First of all, in case I don't find it in me to write a general con wrap-up post, let me say that this Wiscon was the best one I've been to yet. There are soooo many people I love whose presence would have brightened it, but everything has just gone so well today.
I want to thank everybody involved in making Wiscon happen, and everybody we talked to and who talked to us. My first year at Wiscon 34 I had such a good time and then I went straight from there to Maryland to spend some time with Jack and Sarah and I was so determined to share the magic with them that we made our plans immediately. And you know, they enjoyed it enough to want to come back, but I think as a group we were kind of on the cusp as to whether we'd make it a regular thing. But this year's con... this was very much the experience I wanted to wrap up and give to them last year.
I'm not saying it was perfect, but expecting perfection is the easiest way to disappoint yourself, and some of the things that didn't go quite according to expectation or plan were pleasant surprises, so there's that.
Anyway, I've spoken briefly in my daily posts about some of the panels, but I'd really like to do a full report on all the panels I went to, both to share with anyone who didn't get to go to one of them and to help me remember, months and years from now, what spoke to me here.
I'm going to be doing it in reverse chronological order, and because it's the end of the con it's possible these will get shorter and less detailed as I go.Recapturing A Sense of Wonder
The broad subject of this panel was the sense of wonder that draws so many adults back to Young Adult fiction. The parts of the panel description that interested me most--"Are there those who avoid it (and if so why?) Why doesn't it appear more often in adult fiction? Can we change that?"--didn't get much time or consideration. There was some discussion of the "why not" part, but little or no discussion of how to instill "mature" fiction with that wonder... it seemed like the general feeling on the floor was that it's not really possible and no need, so long as YA is there to fill the need.
As disappointed as I was by that, it wasn't a disappointing panel. Moderator Ellen Klages kept a lively conversation going among the panelists, who included my frequent co-
panelist Lori Devoti. One panelist I would have liked to hear more from was Anna Black, who had some interesting things to say about style.Creating Your Own Religion
Moderated by K. Tempest Bradford and including other very intelligent, educated, and engaging people, this panel was a real joy and worth staying up for on Sunday night. A major approach to the topic was how not to do it: unworkable cliches like people worshiping "evil" or beliefs and practices that would not be sustainable over time, putting everything through a Christian lens of a supreme being with sin and redemption, making people's beliefs within a religion a monolith with no disagreements or interpretations, etc.
Since most of my constructed religions are one half a response to/reinterpretation of the cliche fantasy religions of D&D and its children, I have a feeling the panelists probably wouldn't point to anything I do as an example of "doing it right"... and neither would I. I'm doing things wrong on purpose. But I was really interested by the conversation about homogeneous fantasy religions, because even writing what is supposed to be a D&D-y religion I just can't bring myself to have one clear version of dogma, one universally accepted creation myth... the fact that gods are "real" and even physically present shouldn't make everyone agree on what the god wants or what the god is like, because we disagree about those things even with regards to living, breathing people who are around to explain themselves to us.
The panel was the last programming item of the night (excepting parties that were still ongoing) and so Tempest ran it late. I was pretty worn down and also getting overheated by 15 minutes after, and also sitting near the front... so sadly me getting up to leave the room signaled its end. It was a great panel, though.
One of the interesting topics that came up was about the relative dearth in our fiction of mystery religions in the Eleusinian mold. The point was made that this has to do with the fact that these religions were by their nature secret, they didn't keep records, and they were disproved of by the people in charge, so there really isn't that much to go on if you want to write about them. But then a panelist (Deirdre M. Murphy, I believe?) raised a point that had been going around in my head: in a lot of stories, wizards fit the mystery religion mold. They have secret knowledge that gives them power, they are often initiated into a mystic order with secret rites.
I didn't really have the wherewithal to keep my hand up long enough to be noticed by that point, but my thoughts on this are that the parallel might be more explicit except that D&D and Christianity have both taught a lot of fantasy writers and readers that there is a sharp divide between the arcane and the divine, between what is magical and what is holy. D&D's emphasis Gender and Class in Gaming
This panel, moderated by Tanya D., was hands down my favorite panel this year. That's not to say there weren't a lot of incredible
panels this year, because there were. Nearly every panel... even ones I was quite sure were going to be good... were better than I expected.
You could chalk a lot of it up to the fact that gaming is my thing, but it wasn't just topic, because quite a lot of the discussion revolved around BioWare games that I have limited familiarity with. There was some danger of some in-groupy aspects of the discussion once the audience started responding to itself, so to speak, but Tanya kept things moving and took little asides to explain relevant details, and she also made sure that Mass Effect and Dragon Age didn't dominate the discussion.
There was one person in the audience who objected to Tanya's construing the mages in Dragon Age as an oppressed class because they really are dangerous, "ticking time bombs", to use his words, and have to be controlled for the safety of others. The panelists had some cogent objections to that, but there was something I would have liked to have said if there had been time. Since there wasn't, I'll say it here now:
When we're talking about dynamics of power and oppression in fiction, I am deeply
suspect of any argument which begins by pointing out that there's an in-universe reason for it.
It normalizes the idea of "reasonable oppression". It says that these things can be justified, if you have a good enough reason, and once you'e done that... well, then when you encounter someone who wants to round all of them up (for any value of them) for the sake of us (for any value of us), you don't have a fundamental disagreement with them, you're just quibbling over details.
It doesn't help that nearly anything you can say about a fictional example of "justified" oppression has been said and probably still is being said in some fashion about real people in the real world, whether it's "They're too dangerous to be allowed to live free." or "It's for their own good, they aren't evolved enough or intelligent enough to rule themselves." or "Well, they're just born evil and we must fight them in self-defense or they will destroy us."... these are all arguments that are made in the real world.
Anyway, I was interested in the whole thing, but the tabletop aspect really spoke to me, for reasons that will be obvious to anyone who follows this blog. One of the panelists, Alyc Helms, brought up the point that D&D has instilled the fantasy gaming genre with a very straightforward sort of capitalist drive: you have to constantly amass wealth to make your character more powerful. And of course, that's terribly relevant to a portion of the sprawling conversation on this post of mine, and of course I think she's dead right. That's a feature of D&D, it isn't a feature of the fantasy genre. So after the panel dissolved I went up to tell her how much I agreed with her and found out that she's familiar with my work, and we had a brief conversation about story-driven games and I got her contact information so we could talk more about it.
As an added bonus, there was a person sitting right in the blind spot behind me who made some excellent points, including laying the responsibility for a lot of the predominant and often problematic fantasy tropes at the feet of J.R.R. Tolkien. I agreed with her pretty heartily, but it was only after the panel ended and we got out of our seats that I learned she was heavenscalyx
, one of the last remaining people I'd wanted to make a point of meeting in person.
(If you're reading this: regrettably, I am now realizing that I have completely forgotten what your real name is and I also didn't memorize any markers for your face. So, let me say that I look forward to meeting you again in the future.)Blogging While Female
Moderated by shadesong
, this panel was about the dangers that women who are vocal and active on the internet face, and the sense of entitlement that others often have towards our time, space, and even our lives. I certainly have had my own experiences here. It was a very powerful panel, more "serious business" than most of the fare we consumed, and difficult at times due to the subject matter, which is so important that I think it needs its own post later in the week.
I would call it an awesome panel, even though it wasn't a fun one. The subject matter was kind of risky, even at Wiscon, but there was no fail. It also gave me a chance to connect with a good online friend I hadn't seen in person very much before, and we were able to get together for a just incredibly entertaining mealtime later.Passing Privilege
This panel was Jack's idea to attend (we didn't entirely stick together for the weekend, but we did quite a bit... there were always too many good panels to choose from and that could make it hard to decide which one to go to, so sometimes if one person had a strong preference for one it was easier to just go along with them.
It was a great panel. I've had some brief interactions with at least two of the panelists, I'm pretty sure, but they were very animated and engaged that I might just be remembering having seen them on previous panels. They examined the concept of passing from multiple angles. The most attention was given to the sense of trans* folks passing as one gender or another, and the concept of passing as white.
Jack got a lot out of this panel. It would not be my place to write about what I think he took away from it, but he did tweet at one point that his neck hurt from nodding so much.Steal Like An Artist
This is one of those panels that I expected to be great and was impressed with how much better it was than I'd expected. I'd really thought it would skew more negative, either in terms of condemning unoriginality or in clinging to the idea that there's nothing new under the sun in a really pessimistic way. But it was a very engaged and thoughtful audience (especially for 8:30 in the morning), which was a good thing because S.N. Arly and moderator Nancy Werlin were the only panelists. So it was very much a multi-directional dialogue, and very entertaining.
I had a lot to say about the topic (as you might have guessed, since it is, you know, a topic), but Jack participated quite a bit. He impressed the room with his talent for concise and pithy summaries of salient points, but then, it probably isn't hard to look concise when you're sitting next to me.Feminist Bottoms
This panel was very well-attended. It was also very good. I don't recall many of the specifics right now... we ended up going back to the hotel room to take a long break after it, so I think I was starting to get run down.Body Acceptance From All Sides
This is another one where my memory is starting to degrade. It was a great panel with great people on it. I at least passingly knew the majority of the panel members. The topic was about broadening body acceptance from the narrative of "you must love your body" and "there's nothing wrong with your body" to include people whose bodies do present them with serious problems that are their own business as to how they relate to them. There were maybe some iffy moments, but it was relatively free of fail.The Feeding and Proper Care of Your Underclass: How a Society Maintains Poverty
I don't remember a lot of specifics from this panel. There were some intelligent people saying some intelligent things, but I do have the feeling it might have benefited from a slightly larger panel with more diverse backgrounds and viewpoints.
Despite the title, the focus seemed to keep shifting towards contrasting the middle class with the upper class, and as was pointed out to me after the panel (I didn't catch this myself, though I can see it in retrospect... but of course, I'm from a pretty comfortably middle class background myself), some of the language being used to describe class mobility was pretty boot strappy.
It might have been hard to get more volunteers for a panel at 8:30 in the morning on Saturday, though, especially since people who couldn't afford to take a day off work Friday would have arrived Saturday or late the night before.
In fact, now that I look at the program, there's one more name listed than I have memory of people being there. So it's possible the discussion could have been a bit more robust than it was.A Princess With A Sword Is Still A Princess: Modern Adaptations of Fairy Tales
This was a great panel, a discussion of the nature of the fairy tale princess, what fairy tales teach children about being boys and girls, and how modern interpretations change things and how they don't.
One of the most important things I took away from it, though, is that there is going to be a live-action Maleficent movie in 2014, starring Angelina Jolie. Chicks Dig Comics
The topic panel is also the title of an essay book, which the panelists had contributed to. The book itself was not so much under discussion, though, as much of the experience of the panelists as women who read comics. It was a pretty wide-ranging group, in terms of age and experiences and preferences, but there were a lot of interesting commonalities.
Due to the size of the panel (about nine people, I believe), there wasn't a lot of audience discussion, but when the floor was opened up for questions I registered a two part one: "Did you see when Stephanie Brown slapped Batman in the middle of his lecture? Wasn't that awesome?"
It was that kind of panel.
And it was awesome.From Sherlock to Sheldon: Asexuality and Asexual Characters in SF/F
This was the first panel that we went to. I believe it may have been Jack's idea, but I know I endorsed it on the basis of Tempest's presence as the moderator. I remember it being pretty great, but at this point it's all fog.
So that's it for panels.
You might notice that there is not a lot of repeat or direct overlap in terms of subject matter. Last year, I was on four panels that all at least touched on self-publishing and they all sort of turned into the same conversation. That had its strong points, in that we were able to have a sort of meta-dialogue running through the three main days of the con, but it also meant that by the end of the weekend it felt like I'd been at a self-publishing con.
So we consciously avoided things that hit in the same area. The panels titled "Women of Comics" and "Women in Comics" actually had different focuses than each other and "Chicks Dig Comics", but given how many great-sounding panels there were, we felt we'd be better off going to one of them rather than giving up three hours and forty-five minutes to talk about women and comic books. It's not that there isn't that much to be said about those topics, but there are so many other topics being discussed...
As always, the biggest problem with Wiscon programming is simply that it offers an embarrassment of riches. There are just too many good choices.