Friday July 08
2:00 PM C Cozy Dystopia. Gili Bar-Hillel, Bart Leib, Shariann Lewitt, Kenneth Schneyer (leader), Sabrina Vourvoulias. When we think of the world of Harry Potter, what comes to mind first—the magic and childish delights of Hogwarts, with its cozy dormitories and feasts and flying lessons, or its numerous, creeping dystopian elements (even discounting Voldemort!), from the enslaved house elves to Umbridge to the Dementors, which are, frankly, the tools of a fascist state? Can we make an argument that HP is actually more like a dystopia than a fantasy? Even if we're half joking, there's still an interesting discussion here: how do these two sides of the wizarding world play off each other, and how do they compare with other dystopian YA? Maybe we need a new subgenre: Cozy Dystopia.
4:00 PM BH Integrating the Id: What Fanfic can Tell Us About Writing Sex, Sexuality, and Intimacy. Victoria Janssen, Natalie Luhrs, Kate Nepveu (leader), Kenneth Schneyer, Ann Tonsor Zeddies. Sex scenes can be difficult to do well, but when they succeed, they can be highly efficient ways to reveal aspects of character. What are some pitfalls of writing sex scenes, and can fanfic teach us how to do it well? Does a sex scene need to be explicit, and does it even need to have "sex" at all, or is the key the intensity and intimacy that we associate with sex?
5:00 PM 6 Non-Explanation in Fiction. John Chu, Scott Edelman, Kenneth Schneyer (leader), Ann Tonsor Zeddies. "Never complain, never explain," said the Lady Mendl, and "Fuck the exposition," said David Simon, "just be," but as Junot Díaz said, "Motherfuckers will read a book that's one third Elvish, but put two sentences in Spanish and they think we're taking over." What are the pleasures of writing for an audience that already gets it—and the dangers of assuming they'll understand? What can you get from reading works that don't cater specifically to you? And how can refusing to spell it out bring depth to the fantastic?
Saturday July 09
10:30 AM B Reading: Kenneth Schneyer. Kenneth Schneyer. Kenneth Schneyer reads "A Lack of Congenial Solutions"
Friday, 7:00 PM, Griffin
Reading: Kenneth Schneyer. I'll be reading my short story, "Who Embodied What We Are".
Saturday, 10:00 AM, Marina 4
Theories of Time Travel
As improbable as it seems, is time travel possible? What scientific theories are out there that hint at what it might take to turn time travel into a reality? What practical issues need to be considered? What are some of the best time travel stories and how does their science hold up? Who’s doing it right? And is time travel really just science fiction?
James Cambias (M), Heather Albano, John R. Douglas, Kenneth Schneyer, Jo Walton
Saturday, 1:00 PM, Harbor III
100 Years of Relativity
Next month marks a century since Albert Einstein published his seminal work The Theory of General Relativity. It was our first clue that space bends, time warps, and black holes’ gravity sucks at both light and time. What did Einstein get right — and wrong? Do his ideas still ripple through our own time? For extra credit, panelists will reconcile general relativity with quantum theory.
Mark L. Olson (M), Janet Catherine Johnston, N.A. Ratnayake, Kenneth Schneyer
Sunday, 10:00 AM, Marina 4
Dealing With Rejection
Getting rejected is difficult. It can be hard to find the motivation to go on when you feel like you’re not gaining any headway. Our panelists share their own experiences with rejection, what kept them going, what hard truths they faced, and what changes they made to keep working.
James Patrick Kelly (M), Barry Goldblatt, Bob Kuhn, Kenneth Schneyer, Darlene Marshall
Sunday, 11:00 AM
Room: Marina 2
Cambridge Science Fiction Workshop Reading
This year is the 35th anniversary of the Cambridge Science Fiction Workshop. Come join local members for their annual reading at Boskone!
Steven Popkes (M), Sarah Smith, Heather Albano, James Cambias, Kenneth Schneyer, Alexander Jablokov
And I'm proud to announce that my son will be on a panel this year too!
Friday, 6:00 PM, Marina 2
What Kids Are REALLY Reading
This savvy panel of teenage fans shares what they’ve been reading lately. Also, find out what’s on their “To Be Read” lists, what they’re actively avoiding, and what they’re tired of trudging through. Plus … what kinds of stories do they look for when they’re browsing the booksellers?
Emma Caywood (M), Alexis Baker, Ophelia Goss, Arek Schneyer, Iris Wilde
The one I'm singling out is "The Plausibility of Dragons", Lightspeed Magazine #66 (November 2015). There are a number of reasons that I'm foregrounding this particular story, but mostly it's because I think it does something a little new, so that it may be slightly more deserving of attention than my other work for the year.
Other stories of mine that are eligible this year:
- "The Sisters' Line" (co-authored with Liz Argall), Uncanny Magazine #6 (2015).
- "The Last Bombardment", in "Flash on the Borderlands XXVII: What's the Matter with Kids Today?", Pseudopod # 459 (October 9, 2015).
- "Trusting What I Smell", Perihelion Science Fiction (April 12, 2015). (This one's no longer available online. If you're interested, I'll send you a copy).
Please keep in mind that I don't read nearly as much as I should, and so this list (long as it is) should be taken with a grain of salt, because I know I've probably missed lots and lots of wonderful stuff. Also, you'll notice that both of my YA (Norton Award) picks are also on my list of novels, because I've never understood why you'd exclude a YA work from the other categories. Finally, you see that there are no novellas. That's because, um, I haven't actually read any novellas from 2015 (hides).
"Tea TIme" by Rachel Swirsky (Lightspeed Magazine)
"Wooden Feathers" by Ursula Vernon (Uncanny Magazine)
Dramatic Presentations (Bradbury Award):
Young Adult Fiction (Norton Award):
Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace (Small Beer Press)
Updraft by Fran Wilde (Tor Books)
The Future of Mars - Literature, Panel - 1hr 15min - Faneuil (3W) - Friday 8:30 p.m.
We grew up reading about Barsoom and the Mars of Wells and Bradbury. Today, we’re finally exploring the reality of the red planet. Where does our fictional treatment of Mars go from here? Do we concentrate on the real possibilities opening up? Or are there exciting and odd treatments we can imagine?
Nalin Ratnayake, John Scalzi, Jeff Hecht, Morgan Crooks, Ken Schneyer (m)
Star Trek at 50! - Media, Panel - 1hr 15min - Burroughs (3E) - Saturday 11:30 am
Fifty years ago, Gene Roddenberry introduced us to the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Since then, the crew has boldly gone where no human had gone before in five live-action TV series, one cartoon, ten movies in the “original” universe, and two movies in rebooted universe (with a third due out this year). Join us as we celebrate one of the most iconic and important science-fiction franchises of all time.
Liz Salazar, Glenn Hauman, Lawrence M. Schoen, Woodrow Hill, Ken Schneyer, Cassandra Lease (m)
The Bible as Fantasy Literature - Literature, Panel - 1hr 15min - Marina 2 (2E) - Sunday 11:30 am
What can we gain from viewing the Bible as fantasy literature, rife with active gods, prophecies, and larger-than-life heroes, and complete with centuries of fanfic from Dante to Milton and onward? How is the Bible treated in fantasy?
B.A. Chepaitis, Matthew Kressel, Susan Weiner, N.S. Dolkart, MJ Cunniff, Ken Schneyer (m)
Everything I Say is a Lie - Writing, Panel - 1hr 15min - Hale (3W) - Sunday 4:00 pm
There are several works of fiction, both genre and mainstream, that rely on the unreliable narrator. Used to good effect, this can create an artful twist ending or have the reader second-guessing throughout the whole story. However, how does one create such a narrator? Does the viewpoint have to be first person, or can third person suffice? How do you keep readers following the path you’ve laid out without guessing the real story? A discussion on the making and use of an unreliable narrator.
Ken Altabef, Terri Bruce, Kate Nepveu, Ken Schneyer (m)
Remembering Leonard Nimoy - Media, Panel - 1hr 15min - Marina 1 (2E) - Sunday 7:00 pm
Leonard Nimoy, one of the greats, passed away in 2015. Although he remains best known for Star Trek, he had along and varied career, excelling as an an actor and a director, working as a voice actor and a photographer, and hosting documentaries. We’ll look back at his life (even his musical career), and talk about how much Nimoy meant to people both as a man and as a performer.
Keith R. A. DeCandido (m), Santiago Rivas, Sonya Taaffe, Daniel Miller, Ken Schneyer
Science Fiction Reading - Writing, Reading - 1hr 15min - Hale (3W) - Monday 10:00 am
Come listen to our panelists read a selection from their original science fiction works.
Nalin Ratnayake, Lawrence M. Schoen, John Chu, Ken Schneyer
There have been some interesting debates about whether Hild is really a fantasy novel rather than a straight historical novel. Many have said, with justification, that even if there is no actual magic in the book, it still has the flavor and attack of a work of fantasy. Genre border arguments are ultimately pointless except to advertisers and marketers, and I don't wish to add to the misguided shouting. But I think a lot of discussions have overlooked the possibility of examining Hild not as fantasy, but as science fiction.
I realize, of course, that there are as many competing guidelines to differentiate fantasy from science fiction as there are critics, and that, again, these differentiations mostly don't matter. (They don't ultimately matter to me either; I'm skeptical of genre boundaries, as I've said publicly -- indeed, I said it on the panel I shared with Nicola.) But as an intellectual exercise this interests me, because I think it's easy to be distracted by the medeival setting and think that fantasy or history are our only choices.
For purposes of this essay I'm going to use the differentiating rule I devised a few years ago for a paper on the subject. If you don't like this set of definitions, you probably won't agree with the essay. To me:
A work of science fiction assumes that all that needs to be known can, eventually, be known through the application of human senses, human reason, and such devices as we can contrive. By contrast, a work of fantasy assumes that there are some important things which are not fully comprehensible by human means, no matter how advanced or sophisticated we get; some things are ineffable.
This is why Star Trek, despite its handwaving, and Doctor Who, despite its handfluttering, are science fiction to me rather than fantasy -- because their waved or fluttered aspects are still assumed to be things that can be understood, if we just get smarter brains and better equipment in a few hundred or a few thousand years. But the Harry Potter books, despite their technicality, have important topics that are marked as being essentially insoluble mysteries. What differentiates science fiction from mainstream fiction, in this regard, is that either it takes place at a time when our ability to comprehend the world and act on it has resulted in changes in that world, or else the process of knowing and understanding the world through our senses and our reason are integral to the story itself.
It is in this latter regard that I think of Hild as a work of science fiction. Its eponymous protagonist is taken by her contemporaries to be a seer, to have magical access to things going on beyond her immediate knowledge, and even to predict the future. This she appears to accomplish through omens, dreams, and visions. Because her delicate political position, her physical safety, and the safety of her friends and family depend on maintaining that role, she plays it as well as she can.
But the reader knows, as Hild herself knows, that she has no such magical abilities. She is, instead, a keenly sensitive observer of every detail of the world around her, from the condition of the feathers on a bird's wing and the overtones in the flavor of a cup of mead to the quirks and idiosyncracies of those she meets, as well as having a firm and unsentimental grasp of the economic and political realities of her time and place. She also possesses a ferocious intelligence, which gives her the ability to take the many details she absorbs and to build patterns from them that allow her to make shrewd probabalistic estimates of what is happening many miles away or what will happen soon. Thus her conclusions strike everyone around her as magical, because no other person is able to arrive at them so quickly or so accurately. In this, she resembles no other character in fiction so much as Sherlock Holmes.
Thus, Hild is about how a person navigates the world when she is so observant and intelligent that she can comprehend things far beyond the ken of those on whom her safety depends. The process of observation and induction (what Holmes erroneously called deduction) is central to the action of the novel, and is recounted deliciously in Hild's subjective impressions. Science fiction, which glories in the accomplishments of the mind, has many protagonists like this. Most immediately to my mind comes Bean, the central character in Orson Scott Card's Shadow novels, but I'm sure you could come up with a dozen yourself. Indeed, it is one of our familiar tropes (unsurprising in that many readers of science ficiton imagine themselves to be intellectually superior to those around them, and frustrated to tears at their inability to make the dullards understand).
It would be a horrible disservise to the novel to claim that Hild's abilities as an encyclopedic genius are the only interesting things about it. It is a wonderful work of character, relationship, and hard choices, and the most immersive work about the middle ages I've ever read. But I wanted to make this claim about SF because, as I say, I think it's been overlooked. Hild is a science fiction hero.
Nicola Griffith, Sandra Kasturi, Eugene Mirabelli, Kenneth Schneyer (moderator), Peter Straub.
Discrimination against speculative literature still exists, but it appears to be fading quickly. Literary awards and critics are recognizing speculative works, and major publishers are publishing them. The nerd/jock distinction still exists among teens, but the line has blurred considerably. Is there value to continuing to see the genre as belittled and beleaguered, and genre fans as an oppressed minority? Or do we have a sort of community PTSD, where we're reacting to memories of mistreatment more than to actual recent events? If the literary world is ready to accept us, are we ready to be accepted?
John Clute, Samuel Delany, Amal El-Mohtar, Francesca Forrest, Greer Gilman, Kenneth Schneyer (leader).
Nested stories consist of at least one outer story and at least one inner story. Usually the characters in the outer story are cast as the audience of the inner story, as in Hamlet or the Orphan's Tales books. But inner stories have another audience: the reader. How do we read inner stories? When our attention is brought to its story-ness, are we more conscious of being the audience than when we immerse ourselves in outer stories? Do we see ourselves as separate from the audience characters—thinking of them as the "real" audience even though they're fictional—or do we connect with them through the mutual experience of observation? And when do inner stories take on lives of their own, separate from their frames?
Anil Menon, Kit Reed, Kenneth Schneyer, Sarah Smith, Romie Stott (leader).
Many forms of entertainment conflate fiction and nonfiction. It's well documented that so-called reality TV is highly staged, directed, and manipulated to highlight conflict and manufacture happy (or tragic) endings. A number of memoirs have been revealed to be fiction. Some still want to believe professional wrestling is real. Fiction provides plenty of conflict, coherent narrative arcs, and satisfying endings, so why do we also demand those things from our nonfiction? Does believing something is "real" make it more entertaining? Or is this an expression of our dissatisfaction with the loose ends, bewildering occurrences, and interrupted stories of our own lives?
I hope to see many of you there!
About a week ago, I finished watching the first season of Sense8, Netflix's new science fiction series. Comments below include mild spoilers, not so much for plot points as for individual scenes and situations that arise.
The series posits eight individuals, four men and four women in their late 20s, who begin to be able to share one another's senses, thoughts, and abilities -- sporadically and inexplicably at first, then more consistently and volitionally as they come to know each other. Will is a Chicago police officer; Nomi (nee Michael) is a San Francisco hacker; Lito is a Mexico City film star; Sun is a Seoul business executive and martial artist; Kala is a Mumbai pharmacy student about to be married; Wolfgang is the safecracker son of a Berlin criminal family; Capheus is a Nairobi bus driver/entrepreneur; Riley is an Icelandic DJ living in London. As the series progresses, they become more and more deeply involved in one another's lives, and frequently aid each other in moments of crisis, culminating in a sequence in which all of them are working in concert for the same goal.
Here are my thoughts, in more-or-less random order:
1. The season as a whole kept my attention and got my heart racing, and increasingly I couldn't keep away. At one point, I was stealing a few minutes at a time in the only hallway where I could find wireless to find out what happened in the last episode.
2. The narrative style is disjointed and delicious, especially in the first half of the season where there is so much left unexplained. I also adore the many substitutions and juxtapositions where the sensates take one another's places, be it on the job, in fights, during lovemaking.
3. I think the opening credits are meant to convey both the rich, precious variety of the human race, on the one hand, and the accelerating pace at which we are hurtling to our own destruction, on the other.
4. I was initially annoyed by the portrayal of other languages by actors speaking English with foreign accents -- until I got to the scene where two characters who spoke two different languages (Hindi and German in one case, Korean and Swahili in another) spoke to each other in those actual tongues with English subtitles, and you finally get what they've been trying to do. Very clever.
5. This is a fantasy made for the age of social media. The premise is that people who have never met, separated by thousands of miles, can be dear friends, allies, even lovers, and come to one another's rescue in moments of crisis. It is perhaps the perfect metaphorical attempt to fill rift between our decreasing physical contact and increasing ethereal contact with one another. As wish fulfilment it works very well.
6. The show reminds me of two other series I remember from my remote past: The Champions from the late 1960s, in which three intelligence agents (a pilot, a doctor, a codebreaker) maximize their physical and intellectual capacities while learning to communicate with each other telepathically. Also Search from the early 1970s, in which three (other) intelligence agents are fitted with video cameras, microphones, and implanted receivers which allow them to receive instantaneous advice from their home base.
7. Sense8 has not yet decided which side of the intimacy/fusion border it is on. (For the uninitiated: some psychologists say that "emotional fusion," the wish to erase all boundaries and become one with another, is an infantile desire to deny our own separate personhood (i.e., to reunite with the mother). Intimacy, by contrast, is described as the deliberate and scary revelation of the secret self to another; it requires an acknowledgment of boundaries so that they can be lifted, and is one of the most difficult things adults do.) In this series, the characters on the one hand seem to experience emotional fusion, but there are other moments where it is clear that they do not all know one another's thoughts and must be actually told (hence, moments of actual intimacy). It feels like the writers want to approach something like fusion, but don't want to rob the characters of the choice and risk of deliberate intimacy. I am curious to see where this will all wind up.
8. The series runs a risk of becoming sentimental and maudlin very quickly. All television series run this risk if they go on long enough (just look at Season Seven of pretty much any series you loved, and watch the number of times characters (mirroring the feelings of the viewers) say "Oh, X, you mustn't do that because we love you and it will break my heart" or similar), but because this first season has been so heavily character oriented, the audience already knows these eight people well and has shared in their personal sorrows and fears. We are already, at the end of episode 12, prone to have a don't-hurt-my-babies feeling about them. I fear that future seasons may feature long, "deep" shots of one of the sensates' faces, as we emote right along with him/her for the entire episode.
9. It is a superhero series. The sensates' ability to adopt each other's abilities at will means that each of them, at any moment, is a financial wizard hacker cop gangster actor martial artist daredevil driver biochemist who speaks seven languages. Like all stories about superpowers, its problem is finding credible obstacles to make the drama believable. The few "enemy" sensates we have met (much like Magneto's mutants in the X-Men stories) may serve this function.
10. It runs the risk of becoming Mission: Impossible. Each of the characters may, if the writers aren't careful, fall in to a stock role where they're essentially doing the same thing over and over. One can see Lito as the Master of Disguise (Martin Landau / Leonard Nimoy), Sun as the "muscle" (Peter Lupus), Nomi as the technojock (Greg Morris), Riley as the "babe" (Barbara Bain / Linda Day George), etc. Of course we've seen this same tendency with many other "team mission" series such as Criminal Minds, The A-Team, Leverage, etc.). The sequence in which all eight of them work together very much had that flavor to it; I couldn't help loving it, but it worried me. It's not necessarily a bad trope, unless it begins to be used thoughtlessly.
11. I am fascinated with the gradually unfolding backstory revelation of each character. Particularly I'm interested in how pointedly the series has shown us the sensates' relationships with their parents, which in some cases are very strongly negative, even abusive (Nomi, Wolfgang), in others exceptionally loving and supportive (Riley, Capheus, Kala), and others who seem to have both at the same time (Sun, Will). Only Lito's parents are still unknown to us. Childhood trauma and/or loss is very strongly indicated as a prime motivator for Will, Wolfgang, Nomi, Riley, Sun, Capheus.
12. Even more interesting is the complimentary relationship of their personalities. In particular, Sun and Capheus, who have the greatest level of physical and moral courage, and Nomi, who firmly grasps her hard-won personal integrity, are materially helpful to Lito, who begins the series with neither courage nor integrity.
13. I like the assertion articulated by Jonas that the sort of enforced empathy that the sensates have for each other is a species-level survival trait. They are destined to save the world, he believes, because they are much less likely to kill than ordinary humans, because "It's easy to kill when you can't feel." In this sense, the sensates' connection is a metaphor for the urgent needs of our current human condition. BUT:
14. This assertion is not particularly borne out by the actions of the sensates thus far. Capheus (with Sun's and Will's help) and Wolfgang have, between them, killed about 30 people by the end of episode 12. It is presented as mostly, but not entirely, self-defense, but I wonder whether the sensates are going to be so lethal, with so little reflection, in the future. I have been shocked, actually, that the more sensitive souls among them (Lito, Riley, Kala) have let these deaths go by with so little comment or criticism. Kala even helps Wolfgang kill some people -- something she might do in an emergency no matter who she is, but where is her remorse? Wolfgang has none, but we don't expect him to. We are told that Will is emotionally unable to murder, but his solution is simply to invoke Wolfgang, whose ruthlessness proves useful.
15. The few times when all eight of them appear to be in synchrony with each other -- each involving a piece of music, I think -- are transcendent.
16. While their similar age is explained in the series, it's noteworthy and disappointing that they're nearly all middle class (at least) as well. Arguably Capheus is not, although owning his own bus potentially puts him in more control of his economic future than many.
17. There's a moment in one of the last few episodes where the visual impact of a scene is much higher if you happen to understand Icelandic patrinomial nomenclature.
Anyway, despite all the reservations and worries and analyses I express above, I am captivated and will undoubtedly be counting the days until Season Two is released.