Panelists: Ted Chiang, Louise Marley, Michael A. Stackpole, W. J. Williams, Janine Ellen Young (moderator)
What it was supposed to be about (synopsis from the program book): When do "scientific" worldview elements move a concept out of fantasy? Systematic magic, planetary bodies, rudimentary experimentation, the cusp of alchemy into chemistry...
What it was really about
First, the panelists admitted they didn't really understand the topic of the panel as stated in the program book. They didn't get much mileage out of "scientific worldview elements moving a concept out of fantasy". After addressing the distinction between technology and magic, and Ted Chiang stating why he believes Clarke's famous adage is incorrect, the panelists quickly became mired in the age-old debate of what is science fiction, and what is fantasy. Oh no, not again, you say! Well, this discussion wasn't quite like beating a dead horse. I heard some interesting insights.
A lot of western fantasy writers prefer magic to be systematic, i.e. to have laws, rules, constraints. An arbitrary magic, where everything is possible or impossible, depending on whether it is convenient for the author, they don't find very interesting. But does systematizing magic move it closer to science? Not necessarily.
Traditionally it's thought that it's the presence or absence of scientific / technological elements -- the so-called furniture -- that causes most people to view a certain story as science fiction or fantasy. But actually, the worldview expressed in a story may be more relevant. (Though apparently there are no universal criteria how to determine the genre a particular story belongs to, because some people in the audience disagreed over which genre certain books belonged to.)
Topic: One of her editors gets our Guest of Honor to talk.
Kage Baker was the oldest girl of seven kids; she started writing at age 9. Some of her earliest memories was changing diapers for smaller kids; when her biological clock started ticking, she decided "been there, done that" and never looked back, never felt like she missed out on anything by not having children.
Slipstream is literature that has fantastic elements that nevertheless can't be characterized as science fiction, fantasy or horror. It is the literature of the fantastic that's left after you remove the defining characteristics of those three genres. The negative space.
Synopsis from ArmadilloCon program book. A plethora of new markets for what we used to call slipstream has blossomed over the past two years, with all sorts of new monikers like "The New Fabulists," "Interstitial Arts," and "Ambient Fiction" -- Conjunctions 39, Sweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales (with a new volume appearing in the fall), Polyphony, Album Zutique, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, and so on. What distinguishes the work appearing in these journals from more conventional SF, fantasy, and mainstream fiction? Has slipstream finally arrived as a genre in its own right?
Two of Sharon's closest friends, authors Kay Kenyon and Louise Marley, ask her about her life and her work. How does she manage to find time for writing while having a full time job? How many "trunk books" she wrote until she got published? Why are mothers so terrible in her books? And many other questions.
Nebula Awards 2008 took place in Austin, TX on April 24-27. Being in Texas, the award ceremony had to have some Texas flavor, and that was amply supplied by the MC John Moore and the toastmaster Joe Lansdale. Moore started by explaining Texas dialect to the out-of-state folks. He said, "in Texas you don't say 'I'm going to have a glass of wine', you say 'I'm fixing to mosey down to Hospitality Suite and rustle up a Shiner Bock'. And right now I'm fixing to introduce our toastmaster. He's a kick-ass Texas writer, and I mean it literally: he founded a school of martial arts."
Joe Lansdale's speech was the highly anticipated highlight of the award ceremony. Everyone in the Texas fandom knows Lansdale is pretty damn funny. And his speech was funny indeed, although a bit rambling. I managed to remember a couple of anecdotes Joe told; for the sake of brevity, I'll compress the details which, in my opinion, didn't add much to the story. (Though what do I know? Perhaps readers adore Joe Lansdale precisely because of those details I consider rambly.)
His point was that Texas is such a weird place it can't help but inspire science fiction. Here is an incident that happened to him and an even stranger one, to another Texas writer. Lansdale also listed his rules for the attendees of science fiction conventions.
(Later at the ArmadilloCon 2008 Joe Lansdale told more stories from his life on the Campfire Stories panel. They can be found in my blog post.
Michael Moorcock, who was bestowed a title of SFWA grandmaster, had his own funny stories to tell about life in Texas -- and why he likes it here.
Pictures from the Nebula awards can be found in my photo gallery.
On September 25, 2005, Book People, an independent bookstore in Austin, TX, hosted a meeting with Neil Gaiman, a phenomenally popular author. Gaiman read an excerpt from his new novel "Anansi Boys", answered questions and signed books.
Gaiman is so funny it's suspicious. Each of his answers to the audience's questions was like a mini stand-up comedy. He cracks a joke in every other sentence. Can he really improvise that well? Or did his agents plant people in the audience with pre-approved questions? :-)
More pictures from this event can be found in this photo album.
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.
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.
The official summary "Our panelists pull out all their knowledge and create a world before your very eyes, with assistance from R. Cat Conrad on the white board." as it turned out, misrepresented the format of the panel.
Mark Finn. I thought we were going to have to build a world.
A panelist. No, no, make them work!
So it was the audience that built the fantasy world, not the panelists. The latter provided feedback in a form of wisecracks (Mark Finn), by coaxing the audience to think through the issues involved in building a fantasy world (Gloria Oliver) and seek out plot devices that would turn the raw fantasy product into an actual story material (Caroline Spector).
One thing the audience didn't need was to be prodded into activity. The topic was selected cleverly or fortuitously enough to send the audience's imagination into overdrive.
If you want to know what story ideas and themes the audience came up with without reading their entire thought process, click here for the summary.
Pictures from Armadillocon 2004 are available in my photo gallery.