Saturday, 21 March 2015

CanCon 2014: Part 1

I learned about the Canadian Content Convention in 2013, and previously blogged about that experience. I returned for 2014. I then got distracted by life, hence why this little summary of the events of October is being posted in March 2015. Oops.

This has been here the whole time... yes...


Long story short, I started the Con late on Friday, arriving to the 8pm panel “The Past, Present and Future of Fandom” partway though. (On panel: Jo Walton, Madeline Ashby, SM Carriere, Liz Westbrook-Trenholm) These days there IS more of a connection between writers, fans, even actors. It was remarked on that genre writers start as fans, while literary writers may be more isolated. They don’t necessarily have a place they can go to talk to fans of their work, or people who are writing similar works. Success can also be a barrier. “Neil Gaiman can’t go to a convention to hang out anymore.”

Benefits of fandom: Community is nice. People may recommend & defend you to others. Flip side: Stalkers and haters. Tends to be 1 in 100, so “need to be more popular to be more hated”. Don’t engage them. May even need to avoid posting about it on a personal blog, because your FANS may escalate the situation, going after the person. (I believe it was Jo who told a story of a guy who accused “you sicced your posse on me!” and she hadn’t even realized.) Noted that as things get big there’s a tendency to fragment (otherwise it’s overwhelming).

At 9pm, went to the Open Mic Filk (Farrell McGovern as MC). No one had a guitar. There were about 6 of us, we chatted a bit. (There was a publisher party upstairs that may have influenced attendance.) Eventually I started off some actual singing, as I’d brought a karaoke file on my PC for the Carly Rae Jepsen sendup “It’s Probability”. (I sing the math hits, in case you were unaware.) Someone else led a round (based on... Charles Stross??). A young lady who had sung a “Homestuck” song last year also contributed, this time on the same show but she had written it herself.

Things broke up a shade after 10:15. I took a quick look upstairs in the Hospitality Suite to see what the big deal was about the party, and left the hotel a bit after 10:30pm.


I’d considered the writing and editing workshop (10-noon) with Julie Czerneda, but a large number had already signed up on the Friday, so I met elsewhere with friends I hadn’t seen in a while instead; if you’re wondering about the workshop, check out this entry on Brandon’s blog. I arrived about 11:30 and went to the “Dealers’ Room”. Wandered about a bit, chatted with the people hoping to bring the int’l convention to Quebec, and to Kevin T. Johns. Walked with him up to the next panel, which he was on.

Said panel was “The Whedonverse” (panelists Kevin Johns, Timothy Carter, Derek Newman-Stille). Started with “Buffy”, as you do. Noted that she was entering post-secondary around the same time as some panelists/audience, giving that extra bit of relevance for the time. Buffy was an “outsider”, someone on the “fringe”. The show was great with metaphor, and the story arcs always had a payoff (unlike, say, “X-Files”). The characters would also transition, which wasn’t typical at the time, like Xander going into employment rather than keeping the cast together academically.

Talk transitioned from “Buffy” to “Firefly”, which also had strength of character - which was largely lost when episodes were aired out of order. It was also a mashup of genres, not merely a “Space Western”. The cancellation of the series was raised as being a possible transition point in Joss Whedon’s career. Serenity (the movie) seen as more traditional: he was a “slave of two masters”, having to be faithful to the fans but also produce a successful film.

The power of an “open myth” was discussed, as Joss likes to leave items open and unanswered. An audience LIKES to think about such things. Perhaps Canadians in particular - the point was raised, do we like the grey areas more than Americans? It’s also true that the issues Joss tackles don’t HAVE easy answers anyway. Joss also likes to play with viewers’ expectations and stereotypes: strong female characters can still like frilly bows. Loki (from Marvel universe) was mentioned as an extension of Joss... playful and a trickster, but also makes fun of himself.

His “Much Ado” movie was referenced, as it shows his abilities beyond being a writer (Shakespeare wrote the script). “Dollhouse” was brought up, and the idea that we’re all “playing roles” or “wearing masks”. Also his brother’s work on “Agents of SHIELD”, and it was noted that with a father who worked in TV, perhaps it opens more doors for the 3 Whedon brothers. (The problems of Hollywood were remarked on here too.) Concluding thought, is Joss still as subversive now as he was with “Buffy”? (Feeling was no...)

After this was the Time Travel panel, which has been my thing since grade school, hence why I managed to previously blog about it here.


From 2-3pm, I went to “I Can’t Believe You Haven’t Read That! (Fantasy)” (panelists Kathryn Cramer, Peter Halasz, Jo Walton, Matthew Johnson, Yves Menard). There was brief discussion of Jo’s “suck fairies” before starting - a detail fairy that ‘sucks’ some pleasure out of a story you read when you were younger, because you didn’t notice sexism or other cultural issues. Then the first question: What’s the biggest gap in terms of recommending an author/title?

One issue is a person can’t necessarily appreciate current things without knowing the building blocks. (“There are protocols!” Perhaps something’s being subverted?) Another is not knowing a person’s preferences. (What do you already read?) There’s also the fact that “Fantasy” is really broad. And is the person reading for love as literature, more for pleasure, to be a completist...? Some names that got tossed around: Robert Aickman, Pamela Dean, Susan Palwick, Guy Gavriel Kay, Naomi Kritzer, John M. Ford, Christopher Moore. (Some of those names from second question, about who’s current.)

Third question, who are the pillars of history? Names included Lewis Carroll, Edison (who came before Tolkien), and Lord Dunsany. Dracula was also referenced as the only book that has remained in print - other than the Bible - it’s terribly written, but has sublayers. There was also some question about whether Fantasy is more Genre or Tradition. And there was a fourth question of one book to pass on to people, but all I got down in my notes is “The Once and Future King”.

From 3-4pm, “Face-Palms of World Building” (with Mark Robinson, Andrew Barton, Julie Czerneda, Cenk Gokce). If you misfire in world building, you’ll lose 5% of readers who can’t get into the story because of it (like Dune: no oceans = no climate). Worse, if you’re writing in a sub genre (military SF, historical fantasy) that 5% could be your whole audience! Noted that a lot of world building may not appear, particularly in short stories, but should be known by the author.

Don’t necessarily explain, which can also pull a reader out. Use word choice: “The door dilated”. Or the detective who puts his hand on the car hood - you don’t need to spell out that it’s to see if the car’s been running. If the setting is Vancouver, people there wear raincoats, they DON’T use umbrellas - meaning a person with an umbrella is automatically branded a tourist. The panelist knew this because he talked to someone from Vancouver. This is a good plan, if you’re writing about a place you’ve never been.

“Everyone knows the weather”: Be careful of this trap! Game of Thrones has decades long seasons, and yet the implications of such do not appear in the story! (For example, hurricanes happening on a regular basis.) You even have to be careful with small things - which way are your rivers flowing? Is this creating a swamp in the middle of town? You can also USE the weather to drive stories. Thunderstorms MUST appear if you have a land mass like North America... unless no, because wizards on flying carpets? 

Speaking of, magic needs rules. If magic has no COST, why not always use it? If magic carpets exist, why are they restricted? Economies are based on scarcity of resources. It was noted that the “Avengers” movie gets portals wrong: Zero millibars in space, about a thousand millibars on Earth. Things move from high pressure to low pressure (creating winds which in this case would swirl at 1600 mph, whereas 318 mph is the max on Earth). Fix it - only solid matter can get through? (Suffocating Iron Man, oops?) The game “Portal” does them right.

There was also some mention of World Cultures. #AllOfTheTopias tend to bend everything (for good or bad) to make a point. Planets aren’t homogeneous, so what part of the planet is the “alien race” from? (One with scarcer resources?) Also, it’s warmer up in Alert in February as compared to Ottawa because there’s no dampness. Are all your characters the same age? Climate can also drive how entire cultures evolve. If the direction the Earth spins drives thunderstorms over planes - what if Earth spun THE OTHER WAY? “CliFi”: Climate Change Fiction?

I’ll let you ponder that, and finish the recap next week.

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