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 had more of a focus on the fantasy genre.
Fantasy vs SF: Is the Universe Looking Out For You?
Stephen Hunt, Anne Lyle, Ian R McLeod, Robert Reed, Rebecca Levene
This panel discussed whether the presence or absence of special destinies is the real dividing line between fantasy and science fiction.
- Attitudes to leadership. In fantasy there’s often a notion that someone is “born to lead”. In SF, “the clever person leads” – this is equally unconvincing.
- Have SF and fantasy swapped their attitudes of late? SF was initially in favour of change and technological advancement, now it seems more and more cynical of it. Fantasy seemed initially to be against change and about returning things to a status quo, now we see more change-based fantasy.
- SF tends towards standalone novels and fantasy towards series. Perhaps because SF is about ideas, which can be wrung out in a single story, whereas fantasy is about people and can follow a longer life into a series.
- In SF the unknown is understood; in fantasy the unknown is embraced; in horror the unknown is feared; in literary fiction the unknown is ignored.
Seeing the Future, Knowing the Past
William B. Hafford, Sarah Ash, Liz Bourke, Karen Miller, Kari Sperring
This panel discussed the use of prophecy and knowable history in fantasy worlds.
- A shared and definitive history of an entire globe is impossible, but many fantasy series are based on single definitive histories.
- History and reality are messy, but when it’s a story you want the answers, which leads to a requirement for a certain amount of tidiness.
- The single genetic line that appears often in fantasy (e.g. Aragorn) is implausible. Either a genetic line spreads (like Genghis Khan’s) or it dies out. In ruling families the lines of direct inheritance are on average only about three or four generations deep.
- Prophecy in fantasy differs from prophecy in real life. In reality a lot of prophecy is written in retrospect or is written as revolutionary propaganda. In fantasy prophecy is used as the roadmap for the narrative or as a shorthand for worldbuilding.
- Traditional fantasy likes grand narratives. People can feel that if they know something, they own it. But you can’t own the grand narratives of reality; they’re too complex. There’s lots of anxiety in the modern world (and about the modern world) fantasy in a world with a known history and future can act as an escape and assuage that anxiety.
A lot of this points made in this talk came with notes of exceptions to the rules, especially in more recently written fantasy. The fantasy field is much wider than the stereotypes.