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Minicon report, with digressions - Barnstorming on an Invisible Segway [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Marissa Lingen

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Minicon report, with digressions [Apr. 6th, 2010|06:33 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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markgritter's maternal grandfather, Grandpa Lyzenga, is one of my favorite people in the world. Unlike most of the rest of my favorite people in the world, he is a genuinely sweet, pleasant-tempered person. (I said most. Clearly I don't mean that you are anything but the easiest person in the world to deal with. It's all my other favorite people who are Difficult.) Once when we were visiting him and Grandma Lyzenga, when she was still alive, we went to church with them. They had gone to that church for a million and one years--now more like a million and ten--and it is filled with old friends and cordial acquaintances, all of whom wanted to chat with us all after services were over. And at last we got in the car, and Grandpa Lyzenga let out a big sigh. "I need a nap," he said. "Being nice to people gives me a headache."

I sort of get to that point myself after cons, but I am not notably nice to people, so it works out to just being exhausted and zombified. I would think this would be easier when I'm not staying at the con hotel, so I've had a chance to do little house chores in the mornings and late nights, but it never really works that way. Instead what I do in those intervals is leave spoor around the house reminding me of what house chores I have thought of that need doing. Which is in its own way useful but not the recipe for a more relaxing return home from the con.

Still: it was a good Minicon. I think my reading went well. People laughed in all the right spots, and 1crowdedhour nearly fell out of her chair once, so that's a good sign. (I read Chapter 22 of The True Tale of Carter Hall and the entirety of "The Grandmother-Granddaughter Conspiracy" and "Quality Control." This is why I like reading funny things: because I think people liked "The Grandmother-Granddaughter Conspiracy," but I know they liked the other two because I heard them liking them.) I liked the readings I listened to, too--mmerriam and 1crowdedhour and pameladean this year.

And the panels I was on went well--surprisingly well, in the case of the second one. I didn't want to have the entire panel discussion on lj and then show up and say, "Well, on my lj I said this and so-and-so said that and then our friend said the other thing, so I'm done with this topic now." But honestly, the idea that female SF writers are in any way a vanishing breed or all fleeing to fantasy was one that made me angry. It is, among other things, one of the lies that sexist editors who ignore women writers use to justify having few or no women in their anthologies, particularly the ones that are invite-only: we couldn't ask women SF writers, because there aren't any, they've all gone off to write paranormal romance. And it's nonsense. It's just not so.

But I was talking to Kelly, who was apparently the source of the panel, and she was not coming at it from that angle at all, she was coming at it from having actually had female SF writers say to her, "I am not writing SF any more, and I don't expect I ever will again. There's no market for it." (This was a few years back, and apparently many/most who have done this have since reneged. Which makes me think it is a stupid thing for them to have said in the first place, if they turned around that quickly. But I absolutely trust Kelly that they did say it; she is a trustworthy person and not one to mistake "I don't know, maybe" for "absolutely not.") So we got that figured out before my high horse and I really got going, and we were able to talk about how writers get tagged with whatever they write that sells best, and how many writers from various genres are writing some fantasy now, and what effect, if any, the dearth of women in science and engineering fields has on the number of women writing SF. And we talked about women SF writers who are awesome, and it was good.

This ties in a bit with my other panel, about how much science you have to know to write SF: the consensus seemed to be that research is your friend, and friends/colleagues who know different things than you will save your bacon. But people were talking about workarounds, about how to get past obstacles in a story you want to write. And I think that most often, if you don't know much about science, there is just an entire set of story types that simply won't occur to you--you won't have to get the workarounds, because you won't get those ideas in the first place. Some of the stories I write are about scientists doing science, and that's because I not only find science interesting, I also find scientists interesting as a cultural group. People who don't are less likely to write that sub-category of science fiction--even if it was well within their abilities if they did research. And that's okay.

The other thing is, I think we as human beings--all of us, or at least the vast majority--are very bad at spotting when we don't know things. There's the old saw, "It's not what you don't know, it's what you know that ain't so," and it's an old saw for a reason. A lot of the mistakes in SF are not places where somebody's research went awry, they're places where the person didn't realize they needed to do research, because they had already researched the composition of materials for a space elevator, they just were sure they knew which of Minneapolis and Moscow was farther north, and they were wrong. (And apparently so was their copy-editor.)

Also, back on the non-Flight of the Female SF Author panel: I know of several male SF authors who have little hissy fits about how inferior fantasy is. I don't know of any female SF authors who do. Am I missing somebody? This strikes me as odd, because among the scientists and engineers I know, any cowboy social pathology you can find in the men, you can find in the women. There is absolutely no gender difference in physicists trying to claim that biology is not a real science and chemistry is real but not as really really real as physics. (I did this myself. I have no recollection of why it was important to believe this point and make it out loud frequently. None. It is one of the extremely few things where I simply cannot explain my past self--mostly I make sense to myself in retrospect, even if I've changed my mind with different data. But this one? Seriously? They're sciences; get over it. "Science" and "applied math" are different things for a reason.)

The only panel I went to that I was not on was Including Disabled People in Science Fiction, and that was a very good one. The panelists talked about stuff they were very tired of seeing, much of which can be avoided if you remember that substantial chunks of the human race are disabled in one way or another and remain actual human beings--but that doesn't take care of all of it, and then our friend research rears its soft and pettable head again.

I said on the panel about knowing science to write SF that I feel that research is a feature of this job, not a bug. I really mean it.

Anyway, most of the con was not those formally scheduled events, like most of most cons aren't, and I saw many people I don't see enough of, and a good time was had by all, or at least by me.

[User Picture]From: txanne
2010-04-07 12:04 am (UTC)
our friend research rears its soft and pettable head again.

I love this and plan to steal it at the earliest opportunity.
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From: swan_tower
2010-04-07 02:21 am (UTC)
Ditto. :-)

I wholeheartedly agree on research being a feature and not a bug. (And everyone is surprised. Terribly, terribly surprised.) The way I put it to my students when I taught creative writing was, it isn't an obstacle you have to leap on the way to the story, it's a vehicle that gets you to the story. Research will provide you with awesome quirks and twists you wouldn't have thought up on your own, and the result will be that your narrative is both more real and more interesting.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-04-07 01:01 pm (UTC)
Yes, just so. It's an opportunity.
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[User Picture]From: mechaieh
2010-04-07 05:40 pm (UTC)
its soft and pettable head

I need another project like my dog needs a pogo stick, but the urge to make a stuffed vorpal bunny and then name it "Research" is fearsome strong right this minute.
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[User Picture]From: redbird
2010-04-07 01:28 am (UTC)
I'm glad you like those of us who aren't sweet and pleasant-tempered.
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[User Picture]From: moiread
2010-04-07 06:30 am (UTC)
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From: dsgood
2010-04-07 01:42 am (UTC)
Hal Clement's Mission of Gravity was the archetypical hard science novel. But it had at least one mistake. It was obvious to him that a sailing ship goes fastest with the wind straight behind it.

If he'd done the math, or asked someone with sailing experience, he would have known better. (Note: I've had the reality explained to me several times, and not understood the explanations.)
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[User Picture]From: elsmi
2010-04-07 07:44 am (UTC)
Oh, I never knew that, how neat! It's like guns vs. railguns!

(That is, eventually, so my EM professor claimed, packing more gunpowder into a gun stops making the bullet go faster, because the energy is transmitted to the bullet by the little molecules of exploding gas bumping into it, and they only go so fast, so that's the top speed the bullet can go too -- if it went any faster then it would outrun the molecules and then it wouldn't go at all. A railgun, OTOH, can accelerate bullets right up to lightspeed -- or, at least, any difficulties in doing so are a mere *engineering* problem, see above re: physicist opinions on non-physics fields. He did know which details would help keep a group of 18-year-olds' attention, though.)
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[User Picture]From: apis_mellifera
2010-04-07 01:46 am (UTC)
I'm planning on attending a bunch of SF panels (well, all two or three of them) at the RT convention later this month--and I expect what I'll hear is not that women need to have a reasonable grounding in science in order to write successful SF, but that women readers care mainly about the characters so the science-y bits don't matter so much.

...and I just checked one of the panel descriptions and yep. If you're a lady and wanting to write SF for ladies, you shouldn't worry about science because lady readers don't care about that.

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[User Picture]From: dichroic
2010-04-07 03:08 am (UTC)
Woman who cares about correct science (and logical consistency in fantasy), representing here.

And I buy books. (I don't even want to talk about how much more I've spent on them since getting the Kindle.)
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[User Picture]From: apis_mellifera
2010-04-07 05:03 am (UTC)
I know, oh I know. I am probably not going to be able to hold my tongue during the Q&A part of the panel. I just hope that I manage to express myself diplomatically (since I am not attending simply as a reader).
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[User Picture]From: dichroic
2010-04-07 05:42 am (UTC)
I just figured it might help to give you more explicit reasons to say 'we' instead of 'I'. ;-)

Not that mrissa hasn't done so a hundred times.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-04-07 01:03 pm (UTC)
They are skipping an important step. You should do a lot of research and have other smart people vet it for you and then not worry about it. Because worrying doesn't help. Doing the work is what helps.

Makes it a completely different point, though. Sigh indeed.
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[User Picture]From: apis_mellifera
2010-04-07 01:35 pm (UTC)
Yes, exactly. I just don't have a lot of confidence in the panel because the moderator is a writer who, at the last convention I was at, very proudly stated that she doesn't bother doing any research at all because she sees her primary role as an entertainer. I don't see these as mutually exclusive and it makes me kind of sad that she does.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-04-07 03:59 pm (UTC)
Walt Whitman's "I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer" may be my least favorite poem ever.
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[User Picture]From: 1crowdedhour
2010-04-07 02:58 am (UTC)
People laughed in all the right spots, and 1crowdedhour nearly fell out of her chair once, so that's a good sign.

Yes, I'd say so. That reference to the North Stars was perfectly executed. Now I know why I like the Wild, which is something I could not rationalize even to myself. I thought it had to do with the sound of the players' names. Silly me.

I'm almost afraid to ask this, however. What about the Fighting Saints?
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-04-07 01:14 pm (UTC)
Well, the Saints as a mascot are a great protection from supernatural stuffs. A lot of it will just bounce right off the players under the Saints' bailiwick--they won't even be able to see anything tried to hit them, it'll just sort of fizzle. But how much power the players can draw from that association demands greatly on the specificity of the bond. If they have called specifically on St. Dominic and some of the fighting monarch saints, that'll be a pretty straightforward thing; Thomas Aquinas less straightforward. And if the folks in charge have set it up so it's just "the saints," that's not going to do much good other than the fuzzy benignity of avoidance of supernatural trouble. From the team's history, my guess is that's what went wrong: the organizers didn't get a specific enough connection to do them much good, especially with Polaris and nigh-ubiquitous nature power in competition with them for fans. (Gophers may not be dramatic, but they are nearly ineradicable around here. Which is why the Timberwolves might have seemed like a better team name--tougher, meaner--but are not: the wolf population is a lot easier for stupid monkeys to mess up.)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-04-07 01:16 pm (UTC)
Incidentally, the St. Paul Saints baseball team being a minor league team benefits from the work Mr. Killebrew started with Castor and Pollux, Artemis and Apollo, and a few other sets of Twins, so for them the fuzzy benignity is enough because they have the bigger organization offering them more protection.

Put a nickel in and I'll go for hours.
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[User Picture]From: reveritas
2010-04-08 12:04 am (UTC)
I know of several male SF authors who have little hissy fits about how inferior fantasy is.

Do they hissy about how inferior all other genres of fiction are too? Or just fantasy? Is it just because sf/f get so often lumped in together, whereas sf/historical fiction (or whatever) don't?
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-04-08 02:44 am (UTC)
No, it's mostly fantasy that gets the snit fits directed at it, and I think you're partly right that it's because the two genres are so often lumped together, but also because a great many SF authors have delusions that what they do is Really Truly Scientific when in most cases it is Really Not Notably So.
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