Clearly I was at Readercon 24 over the weekend what since I talked about it in a post yesterday and also it’s the title of this post. So I’m going to talk about it. Cons in general are something I wish I could go to more often. Realistically though, they’ve got to be within commuting distance of Rhode Island. That means even Hartford is a bit of a stretch since there aren’t any highways that go in a straight line west. If there are a dozen cons within commutable distance of me, I’d be surprised the number was that high.
I consider myself crazy fortunate that one of the most known SF book cons is right near by.
This wasn’t my first rodeo, but it was my first Readercon. I heard lots about the reputation before hand and it wasn’t really an exaggeration. The staff ran a tight show. The hotel decided they wanted to close the lobby for renovations which kind of sucked not really having a hang out area but that was beyond anyone’s control. I never felt like it diminished from the con. Everyone collectively said meh and rolled with it without letting any parades get rained on. It was a nice feeling to recognize faces, on panels and in the crowd, from Boskone.
On the panels and such, I was pleasantly surprised. Sometimes con panels are just fun or interesting. I got a lot out of them that I’m going to use in my writing and about a half dozen scribbles in my notebook saying “Use this for a blog.” That’s a big combination of good panelists, chemistry between the panelists and a great topic. I hit up eight panels and two readings, more than I crammed into Boskone. I’m not a reporter, so I’m not going to give a blow by blow color commentary of the con, but I will throw down some of the highlights from the panels.
In Ode to Unpublished First Novels, Ann Tonsor Zeddies put something into words that I’ve noticed in my reading lately. I find a lot now, I seek out the first books of newly published authors. Wes Chu, Madaline Ashby and a lot of the other stuff coming out of Angry Robot are new. As a reader there is something extra special about discovering a new author when they’re new too. Zeddies said that with the first book there is a fearlessness that is often lost, never to be recaptured. I’m just about ready to start shopping my own first (finished) novel and start the next so that really hit home for me.
Drinking Horror’s Blood, a panel on horror tropes bleeding out into other genres, made me super happy. Genre theory was always one of my favorite topics back in film school and that needs no translation from film to writing. It’s all the same thing. I don’t think enough people talk about genre theory in SF circles, which is odd because we are it by definition. Back in film school, Horror was always the easiest to talk about because it seems to have a much faster cycle of Innovation – Convention – Self Referential than other genres. I found it facinating to think that before the 1920s and 1930s, it was just literature. Genres didn’t exist. The relationship between horror movies and horror literature was very facinating to hear about too. They don’t seem to play as nicely as you’d think. That idea might turn into a whole blog post.
Pining for the Fnords: The New Nostalgia (which is a mouthful of a title) was really genre theory in disguise and had the best crewed panel of the whole trip. It was a State of the Genre kind of panel largely in response to books like Redshirts and Ready Player One. The panel collectively refuted the idea that SF is going backwards or longing for things left behind it. It’s a much better, and more natural idea, to take the same kinds of scenarios from the past and reuse them with modern sensibilities. I think that’s especially true of sci fi since the actual science used changes so rapidly. Some super techie guy in the audience tried to say writers were afraid of technology because they didn’t use all the super most up to date stuff in their books. Elizabeth Bear, who is fast becoming my favorite panelist for anything, tried to explain reasons and logic to this guy but he was stubborn and ended up just saying “Your premise is wrong so we can’t answer you.” It was great.
Readercon does this cool thing called the Memorial Guest of Honor. They bring a focus to the forerunners of our genre who have passed away. This year it happened to be Roger Zelazny and he happens to be my all time favorite author. The panel included his biographer, who also put together an Amber Encyclopedia which I didn’t previously know existed but need to get now, and also his son Trent Zelazny who is a mystery writer. Sometimes its tough for role models to be real people too and I know the wikipedia version of his biography, stripped down to basics. So I walked away real happy to know Zelazny was a great person in addition to a great writer.
Trent Zelazny is also a really cool guy and I’d be picking up his books regardless of his last name.
The last panel I want to talk about at length (because I’m starting to get a runaway word count and still have that novel to work on), is the one that will be effecting my own writing the most. It was Making Love Less Strange: Romance for the SF Writers. First off, I was real surprised there were more than 10% guys in the crowd. The very idea of romance turns people off for some reason. Sam Sykes, one of the most thoughtful writers out there when it comes to genre issues, wrote a big blog piece on that topic a few months ago that stuck with me. Story is conflict and relationships are inherently conflict. This panel of romance writers stripped down their genre, (one that has subgenres magic and monsters and the like already) and showed us how we’re practically doing the same thing already. They threw down a basic structure of the romance story and I sat there thinking, “Well hell, that’s practically my next book already.” And it’s true. That basic structure, plus punk rock, plus a few deities, plus Rhode Island (because it’s not Connecticut anymore) is my next book. This is going to help me in the same way as writing blog posts about other books helps me with my writing. Being aware of the tropes I’m tapping in to will help me to do it better.
I want to talk about people before I wrap this up because cons are really all about the community and connecting in a way that you can’t on the internet. Each con I go to, I come across people at these panels who sell me as a person and make me want to go and find their books. But only a few really impress me so much I think they should be on every panel. Last year that was Myke Cole. This year, between Boskone and Readercon, it’s Elizabeth Bear. She’s a very great speaker and really helps to energize a panel. I already thought that her writing was great but now I need to track down her entire backlist. She sat next to me in a panel audience too. I felt too weird to just say hi. Social butterflies have it so easy.
Bear was also one of the two readings I went to, the other being by Theodora Goss. Both read from in progress pieces and it’s not fair the world needs to wait to read these in their entirety. Both were excellent pieces and not nearly so unpolished as the disclaimers at the start of the reading. It made me feel pretty damn fancy to get a sneak preview. I want to throw money at them already.
My only real complaint about Readercon is actually the same one from Boskone. The availability of books by the program participants wasn’t always there. A lot of the book sellers at the con were rocking used books. That’s all well and good. I get that I am really spoiled by The Book Barn. Yeah it’s down in Connecticut and I don’t live across town from it anymore, but it’s not that far off I can’t jaunt down there when I need to. So all that mass of out of print old school stuff is really a non issue to me. I can mine the depths of old school SF for a buck a pop and then take the kiddo to his grandparents all in one trip. I did see a lot of books I want to read. Chuck Wendig’s Dinocaplypse, Gwenda Bond’s Blackwood, DB Jackson’s Thieftaker… I could go on and on. My To-Buy List is a mile and a half long. But when I go to these cons, I want to get things I can’t on any regular day. I make it a point to buy stuff from the people I see at the con. I dunno, I guess that isn’t really something that the con itself can control. They’re not actually selling the merchandise, but there’s got to be some way to have a better availability of the participants.
I did manage to score a couple great books. Ironically, both authors were there at the con, but not actually panel participants. I got a signed copy of the Clarkesworld magazine that has Catherine Valente’s “Fade to White” which is my favorite short I’ve ever read. Super happy to have a signed hard copy of that now. I also got a copy of Evie Manieri‘s Blood’s Pride. I saw it for sale and was all “Oh! Twitter said you’re here and it’d be epic if you could sign the copy for me.” It happened. She was a delight to meet. I also got my well-used copy of Lies of Locke Lamora signed by Scott Lynch. Another really awesome person and it’s the first Shelf of Honor book I’ve ever gotten signed.
I’ve been working on this for far too long tonight and my brain is starting to melt. I will end with some of the best quotes of the con.
“A majority of readers will remember your story and not your prose.” -Nicholas Kaufman on Workshopping as a Lifestyle
“I feel a little bad that we’re stealing their toys, but not bad enough to stop.” -Elizabeth Bear on the SF genre moving forward
“The sun may be going nova, but we’re not going to change our marketing plan.” -Ann Tonsor Zeddies on markets boxing in writers
“We just offended every Belgian in the room.” -Scott Lynch … still no context for you because I find it absurdly funnier that way