Some thoughts on Loncon

So, Loncon: I haven’t the time to write a full report – and, to be honest, I’m not sure that anything I wrote could do justice to this wonderful event. It was big without being overwhelming, had more than enough to keep anyone with even a passing interest in science fiction engaged for the full five days – and perhaps enough to make uninterested people start to change their minds.

I caught up with some people I hadn’t seen in the real world for months (years, in some cases), and was pleased to meet others for the first time. My three panels unfolded mostly as billed, went very well from my point of view, and certainly seemed to be well received. I’d like to thank everyone who joined me in a discussion, as participant or moderator: Nina Allan; Anne Charnock; Scott Edelman; Chris Gerwel; Leticia Lara; Kev McVeigh; Patrick Nielsen Hayden; Aishwarya Subramanian; E .J. Swift; and especially Adam Roberts, who generously agreed to join the Genre and Mainstream Panel at short notice.

There are two other things emerging from the con that I’d like to highlight, one general, one more specific. My general point is about the atmosphere of the con. I may have my reservations about genre SF and the culture that surrounds it, but I also need to champion what the community does well. SF has a long tradition of reader criticism, and that means a lot of people who take a serious analytical approach to their reading – and, when they gather together at an event like Loncon, the result is second-to-none.

To take one of my panels as an example: I and a panel of writers and editors spent the best part of an hour talking about three specific short stories. Imagine the literary festival where a mainstream equivalent of that could happen. Now imagine one with dozens of panels like (and unlike) this. The interested literary reader has nothing to compare; I know, because I’m such a reader as well.

My more specific point is a thought that has developed from some of the panels I attended on non-Western SF, and SF in translation. The point was made that Western audiences can be resistant to stories that lack conflict (stories without ‘moving parts’, as the writer Amal El-Mohtar put it). And I’m struck that similar attitudes often prevail towards mainstream-published SF (they can be stereotyped as focusing on character at the expense of a fully worked-out background, and so on). Of course, these are two different issues in many ways; but I do wonder if there’s a connection somewhere – perhaps a limited view of what science fiction can (or should) look like? This is a thought I’m keen to explore further.

Finally, my thanks to everyone who was involved in the organisation of Loncon. You did yourselves, and SF, proud.

3 Comments

  1. this is a genre that I just haven’t got into at all. you make a good point about a lot of literary festivals just don’t feature in depth discussions, more a case of an author promoting their latest work

  2. I think it depends on the lit festival, sometimes. My experience is only going to Nashville’s Southern Festival of Books for the past three years, but there were quite a few involved panel discussions (some involving SF writers, like Catherynne Valente and Kelly Barnhill in 2012) on issues like women characters in YA; the experiences of prisoners on death row; Donald Ray Pollack taking Q&As about his experiences in an Ohio paper mill; and various discussions on poetic technique. Not implying that this is a superior approach, but rather that there can be a similar quality of discussion, just about different topics.

    One other thing: were there many pre-teens at WorldCon? I didn’t attend it last year due to a schedule conflict, but I saw a huge line (that eventually was over 1000) of kids and their parents for a Rick Riordan reading and signing. I found the mixture of children and adults to be a very nice thing.

    But after saying all that, perhaps I would have had just as much fun at LonCon, provided there were some live music and tasty food available!

  3. David H

    2nd September 2014 at 6:44 pm

    Larry:

    I think it depends on the lit festival, sometimes.

    Fair point. My experience of the big UK lit festivals, so far as it goes, is that they tend to focus on interviews with big-name authors. There might be the odd discussion panel, but I suspect they’re more common at smaller festivals – and there certainly isn’t the culture of involving readers as there is in SF.

    were there many pre-teens at WorldCon?

    There certainly seemed to be plenty of families about, and I believe there were events programmed for children as well.

    live music and tasty food

    Music: well, there was an orchestra for starters. Tasty food: that depended where you ate… 🙂

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