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Towards a Farthing Party con report: Saturday afternoon

The work of John M. Ford. This panel ended up more memorial than analytical. Both are worthy, but I think with Mike’s work, there’s so much variety that it would be hard to talk analytically about more than one or possibly two at the outside, just to bring the focus into something manageable for an hour-long panel. In fact one of the issues discussed was that Mike didn’t do just one thing, and that this was a blessing and a curse for him as a writer. He changed the rules of each form he worked in and had a horror of being obvious. There was also substantial discussion of his focus on triumph over despair and his firm moral sense.

Make a will make a will make a will make a will no really I mean it make a will.

Families and Generations. I was on this. We talked about the primacy in many speculative genres of romantic relationships but not the aspect of romantic relationships that gets to be familial–negotiations and “roommate stuff” and like that, which shows up a lot more in mimetic genres. Someone proposed that the mimetic genres have more room for this stuff, since they’re not having to build the world from scratch, but on the other hand the speculative genres have more need for it, since what we don’t build is not there. What I want, and what I think several people present wanted, is not necessarily for families to have to play a direct role in every story but that they should cast their shadows on it–that characters’ places in their families should be clear from characterization, that they should think of their families and be influenced by them in various real-world ways–at least some of the time.

We talked a bit about how the timing of the story matters as to what kind of dynamic you can have–little children have a very different story dynamic with each other and with parents than do teens or grown children. It’s also possible with younger grandparents in a story to–gasp shock amazement–have a story with grandparents wherein the grandparent does not have to die.

There was also some thought about how difficult it is to write a sequel to a romance, how it require some kind of destabilization of the previous ending or in fact of the character’s lives in general.

Works discussed: Pilgrim’s Progress, Dark Lord of Derkholm, Minerva Wakes, the Moomin books, pretty much all of Pamela Dean, Saga, Pacific Rim, superhero comics (in that some companies are walking back nearly all their familial relationships–but not the Fantastic Four, the Fantastic Four is all family!), Star Trek: Deep Space 9, Steve Brust’s Vlad Taltos novels, Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan books, Jay Williams’s The Magic Grandfather, Among Others, Aliette de Bodard’s “On a Red Station, Drifting,” C. J. Cherryh’s family ships, Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant, Suzette Hadin Elgin, Robert Silverberg’s The World Inside, Robert Heinlein’s The Rolling Stones, Brave, Buffy, Medium, Nick Harkaway’s Angelmaker, Elizabeth Moon’s Remnant Population, Daniel Abraham’s Long Price quartet, Piers Anthony (very very badly), and Marge Piercy’s He, She, & It.

Ends of the World: every age its own apocalypse! There was a strong theme of different apocalypses being popular in fiction for different generations: while plagues and environmental disasters are good perennial staples, their forms do vary. Overpopulation and nuclear war are out of fashion. The Yellowstone supervolcano and the underwater cliff out from the Canary Islands are much more de rigeur perhaps.

The cyberpunk motto (or at least a cyberpunk motto) was apparently, “Apocalypse is boring.” Humans tend to muddle through.

“Apocalypse” means revelation: you will understand everything on the last page. That’s part of the appeal. Another theory proposed was that there was a certain amount of processing of the possibility of nuclear war through more fantastical apocalypses. Also there is a certain sense of the cozy catastrophe–the idea that if only these other people weren’t around, how grand things would be. This is in some ways apocalypse as high school escape fantasy rather than nuclear war processing. The 14th century’s huge European population drop resulted in improved property and labor conditions for the remaining humans, so there’s something to the coziness, even if it’s sometimes creepy and sadistic. Another panelist theorized–I think possibly quite correctly–that it’s a lot easier for some readers to consider mass extinction than their own personal individual deaths.

On the other hand, the panelists who had lived through urban disasters reported that people behave much better than writers theorize. JG Ballard’s personal experiences are at least something of a counterexample, but they relate to war, not other disasters.

Works discussed included: Joanna Russ’s “We Who Are About To…” (the anti-“The Cold Equations”!), American Psycho, Breaking Bad, Iain Banks’s Complicity, Stephen Baxter, Larry Niven’s “Inconstant Moon” and Fallen Angels, The Stand, Spider Robinson, Alan Nourse, Earth Divides, Fourth Horseman, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s The Time of the Fourth Horseman, The Screwfly Solution, John Wyndham’s The Kraken Wakes, Peter Watts, Thomas Disch’s The Genocides, Christopher Priest’s Fugue for a Darkening Island, Keith Roberts’s The Furies, John Christopher, Good Omens, Kim Stanley Robinson’s capitol trilogy, Vinge’s The Peace War, Barry Longyear’s Sea of Glass, Z for Zachariah, A Canticle for Leibowitz, Lord of the Flies, Revelation Space, Spin, John Varley’s “Air Raid,” Ilsa Bick, Childhood’s End, The Child Garden, Left Behind, and Bruce Sterling.

Also, if various calculations are correct, Dante is due to exit Purgatory in 2017. Surely some fun can be had with this.

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