Jul 22 2013

Readercon. As promised.

Rosemary

Hot.  Hot hot hot.   Northeast was miserable all week and all weekend!

Readercon was lovely, however, despite — or possibly because of — having to drive there and back on Thursday for my two events, and drive back for the weekend after work on Friday.

Someone suggested to me that Thursday at Readercon is attended by only the most dedicated and devoted of fans.   Possibly that’s true, given that most people would have to take actual time off work to be there by Thursday.     A purer, more distilled Readercon, perhaps?   Actually, Readercon is really already distilled, focusing as it does on actual readable works and eschewing other media.  La creme de la creme de la creme, perhaps?

Well, I certainly had a grand time.

The panel “The Bit I Remember” came off well, I thought, with Howard Waldrop, Sonya Taaffe, Yoon Ha Lee, Ellen Brody and I contributing reminiscences of tales and parts of tales that stuck with us long after the stories in question were read; and discussions of why, and how.

I had my sad tale of Heinlein’s Podkayne of Mars, the book that got me hooked on science fiction.   Loved it, as a kid — later discovered that its message was exactly the opposite of what I thought it was.  Alas.

But then I also got to share my experience with John Wyndham’s Rebirth (The Chrysalids, in Britain) — where every time I read it I found more and more to love:  Starting with “Ooh, telepathic kids, neat!” at around age 12; through “Wow, nuclear apocalypse that’s so deep– !”  at about 14; through “The evils of forced conformity — true, so true!” at about 16; through “Religion as a tool of suppression —  amen to that!” at about 19; to, sometime after I had become a published author in my own right, “Holy Moses — look at the prose, look at how the thread of the tale is spun out, look at what’s said and what’s not said, look at how he makes the reader discover the tale …this guy really knows how to write!

And an interesting moment came when Yoon Ha Lee brought up reading Poul Andersons’ Brain Wave at age twelve — which I read at pretty much the same age, give or take.

She hated it!  I loved it!

Things that made it unreadable to her just washed over me with no effect. At one point, I was mentioning how my identification as a reader was more with the male characters, and the lesser role of the females didn’t outrage me at that age — and she gave me a puzzled side-glance that I could not help but read as a polite version of: What, are you crazy?

It wasn’t until later, when Waldrop mentioned the old witticism that the “Golden Age of Science Fiction” is 12, that I realized something:

Yoon Ha Lee read Brain Wave at age twelve.  I read it at age twelve.

Yoon Ha Lee’s age twelve was in 1993.   My age twelve was in 1965.

And that was the difference.

In 1965 there were almost zero female protagonists to be found in science fiction.  Of course I was identifying with the males.  Of course it was their story that was the story.  I was too young to know it was possible for things to be different.

All the things I liked about Brain Wave still exist, of course.   But Yoon is certainly right that women were given rather short shrift; and their experience of the events of the book are based on that time’s expectations of women’s roles — which would absolutely be objectionable in 1993!

By the way, the book was written in 1953.   In retrospect, I’m amazed that women were present at all!

(For the record, there were two major female characters.  One was a secretary, the other a housewife.  When planet Earth moved out of the dampening field that had been suppressing electromagnetic processes, which life on Earth had evolved to compensate for, and the result was much more efficient brain function, allowing for greater possible operational intelligence — the secretary could handle it and the housewife, tragically, could not.)

Alas, I realized the huge gap between my twelve and Yoon’s much too late to add it to the discussion onstage.   The conversation had moved on.

One of the more interesting panels I’ve participated in.   You know, you can’t always tell by the printed description in the program schedule.

And my reading was one of the best-attended I’ve ever had.   There must have been about a dozen people there — I was quite surprised.

I hadn’t decided beforehand what I would be reading, choosing to leave the choice to the last minute (hoping, frankly, for some inspiration).   When I arrived I explained that much of my new stuff was in flux; and of the parts that were readable, I had already read all I could without going into spoilers, at previous readings.   So I would be reading from something already published….

And then, hooray!  Inspiration did strike me!

In the form of: me addressing the audience, and asking “Is there anything you would like to hear me read?”

A hand shot straight up, immediately, no hesitation. I called on the woman.  She said (or words to the same effect): “The part where Rowan and Bel are at the campfire, and their discussing the giant throwing the jewels, and drawing diagrams on the ground.”

Perfect!  Moody, scientific!  A neat encapsulation of the tone and sense of the whole series, in one scene!  And the scene that immediately follows that is a great action sequence.

And that’s what I read.  I think it went well.   I certainly had fun.

Immediately after the reading, some people came up for autographs, including the hand-raiser, who said: “Thank you for the teapot!”

Yes, it was Mary Alexandra Agner, winner of the latest Teapot contest — and a writer herself, of stories, articles and poetry.   I was so glad to meet her.   (And you should explore her website.)

Hm.  I see I’ve spent rather a long time on this post already… I’ll have to make the rest brief:

Readercon was much smaller this year than previously, I believe — which is not a bad thing, as long as they were able to break even on their costs.

My actual autographing was at the end of the convention, and I think only one person asked that something be signed.

The “Constellations of Genres” panel was, alas, a snore.

John Crowley’s presentation on “Teaching Utopia” was fascinating.

The backlist/ebook panel (including Betsy Mitchell, who did such a brilliant job editing The Lost Steersman back when she was with Del Rey Books) was very interesting…

And the Crowdfunding panel was excellent, with lots of examples, suggestions, warnings, encouragement, etc.

After the convention, as is now usual, I spent some quality time with Ann Tonsor Zeddies and Geary Gravel.  And there are pictures of our crafts project, but alas, I have to stop writing this now.   So I’ll write about that later this week.

But here’s a teaser:

One of two that Geary made...

One of two that Geary made…