy sciences (i.e. biology). It also notes that hiding the nuts and bolts of a system makes it easier to cheat in a fictional universe.

I enjoyed Classism In Fantasy And Horror. With the Occupy Wall Street movement going on, it was particularly well timed. Much was made the varying degrees of classism that the English speaking world imposes on itself, all the while denying that it has social classes at all. Humans are really good at making hierarchies. It was pointed out that there isn’t a lot of fantasy that discusses wholesale class revolution (although there is some out there). Classism in fiction also is usually best encountered when one traverses between classes. The most common real life means of traversing class is still by marriage. Much of the time in fantasy, races (like elves and dwarves and goblins) function as stand-ins for classes in addition to whatever other roles they are playing.

Horror was a little different since some of its subgenres involve putting an entire community (and all the classes therein) under pressure until they start to crack and break. It was also pointed out that there’s a tendency to write about the upper classes because they are the ones who overwhelmingly are perceived to do stuff, while everyone else is done unto.

Friday

JulietEMcKenna & Chaz BrenchleyI managed to miss every single panel I thought I wanted to go to on Friday. Mostly I blame having to be at work until 2:30 in the afternoon. However I did go to an informal author meetup with Kate Elliott and two other happy fans, which turned into an interesting round table discussion with Juliet E. McKenna, Chaz Brenchley, Debora Ross, Sherwood Smith, Lauren Williams and a few others whose names I didn’t manage to catch. It was fun to listen to all of their different takes on publishing, writing, dealing with reviews, the funny stories resulting and I didn’t mind missing the evening seminars I thought I wanted to go to one whit.

This was also the day for the mass signing in the evening. I was pointed at Karen Lord’s new book, which looks interesting and feeds my appetite for more fantasy books without that pesky Eurocentrism going on. Yay! In addition there was an epic pile of books where people staged boxes upon boxes of books awaiting author signatures. In a move that surprised absolutely no one at all, the autograph line for Neil Gaiman went out the door and turned a few corners.

In other notes, if you ever have the opportunity to try coconut lavash bread, DO IT. Your arteries will harden at the very thought, but the taste is totally worth it.

Saturday

Another day wherein I managed to seriously overbook myself. Work from 6 ’til 11 in the morning, go to con, go to a cupcake party, and back to con. Also at this point my plan of “get up really early, stay up late and wake up fresh as a daisy for the next day” was wearing me out.

WFC2011-KateEllito&SherwoodSmith (Small)In the Faustian Bargains panel, much was made of the how Christian Europe saw wishes as something bad if you went and looked for a way to improve your lot, but safe if you tripped over that magic silver fish or whatever. It seemed like that looking for an “easy way to better your lot” had some ties into predestination and maintaining social norms more than a test of character or piety.

Meanwhile in the Middle East everyone and their mother can (and does) outsmart genies and their ilk. And then continue to get wishes out of them to make life better for themselves with usually no fallout. There was a great deal of discussion of how to beat the wish system and how varying parties exploit that system for their own ends.

Founders of Steampunk had some neat stories come out of it, such as how using past eras of history could substitute for creativity. While it was kind of fun, I have a strong urge to smack anyone using the term “pure” to make genre divisions with the mighty cricket bat of sense. I find it elitist and idiotic to assume that a subgenre (or full genre for that matter) cannot change over time without losing some intangible essence. Really, who expects anything to remain unchanged for 25 years? There are geologic maps that have changed during that time.

In Memoriam: Diana Wynne Jones was sad and happy at the same time. I had a nice time listening to the panelists gush about an awesomely amazing and extremely prolific fantasy author.

The rather misnamed Importance Of A Journey seminar centered more about integrating actual travel experience with a story. The short version is that when going somewhere one should try to take the road less traveled and linger here and there. Also the place to transplant cuttings of that personal experience in a story is (as always) with the characters.

WFC2011-Mass Signing (Small)Exploring The Americas was interesting in that it was vitally worried about the question of appropriation versus appreciation. Anyone who writes about a real world culture they don’t belong to has to ask themselves that question repeatedly. There was some great discussion about how the Meso-American empires had a completely different view of the purpose of life and death in their mythologies and cultures. There’s also a great deal of archaeological mystery surrounding most of the civilizations in the Americas due to a marked lack of written sources that weren’t destroyed by the Europeans and the scarcity of people who can read what written sources there are (although more living Maya are learning how to read ancient Maya now that they’ve been decoded). Then there’s the spin that those conquistadors put on some things due to their own hang ups. It was also noted that different cultures have different areas of taboo and what might be strictly forbidden in one culture may be openly permissible in others.

Sunday

By this time I was pretty tuckered out. Fortunately I had Sunday off from work and thus could do something novel: sleep in ’til 7 in the morning. Also due to there being a huge banquet that I didn’t have a ticket for.

Time Goggles: Modern Perspectives and Period Literature was my absolute favorite talk of the weekend. There was a great deal of discussion about how history is frequently perceived as something that we already know everything about…despite the mountains of new discoveries and studies to the contrary. There’s also a perception that the past is monolithic when that isn’t the case either. Then there’s how a lot of history is written by the winners, which skews everything again.

One of the more interesting points that was brought up was that scientific advancement in biology in particular meant that socially people had to invent new justifications for seeing different races, women, the lower classes, and whatever other oppressed group one could think of as inherently inferior to those with privilege and power, some of which persist through the present day. It’s also difficult to separate technology from pervading social attitudes about anyone who is not in a position of privilege whether through colonialism or classism. One last ongoing theme was how humans keep trying to point at something as “perfect” and then push it as something that everyone is capable of attaining, provided they are dedicated/smart/noble/robust enough.

WFC2011-Armadillo of cuteThe other part of this discussion centered around how writers use the past in modern works. The big thing that was pointed out is that if you only write about the parts of history that you like, you end up with a really boring story. That being said, there are a myriad of ways one can use past attitudes to comment on the present, to maintain some distance between the writer and the characters (so you can do horrible things to them of course!), and provide a fun means of exploring history for readers.

I would totally do this sort of thing again. I had a lot of fun even though I was overworked and short on sleep and had to miss all the parties. I acquired a ton of books. Also the San Diego Zoo gave a creature presentation with the cutest of armadillos. Given enough funds I would totally go next year, but that might be difficult as next year’s World Fantasy Convention is in Toronto. In any case, to anyone who can, I highly recommend it.

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One Comment

  1. Great article. Thanks for taking us through the coonventnion. Sounds amazing. Time well spent.

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