Sunday, September 27, 2015

Bristol Con-cludes

A report by Cheryl Morgan.

This link to the Cornell Collective podcast begins broken but maybe one day will be whole.

& Joanne Hall's report!

& Rosie Oliver's report!

& Richard Bendall's!

& SJ Higbee's!

& Peter Sutton's!

& Isha Crowe's!

& Steven Poore's!

& Dolly Garland's!

& Misa Buckley's!

& Geek-Out SW's!

& Kate Coe's!

UPDATE: An even bigger & more offish round-up of reports.

By the way, the v. fetching were-clown flash fic, from Friday's open mic, is by Mjke Wood, as-yet unpublished.

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On Saturday I tenaciously blew up Twitter till my final follower muted me, and/or my battery died ... which is also about the time things start to go blurry.

Lemme think. I remember some amusing stuff from Peter Newman on the Bad-Ass With A Baby panel, all about the different skillsets required by the dungeons & dragons genre versus the diapers & developmental milestones genre. And then there are those slightly older kids, whose desires and hypotheses and especially whose questions have ways of re-estranging and re-enchanting what is already strange and fantastical.

Also, at one point ("wastage" + eye-twinkle) Jasper Fforde seemed to quietly but firmly imply that Peter Caveman and his kin would have been eaten by a sabre-toothed tiger.

Doc Bob presented some speculative research into the pedagogy of the Formics, the Prador et al.: since they spawn on the scale of salmon, you'd need hundreds of alien teachers per mother. How does the salmon-xenomorph culture respawn? Then somebody in the audience is all like, "Yeah, neural interface chips though?" then somebody else is all like, "Yeah, fish and chips though?" Fucking hell everyone, well done.

Doc Bob had exact stats, obv. I think it's important we don't just imagine things that don't exist, but count them. In the dystopias panel, Dave Hutchinson was I think the only panelist who found a way to provide a precise numerical answer to a semi-joking demand for one. "Exactly how many characters should you kill?" Zero. "I wouldn't kill anyone." (But maybe one or two characters would disappear).

I like that feeling when a panel discussion seems a bit off-topic and then when you think about it, no, actually that's totally on-topic. For instance, the Bad-Ass With A Baby panel talked quite a bit about the ease with which genre fiction disappears or, more likely, kills parents. It kills our protagonist's parents, just to get the ball rolling, then gives our protagonist some parental figures, then probably kills them as well. A bit of me says, Hmm, Is This The Bad-Ass Orphan Panel Or What ... but actually, it is the same topic: it's about creating a character through an origin story that suppresses social context (including familial context), as opposed to creating characters by creating that context.

There was an interesting back-and-forth between Stephanie Saulter and Jasper Fforde: on the one hand, dismembering familial structures just to get your convenient plot ingredients has the aura of a tired trope, something which deserves to be parodied, subverted and just plain ignored. The same is true of familial relationships when they are sketched in a perfunctory way: it is important to insist on the validity of the child's world, and not just use a child to illustrate something about your adult characters, or to provide a portal-fantasy-type naïf to channel your worldbuilding through. The infant is always on its own quest, and the squeaky bladder just out of reach of its fat little fingers has an epic significance equal to that of the skeleton army that's trying to eat its daddy's soul. (Although, is that true?)

On the other hand, the fantasy of the dismembered family may run its roots deep, even down through culture into neurology. Imagining away parents is a part of a process of individuation, something that is perhaps it better captured by developmental psychology than by literary criticism. Maybe in some ways it's a fantasy that's impervious to the critique of "yeah whatever heard it already."

By the way: in Debt, in his account of the rise of general-purpose money and the permeability between 'human' and 'market' economies, David Graeber writes with characteristic lucidity on what it may mean to trim away someone's familial and other social bonds: "Slavery is the ultimate form of being ripped from one’s context, and thus from all the social relationships that make one a human being [...] The slave is, in a very real sense, dead" (p. 168). The lone individual is supposed to be badass, because otherwise they'd just be a thing.

*   *   *

I went to Peter Newman's great Getting Unstuck workshop, which almost had like a Chris Morris Dance vibe, or like, it had the vibe of one of those comic sketches where the conceit is that some genteel activity which would normally be done incredibly ponderously is done with the energy and urgency and heavy-riffing soundtrack of a brutal contact sport.

Yup, glimpses of some intriguing projects plus I think I got unstuck.

But by now, a lot of little thoughts & incidents throughout the day also secretly coalesced into a new impasse, mostly unconnected with anything I'm writing at the moment. What would a piece of genre fiction look like that really, honestly, to the max, and in an entirely contemporary and up-to-date way, did the things we endlessly aggrandize the genre for doing? -- like, expose how the civilization we live in works, and teach us how to concretely desire a better one? E.g., one corner of that is:
Emma Newman's Fear & Writing small session earlier in the day was kind of splendid in its own way too, btw.

*   *   *

The Here Be Dragons panel explored the dragon as an allegory in decline from Satan to Smaug to Game of Thrones materiel -- Smaug featured prominently, but I missed mention of LeGuin's Earthsea dragons -- turned to contemplation of burping newt dragons, hardboiled steel-trammelled Tinkerbells With A Past et al., then pretty quickly disintegrated into giggles. (Btw, Here Be an older post of mine which vaguely touches on Tom Pollock's monsters). We finished with a kind of monster slam & I voted for Sarah Ash's Hennen on a technicality: the panelists were asked to provide a mythical creature, and hulders, motile haggises, penanggalan vampire ghosts and armored battle-chickens are just normal animal friends, whereas the Hennen only gets real if you detach the carrots from your shoes. I'm pretty sure motile haggis is in Genesis. I think the Hugos should adopt the "loudest cheer" system. Ben Gally seemed to hint he'd been replaced by a fey Ben Gally. By this stage Capgras Delusion had been replaced by Fey Capgras Delusion. A bonus reading from S.J. Higbee which felt like I'd swallowed a catherine-wheel. I copped Gally swag. Twitter myths came to life. The monsters multiplied and mutated all about the bar(ds). A Hennen chased me along the supermoon-lit cyclepath with a spiralizer.

Would con again.

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UPDATE: large academic conferences don't, I think, usually have con crud in quite the same way. (Tbh, I'm not even sure music festivals do). I don't want to immediately leap to the jocky inference that fandom's aggregate immuno-response and/or hygiene lack conviction and drive. For instance, another difference is the fondled merch. For instance, Vector. Maybe the slow relentless steadiness of the boozing plays a part too? And I bet more people pull out of academic conferences when they're feeling under the weather than pull out of conventions. I wonder if there's a discernible correlation between fees (sunk costs) and con crud incidence. To do get lemsip cosplay hazmat suit innit.

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