Notes from Loncon 3: Genre panels

This year I went to my first convention: the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention. I went to a lot of panels, a LOT of panels. And I took a lot of notes.

I’m going to share a few of my notes here. Rather than chronologically, I’ve grouped the panels thematically.

This set of panels are those that were focussed on particular genres.

Hard Right

Neyir Cenk Gokce, Charles E. Gannon, Hannu Rajaniemi, Alison Sinclair, Jaine Fenn

This panel discussed possible connections between hard science fiction and conservative ideologies.

My takeaways:

  • The panel, mostly scientists as well as authors, seemed to agree that there wasn’t really a connection between the two. There are plenty of non-right-wing people involved in Hard SF.
  • Why is there a perceived connection between the two? Perhaps because Hard SF often includes military technology and, historically, has included colonialism.
  • The inclusion of empires and monarchies in Hard SF can lead to a simplistic world view and promulgate certainties, which is a tendency of the right wing. However, the reason empires and monarchies are often included in fiction might just be that they are simpler to write than more fragmented or nuanced political systems.
  • Scientific advances are always deprivileging, they take away the specialness of a certain group (even if that group is all humans).
  • Many of the writers and readers of Hard SF are engineers or people in technology.
  • The need for black and white certainties was postulated as the common ground between conservatism and Hard SF. However, nowadays there are very few certainties in science, the sciences are very statistical. Less obvious causality. This is in opposition to narrative structure where causality is strongly preferred.
  • They also discussed politics trying to create its own science, for example creationism. Also how Soviet advances in genetics were retarded by a politicised science that rejected natural selection.

Duelling by Starlight: The Joyful Poetry of Space Opera

Carl Engle-Laird, Elizabeth Bear, Rosie Oliver, Hannu Rajaniemi, Adam Roberts

This panel was a general discussion of Space Opera.

My takeaways:

  • It’s difficult to tell where the line is between Hard SF and Space Opera. Works which were described as Hard SF when they were written that are now described as Space Opera.
  • The word “Opera” implies something operatic and melodramatic, where all the internal is exteriorised and telegraphed to the audience. Perhaps not the right description in this case.
  • Space Opera perhaps a reaction against a human horror or awe at the expanse of the universe and the insignificance of our place in it. Space Opera removes the sense of wonder at the universe by taming it and making it commonplace. However large the universe is there is a hero who saves the day.
  • Space Opera is less about answering the question “how did we get here?” and more about answering “we’re here – now what?”

We Can’t Get There From Here

Jukka Halme, Ian R. MacLeod, Jon Courteney Grimwood,Kay Kenyon, Sheila Finch

This panel discussed alternate history. I got kicked out about halfway through because the room was too full. At about 75% through someone left and I was able to get back in for the rest.

My takeaways:

  • Everything not set in the future could be considered alternate history.
  • Previously, alternate history was thought of as a “rigorous exploration from a single point of change”, now there is less focus on how the alternate timeline came about. It’s less about the clear point of divergence and more about a secondary world based on our world.
  • Advice for writing alternate histories:
    Map out the full alternate history for yourself, then forget it before you start to write.
    Spare the reader the explanation. Be careful with your infodumps; readers don’t like to be lectured.
  • There isn’t one true history of a place, even in this world. The history of a place is as much a reflection of the time that the history was written in.
  • The inevitability of history is a myth. Nobody saw WWI coming. It wasn’t predictable or predicted. There were many tipping points, many places where it could have been avoided.


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