FOGcon Recap

My weekend was filled with FOGcon and I’m pleasantly exhausted. It’s always a blast to go, reconnect with friends, and talk about speculative fiction and movies and other geekery. This year I also did karaoke for the first time and despite my pounding heart had quite a lot of fun.

Catherynne M. Valente and Kim Stanley Robinson were the Honored Guests, and they both were wonderful speakers, providing some great insights on the panels.

Panels

I enjoyed just about every panel I went to, but here are a few of my personal favorites.

Stories within Stories within Stories within Stories…, including panelists Elwin Cotman, Catherynne Valente, Phyllis Holliday, and Andrés Santiago Perez-Bergquist, with Sunil Patel as moderator. The panel discuses a number of topics relating to nested stories.

One especially interesting thought, for me, was the idea that nested stories reflect how life works, in that we are the center of our own stories and our lives are filled with interjections and asides, from the gossip we tell a friend to the stories we relate about ourselves to the wikipedia article we pause to look up in the middle of a conversation. We are constantly stopped by interjecting narrative and it was even suggested that we are the frame narrative for every book we read.

For writers, it was noted that nested stories can sometimes be an engaging way to slip in exposition, reveal layers to the world, or characterization. However, the story needs to be just as compelling as the main (frame) narrative. Since it is interrupting the narrative flow, the first line of the interjected story had better be better than what came before it so that it doesn’t turn readers away. It was also noted that some nested stories work better as fragments instead of complete tales.

Notable book recommendations:
The French Lieutenants Woman, by John Fowles
Was, by Geoff Ryman
Order of the Stick, comic by Rich Burlew

From the ice planet Hoth to Mars: how can we write about real environments? including panelists Lauren K. Moody, Michelle Murrain, Jim Pekarek, and Kim Stanley Robinson, with Vylar Kaftan as moderator.

A lot of the discussion centered around space travel, and the panelists noted they would like to see books show a better understanding of the effects on humans of background space radiation, different gravities, disruption of circadian rhythms, and the psychological and social effects of groups of people in contained environments.

For writers, it was noted that if you’re going to write in detail about a world, it’s important for the POV characters to be interested in the landscape — a character should have just as much interest in the rocks on Mars as you do. Also, the less the writer knows about a subject/science/etc, the more important it to gloss over it, so as to not disrupt the reader’s experience by getting it wrong. Another point, was that if you’re going to break the rules, then it’s important to break them consistently.

Notable book recommendations:
Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie
Farewell Horizontal, by K.W. Jeter
Spiritwalker Trilogy, by Kate Elliot

Wash Your Hands Before Attending, including panelists Cassie Alexander, Zak Strassberg, and Michelle Murrain, with Vylar Kaftan as moderator. This panel focused on real life and fictional pandemics with a lot of fantastic insight from each of the panelists, who are biologists and a nurse. The main question was what was foreseen as the next Big One, which was described as any outbreak that causes a significant amount of society disruption. It was a fascinating discussion, albeit a bit unsettling.

Notable book recommendations (fiction):
The Wheel of Time series, by Robert Jordan
The Years of Rice and Salt, by Kim Stanley Robinson

Notable book recommendations (nonfiction):
Killer Germs: Microbes and Diseases That Threaten Humanity, by Barry E. Zimmerman and David J. Zimmerman
Cure Unknown: Inside the Lyme Epidemic, by Pamela Weintraub
The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic — and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World, by Steven Johnson
The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus, by Richard Preston

Embracing “The Other”, including panelists Nabil Hijazi, Anaea Lay, Bradford Lyau, and Juliette Wade, with Debbie Notkin as moderator. Alien cultures and peoples were looked at, from the familiar aliens that seem to be like direct representations of human cultures to truly alien aliens that bear no resemblance to humanity.

In the development of alien societies, it was questioned whether writers should draw from know cultures for inspiration. The idea of the patchwork culture, in which a writer picks and chooses bits and pieces from many different cultures to mix and match into an alien society was seen as problematic. However, it was suggested that writers could take a seed from an existing culture and potentially grow that into something that functions as an alien society.

Another interesting point is that who is relatable and who isn’t is partly dependent on existing power structures (the example given was that queer culture understands straight culture, because it’s necessary for survival, but straight culture does not tend to understand queer culture).

Notable book recommendations:
Solaris, by Stanislaw Lem
Perdido Street Station, by China Miéville
Blindsight, by Peter Watts

It’s the End of the End, as we know It, including panelists Jay Hartlove, Zak Strassberg, and Guy W. Thomas, with Lisa Eckstein as moderator. Are apocalypse stories just about devastation, or are they ultimately stories of hope? The panel discussed this and more, noting the difference between apocalypse and post-apocalypse stories, looking at the meaning behind the popularity of zombies (analogy, symbolism, the human element, and guilt free violence, depending), and discussing what the appeal of apocalypse stories are in the first place (partly hope for a new future, partly adrenaline, partly catharsis).

Notable book recommendations:
Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
The Last Policeman, by Ben H. Winters
The Country of Ice Cream Star, by Sandra Newman
Children of Men, by P.D. James
On the Beach, by Nevil Shute

Science, Fiction, and Politics: Shaping Reality, including panelists Ian K. Hagemann, Alfred Nash, and Kim Stanley Robinson, with Debbie Notkin as moderator. The final panel I attending was fantastic, providing a look at how science, politics, and fiction influence each other in terms of affect on society and the world. Particular attention was paid to climate change. The panelists provided a perfect balance with Hagemann as an activist urging for more revolutionary, nonviolent activity, Robinson as a writer of science fiction and activist wishing to work within the current system, and Nash providing insight as an engineer and physicist who has seen directly how science is influenced by politics and society and vice versa. Really fascinating.

Readings

Both the Honored Guests gave readings. Kim Stanley Robinson read from his new book, Aurora, which is coming out later this year and has the AI computer of a generation starship as its narrator. It sounded like it could be rather funny and something I may eventually read.

Catherynne Valente read from a story about alien telepathic lions with three genders, which will be appearing in an upcoming issue of the newly formed Uncanny Magazine.

I also enjoyed catching Alyc Helms‘ reading of her soon to released book, The Dragons of Heaven. It seems like it will be a fun read.

Lynn Kendall read a gorgeous poem and flash fiction and Shannon Page read from Our Lady of the Islands.

Zachariah Ronan Nash is a young man who won the FOGcon short story contest. If his current writing is any indicator, he’ll be a phenomenal writer if he continues to work on it.

The Book Haul

Between purchases in the vendors room, the freebie table, and a gift of poetry from my friend Lisa, I managed to haul off eleven books and one movie.

The Lucky Strike, by Kim Stanley Robinson
Swallowing a Donkey’s Eye, by Paul Tremblay
Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, by James Tiptree, Jr.
The Choir Boats, by Daniel A. Rabuzzi
Celestial Inventories, by Steve Rasnic Tem
The Family Unit and Other Fantasies, by Laurence Klavan
The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden, by Catherynne M. Valente (signed!)
Other Possibilities, by Mark Pantoja
Angels & Exiles, by Yves Meynard
From the Standard Cyclopedia of Recipes: Adapted Poems, by B.C. Edwards
Things Withered: Stories, by Susie Maloney

The one movie I bought was The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec, directed by Luc Besson, which I’ve been dying to see ever since I saw the trailer.


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