This week’s column will focus mostly on FOGCon, held in walnut Creek, California. I’ve included a few other tidbits first though.
Books and Writing:
Robert Jackson Bennett writes about the need to bring an analytical mind to the books, stories and movies you love. (Bennett commented on Twitter that he didn’t think Erik Killmonger in Black Panther was a well-developed villain, and I’m wondering if that statement and the resulting pushback inspired this post).
Movies and TV:
While Black Panther is still #1 at the box office, A Wrinkle in Time is #2, meaning the nation’s two top films feature black directors. AV Club provides box office numbers for the weekend, and shows that they know how to write a headline.
SyfyWire talks about women and diversity in SF films, specifically women scientists. The movie Annihilation took some heat for casting the two female leads as white (the novel on which it is based did not address the ethnicity of either character, but later books did). In fact it sets a record for women scientists in an SF movie.
The New York Times took an interesting approach to A Wrinkle in Time: less review, more discussion. The comments become a part of the article. The NYT reminds us that this is a movie meant for children.
Syfy advertised last week’s The Magicians episode as “the musical episode,” and I was nervous, but they didn’t overdo it. The David Bowie song Under Pressure played a big part in the plot, and here it is. Warning; this video may contain spoilers if you haven’t seen the ep.
The Walnut Creek Marriott hosted FOGCon 8, the east San Francisco Bay’s annual literary speculative fiction convention. This year’s theme was “Performance,” although I didn’t see that reflected in many of the panels (though certainly some).
Ada Palmer and Andrea Hairston were the guests of honor. Palmer spoke about medieval books, while Hairston, who is a playwright and singer as well as a novelist, gave a musical performance on Saturday night.
Our own Terry Weyna moderated “Speculative Fiction, Science and the Sacred,” which included Hairston, Marie Brennan, Michele Cox and Rebecca Gomez Farrell. Gomez Farrell credited Madeline L’Engle’s book The Wind in the Door for helping her, as a young person, make the shift from a narrow religious belief system to one that embraced science. Gomez Farrell’s family had very restricted beliefs and did not believe in science. Brennan discussed the 19th century hierarchical model that imagined a progression from magic/folklore to pantheism, then monotheistic religion with science emerging at the apex, and explored how limiting and silly that was. Hairston said that religion and science coexist and influence one another. She talked about work she and other writers and storytellers have done with NASA. NASA feels they might discover microbial life on Europa, and they asked storytellers to help them craft a story to the rest the world that will protect these hypothetical life forms from exploitation or contamination. It’s rocket scientists literally seeking assistance with moral and ethical issues.
Terry also presented on the “Infinite Gold Cheats, Cryptocurrency and Credits” panel along with moderator Nancy Jane Moore, Alex Gurevich, Marie Brennan and YA writer Caitlin Seal. Gurevich and Seal both have degrees in economics. This was an excellent
world-building resource! Gurevich started off with a list of things that happen in films and books, but never in real life. Example 1) a person orders two steins of ale and pays with a gold coin. Example 2) a person negotiating says, “Whatever my rival offered you, I’ll double it.” These things just do not happen. The panelists talked about commodity currency (when the item exchanged is the precious good itself– gold, salt or diamonds); representative currency, where a paper note “stands in” for an ounce of gold, salt or a small diamond; and currency by fiat, where the paper, coin or electronic blip is worth a certain amount only because everyone agrees that it is. In response to an audience question about how to make prices realistic in a second-world fantasy, Brennan recommended finding a good history book about a period in history that is similar to what you will be writing, and noting those prices. That will give you a sense of the range. Then name and designate your currency accordingly.
Most of the, panel and audience, agreed that the most interesting thing about Bitcoin was the blockchain distributed ledger system.
The panelists of “Things Fall Apart in Different Ways” discussed the enduring appeal of apocalypses and post-apocalyptic works. Tina LeCount Myers said that reading apocalyptic fiction, like reading horror, often provided a catharsis; other panelists talked about the idea of hope and optimism for the human species even when things fall apart. Laura Davey took a different approach, saying that the very lawlessness of the post-apocalyptic world (in fiction) had its appeal. “Haven’t you always wanted to drive your car through all the stop signs?”
I was on the panel on “How We Group People,” where we discussed marketing demographics, Big Data, and overlapping communities. For obvious reasons I have no photos of this panel. (“What?” you say, “You can’t even do a selfie?” No. I can’t.)
Along with Juliette Wade, Laura Blackwell, Karen Rochnik and Loren Rhoads, I was a presenter on the “Strange California, the Journey,” panel, moderated by the anthology’s co-editor Jason Batt. Jason walked the audience through the genesis of the book, the reading and editing process and the joys and tribulations of kickstarter. Then each of us read a bit from our story. I do not yet have a picture of the complete panel, but here is one a friend put on Twitter
A few other highlights included the FOGCon Villain-Off, which employed a March-Madness-style bracketing system to choose the Con’s best villain (Loki prevailed); helping put out snacks in the Consuite, and hanging out with emerging writers and writing friends at this small, friendly conference.