Saturday, 12 August 2017

Thursday at Worldcon 75

Worldcon 75 is being held at the Messukeskus convention centre in Helsinki, a large venue for a large convention. Because of the castle tour I described in several previous posts, I missed the first day, which may have been a good thing for my tension level. The organizers apparently didn’t expect the huge crowds, so lots of rooms filled up; one fellow writer only got to 3 of 6 sessions she wanted. By Thursday they had decided to stop selling day passes to be fair to people who had already paid money, and managed to rent additional space and move several planned events into larger rooms. This made the printed schedules completely untrustworthy; I had fortunately arranged to use the online scheduler on the website, and made it to 7.5 of my chosen 8 talks (1st choice for seven timeslots, 2nd for one; I don’t remember which one).

The rest of this post is based on expanding on cryptic notes I hastily typed on my phone during the sessions.
10:00: In Defense of the Unlikeable Heroine, with Thoraiya Dyer, Caroline Hooton, Kameron Hurley, Alex Acks, and Neil Williamson. The main theme was that there is a double standard for male and female characters, and a heroine gets labelledunlikeable” if she takes on some supposedly male characteristics. What might make a man an anti-hero makes a woman a villain. Wanting power makes a woman into a villain. There are very few older women characters. There were several suggested readings:
11:00: Engineering in Fantasy & SF, with Fran Wilde, Alan Stewart, Tan Gang, and Kathleen Ann Goonan. The panel was vague about fantasy, focusing on science fiction. Versimilitude, the appearance of truth, leads the reader to trust the author. Infodumps on the technology are boring; show how characters interact with the technology. SF tends to overemphasize physicists; engineers are the ones who actually get usable technology to work. Alchemists could be one of the fantasy equivalents of engineers (though personally I see them more as scientists); also in fantasy one needs to wonder who makes the various magical artifacts (e..g in Harry potter). Logistics is a kind of engineering. One of the key elements of modern engineering is collaboration, often missing from fictional portrayals.
Once again there were several story recommendations:

12:00 Just Send It!: When to Stop Rewriting and Just Get Your Work Out There with Ken Liu, Kali Wallace, Ellen Datlow, Katri Alatalo, Mike Pohjola. Ken said send in your manuscript when you come to hate it! He said his best time to complete was 3 weeks for a short story, and there was one he submitted 30 times over 4-5 years; when he stopped he quit writing and became a lawyer. Kali said stop when the revision cycle is only giving you small changes. Others just said “polish it as best you can” though you might get a bit more leeway once you’ve published a few things and can be considered trustworthy. Most of the rest was about the post-sale process and what an editor does. Some brief advice: don’t harass the editor or say this is your best work. Keep writing new things when waiting for a response. Don’t delete anything even if your work is rejected; cannibalize bits and pieces of unsubmitted or rejected work for new projects. Networking and relevant credentials can help get your foot in the door but can’t get you published; the story has to stand on its own.
14:00 Logic of Empire: Economics of Colonialism in Fantastic Fiction, a presentation by Jesper Stage. This was in two parts: the basics of colonial economics, and a brief discussion of the economics of a few novels. Economic mistakes are often plot holes but could be plot points: what hidden factors make the violation make sense? Or was the character who said something about economics just wrong? Most of the talk was oriented towards situations where there was an indigenous population to exploit, but I imagine some of it could apply to empty-planet scenarios. One overall comment (with reference to a series I didn’t record) was: why would a homeworld (or planetary corporation) maintain a colony that was losing money, had no strategic value, and no emotional significance?
He said there were several kinds of colony with varying needs for investment. “Under new management” just takes over whatever sociopolitical and economic structure was already there, like the British in India; it requires very little investment after the initial takeover, and very few people from the home country. “Extraction” requires the harvesting and transportation architecture but little else. “Plantation” requires a little more investment including more transportation and a bit of governance, but plants and livestock are a bad bet unless there is something very special and rare about them. “Settlement” requires a lot, including more people and more governance. Viability of colonization depends on mortality rates more than transportation costs; after decolonization very few colonists remained in west Africa because of diseases to which the Europeans had little immunity. People might work in such an environment for short periods for high pay, betting they would be the lucky ones who survived. Settlement often drives out the indigenous population (or kills them off, as with the European diseases that wiped out 90% of first nations).
He talked about an incorrect passage in Heinlein’s Logic of Empire novelette as one of few discussions of economics in SFF. He also commented about the long-term investment the corporation made in Aliens, where they expected a return on investment in decades; this is similar to the attitude of 17th century corporations like the Dutch and English East India Companies, not modern corporations. Another example was Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold, with Barrayar taking over Komar and buying off potential allies of Komar by promising reduced tariffs – though he did wonder why, with all that profit, Komar neglected to pay for a protective military.
15:00: Role of Secrets in Speculative Fiction with J.A McLachlan, Jennifer Udden, Ian Sales, Kim ten Tusscher, and J. Sharpe. The panel talked about several kinds of secrets: plot twists; character background; significant past events slowly revealed; secret history (where there’s a hidden group manipulating events). You need to signpost the secret a reasonable amount, not too much (revealing the secret too early) or too little (being unfair to the reader). A character can become alienated from friends from having to keep a secret. A couple of book recommendations:
19:00: What Science Can Tell Us About Alien Minds, presentation by Robert Biegler. Most of this was a highly technical presentation to which I could hardly give justice without a lot more work than I can manage right now. I did take away that a critical point will come if we discover that minds (which he basically defined as brains with a sense of self) arose several times independently, or whether they originated once. Apparently crabs, ravens, and chimps all qualify, and a lot more jobs for evolutionary psychologists are needed to find out if other species do, too. Multiple origins (like with wings) suggest that developing minds is easy in an evolutionary sense and has likely occurred on other planets with life. He said that most aliens are just alternative humans. Some book suggestions about alien minds:

20:00 Critiquing Fiction:How to Give, and How to Receive with Benjamin C. Kinney, Georges Bormand, and Adrienne Foster. I was disappointed because there was little new beyond what I learned from Mary Robinette Kowal in her video and infographic (which I am having trouble finding). They pointed out that critiquing for readers is different from doing it for writers; you want to tell readers enough to guide them in whether they might enjoy the book, whereas writers want to improve the draft they submitted. They said that a problem may have a cause that occurred much earlier than it was detected.

21:00 Common Mistakes from the Slushpile with David Thomas Moore, Laura Pearlman, David Pomerico, Sam Bradbury, and Marcus Gipps. There was a lot on how editors and publishers deal with the slushpile (un-agented submissions), but also a bit of advice: Follow the submission rules on the publisher website, especially with regard to the genre or kind of submission they publish and the submission format they want (such as submitting a Word document). The first 3 pages are critical. Good ideas still require good writing. Pace and plot have to be established in the first few pages. Tailor your cover letter to the publisher. Avoid attacking other authors. You dont need a big social media presence to submit (at least to the panelists; I`ve heard other editors say they always check social media). One contradicted an agent I heard, saying you dont need to compare your work to the market (the editor can do that better).