Philcon 2010
A convention report by Evelyn C. Leeper
Copyright 2014 by Evelyn C. Leeper
[I have gotten several years behind in my Philcon reports and rather than give up altogether, I have decided to transcribe my notes without turning them into real sentences, paragraphs, etc. Maybe someday I will flesh them out, but I would not bet on it. At any rate, this report got done in only a few hours. And as they say, "The perfect is the enemy of the good."]

Table of Contents:


Classic SF Movie and TV Tropes Done Right!
Friday, 5:00 PM
Christopher Stout, Christopher Garland, Jim Rosen

Description: "Anyone who's been to knows them... the story and character elements that are used, over and over, as shorthand in TV and film. Things like the Evil Empire, the Noble Warrior Aliens, and the Badass Longcoat (or Browncoat, as the case may be), have all been in multiple movies and shows, and have often been a sign of something hackneyed and trite. But what about those times when they're used RIGHT?"

Estimated attendance: 12 people

Stout is working on a movie tentatively titled Recursion having to do with time travel, etc. You need the tropes to distinguish it: flashing lights, lens flares, whirlygig time machine, but you have to find a balance of the familiar and the non-stereotype.

Someone in the audience suggested that "tropes are like a handhold." Stout agreed: "You see the fedora, and rain, and shadows, you're watching a noir. You can also have a lot of fun playing against it." He gave Brick (a high school film noir) as an example. But where is the line drawn between trope and stereotype or cliché?

What you need is archetypal satisfaction. There have been archetypal expectations, especially since 1977. Archetypes can turn into tropes, and then into stereotypes, which become derivative.

Someone in the audience suggested that the tropes in Planet of the Apes made it seem to be one sort of science fiction, but really was another. Another said, "The ending was sheer Rod Serling." And yet another added, "Rod Serling was the master of playing against the trope."

is predictability a necessary result of using tropes? For that matter, Mark Leeper asked, what is a trope? Stout said that we have Jungian archetypes and stories. (Only two stories: A man goes to town, or a man leaves town.)

Smaller subsets of characteristics of a genre are tropes. Film noir is the classic example. More shadows, crime, the vixen, the hard-boiled detective.

Something you can identify as belonging to a particular genre. Something that has become a cultural meme.

But they can become clichés.

The writer has to put something new in it [e.g., Jesse Stone's drinking].

Audience: Spielberg could take the serials which had been done to death and in IJ made it seem new and fresh.

Stout: artists used to reference literature, but now they reference film and television.

Audience: seeing all the tropes in one film is a problem, especially in horror movies

Audience: the important thing is originality [but doesn't this contradict the idea of the trope]

Audience: likes when they migrate a trope from one genre to another (captain in Firefly) [but Firefly really was a Western]

Star Trek went on the air when Westerns were enormously popular. At the same time, The Wild Wild West (and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) was cashing in on James Bond.

[not really much about tropes]

Audience: Hollywood wants everything made to fit expectations, to be predictable. Filmmakers are lazy, studios are timid.

"That's a movie I'm really waiting not to see." (remake of The Wizard of Oz)

Stout: James Bond films

Audience: Claimed the men wanted to be James Bond and the women in the audience wanted to be with James Bond. No, the men thought the women wanted to be with James Bond.

Stout: action, detective thrillers, spy movies

Me: one-liners, gimmicks, stupid women's names, self-intro, martini

In The Dark Knight Christopher Nolan took the tropes of action noir thriller and recast them as Batman.

Rosen showed up and hijacked the panel to talk about The Invaders, about which he has written a book.


The Future of Libraries and Bookstores
Friday, 8:00 PM
Tom Purdom (mod), Philippa Ballantine, Dina Leacock, Neal Levin, Barbara Barnett

Description: "Will the future visitor to the library or bookstore be someone carrying his or her e-reader into a nook or cranny?"

Estimated attendance: 25 people


The Roots of Steam Punk: Victorian Science Fiction
Friday, 9:00 PM
Richard Stout (mod), Philippa Ballantine, Gil Cnaan, Tee Morris

Description: "Giant killer zeppelins! Death rays! Clanking inventions! Exploring the science fiction about H. G. Wells and his contemporaries."

Estimated attendance: 25 people


The Fantasy and Science Fiction of Mark Twain
Saturday, 10:00 AM
Richard Stout (mod), Keith DeCandido, Peter Prellwitz, Evelyn C. Leeper

Description: "Exploring the fantastic work of America's great writer from the pioneering time travel of The Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court to the philosophical fantasy of his later work."

Estimated attendance: 20 people


The 5 Essential Science Fiction Writers
Saturday, 11:00 AM
Tom Purdom (mod), Evelyn Leeper, Andrew Breslin, Byron Connell, Gardner Dozois

Description: "What 5 writers do you absolutely have to read to know what science fiction is about?"

Estimated attendance: 15 people

[The first part is my set of notes from beforehand.]


Does Accurate Science in Science Fiction Matter?
Saturday, 12:00 N
Bud Sparhawk (mod), Lawrence Kramer, Lois J. Wickstrom, Eric Kotani

Description: "Verne criticized Wells for employing impossibilities like time travel. Yet the works of wells have withstood the test of time better than those of Verne. RINGWORLD was scientifically flawed, but was hugely successful. Why should the writer make the extra effort to get it right?"

Estimated attendance: 15 people


But That's Not Science Fiction
Saturday, 1:00 PM
Michael J. Walsh (mod), Barbara Bennett, Carl Fink, Glenn Haumann

Description: "Certain types of non-Science Fiction works such as the Sherlock Holmes series, the Regency Romances of Georgette Heyer, much of Kipling and the Hornblower series as widely read by many science fiction fans and writers. Is there something these works have in common with Science fiction? If so, what is it?"

Estimated attendance: 20 people


How Often Is SF Genuinely Controversial?
Saturday, 3:00 PM
David Louis Edelman, Alexis Gilliland, Stephanie Burke

Description: "We are not talking about works that some people like and some people don't. Think of Science Fiction works that genuinely oppose the accepted views of the day. How many examples can we think of?"

Estimated attendance: 20 people

[Waiting for late panelists is fine--up to a point. That point is no more than five minutes after the scheduled start time.]


Watch the Skies! Great SF Films of the '50s
Saturday, 5:00 PM
Tony Finan (mod), Orenthal Hawkins, Richard Stout, James Rosin, Steve Vertlieb, Mark Wolverton

Description: "It was the era of Eisenhower, McCarthy, cars with fins, and rock & roll. It was also the era of some of the greatest SF movies ever made, like "Forbidden Planet", "The Day the Earth Stood Still", "Invasion of the Body Snatchers", and "Little Shop of Horrors". (OK, so three out of four ain't bad...) Let's discuss what made the '50's such a great decade for SF movies."

Estimated attendance: 12 people


One-Hit Wonders
Saturday, 9:00 PM
Michael J. Walsh (mod), Patricia M. Cryan, Lawrence Johnson

Description: "Just as there are recording artists who are known for only one hit song, there are writers known for only one story. "The Cold Equations" by Tom Godwin, "A Subway Named Moebius" by A. J. Deutch, "The Werewolf" by Clemence Houseman, and LUD-IN-THE-MIST by Hope Mirlees come to mind. Why in each case is critical attention focused on only one story by these writers?"

Estimated attendance: 3 people


The Science Fictionalization of Alternate Histories
Sunday, 10:00 AM
Tom Purdom (mod), Roberta Rogow, Eric Kotani, Evelyn Leeper

Description: "How did the alternate history story become Science Fiction as opposed to political satire, for example?"

Estimated attendance: 30 people

[The first part is my set of notes from beforehand.]

This resembled a panel at Torcon 2003: "Does Alternate History need a Science Fiction Element?" with panelists Alexis Gilliland, Scott Mackay, Mark Rayner, Robert Silverberg, Charlie Stross, and a description of "Is an alternate history most effective when it involves a science fictional element -- e.g., giving automatic weapons to the Confederates, or scheduling an alien invasion at a pivotal point in time -- or is it just as interesting to craft an alternate history that hinges purely on a change in the historical timeline? And if you write the latter, is it still science fiction or simply what historians are now calling counterfactuals?" See .

Silverberg had two types:

Poe defined a short story as a story in which one thing happens. Silverberg said that for SF, it is "One unlikely thing happens." Silverberg also said that Poe really meant "One thing happens and then you face the consequences." A lot of alternate histories do not do the second part.

Stross's three (or four) types:

Mackay said that counter-factuals need a more educated audience.

Rayner had a fifth type:

Mackay said there is a difference between making how the alternate history works itself out the main story, and making an alternate scenario the backdrop of a story not directly related to it.

Silverberg said that alternate history is science fiction by its very nature.

[The second part is my set of notes from the panel itself.]


The 5 Essential Fantasy Writers
Sunday, 11:00 AM
Gardner Dozois (mod), Chris Pisano

Description: "What 5 writers do you absolutely have to read to know what fantasy is about?"

Estimated attendance: 7 people



The grid was confusing and there was no map or room numbers in the Pocket Program. There was also no on-line downloadable program. Panelists' schedules went out too late to incorporate changes in the Pocket Program, or for much preparation by the panelists.

There were no tent cards--apparently some tent cards were destroyed, so they decided not to issue any at all.

The con suite food included hard-boiled eggs and peanut butter, but no candy.

Waiting for late panelists is fine--up to a point. That point is no more than five minutes after the scheduled start time. One panel waited considerably longer.