Readercon Report, 2012

Readercon was just held this weekend in Burlington, MA. According to their website it is “an annual conference or convention devoted to ‘imaginative literature’ ‚ÄĒ literary science fiction, fantasy, horror, and the unclassifiable works often called ‘slipstream.'” and “A typical Readercon features over 150 writers, editors, publishers, and critics, attracting prominent figures from across the U.S., and from Canada, the U.K., and occasionally even Australia and Japan. They are joined by some 600 of their most passionate and articulate readers for a long weekend of intense conversation.”

I found out about Readercon through Lunacon‘s program book (these cons seem to advertise at other cons), and since it was relatively near me (4 hours away isn’t too bad), the husband and I made a weekend road trip out of it – leaving Friday night and coming back Sunday afternoon. Husband spent his days on his bike and watching the Tour de France, I spent my days at the con. Unlike Lunacon, this was a convention that was distinctly all about the books, so everything in the program was on a bookish track, although I did see some panels that looked to be more for writers, and some panels that were more for readers (there was overlap of course). I went for the panels that interested me as a reader.

The first cool thing after registering was that I got to meet Chelle from Tempting Persephone! Oh so very lovely in person, she was. We got to spend a good chunk of the day together, and it was really nice to have someone else to go to panels with and talk to about what we sat in on.

I suspect there were other bloggers there because I spied the Penguin classics bag (that I had too) that was given out at the Book Blogger Con at least twice, but maybe that’s just a popular bag? I was too chicken to ask people about it. ūüėõ

Here are the panels and readings I went to. CAVEAT: I didn’t take any notes and it’s been a couple of days so these are going to be simple overviews of my general impressions. I was planning on posting to my blog, but I took a casual approach and just enjoyed what panels looked interesting without any real blog-y agenda.

Book Learning (Gregory Feeley, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Katherine MacLean, Kathryn Morrow (leader), Ann Tonsor Zeddies) – This was a panel discussing a 2008 article in the Guardian by James Wood about the nature of characters in books. I hadn’t read this article prior to the panel so I was a bit out of the loop for some of the discussion, but it was interesting. They talked about the idea of flat/cardboard characters versus well-rounded characters, and it wasn’t what you would expect. It was more about whether someone’s idea of well-rounded or flat was valid. At one point they talked about if people in real life ever grow or change. It was a very different approach than I as a reader take because I do like characters that feel like they have more depth (well my idea of depth that is). Felt like an interesting window into writing, and how some “flat”, “one-note” characters are used in the story versus characters that “grow” or “change”. (Here’s the link to the Guardian article).

[Interlude] This is where we popped over to the dealer’s room (aka Heaven) and wandered for a bit and had lunch.

Un/Orthodox Genre (Jeanne Cavelos (leader), Michael Dirda, Yves Meynard, Robert V.S. Redick, Peter Straub, Gary K. Wolfe) – This was a panel about genre conventions. The jumping off point was about how some books fit squarely into a genre, and other books don’t seem to quite fit inside a genre and that on one hand Lev Grossman says “Conventions aren‚Äôt a prison that genre writers are trying to escape” and the other Peter Straub: “I dislike the sense of necessary limitations lots of people go for. I don’t want to live in a dollhouse”. The talk sort of flowed around writing and working with conventions. What conventions were, how to write something original if you have these conventions, approaches by different writers and so on. I liked the way this one was organized, with questions from the leader and everyone in the panel putting in their two cents. Another interesting panel. My opinion as a reader: I always love the books that tweak at genre conventions or straddle more than one genre.

The City and the Strange (Leah Bobet, Amanda Downum, Lila Garrott (leader), Stacy Hill, Ellen Kushner, Howard Waldrop) – This was a really well attended panel. The room was packed and there were people standing because they were unable to get seats (and this wasn’t a small room). Definitely the most popular panel I went to at this con. This was a panel about worldbuilding, and specifically: cities. There’s the cities that are completely made up, and then there are the cities in contemporary and urban fantasy that do exist in our world, and then, there are cities where magic is out in the open, and cities where the strange is hidden from plain sight. With the books that try to capture real cities the panelists discussed the difficulty of capturing the essence of a place so that a local would recognize it, and how it’s difficult (if not impossible) to do that because everyone sees a place in a different way, but that if a book is set somewhere, a writer should try to add something to the story that is from that place, otherwise if you don’t remember what city the book is, what was the point? There was a discussion of why cities, how urban fantasy differed from rural fantasy, the idea of neighborhoods within cities, and collaborative cities (the Borderlands). I went away really wanting to read the rural fantasy Wide Open by Deborah Coates.

[Interlude 2] This is when Chelle and I had to say our goodbyes. There wasn’t much else I wanted to sit in on (and I was pooped with being in a crowd) until 8pm, so I went back to my room, read and relaxed and had dinner and then came back.

Book Covers Gone Wrong (Daniel Abraham, Liz Gorinsky, Caitl√≠n R. Kiernan, Katherine MacLean, Lee Moyer (leader), Jacob Weisman) – This was a panel about book covers. It had 3 authors, a couple of people in publishing, and a cover artist. The panel began with everyone contributing their own horror story that had to do with a book cover. This ran from covers that had NOTHING to do with what was in the book (the biggest complaint), to 6 different fonts used, to arguments with the publisher, to the blurb from George R. R. Martin being extremely small and hard to see. On the publisher’s side there were the problems of time constraints and artists just not producing something that they wanted. I laughed so much during this panel, especially when Lee Moyer passed around some bad covers he’d printed out from the internet and when members of the audience brought out their examples of bad covers. A lot of the examples where just really CAMPY and dated (aka, so bad they become good again).

Dancing Around Time Travel. Athena Andreadis, Grant C. Carrington, Helen Collins (leader), John Crowley, Jeff Hecht – This was the brainiest of the panels I sat in on. There was some discussion about how time travel was basically impossible (one thing everyone seemed to agree on). So everything that has time travel in it could be, it was argued, not really Science Fiction, but instead Fantasy. And then there was discussion about if you were to put time travel in a book, how would you do it. A couple panelists said you could get yourself into trouble if you added too much science to the story and this can date it, and there seemed to be a few people in favor of putting as little explanation of time travel as possible and moving on (don’t look at the man behind the curtain). There was also a lot of science discussion (about what time actually was and how it behaved) that was fascinating but I couldn’t repeat it here even if my life depended on it.

image courtesy of Michael Janairo (posted here with permission)

Sunday was a shorter day (I think programming ended around after 3pm) and I had to drive back to New York, so I only went to a couple of things before we had to check out and be on the road.

Uncanny Taxonomies (Daniel Abraham (leader), Ellen Datlow, Caitl√≠n R. Kiernan, John Langan, Jeff VanderMeer) – This was another panel about categorizing of books, but instead of the constraints/conventions of a genre, this was more about the idea of labeling books as being this versus that. There was a lot of discussion about the need to put books into genres, and since there were a lot of writers in this panel, there were comments about the writing process and how they don’t set out to write IN a particular genre, they write the story and then it gets placed somewhere. There was some discussion on how different books placed within the same genre could be and what makes a book put somewhere like in science fiction instead of literature. Kiernan commented that she would like to see everything just shelved by author instead of genre.

Reading: Margaret Ronald – So this was the ONE and only reading at Readercon I went to (and in hindsight I think I should have gone to more), because I had read and liked the first two books in Ronald’s Evie Scelan books (I have reviewed them both here). Book three is on the TBR (I spent an hour looking for this instead of packing on Friday and never found it. I bought another copy).
This reading was from “The Governess and the Lobster” from the online webzine Beneath Ceaseless Skies. The story can be found online here. It was delightful – a steampunk story about a city where some automatons have gained awareness and live side by side with humans. In this story a governess has just been assigned to the Cromwell children, who do things like hand their governess jars of spiders and mechanical lobsters. From what I could tell there are other stories set in this world including one about a brain in a jar? And a Professora? There is a book written about this Professora, but no news on a publish date yet. I would like this book please Universe.

And here’s the haul:

Picked up at the dealer’s room: The Best of Talebones, edited by Patrick Swenson (I recognized a lot of the writers in the anthology so I was curious to give it a go) and Rapunzel’s Daughters and Other Tales (what happens after the Happily Ever After of fairytales – I was sold on just the description of the Rapunzel’s Daughter story – about her daughters that inherited her uncontrollable hair and the consequences of this attribute).

The Husband wanted his copies of his Scott Lynch books signed but we missed the author’s signing and reading on Friday and I still don’t understand how Kaffeeklatsches work, so I was happy I found a signed copy of Red Seas Under Red Skies in the dealer’s room. The other three books are my copies of the Evie Scelan books (Soul Hunt bought at the dealers room).

Not pictured: the signed hardcover of The Outback Stars by Sandra McDonald that I bought. I forgot to bring my personal copies of Sandra McDonald books to Readercon! Next time maybe I’ll bring them and try to get them signed. Lurved The Outback Stars. My favorite!

The Stars Down Under by Sandra McDonald

This is the second book in the trilogy (I think it’s a trilogy) by Sandra McDonald. Book 1, The Outback Stars I reviewed over here: LJ | wordpress . It’s got multicultural characters, military fiction, and indigenous Australian mythology all mixed up with space opera. I was pretty blown away by the first book – a lovely science fiction romance where the romance was slow moving, which is my type of thing. As soon as I saw that book 2 was in paperback in the store I bought it.

Also: I LOVE LOVE LOVE these covers. So pretty and convey that it is science fiction, and the portal in the pictures must represent an ouroboros. The artwork is by Donato Giancola.

*** There may be mild spoilers for book 1 from this point ***

The Premise: It’s soon after the events of The Outback Stars and our hero and heroine Jodenny Scott and Terry Myell are settling into their new jobs. Terry had decided to not volunteer for chef’s initiation, which means he’s getting flack for that at work. The both of them decided not to get involved with the Wondjina Transport System, but they’ve recently¬†been approached by people asking for their help – the system stopped working and a team of six who were using it¬†are now missing.

My Thoughts: The writing is much the same as the last book, which means I had no problems with the pacing and could read quickly for stretches of 100 pages at a time without feeling like it was a chore. What is different though is that Terry and Jodenny are apart for a lot of this book. They each have their own separate story arcs, which I didn’t really like because I love them together, but it did keep me reading, wanting their stories to intersect again. Unfortunately we don’t get to see them very happy because of forces beyond their control.

There’s also more focus on the Wondjina Transport System and Terry’s strange mystic connection with it. This was there in the first book as well, but this time the theme is expanded.¬†At times the book got really out there, especially in the second half of the book. ¬†I couldn’t tell if¬†I was reading some out of body experience or something that was really happening.

There’s hints about the ending of this book right in the prologue. It made my heart drop and so the closer to the end of the book I got, the slower I read. I was just afraid to get there. In my mind what we have is a cliffhanger. I’m hoping things turn out okay for Jodenny and Terry in the conclusion of this series, and I kind of think they will, but in the meantime I’m thankful I read this book when book three is also out. I also have a warning: DO NOT read the blurb for book three because it pretty much spoils this book!!! You can read it AFTER reading this book, but don’t do it before.

Overall: Still loving this series, but this one goes some places I didn’t really like, so I really have to read book three, The Stars Blue Yonder now.

Buy: Amazon | B&N


The Outback Stars by Sandra McDonald

I’ve been keeping this book in mind ever since I was recommended it by calico_reaction based on my love of space opera romances. I think she made the comment on one of my Linnea Sinclair reviews that I should read this book. Finally I broke down and got it, but only the hardcover copy was available when I did. Now,¬†I love the book, but I want it in soft-cover, so I’m going to buy it *again* in paperback, and I want to give away the copy I read to someone who will enjoy it. I’m the type of person who uses bookmarks and gentle handles the book while reading, so the book is practically new, comes with the dust jacket, and it’s a really great read. If you don’t care that this book isn’t completely new, I’ll be hosting that giveaway in a few days.

First of all – isn’t this a great cover? It’s pretty cool and unearthly – conveys outer space, a female main character, and the colors are fantastic. I believe the second book in the series (The Stars Down Under) has a similar look.

Lieutenant Jodenny Scott is an officer whose last ship, the Yangtze suffered massive fatalities when it blew apart. Scott was one of the few survivors, a hero who helped save many crewmembers on that ship. At the start of this novel, Jodenny is bored from being forced to spend months planetside recovering from the disaster, so she pulls some strings to board the Aral Sea as it’s newest crewmember. Unfortunately she is put in charge of Underway Stores, the most troubled department in the ship – rumored to be full of incompetents, criminals and misfits. Past supply officers in charge of Underway Stores are either missing or had mysterious accidents, and Jodenny has to confront suspicious activities going on with her division and elsewhere in the ship.¬† All of this is set against a backdrop of a military with Australian origins, and odd mystical things that seem rooted in Australian folklore¬†also happen.

Overall: I think if you are a fan of Elizabeth Moon you will¬†like Sandra McDonald’s books, particularly because of the military aspects. If you like Linnea Sinclair and Ann Aguirre you may like this as well. The author was an officer in the U.S. Navy and her knowledge of the day to day workings of he military seems to really show in this novel. In The Outback Stars Jodenny has to deal with a mix of personalities both below and above her in the chain of command. Not everyone is a hard worker and trying to get the bad¬†seeds working¬†in harmony with everyone else¬†is a challenge. However, it was refreshing to see Jodenny tackle the challenge with creativity and toughness, which didn’t always help her make friends, but did make me respect her. She’s a very competent character who knows her job and is good at it. I also liked seeing how she reserved judgement on people until she saw things for herself – particularly with Terry, an accused rapist. It was also interesting to read a book where the main culture was Australian, not American (even though the writer is American!), but there was a also a big mix of¬†races and religions and ethnicities on the ship too. The romance itself was satisfying to read – it wasn’t the main focus, and is slow-building. The tension comes from the fact that Jodenny is interested in a subordinate, which is a no-no within the milirary, so she spends most of the book supressing her feelings. I sighed a happy sigh at the end of this book.¬† Although it seems like it will continue in The Stars Down Under, this book¬†ended in a good place, without cliffhangers. I didn’t feel like major strings were left undone, but there is enough undiscovered territory to keep me wanting to read book 2.