Thursday, November 3, 2011

World Fantasy Convention, Part the Fourth - Immortality and Fangirl Squee!

"Aften ved kysten" by Amaldus Nielsen
I've found that attending a convention alone and attending as part of a couple are quite different experiences. Although I relax and socialize, I'm mostly there as a working author. I interact with fans, network with writers and booksellers, and -- depending on the size of the convention -- meet with editors or those writers I edit. Some of this is scheduled, but other parts arise spontaneously. This makes it difficult to plan ahead -- mealtimes or panels I'm not on, for instance -- or to take into account anyone else's daily rhythms but my own. Over the years, my husband -- writer Dave Trowbridge -- and I have figured out some strategies, given the differences in our tolerance for crowds and our needs for meals, when and what kind. It is an amazing pleasure to touch base during a hectic day with someone who understands you well, someone in whom you find a haven of peace. It is also a delight to sit in the audience and bask in your spouse's participation in a panel.

For me, this was doubly true because I'd finished with my own panel and was just beginning to "wind down" from moderator-hood and also from lunch-with-editor. Dave's panel was on Immortality. I took a few notes, but make no claim for their accuracy.

Immortality isn't necessarily the same thing as agelessness;
it can mean an extended life span so that you can be killed only by trauma, or invulnerability to everything that kills. The transformation from vampire to human, as usually portrayed, ignores how humans aren't wired for that kind of existence -- an interesting source of conflict in how the human psyche must change. This is in opposition to elves, etc., who are naturally long-lived/immortal. As people age, they may encounter (and pass through) a "curmudgeon barrier." Is universal Alzheimer's the fate of immortal humans?

How will we limit who becomes immortal? Do we need to control population growth? If we download consciousness, does this encourage risk-taking -- you can experience the most extreme hazards if you know you can be restored to the last "save" point. Does immortality involve reversal of aging (rejuvenation) or simply pausing as you are? If we separate mind from body, how do we get new bodies -- clones? salvaged bodies of the deceased? dispossession of the living from their bodies? What about classical reincarnation? What do each of these do to our ethics, morals?

If only some people become immortal, does this create an adversarial relationship with "normal" humans? Or will "normals" become essential and integrated with immortals? Will a class system arise, since immortality means more time in which to accumulate wealth? How would art be affected? Would it become a matter for private creation and enjoyment? Or would it become temporary, like sand paintings?

As you can see, the discussion was wide-ranging and lively. And I got to sit back and enjoy what a fascinating, articulate person I'm married to.

Speaking of enjoyment, I don't often drop names in my convention reports (unless there's a good reason). I don't like to claim credit for having met this famous writer or that one, as if that makes me a better writer or a more "important" person. I've been around long enough so I've met a whole bunch of "big names" and I think it's important to focus on the friendships and professional relationships, not the fame. However, this convention brought me a couple of moments of utter fangirl delirium. One took place at the launch party for Madeleine E. Robins's newest "Sarah Tolerance" novel (see, that's a good reason for name-mentioning -- promoting a friend's new book!); I'm standing on the patio, talking with Peter S. Beagle about writing and plumbing -- and how plumbers use tools that work the same way every time, and we writers never know how things are going to turn out -- and had a moment of total OMG-I-can't-believe-this-is-happening.

The second happened right before lunch, when I got to chat with Charlaine Harris about her work -- and how I appreciated the layers of themes and the "underneath" story, not to mention loving her librarian detective -- and she gave me a big smile and said that mean a lot, coming from another writer. Worth the price of admission, that was.

Doesn't that make you want to attend World Fantasy Convention next year? It certainly keeps me coming back for more!

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