Sunday, December 31, 2006

Part 4: possible solutions

Approach 2: use a fantasy setting for a science fiction novel.

How does it address problem 1? Obvious. My characters can be ordinary humans, and I can bring them to life using the common tools writers use to characterize the protagonists and their surroundings: appearance, clothing, gestures, descriptions of nature, architecture, etc. A bonus: I can use fantasy cliches -- in a good way, as shorthand. (The Fantasy Cliches panel in this year's World Fantasy Convention validated my temptation to use this approach. :-))

How does it address problem 3? Well, a fantasy world can be anything I want it to be, and it does not have to correspond to any real-life setting with which my readers may be familiar, so there is no requirement of accuracy. Thus, I don't have to imitate a cowboy dialect, or street slang, or British upper class speech mannerisms, or any of those things I'm completely ignorant of.

How does it address problem 2, the problem of introducing unusual ideas and explaining them without slowing down the action? Perhaps it doesn't; it's just that at least a fantasy setting doesn't work against it, because cliches-as-shorthand can move the story along to counteract the slowdown caused by explanation. The trickiness of this appraoch is, of course, how to reconcile science-fictional ideas with a fantasy setting. Advanced scientific ideas can't spring out of nowhere in a non-technological society. Well, there is an old cop-out: the science in question was introduced by an advanced technological civilization that long ago had visited the world where the action takes place, and left its artifacts, or perhaps passed some of its knowledge to a special caste of priests or wizards. It's an old, hackneyed setup, but I'm not going to reject it just because of that. The editors on the Fantasy Cliches panel swore up and down that cliches are OK if the story is good. They also said 90% of attempts to completely avoid cliches lead to a dull story without a plot. Who am I to argue? :-)

I already have some ideas for a story or, hopefully, a series of stories, that will use Approach 2. Of course, I can't use this approach in each and every story I write (unless it's a series of connected stories), or it will get old very soon. Still, now that I've thought of two ways to navigate around my roadblocks, it gives me something to do. For the next couple of years, even. :-) If I successfully implement both, I'll be in good shape. Then I'll have to worry about what to do next, but perhaps by then I will have built stronger writerly muscles and will have acquired a bigger arsenal of tools.

Though it's not easy to feel too optimistic about it at the moment.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Part 3: possible solutions

Addressing problem 1. How to "flesh-out" protagonists that don't live in the flesh?

Approach 1. Maybe my protagonists could live in virtual reality. That is, while they are crossing the unfathomable depths of space incarnated as rays of elementary particles, they could imagine that they are something else somewhere else, floating in some kind of consensus reality, projected by the same computational devices that encode their personalities. That way they could build all kinds of imaginary worlds and imaginary bodies for themselves; without human constraints, their interactions could be even richer than they are in the human world.

Advantages of this approach

Indeed, if one lives as a ray of particles, which sounds like a rather boring life, wouldn't they want to spruce up their bland reality with a little imagination, by pretending to be, say, a giant squid or a cartoon character?

Something in me whispers, no, they wouldn't. Their reality only looks stark to us, meat-humans; the encoded personalities would probably see it as something entirely different and much richer. To paraphrase a Confucian saying, to suggest to them that they may add variety to their lives by re-enacting a fictional reality based on human imagination would be like asking a lion to become a cockroach. :-)

But this approach would solve all 3 of my problems (which I talked about in the two previous posts) pretty well. It's obvious how it would solve problem 1: in a virtual world the characters can be fleshed out in as much detail as I want. It would also go a long way toward solving problem 2. Whatever idea you come up with, it's easier to show its consequences in action in a virtual world, governed just by your imagination, than in a physical world with its "hard" constraints. And problem 3 can be avoided too, because a world governed by your imagination does not have to match the reality your readers know. So you can get away with knowing fairly little about it.

And since I write my stories for my contemporary human readers, not for the actual future humans who may encode their personalities onto rays of light, I need not try to attain a realistic portrayal of the existence of photon-encoded personalities, the way it may actually be some day. (As if I could). I only need to make the story entertaining, and the characters convincing, to my contemporary humans. And if lions have to become cockroaches in order to become accessible to us, so be it.

All in all it seems not too bad an idea, to let my "abstract" protagonists live in a virtual reality of their own creation. And they may even have a reason to want it, given that they originated as humans. Their personalities were copied from actual human personalities. So they may still have some human sensibilities (until they discover how much richer is the reality once you eliminate human constraints).


This approach is basically a one-trick pony. I can set one of my stories in virtual reality, but not all of them. I already tried this device in one of the stories I worked on this year. After spending several months on it and rewriting it in at least two different versions, I was so unsatisfied with it that I pushed it way, way to the back of the back burner. :-) Also, it ballooned way beyond a short story and into the territory of novella. In which case, I thought, hell, why not make it a full-blown novel? But it will have to wait until I have built stronger writing muscles. Because in the state it is now, I still haven't found that proverbial Archimedes lever for this story that would move its world. :-) (Even though I've mulled over the ideas suggested by my friend D, I still can't satisfactory wrap my mind around it. One of my fonder wishes for the New Year is to find the Archimedes lever for this story in time for the next year's NaNoWriMo. :-))

Regardless, there is a limited mileage I can get out of the virtual reality setting. After I used it once, I won't be able to reuse it. So I need to think of other approaches as well. More about them in the next post.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Part 2: Other problems I face when writing science fiction

Problem 2. It's hard to incorporate science-fictional ideas into a story without slowing the action down.

Introducing science-fictional ideas that are -- at least I hope -- somewhat new, is a double-edged sword. Of course, all SF writers strive for originality. (I'm trying to silence the cynic in me who says a lot of writers have no aspirations to originality and simply write what readers are known to like. "Extruded science fiction product", to paraphrase Lawrence.) New ideas help to achieve originality. New ideas also mean you can't rely on cliches, or on popular science fiction tropes. New ideas mean there is much more you have to explain to the reader before he or she can make sense of your story. This was one of the thoughts expressed in the World Fantasy Convention panel on cliches, and it's funny that it took me perhaps several weeks to realize how relevant that panel was to what was going on in my writing life.

For example, you can use tropes such as faster-than-light without explaining them to your readers, since everybody understands the concept. But if your story is based on an idea less overused than this -- for example, on quantum entanglement, which I haven't seen satisfactorily explored in most SF I've read (Greg Egan notwithstanding) -- you have to explain it. This is always hard, as such an explanation needs to be woven into the action, instead of presented as an infodump. Not only it is not easy to generate a chunk of plot that would clarify a particular concept by letting the reader see its workings, but it also makes the story longer. And (this is just my rule of thumb, though) the longer the story is, the more interesting it should be in order to keep a reader's attention.

Problem 1 and Problem 2 feed upon one another, magnifying one another. On one hand you have bare-bones characters (or should I say, bare-particles characters? :-)) without literally much meat on them :-) . They resist vivid characterization, making it harder for readers to identify with them, hence, making the story less interesting. On the other hand, complex or novel ideas, or at least their explanation, slow down the movement of the story. To recap, giving up the familiar for the sake of innovative makes the writer's job much harder.

Problem 3. To write about the familiar is hard in its own way.

The above did not imply that familiar stuff is easy to write about. Definitely not, at least not for me. Portraying the conventional reality is a tall enough order in itself, because my readers, too, are familiar with it (often better than me), and they can call me to task if I haven't portrayed it convincingly. I am always in awe of writers who can accurately convey speech patterns of various ethnic and socio-economical groups in such an evocative way that a few sentences uttered by a character vividly paints him or her as belonging to a certain group, leaving the reader's imagination to fill in the details. For me, this skill seems just as unattainable as a figure skater's triple axels. All my characters sound the same. I don't know if I'll ever make progress in this respect. So I try to find a way around it by avoiding writing about anything that has recognizable traits of our everyday reality. It's a cop-out. But at this point I feel I have to do it if I want to write at all. If I wracked my brain trying to think of a speech mannerisms and turns of phrase that would best characterize my protagonist, I would not make any progress at all. I would stare all day at the blank screen and feel incredibly demoralized.

So, writing imaginary stuff interestingly is hard, and writing familiar stuff is hard in its own way. But writing imaginary stuff is easier to me overall, so I'll stick with it. For now. I just need to think of ways to conquer problems (1) and (2).

How am I going to address these problems? How should I balance familiar against the unfamiliar? What is the perfect ratio of familiar and the unfamiliar, so that the story would feel innovative, but not so alien that the reader would lose interest? I thought of a couple of approaches, which I shall explore in the next installment.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

A long essay on why writing is hard for me, part 1

I have almost finished writing another science fiction story. The third this year. Or maybe a third-and-a-half, if we count a short-short story I wrote as a semi-joke. However, this story is not completely finished. Nor is it truly unfinished. It is in a strange state where most or all of its content is written down, but paragraphs, or entire blocks of paragraphs, need to be reshuffled, so that the content could be presented more convincingly. I doubt I'll do it this year.

It needs to sit and marinate for a while, and I will have to return to it with fresh eyes.

I tried to identify to myself the difficulties I experienced with this story. I thought I'll be able to explain them in a few simple sentences. Once I started putting them on paper, the few sentences ballooned into a long essay. But the final week of the year is an appropriate time for long essays on things I've learned this year, is it not? Thus, I'll present my musings in installments over the next few days.

Problem 1. Protagonists without outward characteristics are boring.

It is hard (for me, anyway) to write a story with characters that don't exist in human flesh. (I'm speaking about my most recent, not-quite-finished story, but the problems I'll describe here are specific not just to this story, but also to almost all story ideas I have in mind. They preclude those ideas from turning into finished work.)

The characters of my most recent story used to be humans, but their personalities have long ago been digitized and encoded onto rays of elementary particles. They still have ties to the humanity, though -- in fact, they are working in service of humanity. They are hurtling at light speed across the universe on a mission directed by a human government. So they are not total strangers to humanity, far from it.

Regardless, the physical reality surrounding them is nothing like ours. They don't have anything like our senses, perceptions or body language. So I can't describe their interactions among themselves, and with the environment, in the usual way one would describe human interactions. For example, the whole aspect of appearance and body language is lost. I can't add depth to the characters by describing their clothes or their posture or bearing. Rays of particles don't wear clothes, they can't shrug their shoulders or smile. ;-) I can't even use expressions like "he saw" or "she heard", because their perceptions of the world -- the information they get from cosmic radiation and the like -- are nothing like hearing or seeing.

In a word, when you remove all the outer human characteristics, it's hard to keep these protagonists from coming out very one-dimensional, and their conversations rather dry and flat. This has made me doubt whether this story was viable at all. That's why I'm letting it marinate, on paper and in my head.

There is a real dilemma here. If you want your story to be set in a distant future, it would be silly if your protagonists looked and acted and had similar mannerisms as the 21st century people. It would be even sillier if we created far-future humans by taking our contemporaries and decorating them with superficial "futuristic" high-tech and body-mod bling. I've seen this done in science fiction, and those characters inevitably came out looking like a little more radical version of a 21st century pagan-bisexual-pierced-tattooed-burning-man-going urban hipster. That's not at all what I wanted for my characters. So it would seem wise to give up any pretenses at being able to extrapolate their outward appearance, and forego the appearance entirely, focusing only on their thoughts and dialog. But that leads to protagonists being rather flat and boring.

That's one aspect of the difficulty I'm having. I'll talk about another aspect in the next installment.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

For a moment I thought, maybe it was just me.

(See the header of the pre-previous post.)

I got a new laptop at work, which, to borrow a phrase from certain digerati, I'll call Teh Shiny. :-) It has both Windows and Linux on it. Our SA at work installed Debian on it. That's the only distribution he supports. For a short while I was truly impressed with how well and painlessly it worked. It only took Steve about 2 hours to get the wireless connection working, as opposed to days and days he spent on my other Linux laptops (with very little result). And the wireless connection was stable from then on, instead of flickering on and off. That was encouraging. The laptop also recognized USB devices and did not crash when a USB device was plugged in. When I plugged in my camera, it came up automatically. More than that, when I tried to play an .AVI movie file, it played! In my previous attempts to play movie files on SUSE 9.1, the player immediately crashed, or in the best case, played the sound without the video. This was a quantum leap above my previous experiences with Linux.

I was happy, except for one little detail. There was no sound. The movie was silent. The sound icon on the desktop was set to the minimum, and when I tried to push it towards the maximum, it would bounce right back. So I asked the SA at work if he could do anything about the sound. He thought it shouldn't be hard. Well, after spending a day working on my lappy, he told me that with all the customizations he made the laptop has diverged quite a bit from standard Debian, and he would like to install Ubuntu on it instead. (No word as to whether he got the sound to work, but if I had to guess, the answer is no -- otherwise why would he want to install a different operating system on it? :-))

So now I'm thinking, as an answer to the question raised in the pre-previous post, maybe it's Not Just Me. :-)

Monday, December 18, 2006

FACT group discussion of Stanislav Lem's "Cyberiad"

In May of 2006 the FACT reading group discussed "Cyberiad" by Stanislav Lem. Most of the attendees (~ 6-7 of them) liked the book. A few of them had read Lem before, mostly his novel "Solaris".

It was noted how well "Cyberiad" held up from the technological standpoint. "Cyberiad" was written 40 years ago, but its scientific / technical ideas don't appear obsolete. It is about computers and machines but doesn't have specific technology that dates it. One reader compared it to "White Light" by Rudy Rucker, saying Rudy Rucker's mathematical science fiction has some of this flavor.

I myself was also impressed by how Lem had found a way to write science fiction that is not threatened with becoming obsolete in the next decade or the next five years. That's because "Cyberiad" is already very obviously a farce, and nothing in it should be taken literally. As illustrated by the passage (page 147): "By now the stars have vanished in the general gloom, so the two proceeded gropingly, till suddenly their ship lurched, and all the furniture, pots and pans went flying". The characters of his tales, the two robots, are so smart they can construct machines that simulate entire civilizations, yet the ship they fly in is furnished with pots and pans. Not to mention that being robots, they presumably don't need to eat, much less cook. But in this farcical manner he explores very interesting questions about human nature, and the nature of the mind.

A flipside of this lack of technological explanations is that more than one person felt the stories in "Cyberiad" would be best characterized not so much as science fiction but as fairytales. Some saw it as a positive, and others as a negative.

Reader 1. "I have to be hog-tied to read fantasies and modern fairly-tales, because there so much fo its is... there's suspensions of disbelief, and then there is hanging it by its neck until its dead. Despite that, I am enjoying [the Cyberiad]. It's not dating itself because it's totally ignoring technological explanations."

Reader 2. 'I'm gonna take a somewhat different tack. I was impressed by translation, it's an easy read, but I don't see any science in it. It's a mechanistic fairy-tale. Having done some AI work, [I can say] it has nothing to do with computer science AI." He quotes the book: "'Postulate everything with letter N' -- it's not how computers work. It didn't bother me, but it early on told me that it's not science." He gives another example: "[how can you say that] one planet is behind another? "

He deemed the science in "Cyberiad" to be completely unscientific, and thought it was primarily a framework for a social commentary.

And this brings us to another of the book's characteristics, widely noticed by the readers: that its main purpose was to be a political satire. Or so the readers perceived it. Stanislav Lem wrote "Cyberiad" in the socialist Poland, where literature, art, and all public discourse were heavily controlled by the communist government, to keep out the ideas they considered threatening to the communist ideology. Several of the FACT readers pointed out various methods Lem employed in order to get his message past the censors.

Reader 3. "It's very interesting that he's using the early Greek myths as a backdrop for doing this kind of thing, making it very fun. His descriptive style is very much as an early socratic dialog. It fits very well with what he's doing. Lem employed Socratic dialogs in Cyberiad to get past censors. "

Reader 2 comments on how Lem had to shape Cyberiad to fit the mold of socialist realism, as was required of writers in a communist society. "I thought Cyberiad was a framework for a social commentary. All the strawman bad guys are monarchs, because it is acceptable to say bad things about monarchs. In a society where fantasy has a bad rap, a mechanistic fairlytale [is the best framework]." He brings up an example of the story where the soldiers' intelligence combines and everything stops fighting. "I think that combining things for a better result is a very communistic idea."

Reader 4. "Lem is Hegelian in his thesis and antithesis, which I think is one thing socialist realism liked. All of Lem had to have socialist realism, because that's what the state said was literature. He liked Strugackys and Bulgakov and others. If you set your story elsewhere, since it wasn't set in Poland, you could say something Polish readers would agree with, but censors would allow. "

Readers admired Lem's style, his language and his sense of humor. Everybody enjoyed Lem's way with dialog. A few people noticed influences of Greek philosophy on Lem.

Reader 5. 'I read it 30 years ago and I loved it. But I was an undergrad in physics. But today it seems like a different book, because of how much Greek I studied since then. You are right: these are fables. They always have a point. You are supposed to learn something from each story. Epigram is probably a Greek word I'm searching for. Every story is a parable, and it seems too Greek to me. "

Reader 6. "In a good way."

Reader 1. "I think it's got a realy incisive quality. "

She mentions the strange, nonexistent words starting with letter N, which are listed in the first story.

Reader 6. "You wonder why those words are not familiar, and then you find out there is a reason for it."

One will need to read the first story of Cyberiad to find out why they are not familiar, though.

Everybody admired how well the translator of "Cyberiad" did what must have been a tremendously difficult job. People were impressed that a lot of Lem's jokes came through in English translation, and appreciated the effort it must have taken to translate the poetry.

Reader 5. The amount of effort those 6 lines (the Samson poem) took, probably was days.

(Here is what he is talking about. Imagine having to translate this into a foreign language. Every word needs to start with letter S.

Seduced, shaggy Samson snored.
She scissored short. Sorely shorn,
Soon shackled slave, Samson sighed,
Silently scheming,
Sightlessly seeking
Some savage, spectacular suicide.)

I'm sure the famous "Love and Tensor Algebra" must have been just as difficult to translate.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Maybe it's just me, or maybe Linux is really not ready for the desktop

In preparation to moving to the new house, I decided it's time to pack. But not the physical stuff. First I was going to clean up the Augean stables of my data. In a gesture the futility (or just ill-timedness) of which is becoming more apparent day by day, I am trying to consolidate my data scattered around numerous partitions of numerous laptops. Some laptops I've used over the last, say, 4 years, had both Windows and Linux partitions. So right now I'm dealing with a total of 5 partitions. Many of them have the same identically named folders. Some files in those folders have the same names, but different sizes and dates. Other files are identical. Yet other files exist only on some laptops and not on others. All this bedlam has resulted from the fact that for many years I haven't thought of a good way to synchronize files between different computers. I still don't have a foolproof way to accomplish this, but at least I have thought of something that should work well enough. Or so I thought until yesterday.

Why it's not an easy problem for me, and how Linux makes it harder

It complicates matters that at some times in my life I've used Linux for daily computing needs, such as when I worked with Gimp for long periods of time. At those times I also stored other elements of the daily computing narrative -- mail, pictures, interesting articles saved from the net, on the Linux partition of the machine I was working on. Then, as I was getting more and more frustrated with Linux (see, for example, this entry), I would switch back to Windows, but I would not always copy the files over to the Windows partition of the machine. Or I would copy some files but not others. (And not just because I was lazy: Linux did not cooperate well on this task. Imagine this: you copy a directory from one location to another, and then find out that not all files in the directory got copied. About 1/4 of the files didn't make it over. Why? What's so special about the ones that were left behind? You pore over their names -- too long? Contain symbols that could be by some stretch of imagination interpreted as scpecial characters? No, nothing like that. Their dates, their extensions? Any pattern at all? Nope. SUSE had randomly decided to not copy some files when copying a directory. I first noticed this bug in SUSE 8.<something> , and later when I upgraded to 9.1, it still had it. This meant I could not copy all my directories from a Windows partition to a Linux partition in one operation. I had to descend down each directory tree, and select individual files and copy them that way! What tedium, what a stupid waste of time. No wonder I wasn't very diligent about maintaining my files synchronized.)

Then after a couple of years I acquired a new laptop, which again was partitioned into Windows and Linux, I copied over some files from the old laptop to the new, but not others, and the story repeated itself. Add to this a fact that I keep some of my personal data on my work laptop (yes, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, but is there anyone who doesn't do that? :-) and it's easy to see how I got myself into an unbearable mess.

Finally I decided to bite the bullet and sort out this mess once and for all. I set out to review the data scattered over several laptops, determine the "definite" version of each file that may exist across several laptops with different date-time stamps, and to put all those files on a gigantic external hard drive. I may try to sell my old and slow laptop, if I can find a buyer, or just give away, keeping only the newest laptop (not so new anymore either). The external hard drive plugs into a USB port and therefore can be easily ported from a machine to a machine, hereby relieving me of a need to keep files synchronized between machines. So the files would live in just one place (with appropriate backups to other external hard drives, perhaps).

I thought it was a good solution, until Linux threw a proverbial wrench into it.

So I held my nose and got on with the job. First, I copied the data from the old laptop's Windows partition over to its Linux partition (can't do it the other way around: Windows does not see the Linux partition, nor do I remember my Windows password I stopped using 2 years ago. :-)) I sorted out file dates, times and sizes, and was able to satisfactorily determine the "definite" version of each file that was in doubt. So far, so good. Tedious, but... not so much more than scrubbing the bathroom. Given the choice between physical cleaning and data cleaning, I'm not sure which one I would choose.

Then I plugged in the USB hard drive into my old laptop, and was elated to see that Linux (SUSE 9.1, to be exact) recognized it and was able to read the data on it! This was more than I typically expect from Linux! So I proceeded to copy the files to the hard drive. Which was a slow process, because the hard drive, having been used before with my new laptop, already contained different versions of some of the files I was copying! So I hunkered down to sort out the "definite" versions of each file in doubt. I did not spend more than 15 minutes on this before my old laptop froze. The mouse stopped moving, the keyboard stopped reacting to keystrokes. My laptop went completely catatonic, and there was nothing left for me to do than to push the power button to shut it down.

I have experienced these out-of-the-blue laptop freezes before with Linux, and I always suspected that they were somehow caused by my unstable wireless connection at home. (Which is another tale of woe unto itself, mentioned in the post I linked to above.) My wireless signal flickers in an out of existence several times an hour, sometimes several times a minute. I was wondering if perhaps SUSE gets into a bad state trying to pick up the wireless connection. But this time I did not have the wireless card plugged in. This time I was using an ethernet cable, since I've given up on having wireless access on Linux long ago. So, just in case, I unplugged the ethernet cable and rebooted. Again, the laptop froze after just some 10 minutes. It barely made it through boot up!

Then I started to wonder if it was the USB hard drive, after all, that was causing this problem. I unplugged it, rebooted the lappy, and voila -- it's been stable for days. So it must be the USB driver, or something, that causes it to freeze. Wow. For all the highly praised Linux stability, for all the talk of how it puts Windows instability to shame, I must say USB devices never caused any of my Windows boxes to crash. Of course, my version of SUSE is 2-3 years old, and there may be better USB drivers for it now; (but then, a little voice whispers to me that Windows XP is 5 years old, and I never had to download new drivers for it!) Of course, a person who truly enjoys fixing such things would probably hunt down a better USB driver for Linux, but I'm not one of those people. I don't have days and weeks to spend on this. I just want to Get Things Done.

I almost long for the days when I used to complain that Linux can't see devices I plug in. It seems that things are worse when it can actually see them! :-)

And now I have a nice stable lappy, but I can't back up my files. :-) Well, I actually have a way -- I zipped up my files and ftp'd them over to my website. From there I'll copy them onto an external hard drive. How silly.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

It's Not A Cliché... Yet: a World Fantasy Convention 2006 panel

Another post from World Fantasy Convention. As the name suggests, this was a panel on cliches in fantasy. It was amusing, just as one would expect from the topic. The panelists were Glen Cook, Carole Nelson Douglas, Eric Flint, Diana Gill, and L. E. Modesitt, Jr. (moderator). The full post can be found on my website. This is just a synopsis.

Carole Nelson Douglas and Glen Cook at the "It's Not A Cliché... Yet" panel.

What it was supposed to be about, according to the program book: Pirates and Arthur are fantasy clichés, as are dragons. What about Nazis, dinosaurs, ninjas, and talking gorillas? Do elements of such ideas exclude them from frequent use in fantasy, preserving them from becoming clichés? Or is it only a matter of time?

What it was really about:

The plight of famous authors, such as Shakespeare and J. R. R. Tolkien: creating imagery so powerful that it captures public imagination for centuries, inspiring thousands of imitators, has an ironic consequence. What fantasy cliche annoys writers and editors the most?

Is it always necessary to try to avoid cliches? Can they be used deliberately? When is cliche not a cliche, but a useful shorthand? As much as cliches are ridiculed, don't readers -- and by extension, editors -- secretly want them?

Eric Flint (left), L.E. Modesitt Jr. at the "It's Not A Cliché... Yet" panel.

More pictures from World Fantasy Convention 2006 can be found in my photo gallery.