Archon Panels

So, as I mentioned a day or so ago, I’ll be attending Archon this year. I don’t expect a big convention — I doubt the masquerade will be anything much, for example, and usually this is a heck of a convention for the masquerade. However, we shall see!

I’m on seven panels. I’m moderating three, which means a little more preparation may be desirable. In one case, “a little more preparation” gave me an excuse to be a touch self-indulgent — more about that below.

So, the panels:


Writing Older Characters 

Not every character is a spring chicken!

I imagine this will be an easy panel. Everyone no doubt has a list of their favorite older characters to mention, for one thing. Certainly I do.

My first thought was: Have I actually ever written an older character? Isn’t that a trope I like but have so far not written myself?

Then I thought, No, that’s older female characters. I’ve actually written a good handful of older male characters — how many depends on what you consider “older.” (My opinion of what seems “older” has definitely changed over the past decade.)

There’s Gereint — he’s forty-one — and Beguchren — unspecified, but much older than that — from The Land of Burning Sands. Then Aras, who is early fifties — not as old for a Lau as for me, granted. And even more recently, Daniel, who is also in his fifties somewhere. (That really does not seem old to me any more.) So, honestly, that’s plenty of older protagonists and near-protagonists.

I still do want to write an older female character, though. Someone like Maskelle, an older woman at the height of her power — granted that Maskelle has met certain reverses , but still. Or perhaps I’d like to write someone older than that, like in her seventies, something like that. Tenai doesn’t count here because she’s not older physically.


The Starting Point 

“Ideas are easy, writing is hard.”  How do you choose which ideas are worth pursuing?  How do you decide when an idea just isn’t working and move on to something else?  What if you’ve already taken an advance?

This panel, I’m moderating, so I came up with a longish list of questions that address this topic. It’s an interesting topic, and I expect everyone on the panel will most likely respond in a unique way, since everyone’s writing process is generally so different. Among other things, I bet that “an idea that isn’t working” means something different for a writer who outlines extensively than it does for me.

Planning The Perfect Murder 

You’ve read enough murder mysteries; how would YOU pull off the perfect murder?

The way this panel prompt is written, it’s an easy topic to have fun with. I did copy the link to that fun post … right, here it is: The Only Murdering Murder Guide You’ll Ever Need, You Murderer. I’ll be sharing that for sure. Some of the advice in that post is actually good, too. I’ve occasionally been stunned when reading a true-crime story at how stupid people are when they hire someone else to kill their spouse. Amazingly stupid to hire some lowlife thug you don’t know. Amazingly stupid to involve anybody else period.

Anyway, moving on:

The Space Races 

Some stories have mankind becoming more and more homogenous until race is no longer an issue. Others have racial, religious and other groups all heading off to colonize their own ‘home planet.’ Which do we think is more likely, and are there positive aspects to both systems?

At first I thought this was supposed to be about the question of whether humanity would become more homogenous or more heterogeneous after leaving Earth and scattering across the galaxy. That would be a pretty silly question, unless you invented mass teleportation, say. However, on second look, that’s not what it says. Increasing homogeneity can be presumed to be happening in a future in which humanity never does leave Earth. That’s not nearly as silly, though I don’t actually think it’s likely either.

Regardless, I will personally be arguing that it’s absolutely inevitable that heterogeneity will increase if and when humans scatter into space. Plain genetic drift would see to that even in the complete absence of (a) the founder effect, (b) selection, or (c) people fiddling around with genetic engineering — all of which would probably also take place simultaneously.

I haven’t yet looked for far-future SF novels in which one or the other outcome is postulated. There’s at least one kid’s SF novel in which the former outcome, increased homogeneity, is postulated, but I don’t remember enough about it to pull title or author out of my head. Mostly I can think of titles postulating increased heterogeneity. We’ll see what the other panelists come up with here.

Editing: My Way or the Highway 

You’ve scored a book contract with a major publisher, but they want changes.  Editors can’t always be right, can they?  Is there a ‘line in the sand’ you just won’t cross?

I’m moderating this one. I’ve broken “changes” into categories: minor, still minor, still fairly minor, major, and really major. I think it should be easy to talk about examples of suggested changes that fall into these categories. I can certainly do so personally, with Mountain being the one that lands in the “really major” category. Can you replace this protagonist with a different protagonist and revamp the plot to make that work? Yeah, pretty sure that counts as “really major.”

And everyone has a line they won’t cross for any given book, surely.

I don’t anticipate any problems with this panel. I think it should be interesting, easy to keep focused on the topic, and packed with opinions.


Space Cops 

Who are some of the most interesting Science Fiction detectives and lawmen? What crime fighting equipment do we want to see in the future?

I don’t really know how I wound up on this panel. I’m dreading it a bit. I can think of any number of detectives and lawmen I like a lot — in fantasy. Not so much in SF. I can think of ONE — Wrapt in Crystal by Sharon Shinn. If you stretch a point, the latest Murderbot novella is a murder mystery. But that’s it. That’s all I can think of.

I’ve certainly never written any character who falls into this category, except (if you stretch a point) maybe Aras? And that’s fantasy, not SF.

So I went on a fast google search and then picked up samples of half a dozen books featuring detectives and inspectors and agents and so on in SF settings. I feel like I better read at least a couple of them real quick and give this whole “equipment” question some thought.

If any of you immediately thought of a detective or whatever in a SF novel, please point me to that in the comments. Even suggestions of TV shows and movies would be welcome. Robocop is the only one who springs to mind for me.

Rawr: Why Are We So Fascinated with Dinosaurs? 

Every small child can tell you that dinosaurs are absolutely amazing. Why are adults so drawn to them as well?

Whew! That is much better!

I mean, this is a fundamentally stupid question: Why are adults so drawn to them as well? The answer is too obvious for words: because dinosaurs are genuinely amazing, that’s why. There’s no need to focus the panel on that question. Instead — I’m moderating, so I’ll be directing the discussion — I’ll start with these two basic questions:

A) Theropods, Sauropods, or Ceratopsians?
B) Got a favorite clade?

Theropods are the familiar lineage of bipedal, largely carnivorous dinosaurs that include Tyrannosaurs (not my favorite) and a whole lot of other dinosaurs including the maniraptorans (my personal favorite).

The maniraptorans are a branch of the Coelurosaurids. This snazzy image is from the amazing, extensive set of taxonomic trees produced for the GEOL 104 Dinosaurs: A Natural History class at the University of Maryland, a class that presents THE BEST taxonomic trees of dinosaurs ANYWHERE online. Look at this tree! Look at how clearly the important anatomical details are presented. I can’t imagine going to the U of M and not taking this class. I would have LOVED this class. You can line up one tree after another and trace dinosaurs from Archosauria all the way up to birds — just keep going up the right-hand tip of each taxonomic tree.

The sauropods are of course the big guys. I’m not fundamentally as interested in sauropods as theropods, though sheer size does have its own fascination. I do like ceratopsians — the horned dinosaurs — almost as much as maniraptorans. There are a handful of other big groups, notably the thyreophorans — those are the armored dinosaurs, stegosaurs on one main branch and ankylosaurs on the other. They’re fine, I guess. If your artistic sensibility is inclined toward tanks and rhinos, then no doubt thyreophorans also appeal to you.

Anyway, I used this panel as an excuse to indulge myself. I bought, for show-and-tell at this panel:

These books are illustrated by Rubén Molina Pérez, who’s wonderful at paleoart. Here’s an example of his artwork from the Theropod book:

the encyclopedia of dinosaurs theropods asier larramendi ruben molina-perez

Isn’t that spectacular? Wow, I’m going to love these books!

Also, though unfortunately not for show and tell, this book:

This one is available at Amazon as an ebook for eight bucks or so, and as a paper-edition hardcover for a mere $245. Guess which version I bought. This sounds like a GREAT book. I love the table of contents. It’s a bunch of papers that came out of a relatively recent-ish symposium (about fifteen years ago) on the Ceratopsians. There’s so much here! The book is about a thousand pages.

I also already had this one:

As you can see, I’m looking forward to this panel.

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13 thoughts on “Archon Panels”

  1. Miles Vorkosigan does a couple of murder investigations, plus doing detective work as an Auditor. He doesn’t do much with equipment, though, except huge tranches of data that don’t as I recall yield very much.

  2. SF detective: the one that immediately came to mind for me was the old Isaac Asimov book The caves of steel, and its sequel The naked sun.
    They are from the 1950s, real whodunnit detectives in a very science fiction setting, with an Earth city detective sent to solve a crime on a Spacer planet, with a robot assistant. But probably quite dated if I’d try to reread them – I read them as a teen when Heinlein and Asimov and Tolkien were what was available on dad’s shelves. Not (m)any realistic female characters in any of that bunch, from what I remember, and some quite outdated views.
    But it might wel be part of the early foundation for such cross-genre books.

  3. Also Randall Garrett’s Lord Darcy stories, from the 1960s IIRC, modelled on Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey books, but set in a world where magic works along strictly defined ‘scientific’ rules, so the alchemist/magician can use these rules to prove what happened and who committed the crime. I’m not sure if that makes it fantasy rather than science fiction?
    There are some newer writers that continue that line, with romance + detective/mystery set in an alternate historical world where magic works: Celia Lake (1905-1920s England, e.g. Goblin fruit, but the romance is a lot more important than the mystery) and the Saint Albans books by Amy Crook (ditto, a bit more focused on M-M romance than on the mystery).

  4. Sci-fi detectives remind me of Henghis Hapthorn, who was from the series by Matthew Hughes (Starts with Majestrum). It’s done in the style of a Sherlock Holmes mystery (lots of older vocabulary) on a far-future galaxy where science is beginning to turn to magic—with a protagonist who is decidedly NOT interested in all this woo-woo stuff since he’s super logical. Pretty funny and a good read, even if I didn’t care for how the trilogy ultimately ended.

  5. The Isaac Asimov robot-based murder mysteries are great examples. You ask about tools. The problem with sci-fi is very similar to the problem with fantasy. Part of a murder mystery, or procedural, or whatever, is clicking through the procedures and tools available. In the modern world or recent past people have a decent idea of what those tools are and so can make informed deductions about suspects and follow along. When you are in fantasy or sci-fi, you have to be crystal clear about what new tools are available. With Asimov, much of the fun is monkeying around with the rules of robotics. The rules are clearly specified and uniform across his books. The sci-fi elements are downplayed so there are no simple McGuffins to reveal what happened. Indeed, it is sometimes clear that the robot was the murderer, but the question is how on earth that could be given the rules of robotics. Anyway, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to draw on fantasy detectives as inspiration. In both cases, you’re asking how society would develop crime-solving tools given access to some new (to the reader) magic or technology. You lay down the rules for how the magic/tech works, then think through how it would be applied to crime-solving. For example, assume people now have augmented reality implants that allow them to see advertisements, get information, and make transactions in real-time. One implication of that is people are constantly in touch with a network — a perfect surveillance state. And maybe there’s some built-in recording functionality in case of network outages. How do you commit a crime when there are cameras (peoples’ eyeballs) everywhere? The magical equivalent would be that people use spirits as servants and assistants, and they are ubiquitous and can be interrogated. How would you get around that? You could blow all magic up in an area (technological equivalent is maybe an EMP). You could magically suborn them (tech equivalent is maybe put viruses in to provide false inputs / recordings – that could also be used to make people kill themselves or others by leading them to do harmful stuff they don’t realize they’re doing). You could figure out some kind of magical invisibility (tech equivalent is stuff like the modern use of certain kinds of patterns to fool facial recognition software; or maybe there are backdoors built into the software by the corporations or the government or both).

  6. Half the fun of specifying a new tech / magic is surprising the reader with some interesting twist on how it works. However, the risk is that if the twist is new to the characters, you have to explain how it is that no one twigged to this twist if the tech has been in place for decades, or hundreds of years. In things like David Weber’s military space opera, he gets around this problem by having rapid technological progress being made in wartime. Lots of real-life precedent for that, and for people figuring out new ways to use weapons that surprise the heck out of other people. Another way to get around it is to have disparate cultures start interacting. The other side’s tech/magic is brand new to them, and maybe they come up with some new way of using it just because of a fresh perspective. In a crime story, if there are well-known ways of circumventing various detection tools, then looking to see if those ways have been applied will become part of the standard procedural toolkit. But that’s not very interesting to read about. Either it’s effective, in which case you’re just explaining why the apparent McGuffin doesn’t actually apply here, or it leaves traces that provide some additional clue (this method requires really expensive hardware/software/magic). Which is okay, but not that interesting. If it’s a brand new way of circumventing something, then the explanation for how the criminal came up with it is likely going to be an important part of the story. Although come to think of it, it might be fun to turn that around. It is the detection technology itself that is new. It upends crime for a while, then you explore all the ways criminals start to find to work around it. That would be a fun criminal POV story. Or maybe an anthology. Here’s a nifty “perfect crime fighting tool.” Writers – to your marks. Write a story from a criminal’s perspective on how they try to beat this “perfect crime fighting tool.” Optional whether they succeed or not.

  7. That’s a good prompt. Excellent excuse to make the protagonist a thief, thus hitting a trope I particularly enjoy.

  8. If you are looking for futuristic cops or detectives and not just cops in spaaaace, there’s a pretty obvious example: the Eve Dallas series by J.D. Robb. Its not heavily Sci-Fi but Eve is a cop in NYC of the 2050s(?). From what I recall, she uses a few nifty tools like what I think is a floating(?) videocamera/recording device to record the crime scene and take voice notes for her, and a sealing spray to keep her from leaving her traces at the crime scene and vice versa, and a computer program that calculates the probabilities of a certain suspect being the murderer. I also think there might be flying cars, and there is an offplanet prison. Hmm. Will need to go and reread book 1.

    There’s also a noir-ish detective series set in the future where (I think) the detective travels from planet to planet by transferring his consciousness into a borrowed body waiting on the new planet. Unfortunately, I cannot remember the author or titles for the life of me. Uggh. Maybe another reader can help.

    It’s more fantasy than Sci-Fi (although there are Sci-Fi elements like, IIRC, aliens from other planets) but Alexis Hall’s The Affair of the Mysterious Letter is a good Sherlock Holmes takeoff.

    Speaking of futuristic noir, Bladerunner? Derived from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick. I’ve never read it but that seems like a good possibility.

  9. Thanks, Jeanine! I’ve read a couple of the (immense number of) JD Robb books. I hadn’t remembered so many SF elements — I wonder if there’s one Eve Dallas actually visits the offplanet prison? That would be worth a look for sure.

  10. Following on from Allan’s comment, there are enough examples of ‘perfect crime fighting tool’ in history, probably starting with fingerprints and ballistics that you could probably dig out some actual ways criminals first fell afoul of them, then started thwarting them. As a way to start thinking about how to present the sf-nal equivalent.

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