It is done! I got home on Monday afternoon, dozed and read for a couple of hours, then went to bed properly at 7:50 pm and slept for ten hours.
I was on a bunch of panels, and attended a few more, but didn’t take notes because I was working on a quilt. So this is all from memory.
Panelists: Liz Barr, Cecilia, Devin Jeyathurai (moderator), Ju, PRK
Star Trek: Discovery brings the venerable franchise into the 21st century, with more ambiguity, serialised storytelling and fungus than previous iterations. Let’s talk tropes, tribbles and Klingon subtitles.
I went from work to the venue via the pharmacy, where it seemed to take forever to fill my prescriptions. I’d had a busy week at work, con programming threw up some last minute challenges I’d never dealt with before, and I had my period. I was tired, crampy, and in a bad mood.
Everything turned around at this panel. Attendance was low — only nine people — but the audience was largely positive, and so were the panelists.
Which is not to say we were uncritical — we spent a lot of time talking about dead queers and women of colour, and trying to put our finger on exactly why the Klingons didn’t always seem to work. And I remembered to point out that it wasn’t just racist white men who wrote the series off after the premiere; a lot of women of colour looked at it and saw a series where women who looked like them were either killed, or required to endure suffering of a type not inflicted on white characters in the past. And their choice to nope out was completely legitimate, and is often overlooked.
Devin was a great moderator, and also remarked on how strange he found it, as a Singaporean fan, that the first Malaysian character in the franchise is named Philippa Georgiou. (“Basically, she’s Philip George. It’s white and masculine.”)
We generally agreed that our favourite thing about the series, overall, is how the heroic characters ultimately won by standing by their principles, but also how that didn’t come easily for them — everyone was flawed, and everyone had to find their own way.
I did not hijack the panel to talk purely about the wonder and miracle that is Katrina Cornwell, and I’m exceedingly proud of myself.
Middle Grade Magic
Sam Hawke, Thalia Kalkipsakis, Figgy, Sue Bursztynski, George Ivanoff
Why let the young adults have all the fun? Let’s talk about classic and new speculative fiction for readers aged nine to twelve.
(I cannot for the life of me remember who moderated this, but it was a good, disciplined panel, so whoever it was did a great job.)
While I sewed, Elizabeth Fitzgerald livetweeted:
It was a very interesting panel, especially in the discussion of how genre distinctions are blurred for younger readers. Are children more likely to believe in magic? Or is there simply less of a stigma? (My personal feeling, backed up by no research whatsoever, is that it’s easier to suspend disbelief when you’re young and your tastes are still forming.)
This was my question:
I went straight from that panel to…
Zine Show and Tell
Alison Evans, David Witteveen, Katherine Back
From sci-fi club newsletters to punk reviews to minicomics, zines have a long history with fandom. Come and join us for a show-and-tell session about why we love these these DIY publications. Bring along your own favourite zines to discuss, too!
This one was livetweeted by Lauren while I frantically folded copies of my cat zine.
This wasn’t really a panel — we arranged the chairs in something approximating a circle and had a nice chat.
There was a very interesting generation gap at work, with the older fans, who came up through traditional fanzines, at one end of the spectrum, and the younger zinesters, who have come to zines from the underground punk tradition, at the other. They create related but different artifacts. Traditional fanzines are a means of communication — the only means of communication, back in the day — and there is an expectation that readers can and will respond to a fanzine’s comment. Modern zines are less interactive, and I think some of the older fans were troubled that there was no opportunity for readers to engage in a dialogue with the creator via a letters page.
I tried to explain that, for us, as younger fans/creators, everything around us is interactive, and it’s honestly very refreshing to be able to create a piece of work, solid and on paper, and just … walk away, without further discussion. But the older fans seemed to find this quite disturbing.
Show Us YA Worldbuilding
Marlee Jane Ward, Alison Evans, Cally Black, Thalia Kalkipsakis
We know YA characters drive the narrative but how do YA all get YA Worldbuilding all up in there? Come and hear our YA panelists discuss YA Worldbuilding that works.
This panel was hugely enjoyable because all the panelists knew each other and each other’s work, and could ask interesting, specific and informed questions. And they all write quite different speculative fiction — Thalia and Alison both write about time travel, for example, but in entirely different ways.
Fannish Legal Shenanigans
Cecilia Quirk, Laura Wilkinson, PRK, Ashleigh, Liz Barr (moderator)
OH&S on the Enterprise; suing Hogwarts for child endangerment; is that unicorn endangered?
I was quite nervous going into this one, because even though it was my idea, I felt quite out of my depth as soon as I realised I would have to actually contribute. So I made myself moderator instead.
It turned out to be a very fun, informal hour, with a lot of audience interaction. Discussion ranged from “if an alien lands on Mars, trips over the Mars Rover and injures themself, who do they sue?” to “crime and punishment in post-capitalist utopias” to “is it sexual harassment or plagiarism if your creepy co-worker uses your likeness in an erotic holodeck program?”
(My answer: well, it’s certainly not appropriate!)
We ended up spending an inordinate amount of time on Star Trek, that universe being the most well-known example of a post-capitalist, post-scarcity alleged utopia. But we also covered inheritance law in Jupiter Ascending, the applicability of human rights (“Why, the very term is racist”) to sapient non-humans, and whether you can be charged with crimes committed by your evil clone.
(Answer: no, the law would probably just treat it as if you were a twin. Likewise, you cannot be held legally responsible for crimes committed by your evil mirror universe duplicate. If you were wondering, which I was.)
Nothing on this panel, or in this write-up, constitutes valid legal advice.
Deep Dive – Bismuth Hoban and Rachel Nightingale
20min presentations plus Q&A
Bismuth Hoban: The Klingon Forehead and the Wireframe: notions of essential humanity and desire in SFF
Rachel Nightingale: Playing with Tricksters
The Deep Dive program is a new stream for Continuum, an informal semi-academic stream where people give short presentations on a topic about which they are extremely knowledgeable. It was conceived by Stephanie Lai, my former co-blogger and all-around favourite penguin, and it was incredibly successful in its first year. But I only made it to this one, and yes, I have a lot of regrets.
I was there for Bis, who was talking about otherness and desirability in alien design, from those designed to be extremely desirable (so, human cis women but scantily clad and green) to the extremely other (your jellyfish blob aliens), and also the way Klingon designs have evolved as their place in the narrative has changed.
It was extremely interesting, and not nearly as complicated or academic as I had feared, and I’m quite inspired to present next year on costume design and worldbuilding in Star Trek.
Out in the Open
Alis Franklin, Narrelle M. Harris, Ashleigh, Liz Barr
Fan fiction used to be hidden away, subject to takedown notices, and sometimes kept secret from friends and family. Now there are successful mainstream novels about fic writers and readers, and some creators allow writers to earn money from their work. Is this legitimisation or exploitation? What has been gained and what’s been lost in the process?
This was a very fun panel, even though we barely even got to touch on issues like monetisation beyond a brief digression into fanfic versus tie-in fiction.
(Note: Freya and Su provided us with wine prior to beginning, which … look, it was a fun panel. And good wine!)
Because of the panel’s make-up — Narrelle’s background is zines; Ashleigh, Alis and I are of roughly the same vintage — there was a bit of an element of You Kids Get Off My Lawn. Or, rather, a concern that we older fans are isolating ourselves from younger ones, and not passing on the mentoring that we received. On the other hand, there’s a thread of toxicity in younger fandom right now, which partially comes from a conflation of fannishness with activism, which makes it less pleasant.
(We also had different experiences in terms of fannish mentors.)
We discussed, briefly, the current trend of novels about fans and fandom, and I mentioned that I don’t consume them because they’re mostly about m/m shippers, and that was never something I found appealing. Someone (Su?) asked about the lack of good female characters in earlier media, and I had to confess that I never noticed if a female character was well-written or stereotypical — to me, all male characters were intrinsically dull except in terms of their relationships with women. (This … is still mostly the case.)
Everything You Wanted to Know about Sensitivity Reading But Were Too Afraid to Ask
Creatrix Tiara, Jess Flint, Marisa Wikramanayake, Sangeetha Thanapal
Sensitivity readers are an important and necessary part of the writing process, but the concept is still very new. Where do you find one? How do you pay them? What should you do when they don’t like your work? Here, Creatrix Tiara, Jess Flint, Marisa Wikramanayake and Sangeetha Thanapal talk about the sensitivity reading process and discuss the best way to develop a professional, mutually respectful relationship with your sensitivity readers.
I offered to moderate this panel, mostly to head off microaggressions in the Q&A. Luckily, we had a fabulous audience who were respectful throughout. All I had to do was ask questions and let the panelists speak.
One thing we touched on is that sensitivity reading is a newer concept in Australia, and there are not yet many resources for people seeking Australia-based readers — although WritersVic tweeted to let us know about their own initiative. So that is something Continuum might look into setting up and hosting.
(And, as a Continuum person, I’m writing this out as a note to myself.)
Devin Madson, Elizabeth Fitzgerald, Figgy (moderator), Liz Barr
How to handle negative reviews — as an author and as a reviewer. Some forums, especially GoodReads, can foster an “Us versus Them” mentality. What’s the professional and respectful way to approach critical reviews?
This actually covered some of the same ground as the sensitivity reading panel, as in, how do you respond when someone tells you your work is in some way problematic? The answer was the same in both panels: deal with it privately — or with friends you trust — and don’t make your feelings your sensitivity reader or reviewer’s problem.
But we also asked whether authors should interact with reviewers at all, with mixed reactions on all sides. (I personally don’t mind, aside from feeling a bit self-conscious.) And we talked about infamous blow-ups between authors and reviewers (Anne Rice), and the flip side of entitled reviewers. (For example, people leaving one-star reviews for The Winds of Winter, which doesn’t even have a publication date yet.)
It was an enjoyable panel with a good audience, and Figgy did a wonderful job of moderating in her pyjamas.
Bismuth, Dorian Manticore, Lauren E. Mitchell, Alison Evans (with PRK as moderator)
What are non-binary pronouns, where are they currently being used in speculative fiction, and where could they stand to be used more? Will there ever be one standard non-binary pronoun? (The answer is a vehement no, but we’ll also explain why!)
The very last panel of the con wound up being a bit more linguistically technical than my poor brain could handle after a big weekend, but it was extremely interesting, and I learned a lot.
I knew, for example, that the singular “they” has been used in English for many centuries, but I didn’t know there were so many gender neutral pronouns. (Lauren wrote up a table, and I’m exceedingly grateful to them.)
Can we abandon pronouns all together? Prooooobably not. (“We” is a pronoun, right?) We need language to refer to ourselves and each other, but it need not be inherently gendered. Not that there’s anything wrong with preferring gendered pronouns for oneself (I honestly get more female-identified with every passing year), but the gender needn’t be mandatory.
Despite my frazzled state at the beginning, Continuum was an enjoyable weekend, and I’m always glad to be part of it. Early bird rates for 2019 are available until the end of June, if you’re keen to come next year.
(I just realised that I’ve described just about everything as “very fun” or “very interesting”. When do intensifiers become meaningless? It was good. I liked it.)