Sunday, November 14, 2010


Science Fiction cons, specifically.
Cons are not, obviously, my natural environment. Raised mostly without a television. Don't read fiction (much-- a few special requests from close friends). Not particularly interested in dressing up in costumes and my life is interesting enough that pretending to be a dead guy (vampire or zombie) really wouldn't be an upgrade.

But my lovely wife writes and serves on the group that sets up our local convention, Orycon. So I go and, by dint of being published and knowing a little about things that often make their way into fiction (violence and bad guys) I wind up on panels. It's also fun because I get to see friends (Steve and Kai post here sometimes; Bart is always a treat and a few others...) and meet people.

Secretly, I enjoy being the grumpy guy who doesn't read fiction. Perspective.

I have friends here, but I never feel like I fit in. Very much an outsider. That changed a little this time, and that was a big insight: For the last couple of years, Bart and I have been having fun, talking about shared experiences-- two outsiders. This year, Bart brought a special friend and I found a critical mass effect. Two of us are two outsiders... three of us and I started to feel like a separate group. Started looking at the 'others' a little harder, a little less sympathetically. I am far more polite as an outsider on my own than as a member of an outgroup... Good to know, good to feel.

The 'put into words' award: Sometimes you find the line between person and monster when you cross the line. That never makes it right, but crossing the line once is recoverable.

Experimented with a way to teach and explore violence, letting groups of people imagine/create societies to solve problems...and in the process they discovered ritual murder and raiding; war cultures and war for cultures where that is not natural; brainstormed ways to deal with those who become good at war; and decided how to deal with those who broke the social rules...mostly without losing the person as a resource.

Had a very powerful cognitive dissonance at one point: There is a panel about writing across identity lines. Authors are often nervous about writing different cultures, races, genders and classes. They are afraid of getting it wrong, whether wrong is defined as stereotyping or unrealistic details. The people on the panel were good, sincere and experienced. I think I was on the panel as someone who had spent time blending and coexisting with other cultures.

The moderator cautioned newbie writers to actually talk to people of the group they wanted to describe, "If you don't, you are working from things you have only read, which might be second or third hand from other people who have only read about the problem."

Hit me at two levels, the first is that I think this is what has happened in most fiction with fight scenes and crime and motivations and a dozen other things. Very few writers have ever sat down with a bookie in Little Italy...almost all have seen The Godfather, and other movies derived from The Godfather.

The second is that almost every reference mentioned by the panelists was (with only one exception I remember), fiction. Hmmm.

Good time, met some good people. Some time with good old friends. Lunch with Steve Perry. Dinner with Mike Shepherd Moscoe. Kai, Mark, Sonia, Bart, Nisi and some new friends. A few people seen in passing: Mary Rosenblum, Leah, CS Cole...

Very tired.


Jim said...

Interesting thoughts. I've seen much the same group effect at professional conferences and training. You look around, and realize all the corrections folks are there, the patrol guys there, the folks from that department/state over here... and so on. If you're there on your own, you keep to yourself or you reach out to a group that seems similar... If there's one or maybe two folks you know -- you talk to each other, but aren't excluding others. If you pull three or four together -- you're you're own clique. You keep people out, and they stay away...

Regarding knowing groups you're talking about... I've been working a kind of narrow specialty for the last few years. But it's one that collects a lot of press and attention, too. It's amazing how screwed up some of what the talking heads put out is -- because they aren't speaking from direct experience. They're (all too often!) telling what they think someone else said about what someone who actually did the interviews reported. If you think this sounds like the old kid's game of telephone -- you're right. And it's often about that accurate!

Branden Wyke said...

Yeah, and the reading is just better when the author has a good connection to what he's writing about -as the reader, it's just more attractive and engaging. I hate it when I read something (that I genuinely really like at first), and the author drifts into a new topic that he doesn't really know to well -you can totally tell...and it leaves a kind of sour taste in your mouth...

Kai Jones said...

Perhaps there's a reason new writers are told to write what they know--it's because they will be less likely to screw it up if they actually have first-hand knowledge and experience of the subject.

And remember, if you just came from spending a weekend with a bunch of geeks, what does that make you?


Steve Perry said...

Fiction versus non-fiction -- very different games. You want to know how it really is, read Rory's stuff. You want to be entertained, read space opera. Fiction is to take you on a fantasy ride -- if you learn anything real along the way, that's lagniappe.

It has to sound real enough to keep most folks reading. It's never going to sound real enough to keep some of the hardcore folks reading. If you write for them, you lose the bigger audience. And truth is not a defense in fiction.

On a panel, Rory showed me a picture -- guy who bit down on a blasting cap. Blew most of his face off. Pretty gruesome. But I've seen a lot of blood and torn flesh, I was a PA, did rotations through the ER and the nuthouse, so it didn't affect me, other than to wonder if and how he survived, and what he looked like after the surgeries.

Showing that image to the folks in the room, most of them would have swallowed dryly and been horrified.

But it was an example of how much damage somebody can survive, and real.

Rory told me a joke: Guy is attacked by a tai chi gang on his way home. Took them half an hour -- who has time for that kind of mugging?

Funny if you know anything about tai chi. But it's just a story to make you smile.

There's the difference. It's apples and oranges.

Jim said...

Steve makes a very good point about differentiating between fiction and non-fiction. Most normal folks don't want the reality of violence in their fantasy. They're happy reading about their fantasy barbarian warrior without thinking about the halitosis caused by a mouthful of rotten teeth, weeks worth of BO since "bathing" meant you fell in the septic mess of a moat, and so on. Same thing with fights; most people don't really want to read about the panicky feeling of a fight, the sick-to-the-stomach feeling of being really nailed well with a shot to the head or just about any injury... Most folks want the hero to win, and have to work just hard enough to be satisfying. We want the neat turn of phrase (one of my favorite's is from Steve, talking about how someone tried to undo millenia of evolution and take flight), or the fight sequence in a Rocky movie as Rocky gets pounded... without the reality of the mess and pain.

C.S. Cole said...

Seen too briefly in passing, I might add. If only you sang and danced. Very tired now. My social hangover has begun.

Maija said...

The difference between good fiction and bad fiction, whether it be in book form or movie is some kind of consistent 'logic' that holds the story together ... along with a good story, writing technique etc.
I enjoy reading and watching good science fiction, where obviously authors have huge leeway to stray from real life on Earth .... but it still needs to make some kind of sense.
I think it's easy to tell shortcuts done for convenience, or when events start to become just too ridiculous to stomach.
It's OK for the giant blue squid from Tharg to ignore sword cuts, but not human beings ... unless they have some special armor or a magic spell or something ... and I particularly hate the moments when characters behave completely out of character.
Real lapses of logic just seem lazy to me.
Martial art movies are the same too - you can suspend belief to a certain extent, but there are limits. I can appreciate good choreography and camera/editing work, and though it's all well and truly in the fiction camp, it can be done well - read satisfying - or badly.
I suspect that a knowledge of REALITY may give you that fine line between the two.

Oh and thanks for 'lagniappe' - had to look it up :-)

Kasey said...

I am so getting you some Batman tights. You can sit on the violence pannel in a grey unitard and cowl

Benn said...

Nice insights! Three is definitely a crowd, the lost of individuality starts.