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Readercon 12

Guests of Honor: Michael Moorcock & Suzy McKee Charnas
Memorial Guest of Honor: Mervyn Peake
July 21-23, 2000
The Boston Marriott Burlington, Burlington, Massachusetts
Convention Web Site | Con Quotes by Bob Devney (PDF)
Notes & Pictures by Ernest Lilley


The Pleasures of Pedagogy
8:00 PM Friday
Panel participants: Eleanor Arnason, Suzy McKee Charnas, Hal Clement,
Samuel Delany (moderator), Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Allen Steele

Delany announces that he will be autocratic and begin the panel with an "exhortation" to SF scholars consisting of an 8-minute argument against the "definitional stance", particularly the idea of defining science fiction. He goes on a bit too long. Nielsen Hayden remarks, "that was an expository lump!" Otherwise, the exhortation's connection to the panel topic is obscure to me. Steele talks about his definition/description of "hard SF".

Some quotes:

A sardonic Nielsen Hayden: "hard SF is talking tough about engineering" and/or "attitudinizing about libertarianism".

Arnason, speaking for the first time: "I'm in favor of expository lumps."

Steele: "The first couple of books I wrote were very lumpy, OK…"

Nielsen Hayden again: "Science fiction is really argument fiction."

Delany: "All this talk about definition is leftover Stalinist rhetoric from the '30s."

Charnas reels in response to this claim, and Delany adds, "I wish it was something else!"

Hal Clement is funny. He tells the audience that his hearing aid doesn't have a proper setting for a panel discussion and that they should let him know if they can't hear him. There seems to be an equal danger that he will deafen us all.

Nielsen Hayden talks really fast. Steele has a tendency to drone on.

Is Jonathan Lethem Right? Is SF Boring?
12:00 PM Saturday
Host: Eleanor Arnason

Orson and I enter mid-discussion. The panel has a large audience. Many people want to talk. Arnason says, "I don't want to diss current editors…" but goes on to say that Dozois rejected one of her recent stories with the comment that "it was cute in a postmodern kind of way." Malzberg thinks that Lethem's argument ("Close Encounters: The Squandered Promise of Science Fiction" published in 1998 in The Village Voice and The NY Review of SF) is getting short shrift. An audience member asks, re: George Saunders, "Is it too late for SF to embrace these kinds of mainstream writers?" Arnason replies, "As long as we're alive, it's probably not too late." Malzberg keeps talking about "lost opportunities", and I am left wondering what opportunities he means. A lost chance to promote "mainstream" literary values in SF? But there are SF books with stylistic innovations. Maybe they don't sell well, but… sales can never be assured. Strange.

Welcome to the Future
1:00 PM Saturday
Panel participants:
John Clute, Ellen Datlow, Marcel Gagné, Sean McMullen,
Robert J. Sawyer (moderator)

Sawyer says that he was born in 1960 and that his father took him to see 2001 in the year of its release. Even at his young age he could do the math and knew that he would be 41 in 2001. He knew what the future would look like: the Earth orbited by giant rotating space stations, etc. But now it's 2000—what happened? He doubts we will be able to invent it all in five months.

Gagné claims that sex drives technology (to much applause). Clute gestures a lot. Orson doesn't understand him. Sawyer asks what aspects of the imagined future the other panelists miss. Gagné says flying cars. Sawyer says AI. He misses other minds. Gagné asks, "You never had a cat?" "No, I never had a cat… does sex drive the pet shop industry?"

Datlow has said almost nothing.

Clute comments that SF has not historically taken any notice of the Third World: "We've paid a heavy price for our gated community." An audience member mentions fighting proxy wars. Sawyer says, "December 31st this past year was a great excuse to have a party, but nothing was different the next day," whereupon McMullen blurts out, "I felt terrible!"

John Clute Kaffeeklatsch
2:00 PM Saturday

A phrase whose meaning I have forgotten: "Slan shack". Clute talks about his work on the second edition of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. The first edition was stored in an ancient tape format that proved very troublesome. "They went widdershins and handily defeated the technology of the 21st century. 'Come on, read me! I'll pulverize you!' " He is very twitchy, continually gesturing and rearranging things on the table before him. A fanboy at the table talks too much about himself and bothers Clute for his email address. Some other guy brings up the movie Pi – argh! I ask Clute if he has made any progress on his theory of horror structure. He says no, his work on the novel (Appleseed) has taken precedence. Clute tells us with delight about reading Ozma of Oz and connecting the main character Tip to James Tiptree Jr. He thinks this book had at least as much to do with her chosen pseudonym as the "mythical marmalade jar".

The Primacy of Story
3:00 PM Saturday
Panel participants: Eleanor Arnason, Jeffrey A. Carver (moderator), Candas Jane Dorsey,
Daniel Hatch, Patrick O'Leary, Melissa Scott

Dorsey (who has cultivated dread locks since I last saw her) makes the same point she made last year about "bad nurses" being unable to construct coherent narratives. Scott challenges her point somewhat by saying that, at least as far as dysfunctional families are concerned, the supposedly nonsensical narrative may in fact be an accurate representation of a totally foreign situation. This panel is very quiet and civil compared to others. And the women are talking a lot more. Hm. O'Leary comments, "There is nothing like the sense of betrayal when a character does or says something they would never do in reality." Gene Wolfe, who is sitting in the audience, tells about his outrage while reading the Gormenghast trilogy when the valet's knees suddenly stop clicking, whereas the clicking was an important part of the plot earlier on. Dorsey wonders aloud if Wolfe was responsible for Peake's death. He says he was nowhere nearby when it happened and no one can prove anything!

Arnason Interviews Charnas
8:00 PM Saturday

It's very hard to hear what they are saying. Arnason asks why Charnas decided to write vampire stories, a "very popular, generally undistinguished genre." Charnas jokes that she is a popular and undistinguished kind of person. Charnas says that the horse mating in Motherlines was an attempt to make something positive out of what she had read about "lady and pony" shows in Mexico. Charnas wrote The Bronze King as an answer to people who pitied her for growing up in New York City, which she found a wonderful experience. The Kingdom of Kevin Malone was originally a fourth book in the NY series. Charnas talks about the issue of "cultural stealing". She has no real answers, but says that you have to borrow from "exotic" sources that are still somewhat comprehensible, however, she is very uncomfortable with the idea of treating other cultures as "alien" (a reference to Resnick's stories set in Africa?). She says you must be respectful. Charnas recommends Eye Killers, a vampire novel by A.A. Carr that is set in the American Southwest.

The Tiptree Auction
9:00 PM Saturday

The auctioneer is the hilarious Ellen Klages. She engineers events so that Chip Delany ends up wearing lipstick and planting a big kiss on a copy of The Conqueror's Child, which is then sold.

Other auctioned items include:

  • a Vermont civil union license
  • a Harry Potter T-shirt
  • Eric Van's brain in a jar ("$19.95, the bargain of the evening. But wait – for a more reasonable bid I will eat this can of Pineapple Cosmo Fun Shapes.") Eric Van's mother buys the brain for $50.
  • a 1964 edition of Babel-17, kissed by Charnas if desired. Candas Jane Dorsey pays $37.50.
  • Freddie Baer Tiptree T-shirts, selling for $100 each!
  • Cecilia Tan's Black Feathers
  • several other books, including Midnight Robber, Juniper Time, a Margaret Atwood book and a copy of Far Horizons that has been autographed by all contributors.
  • and finally, Elizabeth Willey's lipstick, which has now been used by Charnas, Delany and Nalo Hopkinson. Willey stands up to tout the quality of the lipstick.

The auction is over at 9:50, and it's time for…

The Kirk Poland Memorial Bad Prose Competition
Panel participants: Craig Shaw Gardner (moderator), Geary Gravel, John Kessel,
Shariann Lewitt, Eric M. Van (master of ceremonies)

Eric Van announces that tonight's 1st Prize is the DNA of John Norman Rockwell (think about it). And the mystery phrase is: "the zone purifier from which they refined their germanium remained to be repaired."

Shariann Lewitt nearly collapses in a laughing fit while reading her first passage.

  1. A Very Wrong Cave. (Neil Thanet, aka Lionel Fanthorpe) Lewitt wins.
  2. Crabs clickety-click-clicking. (Diane Smith) Kessel wins.
  3. "Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts. 12:38 April 25th, 2002. Bambi pranced into the doctoral genetics lab." (Dan Gallagher) Gravel wins.
  4. A Kill Club and a Boar Attack. "The whole sky over him was full of boar belly." (L. Ron Hubbard, Battlefield Earth) Kessel wins.
  5. Five different lead-ins to the "zone purifier" conclusion. (Thornton Bell, aka Lionel Fanthorpe again) Lewitt wins.

Charnas, Arnason & Scott Kaffeeklatsch
10:00 AM Sunday

Alas, these are the only notes I took:

"Chakra people on the Zucchini Planet.
Bad cover art."

Oh well. It was a swell conversation, really. And afterward Eleanor Arnason autographed my copy of her book A Woman of the Iron People, whose cover art she characterized as, "A streetwalker who wants to play Hamlet."

Off Color
1:00 PM Sunday
Panel participants:
Suzy McKee Charnas, Samuel Delany, Andrea Hairston,
Nalo Hopkinson, Uppinder Mehan, Betsy Mitchell, Sheree R. Thomas

The panel starts out big and just keeps getting bigger, until there are upwards of ten people on stage. Nalo says she hates moderating, but Delany says she has to. Uppinder Mehan introduces himself as a science fiction reader (rather than an author), and the audience applauds. Nalo says that there are plenty of writers of color, but that most are not thought of as speculative fiction writers. Thomas and Hairston feel that readers have no context for their writing and end up either uncritically accepting it ("you're the expert") or hating it.

DJ Spooky looks really young. He passes out stickers with his URL on them.

Delany talks about the crossing of power boundaries and recounts his delightful experience of being invited to read at DJ Spooky's place… and then invited back. He is very happy that Spooky is here at Readercon, where con-goers themselves are trying to cross power boundaries. Justine Larbalestier asks how black writers deal with the fact that they are so often categorized as "African American" when so many are not (e.g. Nalo, who is of Caribbean descent and lives in Canada). All agree it is a strange thing to deal with. Nalo jokes that science fiction could be called a Jewish literature. There is an emphasis on mixing and cross-fertilization. Spooky explains his logo, which is the UN logo with the globe replaced by a third-level Space Invaders monster. Hairston mentions that it looks like a 'nansi spider.

Two audience members are awarded copies of the anthology Dark Matter for posing good questions. They are:

"Chip Delany has shown that SF has its own protocol. Is there a protocol for reading your work, and if so how do I learn it?"

"SF has focused on the problem of being the Other since it began. What do writers of color have to add to this subject that is uniquely theirs?"

The panel runs long and still hasn't run out of steam, so it's taken to a smaller open conference room. But it's time for Orson and me to leave.



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