fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsI spent most of the morning today in the dealers’ room, which was a disaster for my wallet but a boon for my library. As has become my habit of late, I spent more time picking up titles from small presses, like Prime, Night Shade and EDGE, than from the big boys. Some of that was simply because the big boys weren’t there in force; even Tor, which hosted a party last night, didn’t have a table full of books. But mostly it was because I’m of the firm belief that the small presses are where it’s happening these days, with the strangest and most interesting books coming from them. I am very thankful that the USPS is on site with boxes and a guarantee of safe passage for my new acquisitions, because I could never carry all of these onto the plane, not even if I bought a new piece of luggage — not enough arms! There were also a few jewelers on the premises, with some lovely things, and I confess I committed jewelry (though not the piece pictured here). The jeweler who captured me was Laurie Edison, who does amazing things with stones and silver for very reasonable prices under the name Sign of the Unicorn. With Christmas fewer than two months away now, you might want to check her website out for that special someone.

Ellen Datlow

Ellen Datlow

The best panel I attended today (there were a couple of clunkers) was on “The Year in Fantasy.” The panel was very distinguished: Ellen Datlow, who edits anthologies of great scope and high quality; Jo Fletcher, the founder and editor of Jo Fletcher Books; David Hartwell of Tor Books; Jonathan Strahan, the reviews editor for Locus and an anthologist of note; and Paula Guran, now of Prime Books and also an anthologist who puts out a year’s best. They listed book after book after book, from novels to single author collections to anthologies, from the United States, Britain and Australia and a few books recently translated into English from more exotic climes. My want list grew extravagantly, even though I already own a number of the books mentioned. It’s a good thing that there’s no such thing as too many books, isn’t it?

No one at this convention seems to be able to get enough Neil Gaiman, and I’m one of them, so I attended an interview of Gaiman conducted by Leslie Klinger. This was a more personal discussion than yesterday’s conversation with Connie Willis, and got me thinking that it would be great if someone would write a biography of Gaiman; he may be young yet, but he’s accomplished a lot, and he’s just bloody interesting.

Klinger’s first question was: Why do you still attend conventions? And he has a point. Gaiman is more than sufficiently well-established at this point, and he’s mobbed wherever he goes, which has to be exhausting. It’s almost impossible for him to sign every book that’s thrust in his direction. People were waiting an hour for a signature yesterday, and another signing has been arranged for tomorrow. But Gaiman says that, while he may reach a saturation point sometime soon, conventions are full of his kind of people. He still remembers attending his first convention and realizing, hey, it’s 10:00 p.m. and I’m sitting at a bar talking about books; this is where I belong.

Gaiman began his career as a music journalist, and his first book was about Duran Duran. He didn’t much like his subject, and he didn’t like that he was essentially rewriting the Guardian’s file about the group, and that it was a slog to write, but it taught him a valuable lesson: he’ll never again write a book that he doesn’t want to read. Fantasy is his thing, and he can’t remember a time when he wasn’t a fantasy fan, beginning with Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, and that’s always been what he wanted to write.

He became fascinated with the possibilities of comics largely because he was intimidated by novels. Novels have been around for a long time, and just about everything that can be done with them has been tried at one time or another, but in comics there is still so very much room to experiment. “Sandman” changed comics in some ways, and reinforced them in another. I’m fairly certain there are a lot of people who wouldn’t be reading comics today if it weren’t for Gaiman’s work with them, me included.

Gaiman was greeted with a sigh of pure joy from the audience when he mentioned that his next big writing project is a sequel to American Gods. And another followed, this one even more impassioned, when he said that there might be something new about the Sandman for the 25th anniversary of the comic. Between that and Fortunately the Milk, a book originally intended as a children’s picture book but which grew in the telling, Gaiman fans have much to look forward to.

Victoria Schwab

Victoria Schwab

The final panel of the night — and, for me, of the convention — was entitled “Metafiction.” I can’t imagine what possessed the convention planners to schedule a subject this heavy for 10:00 p.m. on a Saturday night, but they did. I’m fairly certain that every former English major attending the convention was in the audience for this one; it’s the only panel where Stephen Crane, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Joseph Conrad got as many mentions as any fantasy writer. The panel began by defining the term in a way that seemed much too complicated to me. I think of metafiction as fiction about fiction, pure and simple. But the panel divided metafiction into two types: one in which the author writes a story about being a writer, and the other in which the writer inserts him or herself into the novel directly. The panelists — Rick Wilbur, Victoria Schwab, Scott Edelman and Steve Rasnic Tem — almost universally agreed that metafiction has to be emotionally extremely honest, though it need not be factually honest. As they talked about their own work, it came to seem to me as if metafiction and memoir are on a continuum, a thought completely new to me. And any conference where you have a completely new thought is a good conference.

Previous column: World Fantasy Convention 2011: Day Two


  • Terry Weyna

    TERRY WEYNA, on our staff since December 2010, would rather be reading than doing almost anything else. She reads all day long as an insurance coverage attorney, and in all her spare time as a reviewer, critic and writer. Terry lives in Northern California with her husband, professor emeritus and writer Fred White, two rambunctious cats, and an enormous library.

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