Scintillation, Part the Third.


There were two other panels that I participated in, both well worth the time.

One was on Writing a Series, with Ruthanna Emrys, Sherwood Smith, Debra Doyle (with her oft-times collaborator Jim MacDonald commenting from the audience), and Fran Wilde.  Many issues were covered, including: planned series vs. accidental series ;   secondary characters who end up getting their own story;  famous series and what makes them good, bad or indifferent;  series where the milieu is the integrating element, with multiple simultaneous series weaving in and out.

In that last category, the prime example is Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.  There are so many threads going on in that world: the witches; the wizards of Unseen University; Sam Vimes and the Night Watch; Tiffany Aching and the Wee Free Men; Moist von Lipvig, the reformed con artist who keeps getting dumped into important bureaucratic positions –  what am I leaving out? Because there’s more.  We took a little time reminding ourselves about how wonderful those books are.  They aren’t just charming and humorous; they include some true and deep observations about the human condition, and it’s so clear how much Pratchett just loved his characters.  And he didn’t just love them himself; he had a level of skill that allowed him to bring us right into the story, and love them too.  He was so wonderful. I’ll miss him forever.

Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan  series was held up as a good example of a series that follows one character across his or her life, and the panelists and audience had much to say about how they loved that series…  But alas, inexplicably, it has just never managed to grab me. I can’t explain it.  There seems to be nothing wrong at all with the books.  I simply fail to engage fully.  I’ve tried lots of times!  I suppose I ought to try each and every book, just to be sure.  Maybe there’s an entry point that will open it all up for me.  Because once I’m in, there will be a lot more available!  And I do feel a bit left out… Fortunately, Bujold does not need me.  She has plenty of people who love what she does, and more power to her, I say.

As for the authors in the panels:  Fran Wilde spoke of always having a plan, but also always going off-plan.  She needs the plan to exist, but never sticks to it.  Ruthanna spoke of having a place she wants the story to go, but not always knowing how she’s going to get there (I believe it was her who said that… I might be misremembering).  I told of how I always know where I want the story to end up, and really do like to have a planned structure to the story, which lets me tell tales that are integrated and interlocking; but the moment- to-moment writing happens at the keyboard, and I’m open to surprises, too.

The third Panel was “Where are the Books Like Pandemic?” with Alison Sinclair, Eugene Fischer and Ruthanna Emrys.   Pandemic is a board game, one that is unusual in that the players are not set against each other.  Instead, everyone cooperates toward a common goal — preventing the pandemic of the title.  I haven’t played it myself (yet; Sabine bought it), but I’m looking forward to it.  And the topic of the panel was:  What are the books that work that way?  Books that have no villain, that don’t pit person against person, but involve people working together for a solution to a problem?

Jo was supposed to be the moderator, but was called away for a family emergency.  Her role was ably covered by Emmet O’Brien, who did a bang-up job and introduced us to the idea (he was quoting someone, but I missed who it was — was it Jo’s son Sasha?) that the three types of plot can be expressed as “Man vs. Man, Man vs. Plan, and Man vs. Canal,”

And as we talked the issue through, it did become clear that most non-adversarial novels tended to fall under “Man vs. Canal.” There was a thing, a physical thing that had to be done, and we got together and did it, hurrah!  Blow up the asteroid, explore the alien world, make that starship.  I brought up Heinlein’s Farmer in the Sky as in that category.  Let’s Terraform Ganymede!  But then we had to take time out to collectively grind our teeth at 1950’s Heinlein’s attitude towards women, and his assumption that a Real Man knows how to do All the Things,

I made sure to bring up what I consider a prime example of a cooperative novel that is not  in the (Hu)man vs. physical thing category:

Geary Gravel’s novel has no villain, and no big physical survival challenge for the characters to solve.  Instead, it’s a group of people gathered together to address an idea, an assumption held by a civilization.  It almost functions, in some ways, as the intellectual equivalent of a classic heist movie: individuals are selected according to the particular skill they each posses, and the organizer has to convince them to undertake this great cooperative task.

And… I’ve stayed up way too late again.  But that does cover the official parts of my visit to Montreal.

Next up: The unofficial parts.



9 Responses to “Scintillation, Part the Third.”

  • bnanno Says:

    Enjoying these posts

  • Ben Says:

    Vorkosigan, meh. Well, it’s probably got more to do with expectations for me, but – I’ve only read Cordelia’s Honor (which features the two Cordelia novels). And I was told I’d enjoy them. But I said, mh, I’m not convinced. It sounds a lot like those generic scifi romances. But, no, supposedly it wasn’t at all like that; and there’d be survival and civil war and the romance really wasn’t nearly so bad.

    So, fine, I read it, and yes, it wasn’t that bad.
    But I’m also baffled why particularly they felt the need to recommend the novel. It’s just so … well. I don’t think there’s any aspect that hasn’t been done better elsewhere. There’s better romances and better survival novels and better civil wars.

    Just didn’t do anything much for me. Guess the Miles novel are maybe better, but, eh, there’s plenty of other books out there.

  • marginsofpages Says:

    Do you happen to have notes on any other Man vs Canal stories that came up? It’s a genre/trope/?? that I’m wanting to read more and more these days, but it’s difficult to find other than by personal recommendation. I’ll definitely check out The Alchemists, but if you have others I would love to know about them.

    • Rosemary Says:

      I was racking my brains for examples of books with no antagonists, before the convention! I feel like I’ve read a million, but when it came down to names, I had trouble pinning down examples… one I did bring up, but forgot to mention in the blog post was Jeff Vandemeer’s Annihilation. Ted Chiang’s brilliant Story of Your Life now springs to mind — not a novel, but a novella in his collection of the same name. (Chiang is an author I absolutely love.) But some of the other commenters have more examples, below.

  • Geary Gravel Says:

    To quote Obi-Wan: “Now that’s a name I’ve not heard in a long time . . .”
    Thanks for the nice mention! I’ve been enjoying your play-by-play of Scintillation. Sounds like a fine time was had by all and many worthy things were discussed.

  • Walter Underwood Says:

    I might put “The Calculating Stars” in the Man vs. Canal category. There are obstacles, but not really villains.

    • Rosemary Says:

      Mary Robinette Kowal is an author who has been recommending to me by lots of people, and The Calculating Stars, especially. Sadly, I’ve yet to read any of her books! She’s on my imaginary “to read” stack.

      She also is a voice actor and is the narrator on lots of audiobooks (I last heard her read Neal Stephensons Seveneves).

      She’s also a puppetteer.

  • Joshua Smith Says:

    I’m inclined to bring up Greg Egan on just about any SF topic, and this one is no exception. I would submit that this applies to Diaspora, Incandescence, Orthogonal, and Phoresis, at least. Some of these could perhaps be seen as “man vs. canal”, I suppose, but more often the cooperation is in pursuit of knowledge. Even in Incandescence, where they face one of the nastiest metaphorical foes you’ll find in an sf novel, the important thing is to figure out how gravity really works, then they can figure out what to do about it, and it doesn’t hurt that they’re already a eusocial species.

    • Rosemary Says:

      Greg Egan was brought up at the panel, and Incandescence was especially singled out. Alas, have not read, um, well, any of his books myself. Yet. (Another author on my “to read” list.)