drcpunk (drcpunk) wrote,

Worldcon: Thursday, part two

Thursday, 3:30: Rereading
Graham Sleight, Larry Niven, Jo Walton, Kate Nepveu

I came a bit late to this one, so I was sitting on the floor in the back and couldn't see who was saying what. I could recognize Jo Walton's voice. I think as I came in, she was saying that the idea that one would never reread a book just struck her as very odd.

Jo Walton said that the first time one reads a book, one sees that it is or is not like X earlier work. There are books she's hated the first time around, and later reread and liked, such as Steven Brust's Teckla.

The woman on Tor.com who's rereading Lord of the Rings one chapter at a time is well aware that she is not Tolkien's ideal reader, but the work was written to be reread.

Reading aloud to a friend, rereading everything vs rereading a few passages.

[Note to self: I remember reading the Battle of Helm's Deep to Josh after we saw the second LotR movie, as a practical demonstration to us of what Tolkien did well that the movie did not. Movie vs book aside, the chapter is shorter than I'd remembered, and the sort of thing that later imitators might well turn into an entire doorstopper book.]

Music analogy: the piece will grow on you. Also, the similarities and differences from the previous work.

[Note to self: Hitchcock's films. The first time, one watches them for the plot. After, it's fascinating to look at what he's doing.]

One question raised late in the session was: Why would you reread something you didn't like?

And, this is a valid question. You've read the book. You gave it a chance. You didn't like it. Is there any reason to subject yourself to it again?

Yes, sometimes there is. One panelist said that if she still remembered a book she loathed in great detail five years later, it was a sign that there was enough there to be worth rereading. Something about that book had elicited strong reactions. I think that this was Jo Walton talking about John Barnes's Mother of Storms. And, one panelist said that she tended to dislike certain books the first time through, and to like them the second time through. I think she was talking about Steven Brust's Jhereg books, which I ought to reread myself.

Taking that as the starting point now, for my own musings, I detested Teckla when I read it. Later, I understood, or thought I did, what Brust was doing and why. I saw some value in that, but not enough to desire to reread the book.

Recently, Josh reread the series, and said that an awful lot of stuff in the more recent books is set up in the earlier ones. I need to reread the series and see for myself. And, enough years have passed that I think I can reread Teckla without holding my nose.

So, in the case of Teckla, time is the key. I don't think it would have been useful for me to try to reread it earlier. I may be wise enough to see both its strengths and its weaknesses, and, just as important, to see them in the context of the entire series.

The Fall of the Kings, by Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman, was a very different kettle of fish. I enjoyed reading this book the first time, but I found it disappointing. In the normal course of things, I would not have reread it for about a decade, give or take.

However, it made the finalist list for the Mythopoeic Award for Adult Fantasy. Only four items were on the list, and one of these was withdrawn by the author. This meant that there were only three items on the list. I reread at least two of these -- Ombria in Shadow and The Fall of the Kings.

Rereading The Fall of the Kings was extremely useful. The first time through, there was a part of me expecting another Swordspoint. This was an absurd idea. Having finished The Fall of the Kings the first time, I had finally clued in that Kushner was not about to write the book she had written years earlier, and that she wanted to write a different book.

Having gotten that out of my system, I could see the strengths of the book, and I could see how some of the themes were woven in from the beginning. I could also see the weaknesses of the book, but this time, I was fairly sure that they were actual weaknesses, not a case of my wanting to reread a completely different book. The Fall of the Kings was a much better book the second time around.

Patricia McKillip's Ombria in Shadow also improved on a reread, and that was a book I had enjoyed the first time. The second time, no longer reading for the plot, I could see a little better what McKillip was doing, and I could see one interesting line of dialogue turn from an innocuous brush off the first time it was spoken to a serious threat the second time it was spoken by the same character to the same people.

McKillip also wrote a novel called Fool's Run. I had problems with it the first time around, but it stayed on my shelf. Then, I heard Merav Hoffman sing "Fool's Run", a filksong she'd written about the book, and I went back and reread the novel.

It still has the same weakness I thought it had the first time around. And, that is a problem. But, everything else about the book works. The imagery is great. The characterization is excellent -- these are not the people you will find in any other McKillip book. The plot works. And, one scene I had remembered for one reason proved to be a far more terrific scene than I had imagined. I had remembered a scene with an interesting twist. That was still there. What I had forgotten was an emotional climax going on as the twist was twisting. It wasn't part of the plot. But, it was part of the characterization, and it was damned good writing.

When I first read Parke Godwin's Firelord, I found that it had been overhyped to me. And, I had read it after reading a whole lot of other Arthurian novels and before reading a whole lot more. I was not impressed by his twists on the plot, having seen it all. I did like a lot of what he was doing, and I did like the book. I just found it overhyped.

Years later, I reread it. It had improved. Part of this was because it wasn't an unread book being praised to the stars. Part was that I wasn't reading for the plot. I already knew what had happened. Part was that I wasn't comparing Godwin's novel to fifty others. When I wasn't thinking about how what he did differed from what everyone else did, the changes he rang were very interesting, and very well done. And, I could appreciate a lot of the timing on the reread. There are still things that bother me, but I think that falls into the category of "If I remember this that strongly, there is something important going on here."

Rereading doesn't always make a book improve. I know that a lot of folks like Ursula K. Le Guin's The Other Wind. I don't care for it, and I reread it when it made the finalist list. But, I don't begrudge the time spent rereading it.

This isn't to say that one must reread all books one dislikes, or even all books one likes. Some books are just bad, and some are pleasant enough, but merely fluff. Which are which, of course, depends on the reader.

Getting back to the panel, I asked how one knows which is the case. Jo Walton said that if she dislikes the book because of the characters or politics or world building, it's worth rereading, if only to bash them properly, with a clear idea of the problems.

Someone mentioned that this sounding like the opposite of rereading a favorite passage.

Someone: I left one book on the shelf. I wanted to slit my wrists after reading it, so I put on the shelf, and it sits there to this day, thinking about what it has done.

This got a laugh.

Jo Walton said that there's an emotional distance after the first time. You can only read a book once for the first time, unless someone spoiled it for you, in which case, you don't even get to do it once. Reading it knowing the plot is a different experience. She said that she could not reread Bone People because there was no tension because she knew what would happen.

[Note to self: Sounds like a song Brooke Lunderville and John Caspell sang, "The Last Page", about wanting read a book again for the first time.]

There are comfort and anti-comfort books, and both may well be reread, albeit for different reasons.

Comfort reading is done for the same reasons we may read certain types of mysteries and romances. These are works where we expect something specific. We have developed this expectation whether reading this type of book for the first time or whether rereading a Comfort book.

This is in contrast to Subversion of Expectations for a first time read. The jolt can be refreshing if well done.

Complex and labyrinthine books can still startle one when rereading them.

Someone: Most of my comfort books are books I discovered as a child. Jane Austen. The Narnia books, until someone mentioned that they were a Christian allegory. They're now former comfort books. Books may not be uncomplicated, but I was. I can put myself into that mode for a limited number of books. Saved up reading Jo Walton's Lifelode and loved it.

Jo Walton: Thank God! It would have been awful if you hadn't liked it! What a responsibility!

Someone said that Bear, Bujold, and Walton were good for rereading. Some comfort authors are different all the time, while others are the same all the time, like Piers Anthony.

Someone said that one book he or she reread immediately after finishing it was John Crowley's Engine Summer, which is about story telling and rereaading.

Someone read at age 12 and recently reread Diane Wynne Jones's Witch Week, but is not 12 any more. I can't tell from my notes if this is one of the things that person thought was great about rereading, or if the person didn't enjoy the book on rereading it, and this was why.

Books with complicated plots also reread well because you can't recall exactly what will happen. E.g., Middlemarach.

Jo Walton: People talk about comfort rereading as if it's a bad thing. What's wrong with being comforted? Sometimes people need comforting, and it's great that Georgette Heyer is there for them, and Jerry Pournelle, and Bujold, and George Eliot.

Books by Dead Authors that I really like and haven't read.

Someone: Tim Powers's Last Call, how all the threads come together.

Jo Walton: The Anubis Gates -- comfort. Emmet rereads Use of Weapons as a comfort book.

Someone: Didn't you once say he rereads The Wasp Factory for comfort?

Someone said that if one reads Tolkien when too young, one won't go back to the book to reread it. This is true of other books as well. Why read Silas Mariner in high school?

Someone: Because it's short, and most of Eliot is long!

Someone: Do authors reread their own stuff before writing the next in a series?

Jo Walton talked about this. She had such fun rereading a series of books before reading the most recent. Why didn't the author?

Then, she wrote the Small Change books and learned that you cannot reread your own published books with pleasure. Oh, eventually, you might like it again -- but not in time to write the third book in the series. You have to fact check, and that's not fun.

She now understands why there are minor inconsistencies in C. J. Cherryh's works. She wonders, "Did I give the character's mother a name?" So, then, you search on "mother", but you've forgotten that you used "mom", and didn't search on that.

She now understands why authors don't reread their own books.

Jo Walton: If I don't go into a long decline, but instead get Alzheimer's, I can reread my books with pleasure.

Someone: Will you post about them on Tor.com?

Jo Walton: Please shoot me if I do that!

Someone talked about comfort vs complexity, listing Le Morte D'Arthur and Robin Hood, as well as the Narnia books, which had more shades of gray and were edgier for the speaker than Tolkien on the reread.

Jo Walton mentioned her son reading Bujold's Memory.

Someone mentioned serials. For example, The Three Musketeers was originally a serial. Publication as a serial might explain why some inconsistencies might be there.

Someone said that what X author said or did might get in the way of reading. Not that X is an awful person, so that the reader no longer wants to give X money -- although that is valid.

Greer Gilman said that she has never been able to reread her first novel, Moonwise, until 20 years after she handed itt in. Now, she can allow as how it isn't that bad. The person she was when she wrote the book was a painful place to be.

She loves rereading. She rereads most for voice. A person's voice. Angela Carter is not comforting, by any means. Also Sylvia Townsend Warner, but what Greer rereads the most are Warner's letters.

Greer Gilman: I want to hear that singing.

Someone had 2 questions according to my notes. Books you don't dare reread? Books that surprised you most on the reread?

For her, it was Little House on the Prairie. She'd forgotten the whole Indian subplot.

Jo Walton said she was most surprised by books she'd read as a child. Was that one only 80 pages? There's some stuff she put in herself. Penelope Lively was the first grown up writer she'd grown out of.

Someone: The Suck Fairy takes the good out of books as they sit on the shelf and replaces them with suck. For her, that included Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time.

Someone doesn't dare reread the Narnia books. In addition to the Suck Fairy, there's the Racist Fairy which got to the Little House on the Prairie books. It was really sad to lose those. She suspects that the Sexist Fairy got to Have Space Suit, Will Travel, and she won't read it because she just can't lose the Mother Thing.

Someone said that Enid Blyton was about it. Most of the books this person read as a child are still good.

Someone: Wouldn't dare? no. Have no interest in revisiting? Yes.

Someone said that Samuel Delaney and John Crowley were two authors who surprised him most.

Meshing with the world. Hard to believe X book or piece of music didn't always exist. Eerie feeling.

John Crowley said, "Storytelling is the only kind of magic there is," about a year ago. It holds up a mirror to us. Rereading does this.

Thurs 5 PM
The Life and Works of John M Ford

This is not going to be nearly as coherent as the panel I wrote up from the 2007 Boskone. But, I took notes. It's what I do.

Jo Walton
Neil Gaiman
David Hartwell
Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden
Beth Meachim
Harriet McDougal (wife of the author known as Robert Jordan)

NG: Mike was the best beta reader I ever had. He would give one comment that nailed it. And he put me in a book and gave me a song.

HMD: Robert Jordan wrote for a cover quote "John M. Ford is the best writer in America today, bar none."

PNH: I edited him once, "Fugue State" for a Tor double.

Someone: Cleaning up ambiguities, no doubt?

PNH: No, adding new ones.

TNH to NG: Tell us about the song he wrote.

NG: Mike wrote two Star Trek novels, after each of which they changed the rules so no one could ever do it again. Both are totally different. Both are good whether you like Star Trek or not.

The Final Reflection was a first contact novel from the Klingon point of view. Having done that, Mike reflected that no one had ever told him not to do a musical.

[Note to self: Mike called them on the anti-Klingon racism, in The Final Reflection. I don't think that had ever been done before.]

Full size blow up starship.

Ilen the Magian = Neil Gaiman. Ilen sings "Monochrome", a "real" song, rather than, as with the others, a parody of something else, Gilbert & Sullivaan.

Having done it, he never did anything like that again. Which is why he is a fucking genius and why nobody has ever heard of him.

TNH: At the Making Light memorial thread, "You mean that Mike Ford did that? He invented Klingon culture.

DH: He and Somtow Sucharitkul were pets of Asimov's magazine. Both were about 21. George said to Tom, "I'm giving you my two best writers. You've got to take care of them. They're talented and disciplined. They'll do good writing for you." They were also terrified.

Web of Angels -- the first cyberpunk internet. Princes of the Air.

Mike wanted to deliver on time. And he did -- and lost a finger, because he was diabetic and he wasn't supposed to be typing. He delivered the manuscript and went into the hospital.. DH told him, "Never do tthat again. Deadlines are targets."

[Note to self: True and all, but they're also important, and I think that one important thing is to tell editors ahead of time when you know there's an issue. But, yes, one should not lose body parts to make deadlines!]

DGH was told Mike Ford wanted to do a Star Trek novel. DGH did a devious and possibly unethical deal whereby Paramount could disapprove of it after it had been written. This worked for three years, until Paramount noticed that there was a Star Trek novel on the bestseller list every month. Clearly, they had to crack down on this!

The Dragon Waiting was the last thing DGH did with Mike. It was published just after DGH left the company. It won the World Fantasy award.

NG: It's still in print in the UK. Mike had the worst cover karma. There was a dragon on the cover. I couldn't tell if it was waiting or not. It might just have been constipated.

In the book, the dragon is Wales. There's a vampire. Christianity is one of many religions.

PNH: Yoking two things together. On Electrolite. Inspired Iterater. Say what you mean. Bear witness. Iterate. The very first comment, made 3 or 4 hours later, was Mike's sonnet.

HMD: Played Scrabble with him. Her husband wouldn't. She gave him the contract for Scholars of the Night, so I was important. He went upstairs and wrote "Playing Scrabble With God".

Jo Walton: I just want to tell my "Playing Scrabble With God" story. She wanted to put the creatures God created in that story in the dictionary so we can use it in Scrabble. Mike said, "That would be using a 20 ton truck to crush a walnut, but please do it." Jo put them in Lifelode, without defining them.

BM: Read some of Mike's unpublished poetry. One always read whatever Mike handed you, because you never knew what it might be.

BM: That's a novel, you know.
JMF: Is it? Well, it might be. I'd like to write it, and I'd like you to edit it.

"Autumn Games": First section of Aspects.

DGH: Talented poet, Christmas cards.

BM: One won the World Fantasy Award. "Winter Solstice, Camelot Station".

[Note to self: I first encountered that in Invitation to Camelot. Jane Yolen asked Parke Godwin if he'd gotten it. He said, "Yes, but the anthology's closed." She said, "Open it." He first opened the envelope with the poem and read it, and then, he opened the anthology.]

TNH: You could also get a poem about the Trojan War as a silent film.

HD: "The Dark Sea". Homer's trip to Mars. Blind poet. Not a single visual metaphor.

NG: Mike would respond to my blog with a poem, a piece of pastiche, or something very strange. Reading the last one received.

"The Final Taxi"

[Something illegible in my notes]

Best to say about horses in a field of one

"The Final Connection"

{Mike and Trains]

TNH: Mike also a magnet for bad copy editors. Mike had no idea what normal people found obvious.

DGH: One of the truest things said on this panel.

Which can also be very frustrating for normal reader -- or conscientious editor.

[Note to self: No lie, that. I want a concordance / annotated guide to his work.]

Casting Fortune: The editor missed the fact that simultaneous events were not sequential. Mike finally lost his patience and wrote "Someone is being stupid, and I don't think it's me."

NG: I once -- I only ever once caught Mike on something. No one ever catches Mike because he was smarter than you. He was smarter than anyone in this room. And we are all smart people. He was smarter.

{Wow. I can hear Neil's voice saying this again as I transcribe my notes. The rhythm of it's there.]

Scholars of Night is set in London, where Neil lived.

Mike: What do you think?

Neil: You have someone planning a perfect murder which depends on catching the last train on the Northern Line. I live on the Northern Line. It's rubbish. It's not the Central Line.

Mike: Oh God, you're right. I've taken the Northern line, and you're right!

The paperback edition adds a line. There's the dead guy, and the police say, "I can't believe [illegible in my notes] and Northern Line" -- Neil's contribution.

DGH: One of the most difficult things about Mike was that his health was bad. All his adult life, he was ill. He was convinced he wouldn't live much past 30. He talked with Terry Carr, who was also a diabetic.

DGH thinks Mike didn't organize himself after that. He didn't know how without death in the equation.

HMD gave him the Scholars contract. This was a bad career move for him, and she she asked Mike if he were sure about this. He said that he wanted to write everything.

Someone said that it was a pity that there was no gamer on the panel, then remembered that Jo Walton fit the bill. She wrote GURPS Celtic Myth.

[Note: Did I review that one? Yes, it seems I did. I think my review went to The Familiar, long defunct, and much missed, but I've still got the file.]

[Note: As Josh pointed out, Sean Punch was at the con. Had anyone realized this or thought about asking him, I wonder?]

Mike wrote The Yellow Clearance Black Box Blues. He wrote GURPS Time Travel, a must read for erstwhile authors interested in it. He wrote a pile of marvelous stuff for Traveller, including poetry. Spaceports. RPGs never get that standard of writing.


Sean Punch, at a wake at a small con after his death, spoke of how respected Mike was. Again, there was the reaction of "That John M. Ford?"

Klingon in full Klingon said that he invented Klingon culture. He was important and influential in the gaming community. He was what everyone wanted to emulate.

Pointed her at Yellow Clearance. Here is what it is possible to do. It is possible to make art.

This was as important as Aspects to Mike. When she said he should be working on Aspects instead of on Traveller, he said that he wanted to do it all. It was all important: the novel, the RPG books, the posts on Making Light. Folks across the board in editing were wise enough not to try to force him to a mold.

NG: He couldn't do The Basilisk Waiting, The Unicorn Waiting.

PNH: Mike did Dr. Seuss and Casablanca. Once again, in a comment thread. Not quite [illeg] but almost.

TNH: She and Patrick and someone else were driving back from a con, with Mike ill in the back seat. The others said that "polish" is the only word whose meaning changes depending on whether or not the first letter is capitalized. From the back seat came a voice saying "Tangier."

Passenger: I've heard stories about him.

TNH: And all of them are true.

BM read the first of the Aspects sonnets. There are 6 of them, for the beginning and end of the three books, but we only have up to the last half of the first book.

JW said that one of the many things she missed about Mike was his comments.

NG: Mike was really good at pointing to the one thing you missed or thought no one else would notice -- if you'd missed it -- the one change that makes it all work.

Misses his friend, the eyebrows, picking up messages. And wishes he could show what he's working on to Mike -- that 1% left of the way.

JW: And he'd notice the things you got right.

NG: The grace notes you put in for yourself and God. And Mike.

Odd work of Mike's. Psycho and Lord of the Rings both have a Samwise. So, a hack director put them together. And the Ring became the car to be pushed into the marsh. Funniest thing. Was it ever published?

BM: He read it to me once. Written by hand on square quadrille paper. Could be anything.

HMD: Then he would stop writing and go out on the porch.

(Instead of cleaning keys ?is that what my notes say?)

Watching the weather channel. Asked why.

Mike: I like the plot.

JW: He would always have seen any movie you might ever mention.

HMD: And he always knew who was the [illeg -- looks like "book bag"]

TNH: Mike loved the world, and he loved Elise a great deal. Because of Elise he lived a good deal longer, and because of her, he wanted to live longer.

Someone in the audience identified himself as a Klingon. He's now a Thought Admiral. He said: We still use the form from The Final Reflection. Our bible. [something illegible in my notes]

HMD: And you were important to Mike. Mike and Elise exchanged their vows in Klingon and [illeg] at Klingon. Meant a great deal to him.

DGH: Mike said he had an eidetic memory.

JW: He quoted passage from King's Peace perfectly.

HMD: You're very quotable, Jo Walton.

Motels, trains.

JW: Aspects: Best Train Fantasy.

DGH: Model Rairoad Museum. It was closed, but he and Mike walked all around, looking in window, and Mike could identify each one of them.

NG: His apartment had model railroad. And dust. And sandwiches. Old sandwiches. But pristine railroad.

Chip Hitchcock: In Emma Bull's novel, Finder, Milo Chevrolet is Mike.

PNH: And in Shetterly's Elsewhere.

TNH: Last Hot Time, Borderlands cut free from same.

DGH: Mike's Liavek work convinced him that you could have first rate work in a shared world universe.

JW: Casting Fortune. Not published in Britain. As far as she knows, only 2 copies were imported. She showed us one. She has the other -- she gave it to a friend for his wedding, and his wife never forgave her, because he read it on her wedding night.

Chip: Overran [illeg] with Casting Fortune.

TNH: He overran borders. It was very dangerous to say, "That can't be done in writing" around him.

JW: Growing Up Weightless. Young person, RPGs, train. Also a masterpiece.

DGH: Absolutely. Won PKD award.

[Note to self: I've read a couple pages of this at filk circles.]

TNH: What would he think was the single best piece of his writing?

JW: JRRT-Wodehouse? Harry of Five Points? [illeg]? But he'd not know more than us.

HMD: It would be the one he was writing after the one he was working on.

PNH: Dorothy Parker / JRRT

TNH: I blame Mike for the tendency of Making Light to break out into poetry and [illeg].

DGH: Mike made maps professionally and for fun. Tor books.

HMD: 1st Map for Eye of the World. Still there, and in World of the Wheel of Time.

NG: Underside line -- stations from nowhere and Mike jokes. He got it as a birthday present from Mike. He gave the audience permission to nudge him in 2 weeks to photograph and put up.

TNH: Throwaway picture to nonexistent [illeg] and made a button for me: Trust me. I'm a pendant.

And it had 5 footnotes on it.

Chip to TNH: Took heer chart of Corla (?) and translated it as if it were hieroglyphics -- in NYRSF. The Roseann Roseannadanna Stone. "Oatmeal to go".

NG: Neil holds Guy Fawkes parties. 1st one of the invites had one ambiguous line. People with barrels disguised as herrings. Mike wrote a Shakespeare playon this. The following year, nothing but clear directions. Neil said, "I'd like to see Mike Ford make a play of that."

Series of sonnets never been repeated because they were good directions.

JW: We used them to find your house at the memorial.

NG: To start:

From the End of the 20th Century
The Heat of Fusion

BM: Most of the short fiction that he wrote in print in these two.

PNH: "Erase/Record/Play" from Starlight One. Dragon Waiting in print in Britain. [illeg]

DGH: And, for those of you who've been around for more than 6 months in the sf community, you know that you can buy used books.

PNH: "Erase/Record/Play" turned down by most. Why?

BM: Too long.

TNH: Scanted exposition. Called Mike on it, which is when he said, "I have a horror of being too obvious." 6 months after, all the parts reassembled in her head and exploded. There was no scanted exposition.

DGH: Like Gene Wolfe.

NG: Mike and Gene have the most in common in short fiction. They assume their readers are as smart as they are, and both are terribly smart.

BM: And sometimes Mike was just obscure.

DGH: But not to trick you.

Emmet O'Brien mentioned the joke about Heisenberg, Godel, and Chomsky -- and told it.

DGH (a beat after the punchline and the laugh): We're done!

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