drcpunk (drcpunk) wrote,

Denvention, Post Four

After the panel on the 20 Essential SF Works of the Last 20 Years, I went to the dealers' room, as, apparently did many other people. The one copy of River of Gods was snapped up while I was deliberating, although this turned out to be a good thing, as ebartley had given it to mneme for his birthday. I did get a copy of Bagigalupi's collection and the first book in K. J. Parker's Engineer trilogy.

Josh and I had dinner with Lisa Deutsch-Harrigan at Cafe Berlin, a lovely German restaurant. She'd eaten there the previous night, and she explained that while the restaurant was booked solid, there was an outdoor area. The outdoor area was full, but as we pondered what to do, one group left, clearing a table. We had duck and brie and beer and schnaps and salmon.

Josh and I dropped off our leftovers at our hotel, then went to the Sheraton. He gamed while I did the parties, mostly the con suite. The consuite had cold shrimp with cocktail sauce, hot shrimp scampi, lox, possibly brie, and yummy sweets. I chatted with Avram about some of the panels we'd been to.

He'd gone to the Evil Empires: Microsoft vs Amazon panel, which I had considered. His paperblog is up, but one quote from that panel was so delightful that I wrote it down: Charles Stross said that, in 1991, Pepsi had the world's largest fleet of diesel-electric hunter-killer submarines. I gather that there is a perfectly logical explanation for this, but my brain is still racing to see how I can fit this into my Cthulhupunk rpg.

We talked comics at some point, and Avram said that the idea of Heaven and Hell not equating to Good and Evil entered superhero comics around the time of the Vietnam war. I'm putting that here so that he can let me know if I've misunderstood.

I also talked about the presentation I'd be doing at MythCon, and he asked if I had a thesis. I said that I sort of did, explained a bit, and then wrote down a few ideas I'd picked up during the convention. All of this probably made my presentation work better, but I think it would have been far preferable to have actually written a full paper. That would have forced me to nail down a lot of ideas that were regrettably mushy.

This was the night that we filked until dawn and then did breakfast with Kathy Mar and the other filkers who'd made it that long. Breakfast was at the Sheraton, a wonderful buffet, with salmon and brie, as well as the usual eggs, bacon, sausage -- and very good sausage at that -- and fresh fruit. I think this was the night that I learned that there was a second song about Patricia McKillip's Fool's Run, which the singers, who were, quite probably, the authors, described as proto-cyberpunk. I hadn't thought about it, but they're right.

I did not wake up in time for a 10 am panel, which surprised me not at all. I had thought about making Inventing the Female Soldier, as this was relevant to my Mythcon paper, but I needed the sleep more. I was awake in time for the next series of panels, and considered the Arthur C. Clarke: In Memoriam and Timeless Stars: Rudyard Kipling, but decides that there was a panel I wanted to make more than those.

Making a Living Telling Lies at 11:30, with Bill Mayhew (moderator), Connie Willis, Jay Lake, and Jo Walton

This was both delightful and dangerous. I tend to avoid overtly political panels at sf conventions, as this is not generally what I am looking for. And a nice little panel on storytelling -- what could possibly be political about that? Right. And The Crucible is just about the Salem Witch Trials, and not at all about what was going on in the USA at the time.

The panel did not focus on politics, but on lies and storytelling, and, as should be the case, anything else that came up arose naturally and tied in to the the nominal topic of the panel. But this was a useful reminder that stories are Not Tame and neither are authors.

As the panel started, Jo Walton was talking to Jay Lake about the Heinlein panel she'd just been on.

Jay Lake: What kind of a Heinlein panel is that -- no sex, no guns, no politics?

Jo Walton: Well, there was some sex.

Jay Lake: Better some sex than no sex. Oh, was that my outside voice?

Jo Walton: I just won a Prometheus award, which is nice especially as I'm not a libertarian.

[I am awesome -- I could barely read what I wrote, but I reconstructed more or less what Jo said based on the context, once I deciphered that.]

Connie Willis: If they find out, do you have to give it back?

Jo: No, I told them. They were very tolerant, especially for libertarians.

Jay Lake: Given the second amendment, I would think so.

Jay Lake: (illeg -- either about him getting the Campbell award or about him presenting it to this year's winner or both)

Connie Willis: Writes a lot of time travel stuff. New book in about a month: All Clear: a novel about time travel in the Blitz.

Bill Mayhew (moderator): Taught elementary school. I was able to save a child's life. I said, "Get away from me before I kill you."

Bill's a storyteller, not a writer. He doesn't make a living at it.

Bill: You just don't hear, "The Porsch belongs to the storyteller." I assume we'll be covering the basics, such as the law? Making a living lying. (to Connie) You could be said to do that.

Connie: Yes, indeed.

Bill: I do it recreationally.

Jay: Recreational lying?

Jo: I'd be lying if I said that I made a living at it.

Jay: I'd be lying if I didn't say that (illeg -- everything here was true?)

Bill: It's hard to tell a complete lie. The more truth you put in, the more believable it is.

Connie: Spouses are a problem. They correct one's stories of what happened, cause of many divorces, more murders. E.g.:

"So we were out with the Jones --"

"No, it was the Davises, dear."

"And we ordered a stake --"

"It was a pasta dish, with anchovies."

"I'm trying to tell a story here!"

Connie and Jo are full time authors because they have husbands with jobs.

Jay: I don't have a husband, but I do have a job.

Bill: I don't have a job. Storytellers are like lawyers, but we get along better.

Jay: I was sent home with a note to tell my parents to punish me for lying. He wrote an essay telling about his parents' wedding. It was not a lie, and if it were, it would not be a lie, but fiction. Hard to tell a lie.

Jo: I'm hopeless at actually making stuff up, because I don't actually know what happens next in the book.

Jay: So, ideas don't come to you in the post? I get mailings twice a week.

Jo: From Schnectedy?

Jay: It's one of the advantages of being an American.

Bill: Tolkien didn't have any ideas. He just made stuff up.

Audience: What's the difference?

Connie: You need to read the New York Times. It's where I get all my ideas. Wildly implausible. If you wrote it down as is, you'd be applauded for your imagination.

E.g., bridezillas trying to take control of their own weddings, rather than letting their mothers control them. Big thing. Fr'ex insisting that all the bridesmaids must have

-- Botox of breast enhancements

-- a tan of exactly the right shade. One woman was claustrophobic, so she didnt want to use the tanning booth. The bride would not allow her to do a spray on tan, because she wanted the shades to be exact!

-- It's not just for the bridesmaids, but for the whole wedding party. Connie said she'd love to see a bride telling her mother-in-law to get breast enhancements.

Bill: And I thought fans were weird.

Connie: There is nothing weirder than New York.

Jay: Has friends who died in a pornography fire. It's hard to talk about that. All those women burned up.

Jo: Fractal -- almost have to lie to simplify.

Connie: Trying to use shorthand.

Jo: Which you need to tell a story.

Connie: We all have a friend who cannot tell a story because they try to put all the details in. The only one can do this is Mark Twain. [something I can't read, likely a cite of a particular story]

Jo: Or Garrison Keillor. Incredibly tightly written. I tried to imitate this in a story on my blog. Like a nautilus shell. Nautilus stories. The one on my blog starts: "I don't know much about art..."

Connie: Cheating / lying: If I were doing that, it would make more sense!

Jay: Lying to protect something. The waiter spilled soup on me because I tripped him.

Connie: Used to write confessionals, "True Stories". Contract: "I swear that none of this is based on any true story." Later, this changed, and I stopped writing for them. It got complicated when one had to say that it really was a true story, because of the need for truth in advertising. But, it was not a true story! It was fictional! They said, "All you need to say is that it was based on an anecdote you heard that inspired you." But still -- too complicated.

Bill: I used to be a liar. A bad liar. Then, I saw a squirrel go down to the river, where there was a nut on a rock. As it reached for the nut, a giant carp came out of the water and ate the squirrel! Then, the carp put another nut on the rock. I gave up telling lies after that.

Jo: Kids have great imaginations. We usually lose them as we get older. For example, the story of how the west wing of the house burned down, with 15 fire engines coming, and the teacher does not believe this excuse. We learn to tell better lies, e.g., that we felt unwell. The teacher believes these and feels sorry for the kid. But, something has been lost -- the whole west wing of the hou;se.

Jay: Some believe "Literature lost its sense of wonder after Coleridge." Have you read anything in my field for at least a hundred years? And a woman who said this got offended at the description of Frankenstein as sf, because it is "Literature".

Connie: Social lies. I had the misfortune to grow up during the time when everyone taught that "honesty is the best policy" and believed in "letting it all hang out". Thank goodness we don't have telepathy!

Jo: Spider Robinson sees telepathy as good. Innocent optimism. She agrees with Connie: It's good that we don't have it.

Connie: There's a real reason for saying "Oh, I love this sweater! It's perfect! Thank you so much!" There were [Audience: And are] Marriage Encounter sessions, and friends asked why I didn't go. I said, "My husband and I feel it's best not to encounter our marriage. We hope it will go away."

[Me: Peter David gave Timov a lovely line in Babylon 5: Londo, the foundation of our marriage is a complete lack of communication. You have jeopardized that, and I want to know why!]

Jay: Connie, speaking as a youngster, you have just explained much of the music of the 1970s to me.

Connie: All "for your own good" means "I'm going to say something mean to you and expect you to take it and not reciprocate".

Bill: E.g., "I'm going to see the Pope in 5 minutes. What do you think of this outfit?" They can't change it. Why make them feel worse?

"Well, it's the truth!" So what?

Connie: And who says it's the truth? "Just being honest" -- as if that's a defense.

C.f. The History of Guile.

Jo: The virtue of hypocrisy. The tribute vice pays virtue by pretending to be virtuous. Generally, virtue is better, but --.

Connie: Cheney pays no homage at all. He doesn't even bother.

Jay: Lies we tell the children. What's to the left of zero? We are told "nothing". It's not age appropriate to go into the details of what's actually there. But, I knew that there was something there. Storytelling is related to pedagogy. You say things that are not true so that the things you say later will make sense.

Jo: Simplified science for engineers. But, they know it's wrong, so they try to explain it and get bizarre ideas. Better to say, "This is the short version: for now, nothing. We'll explain more later." So, sometimes, when asked a question, say, "Short or long?"

Jay: That's exactly what I tell my daughter.

Jo: In the UK, it is possible to do no science classes after the age of 13. Very simplified version, "This is the short version", so that people know. Not lies, but baroque fantasies that no one needs to create, because the answer is out there. I was told that rivers in the mountains run faster than rivers in the plains. This is not true. Most science I know I know from science fiction. You can carry on thinking untrue things for years. That bit about parliamentary democracy since 2000 -- believed that propaganda.

Connie: Us too.

"Doing the research for one of my sf books".

"What possible research? You just make it all up, right?"

No. You need the grounding, the truth to extrapolate the lies. People have a skewed view. Is fiction true? They'd say no. But, to get at the truth, to say true things. There is also a great deal of truth in stories. For example, there really is a subway, or what they had for breakfast. This truth is why we can buy into the fiction.

[Chaucer said that there is one law for two contrary things. One needs the grounding in reality for the fantasy to work. Maybe that's why the best fantasy has people eating?]

Jay: Tilting at windmills, aetheism and faith. Empirical vs mythical truth. Empirical: The grass is green. Storytellers deal in mythical truths.

[something illegible]

Connie: Oedipus, a made up story. But the story is true: When one attempts to avoid one's fate, the thhings one does to avoid it often makes it happen. We know in our hearts that's right, that's true. That's why we can relate to it across 2,000 years. All good or popular stories are true on some level.

Jo: Cf. the earlier social control panel. We make up stories based on news articles. It's hard to get at the "truth". Stories have better shape. You can get a long way from fact-based reality.

Jay: Can I just say I love the term "social control panel"?

Connie: Carl Sandberg: What is the truth? The court oath, "I promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth" -- you cannot tell "the whole truth"' and "nothing but the truth". What does it mean? Truth as the least important part.

Jo: "The terrorists at Guantanamo" imposes a story. My story is these people have to have a trial. Theirs is that these people are terrorrists, so we need them out of the way. You can't argue when there are axiomatic differences.

Jay: And they move the goal posts. So, these people are x, y, z -- but the rest are terrorists.

Jo: Goebbel's Diary. He whines a lot about Germans who say, "Yes, kill the Jews -- but not this one. This one is a good Jew." Everyone he knew knew one good Jew. And this is true everywhere, every day. These people do not exist in our reality, but clearly exist in his. There's a weird edge. It doesn't fit with us. Never came across anything like this anywhere.

Connie: One guy helping Jews escape said to them, "Tell them we're not all bad." That was the message he wanted to get out. We simplify things too much.

Jo: It's complex. The people Goebbel talked about were not good people. They wanted to save their one good person.

Jay: Repulicans, thoughtful people, with a disconnect between beliefs and actiosn, as if beliefs don't have consquences. Same disconnect as Nazis. Do good things, as if beliefs don't matter.

Connie: If you write because you have Something to Say, write an essay or a letter to the editor Literature is about all the things we don't have answers for -- disconnects, problems, et cetera. After watching WALL-E, looked up the guy who played Barnaby in Hello Dolly, Danny Lockin. He was murdered in 1977, stabbed over a hundred times. Disconnect. Things we have no answer to. Here in the middle is our story, what literature should be about. We have nothing else. Literature is all we have to deal with the disconnects.

[It's a really creepy story, as far as I can tell from minimal net research.]

Audience: Truth is subjective. The story of Oedipus is true only if you believe you can't change fate. Disagreeing with the idea of not always having something to say when you write, because you do. A comuter model always may be simplified. Literature is the same. Make a point, even if the point is "Look at this."

Jo: Stories happen in cracks where two things come together. Doesn't matter which.

Jay: Boundary locations are inherently interesting. That's why beaches are interesting. Leonard Cohen: "There is a crack in everything / That's how the light gets in."

Connie: Not nothing to say, just no answers. Atlas Shrugged isn't a novel, but a treatise. Great literature gets close to the complexity of reality, as oppowed to a Harlequin Romance. War and Peace is more complex than Kipling, where complexity is everywhere.

Jay: [something illegible] and because Feminist Litrature, hard to read. Yet when not on a soap box, readable. Serving the story vs serving the author.

Jo: Politics in sf is like salt in ice cream. It can be done right, vs Atlas Shrugged, too salty to eat.

Audience: Hitler exempted certain people, certain German officers necessary to the war effort, honorary Aryans. The preferred truth. The politics of power. He didn't give a damn about his own theology.

Connie: Okay, say we leave this room and have a new September 11th incident. We know what the Republicans will say. We know what the Democrats will say. They've already made up their minds not only about what has happened, but about all that can happen.

As opposed to, say, Octavia Butler's "Bloodchild", vs her historical view of slavery. "Bloodchild" tells you more about the complexity of slavery than Uncle Tom's Cabin. Butler's story lets you get past your blocked doors and see it fresh because you don't stand in the same relationship to it. You don't know!

Jo: Accumulated effect of reading much sf teaches you how to reflexively think about other things.

Audience: Serling's The Twilight Zone, to discuss political ideas he couldn't talk about in other forums.

Connie: Serling had a powerful effect on the field. Using another artificial construct to look at social issues. Not sugar coating, but gets past your attentions because you are looking at other things. The key to writing is to get past our own prejudices and see what I think, not just what I think I think.

Saw twins who'd been separated at birth reunited on television, both grown men, with same dress and body language. And, when asked, both said, with exactly the same intonation and body language, "Well, of course we believe in free will!"

Story -- is sociological chameleon who could not help but become whatever he was near. No free will. Trying to figure out what I thought about free will. I learned as much as my readers about free will and determinism.

[Cf. also Ted Chiang's story "What's Expected of Us".]

Jay: One of the beauties of our field. [Is he quoting David Hartwell in what follows? I thought he was, but my notes don't actually say.]

The three years of a work of science fiction:

The year it was written
The year it's really about
The year it says it's about

E.g., Octavia Butler writing about slavery.

Bill: Pre-Civil War story. An escaped slave, well spoken, is interviewed.

"Were you secretly educated?"

"No, I was educated with the master's children."

"Were you overworked?"


"Then... why did you run away?"

"Hey, the job's open if you want it."

[Rereading, this reminded me of Rosemary Sutcliff's Dawn Wind.]

Connie: In "Bloodchild", we are lulled into believing a certain thing, then the shock of learning the truth. Nabakov's Lolita. The narrator tells you how the young siren seduced him, was a partner in his crimes. Very persuasive. Then, around page 800: "And the sound of Lolita crying every night, every night, every night." A lying bastard of a narrator, and you must rethink, reread. Everything you were told is a lie. The truth of the novel you thought you had / the real truth. It all explodes.

Jo: Icehenge by Kim Stanley Robinson. The first half is written as a diary. Published separately. In the rest, people say, "It's fiction!" "No -- it's real!" you cry -- but, of course it's fiction. Weird thing to have in your head.

[Professor Pinciss pointed out that Shakespeare gives his boy actors playing women speeches that dare the audience to remember that this is a boy.]

Audience: Douglas Adams wrote in one of his books about aq man who told "the whole truth" in court. He lost his mind, and that court was there for 4 days listening.

Connie: We like stories because the non-essentials are picked out. Only the essentials remain. We don't know what the essentials in our lives are.

[And this reminded me of Ted Chiang's story "Division by Zero".]

She tells the kids she taught, "You can't just have someone die to end their story." Yet, people get hit by cars or otherwise die every day. Unlike Martin Luther King, Jr. or Princess Diana, whose deaths seem relate4d to the main narrative of their life.

Audience: Danger of simplicity. Granularity of truth till grad school

Jay: Every Soviet Union kid knows the USA invaded twice. And, we don't interpret it that way.

Jo: I first heard of the War of 1812 on Usenet. I asked, "Is this some big deal?" Biggest flame war not about gun control! Commends Heinlein for recognizing (in one of the juvies?) sideshow of the Napoleonic War.

Bill: But important to those who died in it. A man walked on the beach in a storm, throwing starfish back into the water.

Someone watching him said, "You can't toss them all in. What good will it possibly do?"

"It'll do this one a lot of good," he said, tossing another one in.

Jo: The War of 1812, the American Revolution -- just not as important to UK history books.

Audience: Laura Secourt -- chocolate stores. Canada's Paul Revere.

Jo: Canada won the War of 1812 due to British neglect. Made them feel like a country.

Connie: If we don't stop thinking early -- which a lot of people do -- we change and assimilate data. News story about a Pastor's wife sued by the church because she lost her faith. Aren't you supposed to? To find it challenged?

Audience: Only if you believe in liberal religions.

Connie: I suppose it's true. But not just true of religion -- must fit within the framework or discard, vs sf constantly looking at new data and constantly updating. My view changes with every book I read, every article in the NYTimes I read. New data on how humans work.

Jo: Clergymen in 19th century novels always had crises of faith. They gave up their parish, got their faith back, were given another parish. No one sued them! That's so American!

Connie: No, it's not! It wouldn't be news if it were!

Audience: Believing means not thinking.

Connie and Jo disagree. One can still think.

The woman in the audience who said that believing meant not thinking said that she had a Muslim husband in Malaysia. He would have to leave the country or be reeducated if he said that he didn't believe. Most authorities prefer that such move elsewhere. Reeducation of those who don't believe is mandatory, like jail.

At that point, the panel was out of time, and I saw Avram. We went to the next panel together, the last panel of the convention for us.
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