Not Books, Personal

Boskone 56 Day 2

ICYMI, the recap of my first day at Boskone can be found here. I didn’t make it to day three due to some medical issues, so this is both my second and last post about this year’s Boskone. I also made it to fewer panels on Saturday than I had hoped, but still got to plenty and had a great time! I’m already excited for next year’s. 🙂 In case you all are interested, I’ve got an entire shelf on goodreads of recs that came up throughout Boskone.

The Historical Progression of Horror

My first panel, at 10am sharp! The moderator was Jack Haringa, and the panelists were Deirdre Crimmins, Brett Savory, Tonia Thompson, and the one and only Paul Tremblay! I unfortunately didn’t get a chance to make it to Paul’s signing, but it was still great seeing him speak in the panel! Tonia also saw the cover of my journal prior to the panel and gave me a shout-out as a fellow Twilight Zone fan, which was fun.

The panel began with a discussion of the stimuli that lead to horror, whether related to technological advances or cultural changes. Tonia noted that space is less scary now that we (the human race) have been there and that the focus has shifted back to Earth, specifically a fear of AI and lack of privacy. Paul piped in that the speed at which misinformation can now spread is also a contributing factor to fear and horror.

Deirdre pointed out that modern horror has embraced technology in order to exploit our fears of it, followed by Tonia noting that technology makes writers work harder. No longer can we rely on the trope of no cell service without coming across as lazy. This makes the isolation often inherent to horror a lot more difficult. Paul pointed out that it forces a different kind of isolation to emerge.

As the conversation shifted, the topic of underexplored tropes arose with Tonia’s assertion that zombie fiction has not been explored to its fullest. She talked specifically about traditional Haitian zombies, which have long been used as a metaphor for enslavement. On a similar line, she hoped that hoodoo (distinctly different from voodoo) would be explored as well.

Later in the panel, the concept of the happy ending was brought up. Paul said that he felt a happy ending still needed to respect the experience of the character, and that they could not be able to escape these horrors completely unscathed. Jack noted that it is harder to portray any internal changes in movies, while Deirdre added that on the flipside movies are able to do the heavy lifting in other ways.

Tonia later brought up the differences between US and Latin American horror, the latter of which is more focused on religion. She noted that it would be interesting to see US horror explore religion, or lack of it, a little more. Jack brought up the fact that while we do have horror that explores religion, it is almost always dealt with from a Catholic perspective, and rarely in a contemporary setting.

In Our Own Voices

This panel was moderated by Julia Rios and included John Chu, Kenesha Williams, Tonia Thompson, and Hillary Monahan. Julia started off the panel by asking if the panelists found it difficult to find themselves represented. Kenesha started off by clarifying that in traditional publishing, the answer is yes. She noted that there is more representation in independent publishing. She also brought up the fact that many black stories are limited to oppression stories and historical retellings, and that black people don’t get to be the heroes.

Tonia answered next, sharing the first time she had read a book with a biracial character — in her 30s. “I wept because I had no idea what I was missing out on” not seeing herself in books. Hilary explained that a lot of traditional publishers use a couple non-white authors to say they’re diverse. Also biracial, she talked about how white authors will write biracial characters, but only include the white half of their lives. She spoke about how an author can’t say someone is half something and then never speak to that half.

Julia asked where the panelists tended to find their diverse fiction. Kenesha used Amazon suggestions, whereas Hilary depended mainly on word-of-mouth. She said it’s important to listen to people in the community you’re looking to explore and that she’s skeptical of lists made by people outside of the community. Tonia said she likes to use conferences and conventions to find new authors. Kenesha jumped back in to say tailor facebook groups tend to help listing a few, such as Colors in Darkness.

The idea of writing outside one’s own lane also came up. Tonia expressed her frustration that white people continue to get recognition for writing outside their experiences. Kenesha added that you can tell when a white editor has had a heavy hand in a black author’s work, and that they need to step back and trust the reader. Hilary argued that you can write outside your lane, but you need to take the time to do it right, with research and sensitivity readers.

Near-Future Sci-Fi

This panel had moderator Paul DiFilippo and panelists Fran Wilde, Michael Swanwick, Karl Schroeder, and Brett James. DiFilippo started by discussing an essay from Charles Strauss (“Worldbuilding 404”) where he asserted that looking into the near future was 85% knowns, 10% known unknowns (something will happen, but what?), and 5% unknown unknowns (black swan events). Karl noted that sci-fi must stand as a plausible future, we must be able to see how we got there.

Karl also brought up the question of what happens if you get something wrong that is wrong by the time the book gets published. Michael brought up an incident where he almost wrote a book that involved a nuclear war between the US and the USSR, but decided at the last minute that he thought it would be boring. Sometime between the book’s acceptance and its publication, the USSR had fallen. Fran brought up a more concerning point: what if you get something right and someone uses it as their guide?

Karl argued the importance of near-future sci-fi by stating that setting novels 10,000 years in the future doesn’t help to solve present-day problems. Near-future sci-fi can give us a way to envision solutions to these problems. Michael stressed the importance of having a modesty about what you’re writing and looking just to the edge of the present for inspiration.

Why Diversity Matters

This panel was moderated by William Hayashi and had panelists Gerald L. Coleman, Cerece Rennie Murphy, Carlos Hernandez, and Reiko Murakami. William began by arguing that diversity in media normalizes the actual population of the country, as Cerece stated that “we write the world as it is… it’s time for us to stop explaining our existence.” Gerald also stressed the importance of having black characters with “every person problems” instead of relying on stereotypes to create “black problems.”

Cerece was lucky in that she grew up surrounded by diversity, and didn’t quite know that there were places where it didn’t exist. She said that someone once asked her what made her realize that she could write science fiction as a black woman. It was that moment that made her realize she had never thought she couldn’t.

Gerald and William began to discuss the impact of the Wonder Woman movie on women and girls. They walked out of the theaters visibly empowered, feeling like they could accomplish anything. Some had to wonder, “is this how white men feel walking out of superhero movies?”

Reiko added that, as someone who works in the video game industry, she has noticed the developers’ assumptions about the player have changed. They are no longer catering only to white teenage boys. She also stated that the most important part of writing diversely is doing your homework and showing respect.

Young Adult Science Fiction

Justin Key was the moderator of this panel and the panelists were Erin Underwood, Lauren Roy, Michael Stearns, and Fran Wilde. Justin began the panel by asking why there is so much more young adult fantasy than young adult science fiction. Lauren pointed out that when something is written by a woman, it is less likely to be labeled as sci-fi. Michael also said that the sci-fi label is avoided in YA as it is seen as the death of a novel. This leads to YA science fiction being sold in the general science fiction section instead.

Justin also asked whether sci-fi is encouraging kids to go into STEM fields. He used himself as an example, saying science fiction was part of why he became a doctor. Erin said that having the fiction to lay the groundwork for these interests can be essential. Fran also noted that fiction doesn’t have to be future-looking to be about science, “it’s not just robots and rockets.”

Social Change and the Speculative World

Janice Gelb was the moderator for this panel and the participants were Andrea Corbin, Robert VS Redick, Christopher Golden, and Hilary Monahan. Hilary was adamant that all fiction is political and that marginalized groups writing naturally makes their works political. What you include and what you don’t include in fiction is impacted by who you are. Christopher added in “Ignorance is privilege, and privilege is ignorance.” Hilary also noted that sci-fi and fantasy can put a fun twist on difficult topics, keeping people interested who might have otherwise checked out.

An audience member asked about how economic inequality and class systems are addressed in speculative fiction. Hilary noted that there are very few narratives set around poverty, although there are always exceptions. Christopher noted the Hunger Games trilogy as well as the Red Rising trilogy as examples. Hilary continued, pointing out other social justice issues that aren’t given as much attention: disability, classism, fatphobia. Andrea added that when these are included, they’re often an undercurrent and not the focus.

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Not Books, Personal

Boskone 56: Day 1

Last year I attended Boskone, a sci-fi/fantasy convention right here in Boston, for the first time. Not only did I get to meet one of my life-long favorite authors, but I also attended loads of wonderful panels and discussions. I had intended to write a post detailing each day but alas, only made the one. A lot of the events I attended had a strong focus on diversity of all kinds, which is part of what made me love the convention so much. Needless to say, I was so excited to attend this year’s convention as well!

This year I planned things a little better, figuring out which events I wanted to make it to ahead of time and what time I needed to get to the convention on Day 1. I arrived with plenty of time to check in and read a bit of my current read before my first panel. I’ve written summaries of all the panels I attended, but some are a bit lengthy. Each has their own header so you can skip around to read only what sounds interesting to you!

The Hopeful Future in Science Fiction

This panel contained James Patrick Kelly as the moderator with Muriel Stockdale, Gene Doucette, Fonda Lee, and Steve Miller as the participants. The discussion started with introductions as each panelist shared whether they had a hopeful view of the future or not. They then set into discussing optimism and pessimism and its place in the science fiction genre.

Fonda Lee noted that she felt “science fiction is an inherently optimistic genre” in that it implies that we will be here, even when things go sideways. She expanded on this by commenting that dystopian fiction is less of a genre, and more of a point of view. Lee argued that she could write a story set in the Capitol of Panem (from The Hunger Games) that was utopian; it all comes down to perspective. Gene Doucette agreed with her sentiment, adding that even in post-apocalyptic books the narrator (or reader) is assumed to be a survivor: “the future is going to be the end of everything, but not for you.”

The topic then shifted more towards optimism in the genre, with Fonda bringing up the sub-genre of “hopepunk” which James Patrick Kelly then compared to “solarpunk.” Both of these genres focus more towards cultural shifts as the solution rather than technology. Because of this, “climate fiction” and related stories are written more by authors who tend not to write sci-fi. Kelly also points out that whereas sci-fi as a whole glorifies the power of the individual, these sub-genres focus more on solutions that are the responsibility of an entire society. They are telling us that one person is not capable of making the changes necessary to fix this.

During the Q&A portion, an audience member brought up the question of whether more pessimism in sci-fi may be the result of discordant realities and a shift in the demographics that the genre is being marketed towards. Lee agreed with this idea, hammering home the fact that sci-fi that may have been considered optimistic 50 years ago no longer comes across that way to some; when the spaceships are full of cishet white men, the stories are only optimistic for a certain subset of people.

Overall, I found it great food for thought and definitely plan to explore the hopepunk genre a bit more deeply. Kelly offered the collection Hieroglyph as well as the Better Worlds project from The Verge as recommended reading for these topics.

Medical Ethics in the 21st Century

This panel had Robert B. Finegold, MD as the moderator with Paul Jeter, Julie C. Day, Frank Wu, and Justin Key as the participants. Prior to the panel, Dr. Finegold asked some audience members why they chose to attend this specific panel. As someone who works in clinical research — medical ethics are essentially my whole job. Questions like these (perhaps not always to this degree of intensity) arise on a daily basis in my office, so I’m always interested in learning more.

The panel began with a discussion on the ethics surrounding genetic testing. Frank Wu spoke first about the difficulty surrounding whether to undergo testing for Huntington’s disease, a devastating condition that is passed down genetically. Simply knowing whether or not you have the disease can impact the course of your life. Justin Key brought up the potential impact genetic testing can have if the results fall into the hands of insurance companies, who could potentially discriminate against their clients.

Dr. Finegold then moved onto the topic of genetic editing. A lot of nuances were brought up here: editing the genes of people who can choose (consenting adults) versus those who cannot (fetuses), editing genes to prevent or cure fatal diseases versus editing genes based purely on preference. Underlined here is the fact that genetic editing can and likely will have unintentional consequences that we may not even be aware of for years to come. Key weighed the pros and cons aloud, emphasizing that he was unable to pick a side: we could have the ability to treat chronic and debilitating diseases, but at what cost? He was also sure to add that even now we use medicine to change bodies to fit our own preferences: dieting and plastic surgery are two common examples he gave, commenting that we don’t even know the possible long-term consequences of these.

The last topic under discussion was organ transplantation, specifically how the demand far exceeds the supply and the dilemmas this causes. Key spoke first about how psychiatrists are responsible for evaluating potential transplant recipients for risk factors. While they themselves don’t choose whether someone receives an organ or not, this evaluation is taken into consideration. He noted that it will be interesting to see how machine learning and AI play into this process, essentially whether we will end up inputting all the available data and allowing a computer to decide who receives a transplant. Jeter took this in another direction, bringing up how we must account for animals, ethically, in our medicine.

A few other threads were followed including the concept of opting out of organ donation rather than opting in; populations that may distrust medicine for good reason; mandatory immunizations; and how short appointments and long waiting times both lead to injustice in medicine. I found a lot of these discussions absolutely fascinating and am hoping to seek out some resources to read about them.

Telling Tarot Tales

I took fewer notes in this one, since it was a workshop and not a panel. The workshop leader, Trisha Woodridge, was just great! She emphasized the importance of tuning into your intuition when reading tarot rather than trying to memorize what the cards are “supposed” to mean. We did an exercise where we each spent a minute looking at a randomly drawn card, then flipped it over and wrote what we remembered of it. We went around and described what had stood out to us while she helped us draw out our interpretations.

She then went over some general associations with the cards (minor vs major arcana, court cards, each of the suits) and finished the workshop by setting up a celtic cross spread and using it to tell a story. While the workshop focused less on the storytelling aspect than I thought it would, that’s mainly because 50 minutes is a pretty limited amount of time. I’m really glad I made it to this one and will definitely be using some of what she shared in the future.

Agency and Free Will in Speculative Fiction

This panel was a bit less structured than the earlier ones, with Juliana Spink Mills as the moderator and Gillian Daniels, Rebecca Roanhorse, Greer Gilman, and M.C. DeMarco as the participants. This discussion was mostly about prophecies and the “Chosen One” trope. Mills did a good job of asking some thought-provoking questions, which the panelists took and ran with.

Gillian Daniels cautioned that while this can give the reader a reason to care about the character, the author needs to make it interesting in order to make it compelling. She shared that double meanings and misinterpretations of prophecies are one way to accomplish this. Rebecca Roanhorse added that it helps to confound your readers’ expectations and that you should use what they bring to the story against them.

They went down a few other paths, but a lot of it circled around to the question of how you know whether a character has free will or not. Do the secondary characters surrounding a Chosen One have free will? Do we have free will if confined by the circumstances of our lives? Does your free will cut into someone else’s agency? How do addiction and behaviors stemming from it play into free will? It’s a lot of food for thought and I’m interested in exploring the concept more at some point.


So, that was Day 1 of Boskone! I am finishing this post at 10pm the night of, and am excited to see what the next couple days have in store. You’ll get recaps of those in the next week or two as well. I can say that it was already well worth getting ticket’s to this year’s con.

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Not Books, Personal

Boskone 55 Day 1

Hey everyone, I went to my first SF/F convention last weekend! It was a pretty spontaneous decision. A few weeks ago I was looking at Tamora Pierce’s events page and noticed that she was slated to be at an event right here in Boston! I took a look at the schedule of events and between the awesome panels and Tammy being there all three days, I decided to get tickets.

I ended up going alone, which I didn’t mind at all. That way, I got to go to all the panels I wanted to go to and could take breaks whenever I felt like it. It was really nice! There was so much going on that I decided one blog post would not be enough. SO, for the next couple weeks, I’ll be doing a post a week about the convention! This post will cover my first day.

I left work a few minutes early so I could make it over to sit in on an interview with none other than Tamora Pierce herself. She was hilarious and had a lot of interesting things to say. She talked about why having publishers is helpful (“If I had to do all that stuff, how would I write?”), said that she is pro-fanfic (but doesn’t read them because she doesn’t want to accidentally steal fans’ ideas), and revealed how she creates such dynamic characters (bases them off of real people!).

Directly afterward, I went to a panel called Exploring Gender in Speculative Fiction. The speakers were Stacey Berg, Suzanne Palmer Julie Holderman, Stephen P. Kelner Jr., and Inanna Arthen. They discussed a lot of different pieces of media where the idea of gender, or a gender binary, is played with in some way. One of the ideas mentioned was that SF/F may be a safe place to explore things that could otherwise be considered strange or scary by some. Julie also said one thing that I particularly related to: “It takes an incredible amount of emotional energy to educate people about yourself all the time.”

I took a couple hours for dinner and relaxation before going to Evolution and Alien Psychology, featuring Stephen P. Kelner Jr. again. This was one of the most fascinating events I attended the entire weekend. Most of the discussion was based around evolutionary psychology and the potential impact of certain environments upon species. It was a lot of speculation, which I really enjoyed. There’s a lot to take into consideration for authors who are writing fictional species.

By then it was 10pm and waay past my usual bedtime, so I headed home to get a good night’s rest for the next day. I was already unbelievably excited, since the first day had been so much fun already! Next week I’ll be publishing my Boskone Day 2 post, so keep your eyes peeled. 🙂

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