Tuesday, June 9, 2015

A Belated Baycon Report

I really should remember to write up my notes and impressions of a convention soon after because they fade with astonishing speed. For example, I flipped open the program of Baycon 2015 (May 22-24, Santa Clara CA) panels, looking for a blog subject. “Inspiring the Next Generation of Science Fiction Writers” – ooh, I thought, I have a few things to say about that. Palm to forehead time:  I was on that panel!

Not only that, my dear friend and awesome science fiction writer Juliette Wade was on it with me. Also a very cool guy named Colin Fisk, and “the Winner Twins,” two young women writers who dress alike, collaborate, and definitely spoke for the younger generation. My own perspective arises from coming of age during the space race. I remember the hoopla about Sputnik (in fact, I made a Sputnik costume for Halloween) and how cool it was to like science and engineering. Physics and astronomy were majorly splashy news. We don’t have an equivalent now in terms of the general conversation, although the images from Hubble and the other space telescopes are even more awesome. The Winner twins came a gaming perspective, seeing video games as instruments to not only teach science but inspire players to learn more. Of the latter, I remain dubious. On the other hand, I remain hopeful that the various efforts to attract more women and minorities to math and science may result in a new generation of science fiction writers as well.

Sometimes my panels and other convention events revolve around a theme. This could be the vagaries of chance, the items I ticked off on my guest questionnaire, or simply the way the convention programming folks work. Baycon 2015’s theme was gender and sexuality. More or less. I moderated “Pink Hockey Sticks: Raising a Gender Neutral Child in a Highly Gendered World.” One of my favorite resources for this is the blog Raising My Rainbow: Adventures in Raising a Fabulous, Gender Creative Son (although I think it should be child, but it’s not my kid, so I don’t get to vote). The cool thing is that one of the panelists was an intersex person, which is a viewpoint not often included in “Quiltbag” (LGBTQI) discussions. We all lamented the paucity of gender-neutral pronouns and emphasized that the polite thing to do is inquire the preference of the person.

Saturday morning brought a themed reading on mythical creatures. Four of us had to split up a slot of 60-75 minutes. We’d contacted each other about how to do this (highly recommended!) and so the process was graceful. Most of us selected very short (15 minutes) excerpts, except for the fabulous Marie Brennan, who read a complete short story based in her “Lady Trent” world. And hilarious. A good time was had by all. Despite the challenges of making sure each reader has their allotted time, with time for transitions and questions, group readings are great. Folks come to hear one author and discover others. I found a new one to look out for (but, alas, the dealer’s room didn’t have the first book of her series or I would have bought it right then).

“Constructing Fictional Cultures: Sex Without Shame” could have been a meaty discussion of craft, but devolved into “what’s wrong with current attitudes towards sex.” But I got to talk about how I created the gender fluid native race in Collaborators. I wanted to write an occupation and resistance novel, and to do that I had to talk about interpersonal power. And to do that, I had to talk about gender. So I wanted a contrasting culture where gender differences are not an issue, where any other person is a potential life mate and reproductive partner. And all the misinterpretations and assumptions we humans bring to the conversation.

Even though I was commuting from home (an hour either way over twisty mountain roads) I stayed late on Saturday night for a rare treat: Katharine Kerr reading, accompanied by Cliff Winnig on sitar. It was like listening to a duet – the interplay and dance of words and music.

My last panel was entitled “Short Stories: Before the Series,” and the fun thing was that none of us could agree on what that description meant, especially since it didn’t appear in the program book. But with co-panelists like GoH Seanan McGuire and Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff, just about anything we talked about would have been delightful. It was.

Sometimes my convention schedule is so full, I don’t get to attend any panels I’m not actually on. This year, I had space to hear an urban fantasy panel with Seanan and my friend (and this year’s Lambda Literary Award winner for SF/F/H) Chaz Brenchley. One of the secrets of being a good moderator is paying attention to when the conversation is flowing smoothly and the audience is all perked up and interested, and when it needs a nudge in the form of a provocative question. You also have to keep a balance between those folks who speak freely (and often at too great length) and those who are shy or shy-er and do better when you divert the conversation toward them from time to time. Fortunately, there was a minor conversational explosion in the middle of the panel, so the quality of the moderation was no longer an issue. A word to the wise: do not announce that a cure for cancer has been found but the pharmaceutical companies are suppressing it in the middle of a panel on urban fantasy. The results may be amusing, but not for you. Especially if you have never heard of Jay Lake.

All in all, however, a wonderful convention. As usual, not nearly enough time to chat with friends or write down all the story ideas that burble up from being around so many fellow writers and fans.

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