Saturday, July 24, 2010

The last ApolloCon 2010 roundup

"Sex, the Young Adult, and the YA novel". Unlike some other panels on sex in science fiction or fantasy that had been known to turn rowdy and funny, this was a rather tame, academic discussion of Young Adult fiction in general. Like 80% of panels, it either didn't have enough material to stay on topic, or the panelists lacked interest for the same. "Twilight" was only referred to as "the series that shall not be named".

Amy Sisson shared this: one of her students thought C. S. Lewis' Narnia books were written for entertainment only, but Harry Potter was written to teach lessons about the world.

Melanie Miller Fletcher, Lee Thomas, K. Hutson Price, Amy Sisson and Rosemary Clement-Moore

Melanie Miller Fletcher, Lee Thomas, K. Hutson Price, Amy Sisson and Rosemary Clement-Moore

"Marked for life: Body Mods in Spec Fic". Like so many other panels, it did not analyze speculative fiction so much as discuss low-hanging fruit such as tramp stamps. The only attempt to extrapolate into the future was a mention of LED tattoos. Also, somebody remembered reading that somebody is developing an ink in small microcapsules that is extremely sensitive to certain wavelengths of light, so those tattoos will be easy to remove. Gabrielle Faust said there's watch being developed that can be implanted in the wrist: the skin would scar around the wrist, and the digits would be visible under the skin. Personally, I would like to know, who are people that still wear wristwatches? With cellphones and all of our gadgets telling time, isn't wristwatch going the way of horse-drawn carriage?

A little more interesting was the idea that more and more people will proudly display their medical devices as body mods. One of the panelists' son has a shunt in his brain, directed into his leg, because his brain doesn't drain properly. The boy thinks it's cool, because it's a body mod.

Gabrielle Faust, Lawrence Person, Amy Sisson, and Cathey Osborne

Gabrielle Faust, Lawrence Person, Amy Sisson, and Cathey Osborne

"Science Fiction Civil Rights Scorecard". Unfortunately, nothing was said on this panel that I had not already heard. Most of the discussion time was spent on lamenting how "brown" characters become white on book covers, or in movie and TV show adaptations. Lee Thomas also pointed out that some writers are so uncomfortable writing about gay characters, that they make them indistinguishable from straight.

"Through a Lens Darkly: Why are so many current Spec Fic movies so darn dark and depressing?". Stina has said more on this panel in her blog (http://stinabat.livejournal.com/236628.html), but I'll add a couple more points that caught my attention.

Lou Antonelli says that the grim future, promised so many times, hasn't come true so far; for example, Japan, a country that was nuked twice in world War 2, came back stronger than ever, and enjoys a higher standard of living than the West. So Antonelli wonders if dystopia trend merely reflects Western concern about the decline of Western civilization. (Stina says "yes".)

David B. Carr thinks post-apocalyptic novels or movies appeal to people mainly because everybody secretly identifies with the survivors. In most of those scenarios only a few selected people survive, and fans of such movies may be unconsciously thinking that (a) that most of the humanity should die, and (b) they would be among the chosen few who would survive. That's not have a very generous opinion of the fans of this genre, but there may be a grain of truth in it.

Bennie Grezlik, David B. Carren, Lou Antonelli, Lawrence Person and Stina Leicht

Bennie Grezlik, David B. Carren, Lou Antonelli, Lawrence Person and Stina Leicht

Pictures from ApolloCon 2010 are in my photo gallery.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

ApolloCon 2010: my general con-going quandary

ApolloCon, more than other science fiction cons, stands out for its gourmet-oriented activities. On Friday night there was a wine tasting with 3 white wines and 3 red wines. The hostess Kim Kofmel had us go through the entire ritual of noting the wine's color, smell, swishing in in the glass than in one's mouth, etc. I can't say that it helped me to distinguish more subtle characteristics than "dry" and "sweet", but that's just me. Other participants had no problem detecting oaky notes, various fruits and berries, or whatever it is one's supposed to detect in a wine. Or maybe they just let their imaginations loose. :-)

There were also Scotch tastings, but sign-up sheets for those fill up really quickly; I wasn't fast enough to sign up. And there was a cheese tasting, which I went to; but I was full from lunch, and the cheeses were a rather basic kind. It was like a cheese primer for those who have eaten Velveeta their whole lives and needed to be made aware of brie, gouda, or fresh mozarella :-)

A fun, well-planned, though not-quite-true-to-its-spirit concept was Corner Con -- a room party taking on a format of a mini-convention. A con within a con, if you will. Last year it was a spontaneous group of people hanging out in the corner of the hallway, and this year they had their own room. It had a mini-art show, a mini-writers' workshop, a mini dealers' room, and a few other convention attributes -- at least formally, if not in spirit. It wasn't really any different from any ole' room party, but I still appreciate the effort. And it had cooler decorations than most room parties.

Corner Con dealers' room

Corner Con "dealers' room" -- an arrangement of figurines on a side table.

Programming was thin on the ground this year. Thin for me, in any case, though I'm sure many people enjoyed debating such topics like futuristic drinks, skulls as a fashion accessory, herbs in fantasy, angels, or hurricane preparedness. I like something more idea-heavy and abstract, but such panels were few (and I managed to miss one I would have really liked to see).

It's a symptom of a general quandary I've been experiencing lately. I don't hear many new and interesting ideas and observations at conventions anymore. It may be party because I only go to Texas conventions; venturing further from the home state would take too much time and money. So naturally, I see all the same people on panels, and there may be a limited amount of what they have to say. They keep saying the same stuff, so every panel becomes a 101 on the particular topic (whatever the topic of the panel is). Kind of like the above-mentioned cheese tasting. But after a few years of convention-going you may no longer be satisfied with the 101 -- especially when you regularly read more in-depth discussions of those topics on the internet.

Unfortunately, even when there have been new developments in a particular field, panelists don't seem to have anything new to say. Hell, a lot of those times I can think of something to add to the topic, and I'm not even a "pro" like they are!

Thus, I've been thinking lately how should I revise my convention-going strategy. Despite the criticism expressed in this post, I will keep going to them nevertheless, because I write science fiction, and as such, I want to know what people think about this genre. But if panel discussions have become so stale, I will have to think how and where to gain new insights.

That said, I have still collected a few ideas and observations from various panels, which I will enter into my super-secret idea database. :-) No, actually, I will share them here, in my blog -- in the next post.

Pictures from ApolloCon 2010 are in my photo gallery.

Friday, July 16, 2010

ApolloCon 2010: Fan flirting

I noticed ApolloCon Friday night panels have a certain rowdy tendency, if the fabulous "101 Uses For A Paperclip" from 3 years ago was any indication. It could be that a Friday night at a convention is some magic time when parties haven't started yet, and the people who would otherwise be partying go to less-than-seriously themed panels, bringing the atmosphere of mischief with them. This year's panel on flirting, "Con Season is in the Air: when a Young Fan's Mind Turns to Flirtation", confirmed the trend.

Every other SF convention I go to has a discussion on love or relationships (or their darker side, such as stalking) from fannish perspective. But unlike the earlier "Finding Love In Fandom", this was not a panel on romantic advice. This time "flirting" was just a shorthand for sultry stories from late nights at cons. I came away with an impression that I go to a very different types of conventions, as I've never witnessed anything like the situations talked about here.

K. Hutson Price, Kathy Thornton, and Cathey Osbourne

K. Hutson Price, Kathy Thornton, and Cathey Osbourne in the "Con Season is in the Air: when a Young Fan's Mind Turns to Flirtation" panel. Find more pictures from ApolloCon 2010 in my photo gallery.

One panelist told about a party at Soonercon (which, she promised, had stories to beat any other convention stories), where there was a grope box, made out of PVC pipe structure with black tarp placed over it. There were holes cut out in it for people on the outside to grope people who were in the box. At one time, a "lovely young woman of a larger size" got into the box. Unfortunately, she wasn't getting any takers. The panelist felt sorry for the girl, and started asking her male friends to stick their hands into the box. One by one, they refused. An hour later, she found someone who agreed to stick his hand in, only to scream: "there's nobody in there!" Apparently the girl had left long ago. Our compassionate panelist, having missed her exit, was sitting there feeling sorry for the empty box all that time.

Then the panelists attempted to give advice on how to flirt at conventions. Cathey Osbourne suggested an original approach that wouldn't be likely to work anywhere but at a convention.

"Say you are into very specific things, for example, duct tape," she said. "Stand in the hallway and tear a piece of duct tape. It makes a very distinctive noise. See who turns around. That's your marker."

Teddy Harvia and K. Hutson Price

Teddy Harvia and K. Hutson Price in the "Con Season is in the Air: when a Young Fan's Mind Turns to Flirtation" panel. Find more pictures from ApolloCon 2010 in my photo gallery.


Finally, to end the post on a romantic note, here is a story told by Teddy Harvia.

"The best pickup line was used on me at Soonercon," said Teddy Harvia. "I was standing in a group of 8-10 people. An attractive woman looked at my badge, and said "I dreamt your name last night". And then 9 months later we got married."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

ApolloCon 2010: Scientific Advancement vs. Social Stigma

"For as long as there has been science, there has been the bleeding edge -- progress at odds with social norms. Centuries ago, no one believed the earth rotated around the sun. For years, the concept of 'zero' was a religious heresy. Today society balks at the thought of cloning and artificial intelligence. How do we balance our cultural identity and values with our ingrained curiosity and desire for progress?"


Those are rich questions, but most of this panel was spent lamenting that "nobody" is thinking through the ethics of scientific advancement. As an example of ethically dubious bioengineering, Teddy Harvia brought up the cactus people from China Mieville's "Perdido Street Station". Then again, he admits that "authors often write not to be realistic, but to make a statement". He was also shocked by a relationship between the human protagonist and a bug-like creature in "Perdido Street Station".

"I'm not racial," Teddy Harvia said, "but..."

"But you are prejudiced against cockroaches", said Kimberly Frost.

Kimberly Frost, Teddy Harvia, and Alexis Glynn Latner

Kimberly Frost, Teddy Harvia, and Alexis Glynn Latner in the "Scientific Advancement vs. Social Stigma" panel. Find more pictures from ApolloCon 2010 in my photo gallery.

Moderator Kimberly Frost asked: does literature has a role in creating acceptance of the world that science is creating? Unfortunately, this question did not get much traction with the panelists.

It is often not literature but religion that most people expect to help them make sense of scientific and societal changes. In my experience, even in the SF and fantasy fandom many people still don't question the cliche that religion, or, more generally, "spirituality" should provide ethical safeguards for scientific research. So it was encouraging to see that some of the panelists were skeptical of religion's role. Only one panelist, Lou Antonelli, defended Christianity. His observation is that more and more religious people think we shouldn't mess with the planet, because "God gave it to us". That's hopeful news, but I wasn't sure how much I could trust his objectivity, since he said in the same breath that Christians and religious people in general are being mocked in today's "atheistic" environment. Since the purpose of this blog is not politics, I'll just say my view of this is very different.

Some other panelists also disagreed with the notion that Christianity is persecuted in the West. Teddy Harvia pointed out that Christians' claims that "Harry Potter" books attacked religion were wrong, since the books take a completely neutral stance towards religion.

On a marginally related topic, one panelist gave an insightful answer on why many non-Christians don't like when people offer to pray for them. She was in the hospital with her daughter who, like her, was a pagan, and a very nice Catholic chaplain came in and wanted to pray for them. The two of them agreed, but felt the way a Christian would feel if a voodoo priest came in and started waving chicken bones.

Mel. White and Lou Antonelli

Mel. White and Lou Antonelli in the "Scientific Advancement vs. Social Stigma" panel. Find more pictures from ApolloCon 2010 in my photo gallery.