So, it looks like I’ve got four panels plus something called a “table talk,” which I didn’t ask for, but okay, whatever. My four actual panels are spread out over the weekend, like so:
A) Relaxing Reads Thursday — Sept 1 at 2:30
You can see why I checked this one off as a top choice for panels! I’m going to go back and collect everyone’s suggestions for low-tension novels and come up with comments and questions related to low-tension — what causes a book to be low tension and what makes a low-tension story work, despite all writing advice to ramp up the tension. I’m looking forward to this panel a lot. If any of you have read something new that turned out to be low tension, this would be a great time to drop the title in the comments.
B) Sex, Social Systems, and SFF — Sept 2 at 5:30
SO MANY NOVELS. The hard part is to pry people away from The Left Hand of Darkness, which, however admirable, is the merest tip of that iceberg. I’d actually like to focus on less-well-known works. I’m not sure this counts as “less well known,” but I don’t think it’s possible to have a panel like this and not mention Nicola Griffith’s Ammonite, which is by no means my favorite of her works, but she is SUCH an outstanding writer that I don’t care, I’m going to bring this novel up anyway.
Personally, I’d like to address the difference between novels that handle sex and gender issues without totally changing human instincts, vs those that pretend humans don’t have instincts and use that as the starting point. But I’m not the moderator, so we’ll see how it goes.
C) That’s Not How That Works — Sept 3 at 1:00
Here’s the description that made me check this panel as one I’d like to be on:
How much science is there in fiction? Do animals really act that way or is that just fantasy? This panel will help us debunk, deflate, and displace wrongful ideas of how things work. Our panel of experts will take on their own personal pet-peeves on the mechanics of rockets, the care and feeding of horses, the constriction pressure of corsets, the general angriness of bears, the biology of Mars, and other misunderstood realities. We encourage the audience to come armed with questions as we explain, “That’s not how any of this works!”
It’s the second sentence. Do animals really act that way? Basically, NO, particularly not wolves. It’s honestly very interesting to see how this progression has apparently taken place in pop culture understanding of wolf behavior:
Describe alpha behavior in wolves (incorrectly) —> Create many version of werewolves in modern Urban Fantasy and Paranormals —> Pop culture coalesces around an understanding of how alpha werewolves act —> this understanding invades pop culture assumptions about wolf AND DOG behavior —> many dogs get screwed up by their owners because their owners have no clue what dominance is or how it works in the real world.
This isn’t much of a problem for Cavaliers, fortunately. Nobody gets a Cavalier thinking that they have to be all dominant or else the puppy may try to take over the pack and be the leader. That’s not really a thing for people who are looking for a cute lapdog. So that’s useful, because pet owners can still handle a dog in a less than ideal way, but rarely with “alpha rollovers” and other similarly harmful techniques.
Oh, you know what, I really must remember to bring up A Companion to Wolves in this context. The trellwolves are not like real wolves at all, and that makes this a great book for this panel. AND NOT ONLY THAT, but Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear do the most interesting things with sex and gender in this book! I’m going to have to make a note of it for the previous panel too! Absolutely. Oh, while I think of it, here’s my post about the first two books in this trilogy. In this post, I make predictions about the third book that were not correct and I wound up not liking the third book very much because it was very (very) different than the book I actually wanted.
Other panelists are going to have to address the mechanics of rockets and the biology of Mars (really, the biology?) and so on. I’m happy to stick to animal behavior, and we’ll see what else comes up.
D) Sort-of-Overlooked Mass Market SFF of the 80s and 90s — Sept 4 at 4:00
So this sounds like a relaxing panel. Absolutely everyone over a certain age (raises hand) is going to have heaps of titles to recommend.
The single author I most want to bring up is John Varley. He was writing books in the 80s that would absolutely appeal to modern readers, if only they’d ever heard of him.
After Varley, I’m not sure! There are so many! I should do a post just about this and in fact I’m sure I will, but who is ONE author from the 80s and 90s who is sort-of-overlooked today? If someone leaps to mind for you, please drop the name in the comments.
16 thoughts on “WorldCon Schedule”
Low tension! I recently finished To Hive and to Hold by Amy Crook. (I don’t think I got that rec here, sorry if duplicate.) Queer fantasy romance without any tension about will-they-or-won’t-they. Clearly they will when they’re ready for it. One MC is an apothecarist who compounds medicines and lotions, grows plants on his roof, and has a hive of magical bees. The other, his new neighbor, is a magical tattooist who recently left the sorcerers (more individualistic and power-driven) to move to this neighborhood of witches. The lack of interpersonal tension didn’t 100% work for me and the found family with the apprentice was a little too pat. There are a few low-tension plot drivers that I was curious about, and I liked the MCs and liked learning more about them as they learned more about each other, but mostly what kept me engaged was the world building. There was a lot of exploring the world by introducing the new neighbor and bartering for ingredients for potions and materials to construct a new hive. There are hints this was our world before an Incident that introduced magic and there’s some holdover tech. But mostly I liked the economic and social system and all the people and nonhumans they traded fairly with.
And rockets don’t work “that way,” either….
Suddenly realizing I COULD have registered for Worldcon in Chicago (Toronto isn’t that far!) but it’s the week before school starts for my teacher wife, alas. Those panels sound really fun; I hope you have a great time on them!
I haven’t entirely figured out what makes things low tension enough for me these days, but I think a lot of it has to do with trust in the author, that they won’t spring nasty surprises. And, low frustration – characters aren’t going to do things I hate, like not tell the truth for no good reason because that makes the plot happen.
But, there can be pretty dark content if it’s handled right – for example, Ursula Vernon’s slow burn romances. At least one of those has a meet cute over a severed head, but it doesn’t stress me out.
Also, I really enjoyed The Calculating Stars and its sequel, but I’m having trouble with The Relentless Mood because its focus is more on finding saboteurs than on competence porn, so it’s too thriller-y.
Re: “they got it wrong”, I don’t sweat it when people get computer/hacking details wrong, but it really bugs when the hacker community is portrayed wrong.
Jaran is probably a good one for B
Oh wow, John Varley, that’s a blast from the past. I remembered the name but couldn’t remember the novels. A quick Google refreshed my memory. Main ones that I recalled were his Titan/Wizard/Demon trilogy. Good stuff!
“That’s Not How That Works” looks so fun! It reminds me somewhat of a panel I did at CONvergence once, where another veterinarian and I discussed how fantasy animals’ physiology *might* be able to work without magic, and what would need to be changed and why. My favorite talking point from that was that dragons would likely be herbivores to sustain their large size and also to culture gut bacteria that made sufficient amounts of flammable gas such as methane.
I would love to be on another panel like that. Let me know how yours goes, and what topics are covered! It sounds like it’ll be super interesting.
For Sex and Social Systems, my first thought is A Brother’s Price, by Wen Spencer. This is a relatively new find for me, and already a favourite. It has a thought provoking social setting, likeable characters and a well paced engaging plot.
Loved A Brother’s Price. I would recommend Meg Pechenick’s Vardeshi Saga, for (B). Human among aliens, very interestingly done, some high stress activity though.
A Brother’s Price is fun – it’s too bad the rights are tied up, so she can’t write that sequel she wanted to do.
Legends & Lattes (Travis Baldree) is pretty low tension. It’s about an orc giving up the adventuring life to start a coffee shop.
Natalie, that sounds perfect, thanks!
I’d never heard of A Brother’s Price, but I’ve picked it up given your recommendations.
Camille, dragons as sauropods, I guess! But I’m not sure herbivorous diets would give them the activity level necessary to fly. Did you tackle centaurs? I think there are more novels where someone tries to make centaurs physiologically plausible than maybe any other fantasy creature.
Mary Beth, I’m really sorry you won’t be there!
Off topic: I love mid August! The extreme heat of summer is over, and the tomatoes are producing more than I can eat! Nothing, nothing, tastes better than tomatoes straight off the vine.
Well, Pete, I don’t disagree about the tomatoes, but personally, I don’t think you can beat October….
Possibly! It would certainly be more efficient for them to be herbivores if only in terms of the lower an animal eats on the food chain, the more energy from their food they get. But of course it’s certainly possible for a foregut fermenter to eat meat. Now I want to go revisit the whole idea, haha.
I think we talked about centaurs, yes! I remember finding a fair bit of explanations by others when researching for the panel which tracks with what you say.
The low-tension stories I can think of aren’t in the genre: Greenwillow by Chute, and The Flowering Thorn by Sharp. Unless maybe Jo Walton’s LIFELODE? I don’t remember it very well, but it was very domestic. Oh! domestic reminds of Dorothy Heydt’s/Katharine Blake’s first book, THE INTERIOR LIFE, which I remember being low tension.
I haven’t finished Legends & Lattes, though I will probably go back to it at some point. I didn’t find it sufficiently low tension for what I wanted at the time because of plot thread about threats from the gang. Which I am sure wasn’t all that threatening, but hit a sensitive spot for me. Which I guess comes back around to the question of what makes a book low tension.