ICFA Closeout

It’s Sunday morning after the close of this year’s International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, in Orlando, and I have just enough time before heading for the airport to type up a quick summary.

The theme of this year’s conference was “The Fantastic Ridiculous”, with guests of honor including Connie Willis and Terry Bisson. Highlights included the Thursday luncheon with speaker Connie Willis, whose talk was entitled — here it is: “Dorothy Parker, Primeval, Little Nell, Robert Heinlein, Emma Thompson, Reports of My Death, Shakespeare, and Other Thoughts on Literature” — and addressed, in Connie’s usual inimitable fashion, the reasons comedy is usually not considered as ‘serious’ or respectable as drama. Terry Bisson’s big moment was a Friday evening reading, introduced by Andy Duncan (actually the introduction was a reading by Andy and Terry of Terry’s viral short story “They’re Made Out of Meat”); Terry read a relatively new story, “TVA Baby”, the title story of a new collection, and which previously appeared on Tor.com.

The weather was perfect all weekend, mild and not too humid, no rain. The ICFA mix of academics and professionals and students moved through the hotel and lounged by the pool. in addition to numerous sessions where students read their academic papers, there were occasional panels, SF convention style, lots of readings, and the evening events. There are always guest-of-honor luncheons on both Thursday and Friday, the second day’s featuring the guest scholar, this year Andrea Hairston, who’s written a novel or two but is better known for theater work and scholarly writing. She’s a lively, enthusiastic presence, and kept the banquet audience enraptured for nearly an for a talk that ranged from Nigeria to District 9 and why popular entertainment can never ‘just’ be stories with no cultural significance.

Even before her guest of honor talk, Hairston appeared on a panel Thursday evening with Connie Willis, Terry Bisson, and Andy Duncan, which attempted to define ‘ridiculous’. There are few people who can hold their own on a panel with Connie Willis, but Andrea Hairston is one of them.

I barely left the hotel all weekend; the furthest I got was a stroll to a nearby BBQ joint for dinner on Friday, led by Jay Lake, with a crowd that also included Joe Haldeman, Russell Letson, Graham Sleight, and Karen Burnham. The Saturday evening banquet went well, though there were few surprises among the awards, since most of the winners had already been printed in the program book, and the biggest award, the Crawford for best first fantasy book by a new writer, had been announced several weeks prior– Karen Lord’s Redemption in Indigo. The big unannounced award was the occasional, fifth-ever, Stephen R. Donaldson Award, for contribution to the IFA by a non-member, which was given to Tom Doherty for his long-time support in supplying books to the conference.

The most interesting panel I heard all weekend was on Saturday afternoon, with James Patrick Kelly, John Kessel, Ted Chiang, Rob Latham, Nalo Hopkinson, and Gary K. Wolfe trying to define ‘genre’. Key points were Gary’s observation (reflected in the title of his latest book, Evaporating Genres) that fantastic genres are by their nature unstable, while stable genres (the English village murder mystery, for example) tend to become self-referential. There was discussion if a post-genre world could ever exist, when someone like Pynchon would not look out of place on a Nebula ballot, or the Booker Prize committee would get past their assumption that all genre novels are by their nature formulaic.

And now I need to pack and head for the airport…

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