Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Readercon 18, cont.

I knew when I sent in my registration for the con that I would only be able to attend Thursday and Friday. The open-to-all Thursday night sessions were great and I was really anticipating an enjoyable day's worth of programming on Friday. I was not disappointed.

I caught the tail-end of the opening panel on Heinlein. The claim was made that Heinlein introduced dialogue to popular SF. Before he came along, SF was almost exclusively descriptive, with the exception of H.G. Wells, whom Heinlein worshipped. I skipped out early because I wanted to make sure I got a seat for the first session that I was really excited about: a Jeff Ford reading.

There was another reading still going on, so I was cooling my heels in the hallway, when up walks Jeffrey Ford. I was only introduced to Ford's work last year via several sites/blogs (most memorably Jay Tomio's blog, where he was listing his Top 100 of the last ten years) but have developed into a big fan. I enjoyed his novel, Mrs. Charbuque, but it is through his short stories that his talent really shines through. He's got lots of great stories, but Botch Town might be my favorite. So here I am, alone with Jeff Ford, and what do I do? Nothing. I would love to talk with him, but approaching people I don't know is not a strength of mine. Also, I don't want to bother the guy. So the room empties and we head in with others that have shown up. The room seats about 30-40 and just has a long, low table at the front--no podium. None of which matters, because we get started and Ford pulls out a brand new story, The Drowned Life, and starts to read. It's a great story. Very much in the Ford ouevre--dark, a bit twisted, with an eye for the odd detail that really gives life to his stories.

Next was a panel discussion on The Slipstream/Fabulation/Magic Realism canon (with handouts!). Although I wasn't at the last two days of the con, I'm pretty sure this panel took the 'Most panelists crammed onto one dais' award. I was looking forward to this one mostly because I really like the writings of Paul DiFillipo and Catherynne Valente. Other panelists included F. Brett Cox, Ron Drummond, Graham Sleight, John Kessel, Victoria McManus and Theodora Goss. I'm definitely going to be checking out Goss' short story collection In the Forest of Forgetting because she presented some very articulate and intelligent arguments. Unfortunately, the panel spent a lot of time just trying to figure out a working definition for "slipstream". Listening to the discussion, my main thought was, "So what?" I mean, what difference does nailing down a definition really make? None that I could see. My own definition of slipstream would be something like this: anything that isn't easily categorizable as science fiction, fantasy or horror. End of discussion.

I actually left early since it didn't look like there was going to be any discussion of actual books. They did hand out a rather disjointed list of titles organized (?) in some puzzling ways. Paul DiFillipo has posted the entire list here. As has been pointed out elsewhere, the fact that several of the titles listed in the "core canon" were published in the last few years makes the whole thing seem a bit silly. The fact that one of the titles had not yet been published was ridiculous! And no Mark Helprin?! I know his politics are pretty unpopular with the majority of the SF set, but Winters Tale is an incredible book, and Helprin is generally acknowledged as an American magic realist. Borges' Collected Fictions was the only unanimous choice, which I don't think anyone will argue with. At the very least, I've got another list of recommended titles that I can sift through.

I meant to attend another reading at 3:00 p.m., given by Chris Genoa, the author of Foop!, but they opened the dealer room at the same time, and I was lost for quite awhile. Too. many. books. I managed to extricate myself with only moderate damage to the bank account and made my way to a reading by Kelly Link. Much like Jeff Ford, it hasn't been long since I read my first Link story. Her collection, Magic for Beginners, was released last year to pretty much universal acclaim--and it deserved it. Her stories stick with you long after you've finished reading, so I was thrilled to hear her reading a new story, a unique take on the Cinderella fairytale. I also caught a reading by Catherynne Valente who read a couple of stories from her upcoming The Orphan's Tales: In the Cities of Coin and Spice. This is the sequel to the first Orphan's Tales book, In the Night Garden, which I read a few months ago. These books are novels told in an amazing series of nested stories. Valente writes beautifully and if you haven't read this, you are missing out.

Young (and Very Young) Adult F&SF was the next panel I attended. I had a few reasons for attending this one. I've got four boys that all fall into this readership category, so I'm always interested in finding new titles that might interest them. My #3 son is a big Spiderwick fan and the author of that series, Holly Black was one of the panelists. Last, but not least, I'm in the midst of writing (or attempting to write) a kids book that would probably fall into the very YA category. Besides Ms. Black, the panel consisted of Michael J. Daley, Sarah Beth Durst, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Sharyn November, and Elizabeth Wein. This panel had the potential to be a major yawner were it not for the efforts of the moderator, Ms. November. She was hilarious. First, she ripped into the panel description provided by the organizers and pretty much did what she wanted from that point onward. It actually turned into an interesting discussion on the different types of YA and some of the influences of the panelists/authors. The glut of YA fantasy was a topic, as was the inclusion of "smut" (Ms. Black's word) in YA fiction. As the father of four boys I was particularly interested to learn about Daley's book, a YA sci-fi adventure called Shanghaied to the Moon.

I rounded out my Readercon experience with readings by James Morrow and John Crowley. Both read from novels-in-progress, The Philosopher's Apprentice and Four Freedoms, respectively. Both were excellent, though I have to admit by this time I was running on fumes since I hadn't taken a dinner break. I attended the The 2008 Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award Ceremony and the Meet the Pros(e) Party, where I spoke with Michael Daley for a few minutes and got to meet Ted Chiang.

Overall it was a great experience, and I was sorry I couldn't attend the rest of the con. Maybe next year.

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