This week’s word for Wednesday: Opid Alla Daga (the “d” in “opid” has a barred tail) means “Open every day” in Icelandic. Kaestur Hakarl is a traditional Icelandic food, served since around the year 1000, that consists of putrefied, dried Greenland shark. I wouldn’t call it a “delicacy.” It’s more of a tradition, or maybe a dare.
Rest in peace, Brian Aldiss. (Thanks to Kat.)
Giveaways are now current through August 17. I just want to note for the record that I go away for two weeks and my Fanlit colleagues schedule 175 giveaways! Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration.
This year’s WorldCon 75 was held in Helsinki, Finland. The committee registered a total of 10,516 memberships plus day passes, and had a total of 7,119 people on site, and this was after they started limiting the number of day passes sold because of space issues. This makes WorldCon 75 the second-best-attended World Con since they have been keeping records.
The committee had some issues with room size and space the first two days, (I didn’t attend until the third day). Part of the problem was that they had nearly 1,000 memberships purchased three weeks before the event, long after projections had been made and rooms assigned. The Con Committee immediately worked with the venue to improve things. There was improvement; there was still a lot of queuing and at least once I chose to forego a panel I was interested in so I could be in line for the one I was really interested in, because people were queuing up at least thirty minutes in advance and the venue security allowed no standing room.
I attended the Hugo Awards on Friday night and four panels total. I’m not a very good WorldCon correspondent, because what kind of person travels 4700 miles and only attends four panels? I enjoyed them, though, and I enjoyed the side conversations and the little moments, like stopping to say hello to a spry, if tired, Robert Silverberg in the
Exhibition Hall and having him pose for a picture, or talking to Ursula Vernon my first night in Helsinki, when she was describing Iceland. “Iceland is so beautiful it made me angry,” she said. “I was like, ‘gosh-darn it, Iceland, now you’re just showing off’.” I enjoyed the two cosplay women with their take-out pizza on the train on the way to the Hugo Awards.
You can find all the award winners here. Liz Gorinsky, who won for Best Editor, long form, and Ada Palmer who won the John W. Campbell award (not a Hugo, but presented at the Hugos), gave deeply emotional and inspiring speeches, as did Amar el-Mohtal, who talked about circles of friends and fairy god-sisters, against the backdrop of a story that is imagined as a fairy tale. (Here is an interview with el-Mothal.) Ursula Vernon’s acceptance speech brought down the house, as she described in carefully-paced detail the inevitable recycling of a dead whale at the bottom of the ocean. Why? Because, as she said, “When else will I ever be able to tell this story?”
Caribbean Speculative Fiction:
Nalo Hopkinson, who was one of the Guests of Honor, was on this panel along with Karen Lord, who MCed the Hugo Awards, Stephanie Saulter, and Brandon O’Brien, who moderated. This was probably the panel I got the most out of. The topics ranged from voice and the use of speech of the place, to the inevitable “why speculative fiction?” (and which Caribbean writers write it? Interesting answers.) O’Brien had them each start out reading something of their own. The excerpts ranged from heavily written in Jamaican nation-language or Trinidadian to a passage from Saulter where the influences were in the rhythms and cadence, and a section from Lord in which only one sentence is in island speech.
Saulter said that Caribbean folklore is a mix of West African, indigenous North American and European culture. Its literature is historically filled with folklore, but it also has a post-emancipation legacy, that of imagining what, or how, a society could be. Lord said, “To imagine what would a society be… to add a science element does not seem like a stretch to me.”
Saulter pointed out that, “If you cannot imagine yourself, your society, in the future, then you have a problem.”
All of the panelists agreed that, as with the language, there is a struggle, or a point of balance, to make the work authentic but not so authentic that it shuts out a greater readership. Lord point-blank said, “White readers,” meaning mostly North American or European readers who don’t share the experiences the characters have had. At the same time, they all want people who have shared those experiences to see themselves or people like them in the work. I’m a reader who enjoys feeling immersed in a place or a culture, and so books that use language to deepen that immersion please me, but many white North American and European readers will turn away if the language is too “different”—or at least, this is what publishers believe. Given the hoopla over Ann Leckie’s choice of a gendered language in her series, I see the point.
It’s a balancing act. Saulter used the example of hair in one of her series. Certain genetically altered humans have bright, different-looking hair so that they can be easily identified, even at some distance. (The genetically altered human beings were originally enslaved but have recently emancipated.) Saulter says that Jamaican women readers come up her and say, “Thank you for the hair!” They recognize the societal restrictions and racial that is coded into discussions of “good hair” and “bad hair,” and the characters’ hair evoked that experience, as Saulter intended.
Hopkinson said, “When I am writing, I am at least three people; the writer, an observer monitoring the manuscript to see where the story might lose the audience; and the main character, going through the experiences.”
They also all pointed out that no matter how careful, accurate and authentic they are, they will get complaints from fellow islanders for “getting it wrong.”
Saulter was once asked in an interview, “Why speculative fiction? Why not realist literature?” She said she started reading speculative fiction in London, she’s always loved them, and those are the stories she wanted to tell.
Karen Lord’s answer was that Caribbean realist fiction is filled with folklore, and that much of it, again, is speculative societal fiction. “Imagining what a society could be… to add a science element does not seem like a stretch to me.”
In discussing other Caribbean speculative fiction writers, they included of course Tobias Buckell, and Daniel Jose Older because his work embraces Cuban tradition. Lord also added Marlon James, whose realist work often includes folklore.
I came away with at least two new books to hunt down: The Best of All Possible Worlds, by Karen Lord, and an anthology edited by Lord called New Worlds, Old Ways. And I’ll look up Hopkinson’s earlier work, and Saulter’s too.
Cyberpunk and the Future:
This was a lively panel. I don’t think I learned anything new about cyberpunk or the future, but it was exhilarating to watch this group of smart, savvy, irreverent people brainstorm about what Williams Gibson’s books (because they could have just called this the Gibson Panel) mean today.
The panelists were: Teresa Neilsen Hayden, moderating; Michael Swanwick, Pat Cadigan, QuiFan Chen, Eileen Gunn and Walter Jon Williams. Hayden started them off with the astringent, “Does anyone have an agenda they wish to pursue?” It seemed that they did not, and the conversation raced off in many different directions.
What did Gibson get right, back then in the 1980 when he invented –or maybe didn’t invent, just named—cyberpunk? He got the rise of corporations and their entwining into government pretty right. What did he get wrong? Cell phones. The panelists pointed out that no one got cell phones right. Cadigan said that mobile phones were counter-intuitive in the early 1980s because most people didn’t like the idea that someone (cough-law enforcement-cough) might be able to easily listen in on their business.
Michael Swanwick maintained throughout the panel that there were only ever two cyberpunk writers really; Pat Cadigan and William Gibson. He felt that others borrowed the tropes, but never drilled down to the heart of cyberpunk. He felt that what Gibson did was remove, “all the heat” from the work, making it emotionally cool. Hayden said, “What purpose did that serve?” Swanwick, “It made the world more central, more powerful.” He and Quifan Chen agreed to disagree about whether Neo, in The Matrix, is a cyberpunk character because he is passive in the face of the Matrix. Chen disagreed, pointing out that Neo assumes power later in the series. Swanwick replied that was when the movies got less interesting.
Gunn mentioned that in 1980s cyberpunk, the protagonists were often poor and socially vulnerable, but they had access to this technology. It wasn’t all in the hands of the power elite (I think those are my words); and that was a different vision from before.
Williams said he is reissuing some of his own action-adventure works from that time period, and is having to go in and update some things, because things have changed in so many ways that the plots no longer work. “It’s hard to write now,” he said, “because so much came true.”
Cadigan said that her conception of cyber space came after she got a new computer and had a baby. She said that the convergence of the interest in the new technology, combined with sleep-deprivation, led her to the world described in Synners.
Gunn talked about the first flush of video games in the 1980s and how accurately Gibson had tapped into that.
Chen brought us back to the present, saying that urban areas of China are the most cyberpunk parts of the world. They all have their phones, they are virtually a cashless society, he said, the sharing economy is growing, and all under the shadow of a powerful force, although it is a government and not a corporation. Chen’s book, Waste Tide, comes out in 2018 and I will look for it.
Cadigan pointed out that, like cell phones, no one had imagined that millions of people would flock to a vast, powerful communal online space to post pictures of cats.
I was happy to see lots of European fans, and lots of young fans, and they didn’t all follow only manga or Stranger Things; they were reading Leckie, or Jemisin, or Older or Bujold. Many had read Philip K. Dick and were starting to read Octavia Butler.
Beyond the Book Review:
Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, Joel Cornah, Liza Trombi, Gary K. Wolfe and Claire Rousseau made up the panel. Liza is the managing editor of Locus Magazine, and Gary reviews for both Locus and the Chigaco Tribune. Joel writes print reviews and co-hosts the Grimcast podcast. Claire has a Youtube channel devoted to books. These panelists deserve special notice for showing up ON TIME to the first morning panel after the Hugo Awards.
They spent a few minutes on the purpose of a review: to let the reader of the reviewer know what the reading experience was like for the reviewer, and whether the reader thinks, from that experience, that the book would be something they’d like. Gary talked about writing reviews for the correct audience; his language and his depth of analysis would differ between his genre savvy Locus audience, for instance, and his Tribune audience.
Claire and Joel both talked about the use of video and podcasting as discussing a book in a different way. Often, both media use conversations or interviews as a format for visual and auditory interest; they are more likely to talk about what worked and what didn’t in an unstructured way than a print/online review is. Everyone agreed that a synopsis is needed but all agreed that it doesn’t need to be long or detailed, especially in a world sensitive to spoilers.
The panel wondered what would come next; Liza only half-jokingly said that she wanted “less media.” She would like an application that pulled content from various sources together. Gary worried that the very accuracy of “narrowcasting” meant that the process is atomized and that a reader will not find the perfect book just because it doesn’t fit their particular demographic strip.
Claire wants to see more communal input; she is interested in sites like Goodreads.
No one asked about the idea of a review being used as a weapon against the writer as we’ve seen on Amazon and a couple other places. I didn’t ask either, and we ran out of time.
Beta Readers: How to Find One, How to Be One:
The panel comprised moderator Su J Sokol, Karen Landsmen, Katherine Jay and Charles Stross. These were lively and entertaining presenter. I didn’t get much out of the panel but I enjoyed it. My big take-away was a term Katherine Jay used, that’s common in the fan fiction community (she writes fanfic); the act of correcting the details of a British character/setting is called Brit-picking. There is American-picking too, but it’s not as cool.
Charles Stross uses an app to share work with a group of up to fifty beta-readers. He definitely has subject-matter experts, but many of his beta readers are intelligent readers who can tell him when the tension is slacking or the story seems unbelievable.
There was a strong reaction from the panel when an audience member about having your mother be your beta reader. For this panel, the consensus was a resounding “No.”
One of the best things the Con Committee did was provide a city travel pass with everyone multi-day membership. This pass got you onto the trains, buses, trolleys and even some of the city ferries. Many participants visited Suomellina, a military historical site that has restored buildings and several military museums, while they were at the Con.
Next year WorldCon 76 will be in San Jose, CA, USA, and in 2019 Dublin, Ireland will host.
Books and Writing:
From Ryan, what are the most common phrases in some of our favorite works?
Here is a link to the Wikipedia Page on the Helsinki Cathedral.