WorldCon 2016: Mining history for the future

Disclaimer: I am not perfect and neither are my notes. If you notice anything that requires clarification or correction, please email me at melanie (dot) marttila (at) gmail (dot) com and I will fix things post-hasty.

historyfuture

Panellists: Dana Cameron, Jennie Goloboy, Jack McDevitt, Robert J. Sawyer, Renee Collins (moderator)

Joined in progress …

RJS: Alternate history does what science fiction does, but takes a step back in time rather than looking to the future. Jean Auel’s novels and Philip K. Dick’s Man in the High Castle are examples.

RC: What are we mining history for?

JG: History is a great way to see how things could have been, “if only.” What if Shakespeare lived in Native North America?

DC: There’s a hashtag: #whatshouldhavehappened  It gives us a great opportunity to look at our tropes and culture through the lens of the other.

RJS: History teaches us the rate at which events happen. You can see the cause and effect in retrospect.

JG: The thing about historians is that they’re always looking at what’s different between then and now. There’s something inspirational about the possibilities of change.

DC: The rate of change is faster now, though.

RC: The contrast and comparison is fascinating.

JM: Another approach is that we are the past. What do people in the far future think of us?

RJS: Science fiction is the literature of human contingency—Robert Charles Wilson. We engage in thought experiments. How could things have gone differently?

RC: What are the advantages of using history as the basis for science fiction?

JG: Usually science fiction and fantasy writers get the details right.

RJS: In my Neanderthal Parallax series, I researched heavily in paleoanthropology texts and journals. I looked for the more interesting theories. One of them was that Neanderthals didn’t have religion. My Neanderthals did.

DC: Coming from my background, I had a difficult time writing alternate history.

JG: It’s worldbuilding, not a mistake.

JM: Science fiction writers have an advantage. We can manipulate time. We value history.

And that was time.

Next week, I’ll be transcribing my notes on generation starships.

Be well and stay strong until then!

Ad Astra 2015 day 2: What’s your punk?

Panellists: Ian Keeling, Angela Keeley, Gemma Files

What's your punk? panel

AK: What is a –punk?

IK: Punk, to me, is an attitude. Skate punk, for instance. It’s anti-authoritarian. You find it in video games and anime.

GF: When you punk a genre, you’re deconstructing it.

AK: Punk comes from the music of the same name but is most closely identified with industrial and Goth sub-cultures. It’s an aesthetic. You can have diesel punk, steam punk, and desert punk (think Tank Girl or Mad Max).

GF: It can also transfer from fashion into fiction. “I’ve made this persona and I want a story that this persona can exist in.”

Q: How do you world build in a punk setting?

GF: There’s an element of alternative history. What if the industrial revolution had gotten stuck in the steam age? You look to the relevant historical period and research.

IK: You have to do enough research to make your world feel authentic.

AK: It’s retro-futurism. In fiction, look to H.G. Wells, Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), and Marlowe (Faust).

Q: I’d like to write in a(n) (Art) Deco punk setting. What should I aim for in terms of aesthetic?

GF: The aesthetic of an age is always attached to other things.

AK: Think of Gotham in Tim Burton’s Batman. The tortured but beautiful body was a fascination of the age. The 20’s were glittery and then the Great Depression happened.

Q: We haven’t mentioned cyberpunk yet. What about The Difference Engine?

AK: Charles Babbage was the inventor of the Babbage Engine, or the difference engine. In fiction the invention/thing itself is aware.

Q: Are there any contemporary punks?

AK: It’s hard to write an alternative history about now.

GF: Karl Schrader is a futurist, or rather an “ambiguist.” His question is, how do we make complicated ideas simple/accessible through story? The future is the only period that is wholly ambiguous.

AK: Colonialism belongs in this conversation. It has the transgressive and rebellious aspects required for a punk. Punk is always dystopian. Otherwise it’s gaslight fantasy. The prevailing mood of a dystopia is distrust of government.

IK: I’d argue that we live in a flawed society, not a dystopia.

GF: The horror iteration is splatter punk. It’s extreme in everything. It’s a response to mainstream horror authors like Stephen King, whom some people view as “tame.”

IK: Has punk lost its meaning?

AK: I don’t think so. Look at A Knight’s Tale. That’s medieval punk.

GF: Punk is intended to be offensive and in your face.

IK: Chaucer was a rowdy, irreverent writer. Was he punk, or meta? Is postmodernism the original punk?

GF: The Dadaists, maybe.

AK: Punk lacks the self-awareness of meta or postmodernism. A Clockwork Orange was not punk. It was a visceral reaction to the direction Burgess saw society heading in.

Q: Can you punk gender? How do you write a gender neutral being?

IK: Choose a pronoun/word and use it consistently, but realize that it will make your book more obscure/niche.

And that was time.

This was one of the most interesting panels I attended. It had a distinctively academic/intellectual bent that I kind of appreciated.

Tomorrow: How to get published with M.H. Callway, and Wordstock Sudbury. And things might get a little miscellaneous 😉