On October 4, 2004 Neal Stephenson was at Book People in Austin, TX, where he read an excerpt from his latest book, "The System of the World" (the third and the last one in The Baroque Cycle), gave a talk and signed books. Here are the questions the audience asked him, and his answers:
On September 25, 2008 Neal Stephenson gave a reading from his latest novel Anathem, signed books and answered audience's questions. This is Stephenson's third reading and Q/A at Book People over the last 4 years. Some of the questions haven't changed much from year to year. Are his projects getting bigger and bigger? Is he ever going to write something short? Which is the favorite of the novels he has written? Why does he prefer to do his research in books, as opposed to search engines? Hint: serendipity. Are there new technologies he is excited about? Other questions are new. Does he have any ideas on posthumanism? Has he been making something cool in the workshop lately? Why is Anathem set on an imaginary world, not Earth?
Panelists at this event are supposed to come up with mundane and science-fictional uses for objects supplied by the audience. They can also use objects they brought themselves. This year's team is C. J. Mills, Steve Wilson, and Chris Roberson. You may never look the same way again at a neti pot, metallic squirrel, or a USB hub.
William Gibson gave a reading, answered audience's questions and signed books in Barnes & Noble on June 11, 2008. He started by saying he was glad to be back in Austin, a city that 14 years ago was ground zero for the "so-called" cyberpunk movement. Then the microphone failed. The irony of this happening right before the speech of a writer who pioneered a new attitude towards technology in science fiction did not escape the audience. After a few attempts by B&N staff to fix the microphone, Gibson gave up and said he'll do a reading a capella. "I don't let technology get in my way," he said. "People have been reading books aloud for centuries. I'm gonna do it the way Byron did it, the way Dylan Thomas did it, except sober." And he read part of the first chapter of his latest novel, "Spook Country".
Then Gibson answered audience's questions. A few of those questions were specifically about "Spook Country", and they didn't make much sense without having read the novel. Others were about writing and Gibson's view of the world in general. Here are a few questions and Gibson's answers. Does he consider his works to be dystopian? Does he create his characters deliberately, or do they spontaneously generate themselves? The latter is definitely the case, as in an example of a character that grew out of a white room. Is there really such a cultural phenomenon as cyberpunk? Last, not knowing much about technology can enable a SF writer to see the forest for the trees.
Pictures available in my photo gallery.
Synopsis from ArmadilloCon program book: Why have the cyberpunks abandoned the future? Do William Gibson's "Pattern Recognition" and Bruce Sterling's "The Zenith Angle" evidence a trend? (And don't forget the pre-2001 "Cryptonomicon" of Neal Stephenson and "Zeitgeist" of Sterling) Are they science fiction? What makes them different from more mainstream techno-thrillers? What does it mean for the future of SF?
ArmadilloCon traditionally has a panel "What You Should Have Read This Year". The panelists are usually people who are closely familiar with science fiction, fantasy, or horror genres: most of them are book sellers (like Willie) or editors (like Diana Gill). In this panel they talk about new noteworthy books that they recommend to everybody who likes these genres. This year the panelists were Bill Crider, Willie Siros, Diana Gill, and Zane Melder.
Some memorable or amusing moments from panels where I didn't take enough notes to yield an article of its own:
Looking for an idea? Watch our panelists brainstorm.
What's the latest strange discovery? Our panel talks about the most recent results and odd topics they've seen.
Looking for new ground in speculative fiction, art and science.
On "Stump the Panel" the panelists are supposed to come up with mundane and science-fictional uses for objects supplied by the audience. Indeed, in Rhonda Eudaly's, S. Andrew Swann's, and Lou Antonelli's imagination things like a pen, a nail file, and a box of Tictacs become something completely different. Especially the nail file. Rhonda had to restrain her imagination regarding this object, because there were children in the audience. :-)
Here is an article about an older "Stump the Panel" at the ArmadilloCon 2006, featuring James P. Hogan's inimitable wit.
Pictures from ArmadilloCon 2008 are available in my photo gallery.
Synopsis, according to the ArmadilloCon program: You need a religious society for your work, but you have no idea where to begin and how complex you should make it. Should you have a couple of pages written down? Or should you make another book that describes the entire pantheon and religious rites?
Pictures from Armadillocon 2004 are available in my photo gallery.
Synopsis, according to the ArmadilloCon program: Myths as springboard for worlds and plot ideas in fantasy and science fiction. Mythic elements in science fiction. The Hero's Journey reconsidered. This panel explores myth as inspiration and diagnostic.
My summary: How do the writers on the panel use myth in their own work? If a story is inspired by myth, is it necessarily predictable? Is that a bad thing, or is predictability exactly what SF readers want?... Do the limitations in our understanding of how the modern world works give rise to new myths? For example, does average person's erroneous understanding of how the Internet works morphs into a myth? Or does science leave no room for myth? What would it take for a myth to arise in our "rational" times?
There was one other panelist that wasn't listed in the program. I think it may have been Mikal Trimm.