Worldcon Schedule

As I think I’ve mentioned, I’m going to Worldcon this year. The full draft programme is now available [pdf]; and if you’re going, should you want to you can find me on these items:

Thursday 17.00-18.30
Bookgroup: Neal Stephenson’s Anathem

Discussion of one of last year’s blockbusters, led by Niall Harrison.
Location: P-523A

Thursday 22.00-23.00
I’ll Be Back

Who could have guessed 25 years ago that “The Terminator” was starring a future governor of California? Having spawned several sequels and a TV series this jarring image of a bleak future that might yet be averted or changed continues to hold our attention. Why have the “Terminator” films been so influential, and what do they say about the times that produced them? How does “Terminator Salvation” fit in?
Jeanne Cavelos, Niall Harrison, Russell Blackford (m), Seanan McGuire
Location: P-511BE

Friday 14.00-15.30
The Hugo Award: Short Form Dramatic Presentation

The nominees: who will win, who should win, who was overlooked? What does it say about the state of the art as of 2008?
James Zavaglia, Lee Whiteside, Mandy Slater (m), Niall Harrison, Vincent Docherty
Location: P-524B

Friday 17.00-18.30
Handicapping the Hugos II: The Short Fiction

Our panellists survey the Hugo-nominated short stories, novelettes, and novellas: they tell us what they want to win, what will win, and why.
Ann VanderMeer (m), Jonathan Strahan, Karen Burnham, Niall Harrison, Bill Fawcett
Location: P-516AB

Saturday 17.00-18.00
Is Blogging an Art Form, or Just a Fanzine by Any Other Name?

Does a blog require a different style? A different layout? A different mode of approach? Do the technical requirements make it more or less accessible a medium?
Cheryl Morgan, Kathryn Cramer, Niall Harrison, Heather McDougal, Tobias Buckell
Location: P-514AB

Sunday 10.00-11.00
Kaffeeklatsch: Niall Harrison and Graham Sleight

Two non-fiction editors answer your questions.
Location: P-521B

Monday 11.00-12.00
Non-Fiction for SF Fans

What non-fiction should SF fans be reading? The panel recommends and discussed recently published books and perennial classics.
Geoff Ryman, James Cambias, Kari Sperring, Niall Harrison (m), Vincent Docherty
Location: P-511BE

If you’re not going, you should feel free to share your thoughts on any of these topics, so that I may steal them and pass them off as my own.

On Expertise

A perspective on Readercon:

This weekend I went to my first Readercon. There’s a lot to like about Readercon, but there’s also a lot to dislike. To start off with, the name is false advertising. This isn’t a con that centers itself on or meets the needs of readers, or enables readers to talk to each other. This is a professional networking conference that also meets the needs of a small set of fans, most of whom seem to be white, male, and over 50. It is designed, in many ways large and small, to reinforce the status of professionals–particularly writers, but also editors, paid critics, and academics–above that of people who are “just fans” or “just readers.”

The con’s setup (everything from the programming to the hotel selection) allows and encourages this group of people to talk to each other, and fans and readers to express appreciation to this set of authorities, but does very little to encourage literary conversation as a conversation among equals. Readership, audience reaction, is strongly encouraged to stay within strict bounds; criticism and participation in the discussion are treated as privileges accorded to a few, not the basic rights of every reader.

(I was going to do a general post-Readercon links post, but then it was pointed out to me that the relevant links are already being collected at the Readercon livejournal community, so I suggest you go there, instead, and I’m just going to single out this one post.)

I haven’t been to a Readercon. It’s always been on my list of conventions I’d like to go to someday, but to date has never quite made it to the top, because the constellation of writers it places in the centre of the field is in large part not a constellation that particularly excites me. (I have a memory of seeing, in a panel description somewhere, a statement to the effect that Little, Big was the definitive Readercon book, to which my response was: right, well, this is not for me, then.) But I have to say that this description of it, though intended as criticism, really, really makes me want to go.

Panel discussions have always been part of the draw of conventions, for me. I can get readerly discussion of books in conversation with friends, down the pub, or online; I can, almost literally, get it all the damn time if I want. At conventions it is what the bar is for, what going out for meals is for, what book groups are for. You know what I can’t get on a regular basis? What I very rarely get enough of even at a convention? The experience of listening to experts on a particular topic discuss it in depth. That, to me, is what panels are for.

When I started going to conventions, I chose the panels I wanted to go to by topic. This proved to be a very hit-and-miss way to approach things, as you can imagine. So then I started to choose panels based on the panelists, because experience taught me that nine times out of ten, published authors will be more interesting on a panel focused on a topic they know about than “just fans”, and a good proportion of the time critics and academics will be more interesting than authors.

(Note that I do not consider myself a critic, precisely because of the status implications of the term. I am not putting myself in the top tier of panelists that I’m creating in the paragraph above, and if I went to a Readercon and was offered more than, say, a panel on the collected work of Stephen Baxter, I would think something had gone wrong somewhere. You would be amazed [or maybe not] at the breadth of the shallowness of my knowledge of sf and fantasy. Note, also, that I am talking about literary panels; science and technology panels, fan panels, culture panels and so forth are a different kettle of fish. And I tend to go to less of them.)

I have lost count of the number of times that audience involvement has been the death of a fascinating panel discussion. Few phrases strike fear into my heart like, “This is really more of a comment than a question …” Sometimes the audience discussion phase is fascinating and insightful; but mostly, not. And there are obvious reasons why problems arise: a room is more difficult to moderate and focus than a panel. These reasons are not insurmountable, but if they are surmounted then you get a different kind of discussion — it becomes, again, the kind of discussion I can easily get in other times and places.

Of course, this approach to panels necessitates among other things (a) a convention committee who can be trusted to find the five best people for a given discussion, and (b) a programme book that allows con-goers to find out who the names on the panels are. Readercon seems to have (b) covered, since it provides more extensive biographies of panelists than any other programme book I’ve ever seen. The other criticism in the post linked above, though, is that they’re not so good at (a): “There are a number of perspectives which simply do not appear–particularly those of people of color, but also those of younger generations, queer people, women, young professionals, poor or working class people, and fields of literary criticism developed since 1968.” This is, no doubt, a problem, and makes me move Readercon back down my list of priorities. If they’re not including a wide variety of perspectives, they’re not finding the best five people to discuss a topic, which undermines the whole point of being so strict about the regulation of panels.

But in principle, a convention that, within the panel format, unashamedly celebrates expertise? Bring it on.

Eastercon LX

The full programme for Eastercon LX is now available, both as a PDF, and as a Google calendar for those living in the future (available as HTML, or use the XML to subscribe to it on your phone/RSS reader.)

For those of you who will be there, you can find me on the following panels:
Making the most of your Eastercon, Friday 15:30
New SF for Old, Saturday 20:00
BSFA Focus: Jo Walton, Saturday 21:00
Hugos for Fans, Monday 12:30

I’ll also be at the BSFA Awards (Saturday 18:00), and generally around all weekend in programming and in the bar. Come up and say hi.

For those of you who are not attending, there are a few ways to follow the con online. It looks like wireless at the hotel will be expensive, but inevitably there will be Twittering – try following the Eastercon twitter, or watching the #eastercon tag. (I will be twittering away as usual.) Look for photos on Flickr tagged with “eastercon” or “LX2009”, I’ll try and upload a few if I can find internet access. Following the success of the live streaming at Corflu, there are also plans afoot to stream some of the panels and events live from LX – check out the Virtual Tucker Hotel site for more details as they finalise the schedule.

Further Notes from Newcon 4

The Guests

I attended both days of Newcon 4, plus I took more pictures than Niall, so some thoughts on the Sunday panels and the convention in general:

  • The Fishmarket in Northampton is a really nice venue – light, airy, right in the town centre, and there’s even a garden outside. Unfortunately, it’s a terrible venue for a panel discussion because it lacks certain features essential in a panel room, like walls and a ceiling. I went to less panels than I otherwise would have, because I wasn’t willing to put in the effort to listen to anything. I started watching the “Are Graphic Novels the future of Genre Magazines?” panel and gave up when I realised that no one had a clear idea of what it was going to be about, and I could go and sit in the sunshine.
  • I did make it to Iain Banks and Ken MacLeod in conversation with John Clute, which was only an hour and could have easily stretched to two. It wasn’t a typical Guest of Honour interview – as Clute himself admits, he’s not that good at interviewing unless you’re happy with a question which lasts for three minutes and confuses your interviewee, but it was a fascinating discussion. They started out with a discussion of the public persona of the author and those of Banks and MacLeod in particular, and moved to the reviews in New Worlds by Clute and M. John Harrison (Banks called it a move away from ‘cosy criticism’), and how they wanted to write the science fiction they would like. I hadn’t seen Banks speak before, and I liked how relaxed, laid-back, and most of all how funny he was.
  • The last panel was Just an SF-ing Minute, starring Banks, MacLeod, and Cornell, plus Ian Watson and someone else whose name I have forgotten but was pretty funny. An hour was possibly too long, but we did get such gems as Iain Banks channeling Ian Watson, and Paul Cornell’s whole minute on the sonic screwdriver.
  • Acoustic problems aside, it was a fine little convention which I will attend again, especially given it’s so close to home and attracts so many cool people.
  • And on a final note of fangirl squee, I met Alan Moore! Who was extremely nice when confronted with a tongue-tied person shaking his hand.
  • More pictures here.

Notes From Newcon 4

I spent yesterday at Newcon 4, a small Northampton con that punches above its weight when it comes to guests of honour. Although I missed some of the GoH stuff by virtue of only going to one day of the con. Still, I did catch:

  • Science fiction non-fiction: what’s the point? Panel discussion moderated by Tom Hunter with Donna Scott, John Clute, Farah Mendlesohn, Colin Harvey, and er, someone else who is apparently not listed in the programme booklet Paul Skevington. I thought this went rather well, actually; particularly enjoyed the discussion of reading criticism as a constructive act (Clute: reviews as documents of recovered naivety; Farah, reviews as opening a window onto a text, and as well-constructed pieces of writing in themselves). Useful discussion of canons, too, and whether or not they are a barrier to reading enjoyment, the role of multiple canons in the sf field, the difference between historical canon (i.e. lines of influence) and personal canons and critical canons. Also interesting points about what sorts of criticism are scarce, particularly criticism about fantasy and criticism about endings, and the idea that even the most basic synopsis, in that it is a partial representation of a larger work, is an act of criticism; the problem with reviews that focus on plot synopsis is that they are unaware of the choices they’re making.
  • Is ‘New Space Opera’ just ‘Old Space Opera’ in fresh clothes? This one felt a bit over-endowed with authors to me, since the panel consisted of Iain Banks, Ken MacLeod, Jaine Fenn, Tony Ballantyne, Ben Jeapes, and Ian Whates moderating. As a result it tended to circle around surface points without really getting under the skin of the topic.
  • Paul Cornell‘s guest of honour spot, and later, excerpts from his adaptation of Iain Banks’ “State of the Art”, to be broadcast on Radio 4 next year. (The condition for playing the excerpts at Newcon, apparently, was that the broadcast date be repeated many times. So: it’s going to be the afternoon play on 6 March, 2009, from 14.15.) I thought it sounded very promising; and the new ship name Paul Cornell has added fits right into the Culture. Other upcoming Cornell projects: a contribution to an anthology organised (and presumably edited) by Geoff Ryman titled “science and fiction”, in which sf writers were paired off with working scientists (Cornell got someone working on the LHC) and chatted until they came up with an idea for a story; and a new novel, described as being of the Buffy meets The Sweeney school of urban fantasy. If that is an extant school of urban fantasy.

All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable day, let down only slightly by the venue, which was a big, echoey hall in which if could be difficult to hear what panellists were saying. I imagine I’ll be back for the next one.

Orbital: Day Four

Programme:

  • It Was Ten Years Ago Today. My last panel of the convention, and one of five panels looking back at different eras of British fandom and sf to mark the 50th anniversary of the BSFA (the others being It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, etc). I didn’t make it to any of the others — though I wish I had, so reports would be welcomed — but I thought this went pretty well, managing to cover some of the big events of the 90s (i.e. Interthingy) as well as actually talking about the sf of the period a bit. The other panellists were James Bacon, Claire Brialey, Pat Rigby-McMurray, and Ian Sorensen.
  • You’re Reading It Wrong. The description for this said, “Do you need to know genre to read genre? Do you need to know an author’s previous work to critically assess their latest work? Is it even possible to “mis-read” a book? To whose opinion (authors, critics, fans) shoul we give the most weight?” All interesting questions, but I felt the panel talked around them rather than talked about them, more than I would have liked, anyway.
  • Darker Than Potter. Another YA panel, and aside from some of the panellists occasionally ignoring the moderator’s question and choosing to answer an entirely different question, I thought this went really well — lots of insight into how the YA market has changed over the last 15 or so years, particularly from Neil Gaiman.
  • Closing Ceremony. This was at times a bit shambolic (particularly when announcing some of the art and cyberdrome awards, to the point of being disrespectful to the winners), at times charming (particularly with regards to the big pink pig, and Judith Proctor’s evident glow at how the con has gone). So everything you expect from a closing ceremony, really. Eddie Cochrane picked up the Doc Weir award.
  • Decoding the SF of 1958. Another BSFA-related panel, in that the jumping off point was to discuss the shortlist for the BSFA’s special 1958 award. Although they never got into the specific works in as much detail as I would like (and although it was moved at the last minute from a room that admittedly may have been larger than required to one that was smaller than required) this was still a very interesting panel, with a good spread of opinions and lots of audience input. May also be transcribed for Vector; the panel was Graham Sleight, Claire Brialey, Tanith Lee and Peter Harrow.

Purchases. Oh dear.

Interzone: the first anthology, edited by John Clute, Colin Greenland and David Pringle
Interzone: the second anthology, edited by John Clute, David Pringle, and Simon Ounsley
Pasquale’s Angel by Paul J McAuley
Red Dust by Paul J McAuley
Synners by Pat Cadigan
The Star Fraction by Ken MacLeod
The Stone Canal by Ken MacLeod
Let’s Put the Future Behind Us by Jack Womack
Babylon Babies by Maurice G Dantec
Was by Geoff Ryman
The Humanoids by Jack Williamson
The Deep by John Crowley
Roderick by John Sladek
The Shores of Light by Edmund Wilson
Classics and Commercials by Edmund Wilson

In my defence, (1) the last five came from Graham, with whom Nic and I stayed for the duration of the con, and who was having a book clear-out; (2) several of them are upgrades-to-hardback rather than additions to to-be-read; (3) I got six for £10; and (4) none of the others cost me more than £1.50. But still. I suppose this is what Mondays in the dealer’s room are for. (Oh, and I picked up several back-issues of Foundation as well.)

Notes:

  • I saw badge number 1501 today, although I gather that due to a technical hitch they didn’t actually use every single number, and that the final warm body count was something like 1300. Which is still double last year.
  • I discovered today that I hadn’t really ventured into the labyrinthine corridors of the Radisson. I thought I had, but no. It is more confusing than I could possibly have imagined. There are occasional internal windows, and you think, “how on earth have I ended up looking out over that?”
  • Most incongruous recommendation of the weekend: Tanith Lee recommending Neal Asher “if you like 50s sf”. Well, yes, in some ways, I suppose
  • I really hate it when conventions end, particularly ones like this that felt so full and busy all weekend. Thanks (and congratulations) to all involved for a job very well done indeed.

And … collapse.

Orbital: Day Three

Yet more panels:

  • Politics in YA SF. With China Mieville, Cory Doctorow, Amanda Hemingway, Ruth O’Reilly, and Martin McGrath moderating. One of the best panels I’ve been to — lots of discussion and debate, and they touched on a lot of interested points, such as whether or not growing up is an inherently political state, if it is then in what way, and to what extent YA fiction tends to avoid structuralist political critique in favour of individualistic political critique (and to what extent that’s a problem). This is another one I hope to include in Vector at some point.
  • Neil Gaiman’s GoH spot. Not really my thing, I have to admit. Two readings, one of which (“Orange”, from The Starry Rift) worked pretty well, the other of which (part of the first chapter of The Graveyard Book) worked less well, a story about Neil Gaiman’s Eastercon Experiences which had the feel of being told many times before, and a question and answer section in which someone would ask about an upcoming project and Gaiman would answer without giving any indication as to what said project actually was (which meant I had no idea what he was talking about in response to half such questions).
  • Arthur C Clarke Retrospective. Graham Sleight moderating, Edward James, Martin McGrath, Ian McDonald and a man whose name I have temporarily forgotten but who was Clarke’s secretary for a couple of years in the eighties. Good discussion of Clarke’s work and influence. Made me want to go to the dealer’s room and buy all the Clarke I don’t have, although I resisted the urge.
  • BSFA Awards results discussion. Unfortunately (but understandably) focused on the novels, in the order in which they were eliminated in the STV ballot — Chabon, Reynolds, MacLeod, Talbot, Morgan, McDonald. I was surprised/impressed that Chabon and MacLeod were in the bottom half and Talbot/Morgan was in the bottom half; I think I also disagreed with everything the panel (Chris Hill, Mattia Valente, Liz Batty and, er, someone else whose name I’ve temporarily forgotten) said about most of the books, but there you go.
  • Everyone’s a Critic. The “online reviews” panel, with Coln Harvey moderating, and me, Paul Raven, Andrew Ducker and Tony Lee as panellists, although it very quickly evolved int a whole-room discussion. I’m not sure how much new ground we covered, but it was a fun discussion.

Purchases:

F&SF, March
Asimov’s, April/May
Illyria by Elizabeth Hand
Hereafter and After by Richard Parks
A bacon sandwich

As you may have guessed, I don’t have any fiction magazine subscriptions at the moment, although I hope to start renewing around July/August, so I’ve been picking up issues on the strength of what I’ve heard about individual stories. The bacon sandwich was served late night in the atrium — how did I miss these on Friday and Saturday?

Notes:

  • Mitch Benn, as they say, rocked the hizzay. I think my favourite bit was probably Burt Chewbaccarach.
  • I didn’t go to the panel for obvious reasons, but my spies tell me the Not the Clarke panellists ended up split 3-2 in favour of The H-Bomb Girl over The Execution Channel (but The Execution Channel people could all live with The H-Bomb Girl and two of The H-Bomb Girl people couldn’t live with The Execution Channel winning. The were also unanimous in their disapproval of The Red Men. Elimination order was The Red Men < The Raw Shark Texts < Black Man < The Carhullan Army < the last two.

EDIT: Also, it’s SNOWING!

Orbital: Day Two

Panels:

  • Mythology in Fantasy. I have never seen a 10am panel as well-attended as this one. The power of Gaiman, I suppose. Good discussion of how and why writers use pre-existing mythology in their fantasy, though; the other panellists were Maura McHugh, Nic Clarke, Sarah Singleton and Liz Williams.
  • China Mieville GoH talk. Probably the programme item of the convention so far: a vigorous defence of intelligent, in-depth reading, and an exploration of why some people get so annoyed by the same, to the point of saying “it’s only a story”. I recorded it, so if the transcript coms out ok hopefully it will be appearing in a Vector near you relatively soon.
  • Fantastic London. More Gaiman, along with Geoff Ryman and Sci-Fi London chair Louis Savy, all modeated by Graham Sleight. Much talk of the palimpsest effect of London, and stories of how even when you make something up about London it turns out to be true.
  • Right to Reply. This was my panel of the day; moderated by Edward James, and the other panellists Christopher Priest, Patrick Nielsen Hayden and Adam Roberts, a discussion of how and whether (and indeed why) authors should respond to reviews. Much livelier (and funnier) discussion than I was anticipating from a 9pm panel about reviewing.

Purchases:

Celebration, edited by Ian Whates
Gateways to Forever by Mike Ashley
Interzone 215

Notes:

  • It’s confirmed: the 2010 Eastercon will be back at the Radisson, with Guests of Honour Alastair Reynolds, Liz Williams, Mike Carey, and Fran and John Dowd.
  • The Gollancz table in the dealer’s room has copies of some of the shiny new fantasy promotion they’re doing:

    Not pictured are Lud-in-the-Mist, The Dragon Waiting, and one other I can’t remember. They’ll be out in late April, apparently.

Orbital: Day One

Panels:

  • Reassessing Heinlein. You know something’s gone a bit pear-shaped when the panel starts debating, “which is morally superior: Starship Troopers or Ender’s Game?”
  • With Friends Like These, aka the “is fandom too aggresively hegemonising” panel. I was moderating, and John Jarrold, Christopher Priest, Caroline Mullan and Chris Garcia were the panellists. I think it went pretty well: Caroline Mullan talked about the nature of literary conversations, Chris Garcia talked about differences he saw in the US market, Christopher Priest talked about pressures on writers, and John Jarrold utterly failed to rise to the bait to re-iterate his objections to this year’s Clarke shortlist, and instead made useful comments about how the UK market worked. So it was all very civil, and we agreed (I think) that it would be nice if Jeanette Winterson et al were generous (per Le Guin) about their sources, but that we should recognise they’re in their own conversation.
  • When it Changed. Five women writers discuss their experiences. Lots of interesting ground covered, and certainly a better panel than last year’s “is SF publishing overly masculine?” effort, but I did sometimes feel the panellists didn’t delve as deeply into some of the issues they raised as they might have done. (Oh, and yes, Jaine Fenn was on the panel, and yes, she talked a bit about the marketing of her book.)
  • The UK Short Fiction Market. Another panel that I thought might be a bit controversial but wasn’t; I wasn’t moderating this time, but I was on it, with Jetse de Vries, Colin Harvey, Gary Couzens, and John Meaney (who, while entertaining, did tend to run away with the discussion a bit at times). There was one conversation about the technical/economic aspects of the market — where we agreed that markets will probably Find A Way, even if we can’t quite see what it is yet — and another about the creative aspects of the market — where we agreed, to my surprise, that British short fiction is in something of a creative slump, relative to say fifteen years ago. New writers aren’t coming in through short fiction, and short fiction is in no way setting the agenda. But having more or less agreed on this, we didn’t really have anywhere to take the conversation.

Book haul:

What It Is We Do When We Read Science Fiction by Paul Kincaid
The Reef by Mark Charan Newton
The Coyote Kings o the Space Age Bachelor Pad by Minister Faust
A Tour Guide in Utopia by Lucy Sussex
The Girl in the Glass by Jeffrey Ford
The Patron Saint of Plagues by Barth Anderson

Notes:

  • I would have bought a copy of Celebration, the BSFA 50th anthology, but they ran out of hardback copies at the launch party before I got to the front of the queue. So an early trip to the dealer’s room is in order today.
  • The hotel is labyrinthine! And there’s no second floor, which is confusing. But I do like the atrium area.
  • I saw someone wandering around with badge number 1243. This is a big Eastercon.
  • Went out for a Friday Curry with a large contingent of third row and hangers-on, which was thoroughly pleasant, except for the walk from the hotel, which was bloody cold.
  • Geoff Ryman is still taller than me, the bastard.
  • The Independent’s view: “Orbital 2008, Britain’s 59th annual National Science Fiction Convention, which started yesterday, is dominated by the death of Clarke last week. And that has meant a hastily re-arranged programme to celebrate the legendary figure’s achievements with a series of talks and lectures. So, there is no place in this year’s programme for Klingon language seminars…” and then they talk about the bondage workshop and the slash panels.

A Short Con Report

Yesterday I went to Picocon 25. I think this was my eighth Picocon; I know my first was in 1999, and I think I’ve missed one since then. In the past few years it’s been a sort of marker for the peak period of activity in British fandom, which runs through Eastercon and Sci-Fi London to the BSFA/SFF AGM event, so 2008 now feels like it’s really started.

It was neither the best nor the worst Picocon I’ve been to, but it was a pretty good one. Notable bits: Paul Cornell’s perhaps slightly disorganised but very entertaining talk on “doing it all” as a writer (ie working in tv and comics and prose and etc); lunch at what I fondly think of as the Princess Diana Memorial Pizza Restaurant; much good conversation in the bar with too many people to mention; very briefly meeting one of the Whogasm girls; and, along with Paul, Paul, Liz, Alex, Nick, Andrew, Tom, Simon, and a guy called Matt who none of us knew but seemed to be a decent chap, winning the annual Picocon quiz, thus gaining copious amounts of Lindt and a signed proof of Cory Doctorow’s new novel, Little Brother. (This will now be slowly passed around the members of the winning team. What we do once we’ve all read it I’m not sure, unless only one of us likes it.)

The afternoon panel — traditionally Picocon has one programme item for each Guest, then a panel with all the Guests on it in the afternoon — was not terribly well structured. The topic was “Futurism Sucks!”, which seems to have been suggested by Cory Doctorow based on an impromptu talk he gave at some other event and not discussed by the panelists beforehand such that before long there were several competing definitions of futurism in play, never mind the question of whether they each sucked or not. As a result, the discussion had a habit of touching on (to me) an interesting question, and then wandering off again, although a large part of the time it circled around environmentalism and portrayals of global warming (or not) in sf. And there are a couple of points that were raised that I just want to note down.

  1. Kim Stanley Robinson aside, there are not many major works of science fiction written in the last decade that have climate change as a central subject. There are dozens of novels where global warming is mentioned as a background detail; it’s just not treated as a part of the world the protagonists will be engaging with.
  2. Someone suggested that climate change was a more common subject in YA sf, suggesting Julie Bertagna’s Exodus as an example. I haven’t read Exodus, so I don’t know how it tackles climate change, and I haven’t read enough YA to know whether the assertion is true in general. (I have to say that from reading The Inter-Galactic Playground it is not true, but I’d be happy to hear of other examples.)
  3. Personal assumption: the scarcity of climate change sf is both noteworthy and significant. This is something sf should be dealing with.
  4. Caroline Mullan suggested a possible reason: that climate change has rapidly moved from being a scientific problem to a political one. Sf writers are (in general) still more interested in the former kind of problem than the latter, not least because it tends to be easier to make stories from them, which is why we don’t see much climate change sf, and the stuff we do see comes from writers who (like KSR) are interested in politics. Possible counter to this: we’re seeing a lot of political sf dealing with the War on Terror, its rationale and consequences, so we do have plenty of political sf writers.
  5. Final observation: when Paul Cornell suggested that it is still possible to imagine a future in which humanity comes to terms with climate change, most of the audience laughed. That, to me, suggests another reason why we don’t see much climate change sf: people don’t believe it can be dealt with, and don’t want to read about it being coped with. Which is a bit depressing, really. It seems to me it should be possible to think about meaningfully dealing with climate change in a way that isn’t wish-fulfillment. I’m reminded again of the quote from the LRB article on this topic about needing “pessimism of the intellect combined with optimism of the will.”