I’ll be over in Boston for Readercon next week. I have a very exciting (if potentially exhausting) schedule as below. Will hope to see some of you there – do come up and say hi!
Friday July 15
12:00 PM F Plausible Miracles and Eucatastrophe. Chesya Burke, John Crowley, John Kessel (leader), James Morrow, Graham Sleight. Mark Twain instructed other writers that “the personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable.” This rule can be generalized: the more favorable to the characters an unexpected plot turn is, the better it needs to be set up (see the end of James Morrow’s Only Begotten Daughter). But what about eucatastrophe, where the power of a happy ending comes from its unexpectedness? Is the eucatastrophe in fact a form of plausible miracle where the plausibility derives not from things the author has put in the text, but from beliefs the reader already had, perhaps without knowing it? Or is there another explanation?
1:00 PM F Well, We Know Where We’re Going: The Pseudo-Religiosity of Teleological SF. John Crowley, Barry N. Malzberg, James Morrow, Kathryn Morrow, Graham Sleight (leader). 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 Stapledon’s Last and First Men, Clarke’s Childhood’s End, and Greg Bear’s Blood 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? When readers seek out science fiction that posits or imagines some kind of final destiny for humanity, are they driven by the same yearning for certainty (even uncomfortable or unhappy certainty) that leads many people to religion?
2:00 PM ME The Readercon New Nonfiction Book Club: Evaporating Genres. John Clute, F. Brett Cox (leader), David G. Hartwell, Graham Sleight, Peter Straub. Evaporating Genres: Essays on Fantastic Literature, Gary K. Wolfe’s collection of eleven linked essays, was described by reviewer Jonathan McCalmont as “a quietly revolutionary piece of methodological advocacy that urges its readers to open their minds and their hearts to the chaos at the heart of genre.” Wolfe argues that science fiction, fantasy, and horror are by their nature inherently unstable, evolving, merging with each other and with a wide variety of other fictional traditions, until they eventually “evaporate” into new forms, and that such metamorphoses have been especially volatile over the past few decades. But is there really “chaos at the heart of genre”? And is it true, as Wolfe seems to contend, that without this inherent instability genre fiction may be doomed to self-referentiality and eventual ossification?
4:00 PM F SF as Tragedy. John Clute, Samuel R. Delany, Gardner Dozois, Barry N. Malzberg, Graham Sleight (leader). Gardner Dozois’s collection Geodesic Dreams has an epigraph from James Tiptree, Jr.: “Man is an animal whose dreams come true and kill him.” In Dozois and Tiptree, protagonists fail–and often die–because of something inherent in their biological or social makeup (q.v. “Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death,” “The Peacemaker,” or “A Kingdom by the Sea”). Where classical ideas of tragedy involve unwise choices, the characters in Tiptree-esque tragic SF ultimately have no choices at all. What other works of speculative fiction do this? How does the science fiction setting accommodate the expansion of the tragic argument? And what makes these bleak stories so appealing?
7:00 PM G Is “The Death of the Author” Dying?. K. Tempest Bradford, Jack M. Haringa, John Kessel, Eugene Mirabelli, Graham Sleight (leader). It’s long been accepted wisdom in literary criticism that the meaning intended by an author is not of prime relevance to the job of reading or interpretation; to think otherwise is to commit the “intentional fallacy.” But today’s authors have bold new technological avenues to tell us what their story is supposed to mean (e.g. Anne Rice’s famous “You’re reading it wrong” pronouncement). Will texts and critical reading necessarily suffer as authors and readers conduct meta-conversations in blogs and on Facebook? Is an author’s blog post telling us how to read their book really different from an introduction or afterword? And what can we learn about the intentional fallacy by observing the authors who say it’s not a fallacy at all?
Saturday July 16
10:00 AM RI The Year in Novels. Graham Sleight, Liza Groen Trombi (leader), Paul Witcover, Gary K. Wolfe. We will discuss the speculative novels published since last Readercon.
1:00 PM ME Mind the Gap. Graham Sleight. What links the Doctor Who story “Frontios,” Schrodinger’s cat, Shirley Jackson’s “The Intoxicated,” and C.P. Snow’s idea of the “Two Cultures”? How is fanfiction like damp-proofing? And what does stage magic owe to Keats? Graham Sleight will attempt to answer these questions while putting forward some ideas about where the fantastic has come from and where it’s going.
5:00 PM F Geoff Ryman Interviewed. Geoff Ryman, Graham Sleight (moderator). Graham Sleight interviews Guest of Honor Geoff Ryman.