ICFA 2007, Friday

Still on West Coast time, I got up in time for the scholar’s luncheon with guest of honor Jane Donawerth, who spoke on “Performing on the Technologies of Gender: Television and Science Fiction by Women”. The subtitle was misleading; she read a paper discussing several stories (by Clare Winger Harris, C.L. Moore, James Tiptree Jr., and Melissa Scott) and one film (Making Mr. Right) in which female authors (or directors) used imaginative forms of television in stories that spoke to how gender roles were portrayed or constructed by society. (But not, i.e., about TV shows written by women.) It was a tad abstruse; a few people drifted out, but most stayed, and she was generally well-received.

Later I caught a panel on “Mundane SF” with moderator Graham Sleight leading the discussion with theme proponent (and author guest of honor) Geoff Ryman along with James Patrick Kelly, Melissa Scott, and Neil Easterbrook. Ryman explained how the ‘movement’ wasn’t intended as anything other than a good game to play, to think about what works in SF and why, but he was also passionate in his belief that he doesn’t believe in ‘magic’, including standard skiffy props like faster-than-light travel and aliens, and thinks science fiction was takes actual science more seriously, without the magical props, is more honest, solves story problems more interestingly, and is ultimately more powerful. The movement can be caricatured as charging the space opera guys with laziness, dishonesty, and irresponsibility about taking care of the Earth. The panelists pushed and pulled the topic along those lines, Jim Kelly pointing out how of course much existing sf (nearly half his own stories for instance) can be claimed as ‘mundane’, Melissa Scott admitting none of hers could, and Geoff cautioning that the point isn’t to pigeonhole particular writers as in or out of any ‘movement’. Graham Sleight revealed that Geoff had been thinking along these lines far before the “mundane SF” group formed, citing a 1990 Interzone interview in which Ryman discussed “good-faith SF”. Geoff discussed examples of how adhering to real science made stories stronger: the effect of relativistic travel in Haldeman’s The Forever War; the way the character of Ripley was undercut between Alien and Aliens, the latter movie’s introduction of limited FTL travel introducing a maternal element to what had been a much stronger character. From the audience, Brian Aldiss gave an example of how Hollywood wants to do merely what is easy, not original or true: interest in filming his Helliconia trilogy, following the success of the first Lord of the Rings film, evaporated when Aldiss pointed out how anti-religious and anti-magical his books really were.

I ducked in and out of other events, and browsed the book room (new books by guests, back stock of Tor books and academic journals) and the silent book auction room (lots of old tomes, rare editions, some quite tempting). I hooked up with Lawrence Schimel for dinner in the bar, catching up on publishing ventures and personal lives, and in the evening attending a reading by Geoff Ryman, who read three short, powerful and grim stories titled “K is for Kosovo”, “S is for Sudan”, and “U is for United States”, each dealing with a painful personal circumstance that reflected politics and, at least indirectly, sexual matters.

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