Boskone 49

22 02 2012

Edgar Allen Puffin minds the Broad Universe table in the Dealer's Room at Boskone 49

They are held in the same hotel, the Westin Waterfront in Boston, about a month apart from each other, but Boskone is smaller than Arisia, and greyer. It is the serious, bookish sibling; more suits, less glitter. I did see a pair of elvish warriors, a Victorian matron or two. David Larochelle sported his modest but classy Steampunk gear. And there was a puffin. Edgar Allen Puffin, who attended a few panels and readings, and helped out at the Broad Universe table in the dealer’s room. But he was not in costume. He was there as himself.

I shared a room with Elaine Isaak, known for the scholarly accuracy of detail in her medieval fantasy novels, as well as for the heinous treatment of her heroes, whom you do not want to be. She has just launched a Jumpstart project for her Author’s Grimoire, a fantasy writer’s manual. Here are the details.

My reading was very well attended (thanks to all of you who were there!) although that may in part have been because I followed Jennifer Pelland, who always packs them in. Perhaps they hung around out of curiosity, to see what sort of reading a puffin would attend. I performed a piece from the first book of Elder Light, which was very well received. And I do mean performed. I had done a marvelous panel with Bob Kuhn, Bruce Coville and Barbara Chiaptis, all about reading your work aloud, and one point we made was that reading, and writing, are a great deal like acting. One has to get into one’s characters the way an actor does in order to understand them and believably bring them to life. Bob gave the panel particular sparkle with his voice-acting expertise, but Barbara clinched it with her audience participation exercises. A good time was had by all.

Another notable panel which I attended was on Optimism vs. Darkness in SF, a subject near and dear to my heart. The discussion was animated (translation: I couldn’t keep my mouth shut; hell, I wanted to be on that panel) and to my disgust, darkness won. But what I took away from the panel, aside from a foul mood, were the opening remarks of Leonid Korogodski, who talked about a kind of fourth law of thermodynamics. I cannot hope to do justice to the way he explained it, partly because it was done in the most exquisite Russian accent, but in essence, an open, self-organizing system tends to become more complex; the more energy introduced, the greater the complexity. In the case of our society, for example, there is greater capacity for negative results as complexity increases, but the capacity for the positive is greater still. More good comes out than bad. The positive always has an edge.

Made my day.

Phoebe Wray makes a point with a copy of her book, Jemma 7729, on the panel Optimism v. Darkness in SF; Jennifer Pelland is on the left, Peter V. Brett and Leonid Korogodski on the right.

Which I needed, because the majority of the readings I attended were decidedly dark. An exception being Shira Lipkin, whose work has a decidedly grim aspect to it, but is beautifully written, and at least the excerpt she shared contained lovely images. Another exception was, oddly enough, Elaine Isaak, whose story may have been set amidst the horrors of the Plague, but at least ended with a birth.

Later that day I had a conversation with Lisa Janice Cohen who had been at the Optimism vs. Darkness panel, and she confessed that she had stopped reading SF, even though she grew up loving it. We found ourselves on the same page; I’ve all but stopped reading fiction entirely because I’ve been burned so many times. So many ugly, grey, joyless books that seem determined to disturb. If there is humor it is snarky, not warm. If there is warmth, it’s there only so it can be raped and pillaged later in the book. Books used to be my friends, my refuge and solace. Now I’m afraid to pick up a book for fear it will bite.

Not that I want my intelligence insulted with a Disney ending. Nor do I think darkness has no place—it is essential. But my idea of a great book is one which takes me into the dark places but then brings me out again, leaving me with a sense of hope and satisfaction. Life is dark and hopeless enough; I need art which helps me to transcend life’s miseries, not wallow in them.

Perhaps I just become too viscerally involved in stories. A nasty image, well-written, can haunt me unpleasantly for days. The accumulation of wrenching emotions, violence, malice and suffering I had absorbed from the authors at Boskone caught up with me to the point where I had to leave one reading, physically ill from it.

Fortunately, the final day was upbeat. I had the pleasure of paneling with Jeff Hecht, Bruce Schneier, and Patrick Nielsen-Hayden on the subject of SOPA/PIPA and its heirs in the Internet content wars. It was perhaps not surprising to find such agreement in the room in support of a free Internet, even if it meant tolerating a certain amount of piracy and IP theft. A great point made was how was taken down by the Feds without the need for SOPA, vividly illustrating that additional laws aren’t needed. It was also agreed that the best way to combat piracy was to make desirable content easier to get, in other words, make it simple and affordable for the consumer to keep it legal. When content is expensive or restricted, that’s when piracy thrives.

It’s lesson that should have been learned from the War on Drugs: Making something hard to get doesn’t cut down consumption as much as spur a black market for it.

Edgar Allen Puffin with con badge

Boskone is only three days, which is a good length for a con.  Many are four, which is one day too much, at least for me.  Boskone is also relatively low key as far as parties are concerned.  Don’t expect wild nightlife unless you like filk.  There is no Green Room, and although the con suite does a reasonable job, you won’t eat well unless you plan to eat out.  I came away from Boskone 49 with a host of new ideas and contacts, which is really what it’s about for a working writer.




7 responses

22 02 2012
Mario Di Giacomo

I wanted to be on that panel too.

But at least I got the last word. 😀

23 02 2012
Terri Bruce

Darn, I really wanted to go to Boskone and now you’ve made me sad to see all the great stuff I missed!

I’m with you on worrying about books “that bite” (love that!). A wrenching tale once in a while is good, but chronically kicking the reading doesn’t add up to fun in my book.

23 02 2012
Jaleta Clegg

Boskone sounds like a good con for writers. I was at RadCon in Pasco Washington last weekend. It was aimed more at gamers, but the writers were still there.

I agree with you that too many of today’s books are dark, edgy, grim, and gritty. I want light and fluff sometimes. I want books that leave you in a better place at the end. I want hope in my stories.

Maybe that explains why I write what I write. Even my dark stories aren’t completely dark. Hope finds a way to shine through.

23 02 2012

From the sound of things, it looks like the battle between Light and Dark ain’t over yet, and Mario may have gotten the last word at the panel, but the duel of words may have only just begun!

Seriously, I hear so much along these lines in the library, on line, and at conventions, I wonder if we are on the edge of a “correction” in the market. Dare we hope that Optimistic SF and fiction in general are on the verge of a comeback? Are there enough people out there demanding OpSF that they can make the publishers hear them?

23 02 2012
Kelly A. Hharmon

Great review of the con. I’ve never been to Boskone, but you make me want to attend. (I think I would have enjoyed the light/darkness panel).

:: scratching down a note to look for it next year :::

23 02 2012

Maybe so, Justine. Sometimes I grit my teeth and say: “There’s GOT to be a way.” And then I feel better. And think more. My current heroine thinks so. However, we writers are (presumebly) living in the real world where things look if not downright apocalyptic, then scary as hell. Nice to see you at Boskone.

23 03 2012
Leo Korogodski

Hi, Justine. I have finally found time and got my act together to do a written version of what I said at the Optimism vs. Darkness in SF panel:

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