Next week, I’ll be at Readercon, the regular conference on imaginative literature held just outside Boston. I’ve just had my schedule through, and it looks as follows. Underlined names are rooms at the hotel; all sessions are 1 hr long.
Friday 9th July
Noon: Kaffeeklatsch, Vineyard.
3pm: Talk: “And so: Reading from sentence to sentence” ME/CT
Why do we read on from one sentence to the next? How and why do we construct narrative from these discrete units? And how does that work in the special context of fantastic fiction? Graham Sleight talks about extracts from a wide range of writers — including Ursula K. Le Guin, Kelly Link, Michael Chabon, William Gibson and M. John Harrison — to try to answer these questions. If he has time, he may also get to other questions, like “Why is it so awkward when you’re told a joke but don’t get it?,” “Why are there no hard sf slipstream stories?,” and “Do you really want to know who Severian’s mother is?”
9pm: Reading. Theodore Sturgeon, “Prodigy” and “I say…Ernest…” Room 730
Saturday 10th July
The late Charles N. Brown was a great advocate of the idea that science fiction was teleological; even if it didn’t predict the future, it told us the kind of direction our species was heading. Books like Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men, Arthuer C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, and Greg Bear’sBlood Music are about that kind of ultimate destiny. But are they also offering a kind of pseudo-religious consolation, a final goal without a God watching over it? Is science fiction that presents — that, in the end, makes up — some kind of final destiny for humanity as much a kind of wish-fulfillment as any organized religion?
Ursula K. Le Guin did it in The Dispossessed; Cecelia Holland inFloating Worlds; Kim Stanley Robinson in Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars. What other depictions of anarchist societies can we find in speculative fiction? How does the setting (and the resources available) influence and shape the politics? Different readers have viewed Le Guin’s Annares as utopian or dystopian; is that the rule for portrayals of anarchism, and what does that tell us about anarchism as a form of government?
Sunday 11th July
John Cleese’s three rules of comedy are, famously, “No puns, no puns, no puns.” But some of our favorite works of speculative fiction are built around puns — think of Severian being the New Sun/New Son, or Greer Gilman taking the meanings of “clod” as both “cloud” and “hill.” And if, in Kelly Link’s “Flying Lessons,” hell lies somewhere past the southernmost stop on London Underground’s Northern Line, does that make it a post-Mordern fantasy? When does a pun stop being a bad joke and start revealing something deep and interesting about language?
We divide stories into “character-driven” and “plot-driven,” but in fact many stories aspire to a perfect confluence of protagonist and plot. In these “double-driven” stories, there exists a mutual need and intimate fit between the two elements: the one adolescent whose precognitive powers could enable a planetary revolution, the one ruler whose extraordinary past qualifies him to outlaw torture. This notion is a useful critical tool: imagine how much better the Foundation series would have been if we’d had a genuine sense of Hari Seldon and the forces in his life that led him to invent psychohistory. We’ll look at double-driven stories and examine how understanding this structure can yield insight into why certain stories work as well as they do.
See some of you there, I hope!