Convention report by Evelyn C. Leeper
Copyright 2017 Evelyn C. Leeper
Table of Contents:
If I thought the Crowne Plaza Cherry Hill had gone downhill last year, this year topped it (bottomed it), as I found myself trapped in an elevator for about twenty minutes. I tried pressing the alarm button; it set the alarm off, but nothing happened. I tried the elevator phone--again, nothing. Even pounding on the door and yelling got no response. Luckily I had a cell phone that worked from inside the elevator, so I finally called one of our friends who was at the convention and asked him to go to the front desk and tell them I was trapped. It turns out they knew (presumably from one of the alarms), but did not think it was worth while to send someone to the elevator to let me know help was on the way, or ask if I was okay. (Even after I got out, the best they could do was one free brunch. So Mark, Kate, and I had Sunday brunch at the hotel, with each of us paying 2/3 the usual price--not a terrible deal, but still...)
Oh, and our floor's ice machine was broken.
Franz Kafka: It's Not All About Cockroaches
Friday, 5 PM
John Ashmead, Bruce Dykes, Alan Gordon, Mark Wolverton
Description: "An exploration of Kafka's work and its impact on science fiction, fantasy, and horror writing."
Estimated attendance: 20
- Wolverton & Gordon: Both discovered Kafka in the sixth grade.
- Ashmead: The Stranger by Albert Camus was very Kafka-esque.
- Dykes: Why is this at a science fiction convention?
- Wolverton: Read The Metamorphosis, The Penal Colony. Kafka wrote about alienation, the effects of technology, societal changes.
- Gordon: Dystopian society (The Trial
- Ashmead: The Metamorphosis was published in a science fiction pulp. Kafka shows the secondary consequences of unrealistic things (Aristotle). He tries to make sense of something strange.
- Dykes: There is a kinship with H. P. Lovecraft. Both are of the same period, and wrote about absolutely utterly indifferent worlds. (But Kafka's heroes are more persistent.) And both died young.
- Wolverton: Twilight Zone was ery Kafka-esque.
- Ashmead: Kafka does not try to explain his strangeness.
- Dykes: "Shatnerquake" [I have no idea what that means.]
- Ashmead: Being John Malkovich does not explain the strangeness either.
- Gordon: Brazil
- Dykes: movies
- Audience: District 9
- [Kafka's Dick by Alan Bennett, Kafka's Radio by Eric Overmyer]
- Audience: Amerika is a classic fantasy trope.
- Wolverton: The Schocken translations are the standard.
- Audience: Excavating Kafka is the best she has read.
- Ashmead: Kafka considered himself a humorist. Watermelon Man Is an homage to The Metamorphosis.
- Wolverton: Also of interest is Kafka's relationship with his father.
- Ashmead: In The Metamorphosis, Gregor's transformation frees the family.
- Dykes: The film After Hours uses dialogue from the gatekeeper in The Castle
- Gordon: Kafka shows off his talents in "The Hunger Artist", Report to the Academy", and his story about a trapeze artist.
- Ashmead: Things we take for granted are hard for mahcines; things we find difficult are easy for machines.
- Audience: Adapting a book to a movie is considered genius; adapting a movie to a book is considered hack work.
- Gordon: The Penal Colony in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
- Ashmead: "1984 is a British boys' school with guns."
- Wolverton: There was also the film Kafka in 1991.
- [We were in a bookstore once when we heard a young girl in the next aisle saying, "We had to read this in school; it was awful!" We were wondering what it was when she continued, "It's about a man who turns into a roach!" I just wish I could convey her voice better.]
What Do We Owe Mary Shelley?
Friday, 7 PM
Alan Beck, Keith R.A. DeCandido, April Grey, Christine Norris
Description: "Mary Shelley planted the seeds for the concept of AI, engineered the Mad Scientist trope, used the impact of climate change on society as an inspiration for fiction, and wrote one of the first post-apocalyptic stories of the modern era. A discussion of the many ways in which the founder of SF is still influencing the genre today."
Estimated attendance: 20
- Grey: Romantic women writers of the early 19th century.
- DeCandido: Frankenstein is his favorite in the English language.
- DeCandido: The Karloff movie is based on the stage play.
- DeCandido: [told the story of the novel's origin and the 1818 and 1831 editions]
- Grey: Shelley took science to create fantasy. Caliban, Grendel, and the Golem of Prague were all fantasy-based.
- Norris: Shelley overlaid male science with female romance and sensibilities.
- [Frankenstein's sin was parental neglect.]
- Grey: It's a question of creation, which the female ambit.
- Norris: Not "can we do it" but "should we do it".
- DeCandido: When someone says Victor is the hero, it means that they have not read the book.
- DeCandido: Thinks Hugh Jackman's Van Helsing has the most accurate versions of the monster. There is a radio version from about 1929. Shelley also wrote "The Mortal Immortal" and The Last Man.
- Audience: The monster is not sympathetic in the films.
- [Young Frankenstein]
- Norris: The villain never thinks he is a villain (not just in these films).
- Beck: The monster was rejected because of his appearance [lookism].
- Gray: Like the Phantom of the Opera.
- Audience: The series "Penny Dreadful".
- DeCandido: He wants a Beauty and the Beast in which the prince is ugly or geeky or dweeby.
- DeCandido: Romantic literature dealt with incredible powers of nature.
- [How likely is it that Shelley knew the legend of the golem?]
Science Fiction Stories Age Like Wine
Friday, 8 PM
David M. Axler, Tom Purdom, Joe Siclari, Michael J. Walsh
Description: "Which is to say, some remain delicious to imbibe after decades while others turn to the literary equivalent of vinegar. Is it a change in modern standards of quality or a change in palate that has people losing their taste for works they once enjoyed?"
Estimated attendance: 30
- Purdom: Two stories: one aged well, the other not.
- Siclari: Vintage Season by C. L. Moore is now a trope that has held up, but Doc Smith's work has not.
- Purdom: Does not re-read a lot.
- Purdom: "And There Will Come Soft Rains" holds up because Ray Bradbury did not pin down the technology.
- Walsh: Venus Equilateral does not hold up (it has giant vacuum tubes). Pretty much agrees on Doc Smith. But the short story Daniel Keyes's "Flowers for Algernon" does hold up.
- Siclari: Hugo Gernsback's Ralph 124C41+ did not age well, even to the next day.
- Walsh: Robert A. Heinlein's For Us, the Living did not age well.
- Axler: The YA works of the 1920s to 1960s all pretty much aged into vinegar.
- Siclari: Heinlein's Citizen of the Galaxy holds up.
- Purdom: Also Star Beast and Farmer in the Sky.
- [Actually, we did not find Star Beast did not age well for us.]
- Axler: Does fantasy age better or worse than science fiction?
- Siclari: Thorne Smith's fantasies are set in a happy Depression Era--you need a lot of drinks.
- Purdom: Fantasy in imaginary historical settings is timeless.
- [But are the attitudes expressed in it?]
- Purdom: There are two aspects of timelessness: Can you re-read it? Can you read it for the first time today?
- Purdom: Frederik Pohl's Gateway and Jem--yes.
- Siclari: Heinlein's "All You Zombies"--yes.
- Audience: Societal attitudes turn to vinegar faster than technology.
- Audience: H. Beam Piper's "Omnilingual" has lots of women scientists without making a big deal of it.
- Audience: Golden Age books were shorter, and what was original then is now a trope.
- Purdom: Damon Knight's "The Country of the Kind", Arthur C. Clarke's "Meeting with Medusa"
- Siclari: Ursula K. LeGuin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" and Walter M. Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz
How Libraries Have Changed
Saturday, 10 AM
Scheherazade Jackson, Evelyn Leeper, Andre Lieven, Christine Norris, Suzanne Rosin
Description: "What is different about the libraries of today? Electronic book loans, availability of databases and museum passes, classes and craft meetings are common. What do today's libraries mean to the communities around them?"
Estimated attendance: 30
- [I often give people's credentials; this time I will give mine. I got my first library card in 1954. I was a volunteer library aide in junior high and high school, as well as one summer in an Air Force base library. And I worked for pay in our university library for a year.]
- Rosin: Books and microfiche will last.
- Rosin: What is the purpose of a given library (public or academic, archival, etc.)?
- Norris: Which middle-school books should be Permabound?
- Rosin: Her law library has LexisNexis, but the older lawyers want books.
- Norris: The nature of the library has changed. We need to keep libraries relevant.
- [But at what cost?]
- Audience: Harry Potter is no longer ubiquitous.
- Rosin: On-line journals are rented, not owned. [This was discussed on basically the same panel four years ago.]
- Norris/Rosin: This may not be cost-effective.
- Leeper: The company may go under, leaving you with no access.
- Norris: Genre labels help people find things.
- Audience: Privacy concerns (electronic tags in books).
- [One panelist insisted on being added at the last minute, and then took phone calls during the panel.]
How Casting Affects Our Perception
Saturday, 12 N
Orenthal Hawkins, Kim Kindya, Carl Paolino, Jeff Warner
Description: "How does the choice of an actor for a role impact not only what we think of that character, but the narrative they sustain? How did the choice of Jason Momoa for Aquaman change our impression of what Atlantis would be like, and our expectations of his role in the films? What about the decision to cast Scarlet Johansson as Major Kusanagi? If, say, Lupita Nyong'o was playing Daenerys Targaryen, how would that alter the meaning surrounding that character's arc in Game of Thrones?"
Estimated attendance: ?
- Warner: White-washing, Hellboy reboot.
- Hawkins: Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell
- Hawkins: White-washing is when the ethnicity is key; color-blind casting is when it is not.
- Warner/Hawkins: Is about being Japanese or being human?
- Kindya: There are financial considerations.
- [Lots of stuff about Marvel and other graphic novels.]
- Kindya: "Race-lifting is the reverse of white-washing.
- Kindya: People of color in books are often perceived as white [e.g., Johnny Rico in Heinlein's Starship Troopers].
- Warner: Hermione in the "Harry Potter" books was black.
- [This appears to be based on a couple of ambiguous descriptions in the books, and ignores a clear reference to Hermione's white face in another.]
- [At this point, I left and went to the second half of the next panel.]
The Flaws of Golden Age SF Literature...and Why You Should Read It Anyway
Saturday, 12 N
John Ashmead, Vikki Ciaffone, Darrell Schweitzer, Joe Siclari
Description: "If necessity is the mother of all invention, the Golden Age must have left us with needs unmet. In the decades since that formative era of SF, writers have innovated and improved endlessly, much to readers? delight. Yet, those imperfect stories of a bygone age still have much to teach us about the heart of science fiction and why it appeals to the human spirit. Explore the past with us, and discuss what authors got wrong, as well as what they got right."
Estimated attendance: 30
- [As noted above, I only caught the last half of this panel.]
- Sense of Wonder.
- Siclari: Wells invented, Heinlein perfected. The 1960s was the "Age of Heinlein's Children".
- Schweitzer: In the 1940s [Astounding?] was really the only source. In 1948 Sam Merwin changed this with Startling Stories. Ray Palmer's Amazing outsold Astounding in the 1940s but was crap.
- Siclari: In 1950 we got The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and then Galaxy and Raymond J. Healy & J. Francis McComas's Adventures in Time and Space.
- Schweitzer: Famous Fantastic Mysteries published Ayn Rand's Anthem and Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis.
- Ashmead: People do not read classic science works (except for Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein), but they are referenced and acknowledged.
- Ashmead: covers from the Golden Age; The Pirates of Zan cover by Kelly Freas
- Schweitzer: Thrilling Wonder Stories or Planet Stories did space pirates. The "Old Solar System" was invented in Astounding in the 1930s; it was as formulaic as the Old West. Golden Age science fiction is golden Because it got rid of most of this stuff.
- Ciaffone: "Rousing good yarn"
- Siclari: A story must have internal logic.
- Ciaffone: Pure "plotonium" is the strongest substance in the universe.
- Ashmead: "Narrativium"
- Schweitzer: Leigh Brackett and Ray Bradbury were the last writing in the Old Solar System.
- Ciaffone: Andre Norton was from the Silver Age, not the Golden Age.
That's Not History, That's Hollywood.
Saturday, 2 PM
Vikki Ciaffone, Elizabeth Crowens, Tom Doyle, Evelyn Leeper, Carl Paolino, Steve Vertlieb
Description: "So many impressions we have of our world's history come from fiction we've subconsciously adopted as fact, with Hollywood's choice of narrative and casting giving us a very misleading understanding of what previous eras looked and interacted like. How do you tell if your work is perpetuating racial or sexist stereotypes that never existed in the name of 'historical accuracy'? And how important is 'historical accuracy' when you're writing a fantasy world, anyway?"
Estimated attendance: 30
- Ciaffone: Sioux scalping started when the United States started it first.
- Paolino: Hollywood always tries to "improve" history.
- Vertlieb: Examples of bad Hollywood history: They Died with Their Boots On, The Conqueror, and Krakatoa, East of Java. They seem to have taken the closing line of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance to heart.
- Leeper: Also Braveheart.
- Doyle: Most Biblical and sword and sandal films.
- Crowens: Wonder Woman
- Ciaffone: In anime, the Japanese are portrayed as European, and the Chinese as Asian.
- Doyle: Examples of good Hollywood history: Cleopatra and Rome
- Crowens: Raiders of the Lost Ark
- Ciaffone: Larkrise to Candleford and Pillars of the Earth (both British television)
- Leeper: Unforgiven and Gettysberg
- Paolino: Does not want to know they got it wrong.
- Crowens: Women are taller now, so most female characters on films are too tall.
- Leeper: Abraham Lincoln and Mary Lincoln--their height difference is rarely shown accurately.
- Doyle: A Knight's Tale is mostly accurate.
- Ciaffone: The music in films is for our own time (i.e. popular music).
- Audience: Apocalypto?
- Mark Leeper: It was off by several hundred years.
- Audience Dr. Zhivago hairstyles are all wrong. [This is true of many films.]
- Leeper: Hail, Caesar has lots of errors in the internal film, as well as some in the film itself.
- Paolino: Heaven's Gate had the wrong dirt.
- Leeper: The statue of William Wallace recently erected in Scotland looks like Mel Gibson, because no one really knew what Wallace looked like.
If Christianity Had Never Come Along
Saturday, 3 PM
Debra Baker, Ef Deal, Bernie Mojzes, Richard Stout, Alyce Wilson, Batya Wittenberg
Description: "Imagine what the 21st century would be like without Christianity in history. Would we be worshipping a different god or gods? Or would society have developed in a different direction? What fiction is already exploring this idea?"
Estimated attendance: 50
- [Deal is Christian, Baker and Wittenberg are Jewish, Mojzes is an atheist]
- Wilson: Gutenberg created movable type for the Bible.
- Stout: No Christians means no Nestorians means no Islam means no transmission of knowledge from Greece and Rome.
- [Did Christianity cause the break in transmission in the first place>]
- Wittenberg: Would culture have transmitted knowledge anyway?
- Deal: Islam unified the Arabic culture and language.
- Mojzes: Cultures attempt to erase "the other."
- Wittenberg: Scholarship is not dependent on evangelism.
- Wittenberg: Did Mithra dominate Europe?
- [The Dragon Waiting by John M. Ford]
- Is a central text required for a religion?
- Baker: Actually, that is fairly uncommon.
- Audience: First comes religion, then the canonization of texts.
- [Orthodoxy vs. orthopraxy]
- Audience: Universal claim of Christianity.
- In Rome, the religion served the state; in Christianity, the state serves the religion.
Climate Change in the Next Ten Years
Saturday, 96 PM
Chris Kreuter, Frank O'Brien, Jay Wile
Description: "The effects of climate change can already be seen all over the world. Close to home, the superstorm hurricane season, midwestern drought, and western wildfires are all linked to climate change. However, the impacts are felt most keenly by developing countries, and the poorer inhabitants of developed countries. Panelists will discuss the climatological, meteorological, and sociopolitical developments we can expect to see in the next 10 years, and the most important steps that need to be taken to mitigate these impacts."
Estimated attendance: 35
- Wile: Hurricanes, wildfires, and droughts are not increasing due to climate change.
- O'Brien: How confident are we in statements, and what are the consequences? For sunspots, we have a high confidence but small consequences for climate change.
- Kreuter: Knowledge and concern are higher in the Netherlands.
- Wile: "Climate sensitivity" is arise in temperature when cardon dioxide levels double from pre-industrial levels.
- Wile: The Netherlands has decided to deal with the consequences rather than to prevent them.
- O'Brien: Models are wrong, but useful.
- [I left early because the panelists did not seem to be addressing the stated topic.]
What Impact Can Any One Novel Have?
Sunday, 10 AM
Ellen Asher, Vikki Ciaffone, Russ Colchamiro, Joe Siclari
Description: "What are the limits of influence a book can have on society, on other novels, and on publishing? Is there one? Is there even a codifiable way of measuring a story's reach, or is it too subtle a thing for us to ever truly know?"
- [1984 by George Orwell, Uncle Tom's Cabin] by Harriet Beecher Stowe
- Ciaffone: Daughter of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Jenny Wurts.. Japan bootlegged the second and third books when they were declared subversive.
- Asher: UTC [I wish I could remember what this meant]
- Ciaffone: 1984
- Siclari: The World Set Free by H. G. Wells got scientists interested in atomic energy.
- Colchamiro: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
- [Three Laws of Robotics]
- Panel: newspeak, doublespeak, fake news
- Asher: Lady Chatterly's Lover by D. H. Lawrence changed censorship laws; also Ulysses (which may have been too influential
- Siclari: Dune by Frank Herbert and environmentalism
- Siclari: Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein started a cople of religions
- Audience: The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and the Romantic movement
- Caffione: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
- Colchamiro: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
- Audience: The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien created Dungeons & Dragons, gaming, etc.
- [Me: obviously religious texts]
- Audience: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
- Caffione: Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James, Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
- Audience: "Harry Potter" by J. K. Rowling made reading poplar
- Colchamiro: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo, Watchmen by Alan Moore
- [Me: We're starting to see topic drift--so what else is now?]
- Audience: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
- Audience: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
- Kate Pott: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
- Audience: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
- Audience: The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of by Thomas M. Disch
- Audience: Common Sense by Thomas Paine and John Locke's Second Treatise on Government
- Colchamiro: Lord of the Flies by William Golding
- Siclari: The personal importance is when you read it.
The Influence of Film on Contemporary Science Fiction Writing
Sunday, 12 N
Tom Doyle, Peter Prellwitz, Aaron Rosenberg, Diane Weinstein, Steve Wilson
Description: "How is the hope for a Hollywood adaptation influencing writers and their current works?"
Estimated attendance: 10
Subterranean Science Fiction
Sunday, 1 PM
James L. Cambias, John Grant, Richard Stout, Diane Weinstein
Description: "From Verne's 'Journey to the Center of the Earth' to Burroughs's "Pellucidar" series to "The Tunnels" series by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams, the idea of a world hidden beneath our own has been a persistent trope in SF. What opportunities does an underground setting offer to writers?"
Estimated attendance: 20
- Grant: Hit their stride in the 20th century, earlier:
- "The Machine Stops"
- "The Coming Race"
- Pellucidar stories
- Stout: Favorite is Tarzan at the Earth's Core by Edgar Rice Burroughs
- Stout: Had a flying Stegosaurs article as its source
- Cambias: Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne
- Weinstein: The Time Machine by H. G. Wells
- Cambias: Wells had some of Asimov's claustrophilia; Things to Come by H. G. Wells
- Grant: There are no good films of Journey to the Center of the Earth
- Cambias: filmmakers should get cave enthusiasts involved
- Grant: There is a fifty-kilometer-long cave on the moon.
- Stout: Bronson Caves (in a lot of movies)
- Stout: Etidorhpa by John Uri Lloyd
- [Me: Atlantida by Pierre Benoit
- Audience: Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere
- [Me: H. Rider Haggard's She]
- Cambias: The Phantom Empire
- Cambias: The Moon Pool by A. E. Merritt
- Plutonia by Vladimir Obruchev
- Weinstein: Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
- Panel: [a lot of stuff abot constructed subterranean cities]
- [Me: There is a difference between an entire (secret) subterranean world, and a well-known constructed one.]
- Stout: Hades, levels as in Dante
- Cambias: Caves on other worlds (Mars, Miranda)
- Grant: Dante's Inferno and underground scenes in the Book of Job have no feeling of "undergroundness".
- Cambias: "The Mound" ghost-written by H. P. Lovecraft
- Grant: Various H. P. Lovecraft stories, "The Tomb of the Old Ones" by Colin Wilson
- Weinstein: Closed systems require more care and attention.
- Grant: It is difficult to do "hollow earth" stories today.
- Mark Leeper: Subterranean cities in Cappadocia.
- Grant: Likes the idea that we are inside a hollow earth with optical illsions, as promoted by John Cleves Symmes, Jr.
- Cambias: Adam Seaforth, Simsonia (?)
Classic SF Anthology Shows
Sunday, 2 PM
Stephanie Burke, Ray Ridenour, Mark Wolverton
Description: "Almost everyone has heard of the Twilight Zone, even if they've never seen an episode. But what about similar shows, and their contributions to the genre? A discussion of Tales from the Darkside, Night Gallery, The Veil, Thriller, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and more."
Estimated attendance: 20
- Ridenour: One Step Beyond, LSD on camera
- Ridenour: Also straight drama anthology series
- Wolverton: Playhouse 90, United States Stell Hour; Rod Serling wrote for these.
- Burke: Tales of Tomorrow was radio show first.
- Ridenour: Shorter attention span2
- Burke: Kept costs down at first on The Twilight Zone
- Ridenour: Interlocutor goes back to Greek drama.
- Wolverton: Rod Serling did not show up until second season.
- Ridenour: Alfred Hitchcock had a different vibe.
- Wolverton: Science Fiction Theater, Truman Bradley
- Ridenour/Wolverton: Serling controlled The Twilight Zone
- Wolverton: Anthology shows can do many different styles, and experiment.
- Burke: Amazing Stories
- Wolverton: Amazing Stories was more fantasy than science fiction.
- Wolverton: Anthology series can be very inconsistent.
- Burke: Monsters ("My Zombie Lover"), Tales from the Darkside, Ray Bradbury Theater. Monsters had diversity.
- Ridenour: Night Gallery used lighting.
- Burke: Water in glass in Amazing Stories's "The Train" and in Jurassic Park (both Steven Spielberg).
- Audience: Amazing Stories were all original, but The Twilight Zone used stories from the pulps.
- Audience: The Outer Limits was science fiction noir, more adult than The Twilight Zone.
- Wolverton: ABC made The Outer Limits a "monster of the week" show.
- Burke: The Hitcher had an unreliable narrator.
- Audience: A show can start doing stand-alone episodes like an anthology.
- Audience: I>The Fugitive was essentially an anthology.
- Burke: Perversions of Science (1997-1998) bad.
- Kate Pott: "Silent Snow, Secret Snow" by Conrad Aiken was done on Night Gallery
The Dance Party room was apparently set up by the hotel with rows of chairs in it.
Plaza II needs microphones, and Plaza I needs to be quieter. In general, we need microphones because many attendees' ears are failing, and panelists' voices are failing also.
There should be a panel on "Science Fiction Films Made for Less Than $5 Million"
Someone asked why their were Sabbath services happening in programming rooms at a lot of science fiction conventions, so I suppose I'll explain here. Observant Jews are not allowed to drive, ride in a car, etc., on the Sabbath. But their are no synagogues within walking distance of most convention hotels, so in order to accommodate people who might otherwise not be able to attend, an unused room is set aside Friday evening and early Saturday morning for this purpose. There are no rooms set aside on Sunday for Christian, since Christians are allowed to drive or ride in cars.