What Writing Workshops Do and Don’t Offer
Leah Bobet, Michael J. DeLuca, Eileen Gunn, Barry B. Longyear, Geoff Ryman, Kenneth Schneyer
Discussion of the Milford Method vs. other workshopping methods, including online workshopping at http://sff.onlinewritingworkshop.com. Not something I'm ever likely to need, given that I haven't written anything, but interesting nonetheless.
Plausible Miracles and Eucatastrophe
Chesya Burke, John Crowley, John Kessel, James Morrow, Graham Sleight
I love it when a plan comes together. Tolkein coined the term eucatastrophe for the sudden turn of events at the end of a story that ensures a happy ending, e.g., Gollum biting off Frodo's finger and then falling into the fire of Mt. Doom. The discussion started by comparing the eucatastrophe to deus ex machina*. The main difference is that a eucatastrophe occurs within the framework of the story, and doesn't just drop into the story from out of nowhere. To my mind, a good eucatastrophe seems almost inevitable. Examples were brought up. I was thinking that Wonderfalls was pretty much built around the concept. Of course, so was The A-Team...
* A discussion of deus ex machina always gets my full attention, of course. I also spent a good chunk of the talk thinking about the ultraviolet catastrophe (UV catastrophe, get it?), which is something totally different (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultraviolet_catastrophe), but would make a terrific band name.
Still Waiting for My Food Pills: Science in the Kitchen
David G. Shaw
This was a talk on using scientific concepts and techniques to prepare foods in ways that were not hitherto possible. There were samples—apple juice with gelatin spheres and freeze-dried caramel. It was interesting to me in terms of the science used to prepare the dishes, but to be honest, most of the dishes discussed don't tempt me in the least. They seem too much like showing off rather than practical preparation techniques**. If you're into that kind of showy presentation of food, that's fine. I prefer stew. On the other hand, I'm totally gonna build my own sous vide machine one of these days. The whole talk, minus the samples, is here.
** And I am never, ever, going to eat anything that's been dipped in liquid nitrogen. I spent way too many hours in grad school cleaning out the oily brown gunk that's left behind in the bottom of a Dewar flask after the liquid N2 has evaporated away for that technique to ever be appetizing. Yecch!
SF as Tragedy
John Clute, Samuel R. Delany, Gardner Dozois, Barry N. Malzberg, Graham Sleight
Not much to say on this one. I prefer eucatastrophes.
De Gustibus Est Disputandum When Editing Anthologies
John Joseph Adams, Ellen Datlow, Gardner Dozois, John Kessel, Howard Waldrop
A discussion of how the editors on the panel put together their anthologies. The best line was Kessel's "an anthology is a collection of the wrong stories."
Walking Through Mayhem
This was a terrific talk. Robins was a hoot as she discussed various ways to choreograph a fight based on stage techniques. She also talked about the experience of a fight, from the sense that time slows down in extreme situations, to the sensory details, to the distractions, and to the pain involved. Pet peeves about fights in movies and on TV were also discussed, such as ultrafast recovery from pain or the easy rendering of unconsciousness.
The Quest and the Rest
Greer Gilman, M.C.A. Hogarth, Kelly Link, Kathryn Smith Morrow, Robert V.S. Redick, Madeleine Robins
This was about how a lot of people who go on quests in fantasy tales don't seem to have much of a life outside of the quest. Sure there are some gritty details of daily life whilst on the quest, the gathering of food and tending of blisters and the like, but not so much about the life that was left behind. A life that is usually left behind pretty easily at that. A couple of counter examples were brought up, such as Discworld and the scene in The Incredibles where the mother is trying to find a sitter for the baby so she can go rescue her husband. It was pointed out that in both these cases, the situations are played for laughs.
Thomas A. Easton, Leigh Grossman, Walter H. Hunt, Rosemary Kirstein, Howard Waldrop
A discussion of the lengthening of SF novels over the years, and the various reasons (word processors and smaller editorial staffs, among others) why it has occurred, along with some of the reasons why earlier novels were so short. It was pointed out that ebooks allow for even longer books.
Book Design and Typography in the Digital Era
Neil Clarke, Erin Kissane, Ken Liu, David G. Shaw, Alicia Verlager
Some interesting stuff here, mostly on why, for the most part, digital editions still aren't as good as analog, and what publishers and e-reader manufacturers could do to change that. One example cited was that China Miéville's name is spelled China Mi?ville in a lot of e-readers. There was also some discussion about some of the roadblocks (DRM) publishers add to make digital editions inaccessible to those with visual disabilities.
Urban (Fantasy) Renewal
Leah Bobet, John Clute, Ellen Datlow, Craig Laurance Gidney, Toni L.P. Kelner
A lot of the early discussion was spent trying to figure out what the definition of urban fantasy is, which seems to be a problem in a lot of subgenres these days.
Location as Character
Greer Gilman, Glenn Grant, Elizabeth Hand, Michael Aondo-verr Kombol, Yves Meynard, Madeleine Robins
Lots of good stuff here. Perhaps the best was the concept of tomason—architectural features that no longer serve a purpose. The term was coined by Genpei Akasegawa, and named after ex-Dodger (and other ball clubs, including the Yomiuri Giants) Gary Thomasson, a rather statue-like outfielder who rarely served a purpose.
Cities, Real and Imaginary
Jedediah Berry, Leah Bobet, Lila Garrott, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Anil Menon
A lot of the discussion here was reminiscent of the previous panel, albeit more on the practical side of things. The panel could sorta be summed up by a line from Garrott, "Fictional cities are never as weird as real cities."
Great War Geeks Unite, Part 2
Walter H. Hunt, Victoria Janssen, Barbara Krasnoff, Alison Sinclair, Howard Waldrop
Sequel to last year's WWI discussion. Not quite as unfocused as last year, though there was still a lot of topic drift, which isn't a bad thing. Still a lot of fun. The air war was kind of neglected until one of the other audience members mentioned it as an example of a technological growth curve that makes the iPad development team look like a bunch of layabouts. The air war was such an amazing thing. At the start of the war, aircraft were curiosities, and by the end one was specifically confiscated by the Treaty of Versailles.
Why We Love Bad Writing
James D. Macdonald, Resa Nelson, Eric M. Van, Harold Torger Vedeler
This one made me very cranky, so I guess it was good that this was the last one. So tell me, Bob, why do the unwashed masses read so many bad books? I suspect I am one of those multitudes that Eric Van referred to as tone deaf to bad prose. I freely admit it—I liked Stieg Larssen's trilogy. As Resa Nelson pointed out, it has some terrific characters***. Better spending my time on that than the hours of my life I wasted negotiating the very pretty, but ultimately useless prose of A Winters Tale.
*** Also, unless you've read it in the original Swedish, how can you even tell if Larssen's prose is good, bad, or indifferent?
As usual, there were a few times when I couldn't find anything I was really interested in going to, but also as usual, mileage varies. Add in some homemade baked goods, two decent bike rides, and a couple of terrific meals at Lester's House of BBQ, and it was a pretty good weekend.