ReaderCon Wold Newton Reading Video

At ReaderCon one weekend ago, I hosted my second Wold Newton ReaderCon special, with readings by a number of fine writers, namely:
Jeff VanderMeer
Veronica Schanoes
Jaym Gates
Daniel Jose Older
Jo Walton
Matt Kressel

Music was provided by Brian Francis Slattery and his amazing band!

Unfortunately, I forgot to turn on the camera until the first reading had begun so you miss the first little bit of Jeff VanderMeer explaining what he's reading, and my ridiculous silliness while dressed up as the Doctor. But here's the rest of the video of the whole event:

A Taxonomy of Recently Published Speculative Fiction Short Stories

Reading through some online short fiction, I found myself naturally placing the stories in certain categories, regardless of genre. When I was done I came up with 7 different story types that pretty much all the stories I read could fit into. I present them here, not as a perfect an inarguable ordering, but as an observation open to discussion.

Most of these stories are from the latest or next to latest edition of these periodicals, with a couple recent Hugo nominees thrown in to get a hint of what the field thinks is the best. I tried to get a good selection of different sources whose stories are available free on the Internet for anyone to read.

There were a number of stories I read that I didn't like, though they fit into these types. I'm not going to talk about those stories. All the fiction presented below I recommend reading.

Something else to consider: change "novum" to any disruption in a person's life, and change "fight the monster" to "fight the villain", and this taxonomy could, I think, work for pretty much any short story. Novels, on the other hand, are more likely to mix the types together since they have the room to do it, thus the monster is also the disruption that brings about character growth, or a modern fable might have elements of monster fighting, character growth, socio-political lens, etc. Indeed, in many ways these types could be seen as patterns that can be mixed and matched.

The ReaderCon Interviews

ReaderCon is the science fiction and fantasy convention devoted specifically to books and reading, and attracts some of the best authors in the field (and in some cases, out of it). Below are my interviews, mostly about the future of publishing and genre, conducted with (in chronological order) Gavin Grant, Charles Stross, Barry Malzberg, Cathrynne M. Valente, Junot Diaz, Samuel R. Delany, Elizabeth Hand, John Clute, John Kessel, Alexander Jablokov, Ted Chiang, Gary K. Wolfe and Peter Straub.

Why Robin Sloan is the Future of Publishing (and Science Fiction)

On his blog, Robin Sloan describes himself as a "writer and media inventor." I'm not entirely sure what a "media inventor" is, but I assume it has something to do with how he manages to break just about every rule of publishing I can think of and make it work.

Take his novella "Annabel Scheme". It's just under 28,000 words long or a hundred pages or so (depending on the font). Conventionally, there's just no market for a work of that length. Sure there are exceptions, like the special edition that independent press Tachyon brought out of James Marrow's Slouching Towards Hiroshima, but that was a rare event. Generally, it's too long for magazines and fiction websites (which usually top out at 10,000-15,000 words) and too short for books (which start at 50,000 words). It's not that someone might not want to read a 100-page work of fiction—why not?—but the infrastructure just doesn't exist to get it into people's hands. So Robin turned to the Internet, specifically Kickstarter, a website full of people trying to raise money for art projects, independent film, theatre, magazines and so on. He created PBS-style pledge levels, offering, for different levels of "membership", PDF copies, print copies, surprise gifts, your name in the acknowledgements even behind-the-scenes peaks at his work on the novella (as he wrote it!). He said if he raised his goal of $3,500 for the work, he would release a PDF of the book free for everyone. Shockingly, he raised $13,942 dollars by almost 600 donors, more than most novelists get as an advance on a first novel. Not bad for a self-published, unpublishable novella.

Down and Out in the SF Ghetto

Attention people who argued with us that fandom isn't creepy, or who claimed I was wrong about the convention culture enabling predatory behavior, please consider the following:




Yeah you want to say, isolated incident and look how the community is responding to support the victim?

read this:


To rephrase my own point on this: the atmosphere of anything goes that exists at SF conventions wherein people are routinely not challenged on their bullshit behavior and there are panels advocating dangerous sexual practices to be openly accepted is irresponsible and ugly. It leads to bad things and empowers the emotionally retarded and predatory to act on their darkest impulses.

Given this latest spat that no doubt will soon devolve into something like RapeFail 2010 as people take sides, well, I rest my fucking case about how broken the SF Ghetto and Con Culture are.

The Poetics of Aggravated SF Assaults

So in the interests of being less vitriolic and not just hurling insults, I thought I'd approach some of the more irritating aesthetic (as opposed to political, ethical, or social) problems with the SF Ghetto and Con Culture in particular. Some of this stuff is just dumb, and it's probably not worth pointing out why. But I think it needs saying in order to point out the differences between what I think about this stuff, and the things I'm more vocally critical of.

1. Filk

Filk makes no sense to me. My enduring image of filk is that guy from Trekkies who was really bad at being in drag, singing a klingon hymn of some sort. It made me cringe. I still cringe when I think about it. It was that bad. Supposedly the idea behind filk is a group of people getting together and singing songs. That, on its own, is a good thing. Music is wonderful and we all need more of it in our lives, even people like me who have a lot of it. What doesn't make sense to me is the form that Filk takes, which, to an outsider, appears to be something like a cross between Weird Al Yankovic and Mark Russell, only with none of the musicianship or genius to be found in those musical satirists. The point here is not that the idea of filk is a bad one, it's that it seems to be executed in an internally contradictory way. What I mean by that is that on the one hand it's pushing this "everyone can sing" idea which is laudable. But at the same time, the actual activity itself is rife with in jokes and jargon that are only really accessible to a very small group of people. It's this internal irony, that seems to be completely missed by the participants, that I find displeasing about filk.

2. Costuming

Fan Service

"When I moved here from the west coast," said Marlin May, a black, homosexual SF fan who I met first on Twitter, and who compared "coming out" as an SF fan to "coming out" as gay, "I didn't know a lot of people. But when I started going to con[vention]s here, I felt like I was home. I was back where I belong."

It was a sentiment I heard over and over again from people at Arisia, New England's Largest Science Fiction Convention (attendance: about 3,000). On one panel, the moderator opined that cons are “where we seem to fit. In other places is where we're playing roles,” with the deliberate irony that the convention was full of role playing games. One woman I talked to referred to Arisia specifically as a “lifestyle con”. This was a convention run by fans for fans to come and hang out and play and fuck. Which helped explain the lack of corporate presence that one finds at your average comic book convention. There were no booths for major publishers here, no b-grade sci-fi actors being paid for autographs, no developers giving advanced previews of their latest video game offering. A panel on the future of Doctor Who, which at New York or San Diego Comic-Con would have been made up of writers, producers, and/or stars of the TV show, was instead made up entirely of fans. The moderator began “Well, we've only got fifteen seconds of footage to go on, so I'm not sure what we're going to talk about,” and then the panelists started talking about their favorite episodes of the show instead. Most of the panels were simply manned by other fans, who didn't seem any more qualified to talk about a given subject then those in the audience, which was probably why the audience felt so entitled to give their own opinions at length whenever the mood arose, as if everyone was part of the panel.

Off to Arisia

I'm on a bus (with WiFi!) to Arisia, "New England's largest and most diverse science fiction and fantasy convention". I decided that after the wonderful time I had at ReaderCon, I should take a look at a more traditional SF con. I'm skeptical as to how interesting it will be for me; looking at the schedule, the literary portion of the sf world seems to take a side role to television, films, and role playing games, and there's far fewer names I recognize on the panels. But I'm willing to keep an open mind.

Also, sadly my cell phone is in the shop, which means I probably won't be able to twitter up the storm I normally do at conventions (we'll see if there's any wifi at the con). On the other hand, I now have a video camera, which means there may be some interviews to be had.

Stay tuned.

Jeff VanderMeer: The Wet Asphalt Interview

Purchase the books from Indiebound:

This past weekend I interviewed Jeff VanderMeer during his national book tour. He is a writer known for fusing Post-Modern literary sensibilities with fantasy and genre tropes. His most recent books are the fantasy noir Finch and Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st Century Writer.

His website can be found at http://www.jeffvandermeer.com

The interview has been broken down into four parts.

Note: In this portion of the interview I refer to the "grey caps", a non-human species in the Ambergris books (City of Saints and Madmen, Shriek: An Afterword and Finch), as "a kind of intelligent fungus". VanderMeer told me later this was not exactly right, they are not fungus but some other sort of non-human creatures.

How Star Wars Destroyed Science Fiction


This is from a lecture given by Robert J. Sawyer at GenreCon in Sarnia, Ontario a few years ago. It's about the history of Science Fiction and how Sawyer feels it was derailed by Star Wars.

Via Do Some Damage