Monday, 14 August 2017

Friday at Worldcon 75

On Friday there were fewer panels I wanted to attend, which was good because two weeks of travel were catching up with me. I managed to get into all six.

10:00 Fantasy Warfare not Based on Medieval Methods with Alter S. Reiss, Madeleine E. Robins, Rebecca Slitt, Arkady Martine, and Angus Watson. Our mental picture of medieval combat (huge national armies) is wrong; a few thousand soldiers consisted of small groups loyal to their feudal lord. Roman legions, however, were large and highly organized (though often loyal to their general instead of to Rome). Ancient warfare had a bit of a “prearranged” tone, where armies met somewhere and fought, whereas modern warfare is constant combat often in civilian-full environments. Our usual pictures are Eurocentric. Swords and arrows are ancient, as are sieges (walled cities go back 8,000 years). Book recommendations:
11:00 Military SF: Pro-war or Anti-war? with Leon Perniciaro, Robert Corvus, i. Simes, and Joe Haldeman. Joe flat out said all military fiction is anti-war. One panelist proposed to define military SF as taking place in a military setting, with characters in closely militarily-related roles, facing a military problem like “capture this city.” Soldiers generally just want to survive the day and don’t care a lot about the issues behind the combat; there has to be some political entity in the background that set things in motion. Focusing on soldiers trying to survive immediately gives the high stakes needed for reader engagement with the characters. Suffering of one kind or another is needed for a good story.
No recommendations were given, but I’ll add The Forever War by Joe Haldeman.
12:00 Invented Religions with Jennifer Udden, Meg MacDonald, Maria Turtschaninoff, and Kimmo Lehtonen. This was in Hall 3, perhaps because for a brief time the online program listed George R. R. Martin as a panelist. I’m reasonably sure I saw it and other people told me they saw it too, but by the time I was lining up, his name was gone.

Religion is an interesting window into a world’s cultures, an essential building block of society. You need to think about the people first; for example, nomads might be more likely to be animists than to follow a religion with holy books and complex theology. You need to distinguish between orthodoxy (thinking) and orthopraxy (doing); someone might follow all the rituals and not believe some of the fundamental tenets. Making up a completely new religion is very hard and possibly not desirable. There will always be politics and power dynamics associated with a religion; it might be used for conformity or might empower the dispossessed. There are many possible kinds of religion, such as
  • A creator plus minions, as with Eru and the Valar in Middle Earth.
  • An ethics-based religion without a higher power.
  • Gods and Norns, the latter measuring out the lifespan even of the gods.
Someone asked, what if the gods are real and interact with people? That gave the panel pause, one saying it was complicated, another wondering whether the mortals would “ask the right questions” when interacting with a god, another suggesting that interacting with mortals should change the gods and that dead gods might litter the landscape; I didn’t really “get” many of their comments. Some book recommendations:

14:00 Evolution of Feminism in Science Fiction with John-Henri Holmberg, Sarah Gailey, Shawna McCarthy, and Eileen Gunn. This was almost entirely mentions of specific authors and some of their work.
An audience member mentioned WisCon, the feminist science fiction convention.

16:00 Economics of SF Universes or 1001 Reasons this Could Never Work, presentation by Yehuda Porath. Once again my notes don’t do justice to this fairly dense primer on economics. I took three terms of economics 45 years ago so a little bit of it was familiar. He started with an amusing analysis of the economics of the Death Stars, what a huge investment they were, and how the second had an element of the “sunk cost fallacy” (“throwing good money after bad”). He explained utility: people supposedly have a “utility function” and act to maximize it subject to scarcity constraints. He also pointed out that such an unemotional and calculating approach was more characteristic of sociopaths than regular folks. Once you try to combine utility functions for multiple people there are all kinds of coordination problems, called “market failures,” that require some form of government and sanctions. But taxation causes “deadweight losses” such as needing to pay for accountants and bureaucrats. He then looked at a few examples from print and visual media:
  • The Foundation and Seldon’s Plan (psychohistory) can’t work because of unforeseen events (like the Mule), new technologies, unintended consequences, and other unpredictable variables.
  • Star Trek has a supposedly post-scarcity economy with replicators that can turn energy into anything but dilithium and latinum and living matter, so what do the Ferengi trade? Some people still seem to have regular jobs, so how are they paid and why do they work?
  • In Hunger Games the specialized districts make little sense. In particular District 12 (coal mining) is useless when all the necessary power seems to come from hydroelectric plants. The Capital’s specialty seems to be spying. District 13 doesn’t need anything from anyone else.
  • In Battlestar Galactica they have the last of everything, little or no new production, and spend more resources than they acquire.

18:00 Monsters and the Monstrous with Natania Barron, Julie McGalliard, Scott Edelman, and Magdalena Hai. Someone mentioned the Forest Maiden – beauty in front, emptiness in back. That prompted someone else to refer to “existential beauty” so intense that the mind can’t contain it and goes mad – similarly with what happens with existential horror in Lovecraft. Monsters can be sympathetic if they don’t want to be monsters, such as Lon Chaney’s version of the werewolf (unlike some modern raging killing machines). Traditional pre-modern monster tales were often warnings to children – I recalled the Inuit legend of the Qualupiluit, a warning not to go out on the treacherous sea ice. The Greek gods should be considered monsters by their behaviour. Monsters can be metaphors, such as Godzilla representing the fear of nuclear weapons. In Japan the mere possible existence of ghosts is fearful, let alone seeing one. There were a few story references:

That evening was the Hugo awards ceremony, which I had decided from the beginning not to attend because I’d have had trouble sitting in a large crowd for three hours. Several fellow Writing Excuses Retreat alumni tried watching the video feed from a hotel room, but it apparently didn’t work. Someone tweeted when Emma and Peter Newman won the Best Fancast Hugo for Tea and Jeopardy.

Posted from Copenhagen Airport