Notes from Worldcon 74

I have a longer blog post in the works that actually contains, like, meaningful content and deep thoughts (or paragraphs masquerading as such.) But in the meanwhile, I can contribute the collected thoughts of other people! I took notes on every panel I attended, either live-tweeting or, in rooms with worse wi-fi signal, making notes & screenshotting them.

(Side note: someone greeted me on Sunday with “So you’re the guy who’s been tweeting everything!” This is true of me both at Worldcon and as a general summation of my life. I will never log off. But it was both gratifying to be recognized and weird to be recognized for my conscientious note-taking, which is not a skill I’ve cultivated in my life until very recently. Never let them say social media can’t do anything for you.)

Anyway, I’d planned to Storify the various threads, but it turns out Storify doesn’t have a built-in advantage for threaded tweets so it’ll be easier to just compile and link directly. So: here are the panels I went to, the panelists of each, a quick summary, and the notes I took.

“Have At You!” — Writing a Great Fight Scene: Eva Elasigue, Dr. Claire McCague, Kathryn Sullivane, Jeffe Kennedy, Steven Gould

My first panel of the con, so my notes were very short as I sorta found my level. Something that didn’t make it into the notes: pacing is so important for a fight scene, and probably the most important thing. Even just down to the length of sentences. Get punchy. Make an impact.

“As You Know, Bob…” — The Fine Art of Exposition: Matthew S. Rotundo, Stanley Schmidt, Eric James Stone, Tamora Pierce, Kevin J. Anderson, Teresa Nielsen Hayden

This panel was probably the best one I attended in terms of pure craft advice, the nitty-gritty of making some words what do a good story. Also, Tamora Pierce is an anarchist who will burn down the world.

Mythology as the Basis For Speculative Fiction: Sheila Finch, Katie Daniels, Jeffrey Cook, David Farnell, Ada Palmer (Screenshots 1; Screenshots 2)

When I was at 4th St. Fantasy earlier this year, a ton of people were talking about Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer, and I was like “huh, I should read that book.” Now that I’ve seen Ada on a few panels…no, really, I should read that book. This panel also contained one of the most interesting observations about the Lovecraft mythos that I’ve ever heard, courtesy of David Farnell.

SF As Protest Literature: Alex Jablokow, Dr. Bradford Lyau, Mark Oshiro, Jo Walton, Ann Leckie (Second small tweet thread)

This was the best panel I attended at Worldcon. The subject matter was great, each panelist brought an interesting perspective, and the moments where they intersected threw big CGI spaceship-crafting sparks into the air. (It was also the only one of Ann Leckie’s events I managed to attend, because I am a failure). I would gladly have listened to three hours of this.

About halfway through, the guy sitting directly in front of me flipped open his laptop and I couldn’t help glancing at the screen while he logged in. “Huh!” I thought to myself. “That guy’s user name is Cory Doctorow’! That’s a funny user name to oh shit.”

It’s Not Torture If It’s the Good Guys: Scott Lynch, Seth Dickinson, John Wiswell, Marc Zicree (Screenshots 1; Screenshots 2)

I wish I’d taken better notes on this, because it was great. It’s a subject near and dear to my creative heart and it was particularly interesting to hear Scott talk about one of my favorite scenes in fantasy (you know the one; this was a panel about torture) as its very conflicted author. The panel also said a lot of critical things about the American military and intelligence services, so basically, this was my catnip.

Also, holy shit you guys, Marc Zicree wrote “Far Beyond the Stars” for Deep Space Nine! He wrote “IT’S ALL REAL!” Worldcon is so cool.

Action and Sex Scenes — Is There a Difference?: ElizaBeth Giligan, Fonda Lee, Rob Chilson, Dr. Claire McCague

Lotta craft focus in this one, unsurprisingly. I think it’s a mark of my development as a writer and adult human being that I didn’t giggle like Butthead at any point during this panel. I was definitely thinking it, though, because I’m still Butthead. Huhuhuhuhu, narrative tension.

A Cast of Thousands and A Unity of Plots: Ginjer Buchanan, Charlaine Harris, Scott Lynch, Kate Elliott, Robert Silverberg

I have to admit, this panel was shorter on actionable advice than I might have hoped, but it made up for it with entertainment value. Here’s how it went: four extremely accomplished authors took turns admitting that they were actually really disorganized, and then Bob Silverberg remembered another amazing story. Repeat. There was certainly some useful stuff, especially of the “dirty author tricks” nature, but it took second prize to the Silverberg Stories.

This was Bob’s 65th Worldcon. If he’d had a baby shortly before going to Worldcon for the first time, that baby would now be retiring.

Nifty Narrative Tricks: Elizabeth Bear, Steven Gould, Mary Robinette Kowal, Jo Walton, James Patrick Kelly (Screenshots 1, Screenshots 2)

I think I lied earlier. I actually went to a lot of really good craft panels. This one had some super actionable advice. Looking at my notes, I think there’s an implication that Mary Robinette Kowal did something obscene with a shoe being used as a puppet. This didn’t happen! It was just a really good bit of silent physical comedy. Mary’s gotten in enough trouble already.

Also, I would like to propose a new annual Worldcon panel called “Jo Walton talks about whatever she would like to talk about.” You see, it’s an event in which Jo Walton just talks, and we listen, and she gets to keep going for as long as she wants. I think it has a lot of potential.

The Evolution of Epic Fantasy: Kate Elliott, Sarah Beth Durst, Tessa Gratton, Stina Leicht, Anna Kashina

I mischaracterized the topic of this panel when I started transcribing; I thought it was going to be about how epic fantasy informs urban fantasy and vice versa. It was just about high fantasy! Now I’m wondering if I subconsciously misread the description because, you know, a panel of all women authors had to be about urban fantasy, not high fantasy. That’s some bad braining right there, and I apologize for it. The panel was awesome, especially this part.

(At this point, Friday programming complete,, I embarked on an evening journey involving enormous heaps of meat, Malort, absinthe, picklebacks, and the Terrible Fate of the Finnish Tango King. For some reason, my notes deteriorated in quantity and quality in the following day.)

Dialog in Game of Thrones — Great Storytelling through Ordinary Conversations (Erin Underwood, David McDonald, Charlaine Harris, Toni Kelner)

This panel was a little fluffy — you know, “let’s geek out about our favorite stuff in front of an audience” — which was fine. Listening to Charlaine Harris talk about her favorite HBO adaption and throw the subtlest shade at HBO in the process was a delight. I actually feel that the dialog in GoT, while one of the show’s strengths, has some real tin-ear moments, and talking about why those don’t work when others do would have been interesting…but that wasn’t really this panel. I still enjoyed it.

If you’re wondering how George R.R. Martin’s career is going: there was a panel specifically devoted to his work, at a convention that he was attending, and he was too busy to attend the panel. That’s a Secret Hugo Award.

Giving Constructive Criticism (Walt Boyes, Terrence Miltner, Lauren M. Roy, Vivian Trask, Stephen Leigh, Rick Wilber)

This was actually a super fucking cool panel because the advice was useful at every level — giving & receiving feedback, working professionally and with friends. I don’t have much else to say about it that my notes didn’t say — though, regarding “beta reading isn’t copy editing,” the continually rad Shveta Thrakar did have this important addendum.

Oh, Goddess! (Frederick Turner, Tessa Gratton, Dr. Mary Anne Mohanraj, Ada Palmer, Symantha Reagor)

I’ll be honest: when I saw a panel on goddesses in spec-fic composed of four women being moderated by an older man, my guts churned a little. We’ve all heard those horror stories (yes, including that one; I’ll have stuff to say about it another time). But I think Mr. Turner did a fine job as both a panelist and a moderator. Anyway, this was a really fucking cool panel that went all over space and time; it ended up being more focused on real-world mythological history than crafting your own spec-fic goddesses, but that was just as informative. There were probably six different things I wanted to hear like another half hour about.

Symantha Reagor brought up the pantheon from Guild Wars, specifically the trickster goddess Lissa. I loved hearing, in the middle of this very academic discussion on thousands of years of religion & myth, a shout-out to an MMORPG. She was right, too!

So: that was my programming experience. I also went to a couple readings, one of which (GRRM) I annotated. I’m going to clean that up and post it at some point. Let me know if there are any issues with my Twitter compilations and I’ll try to fix them. I may yet Storify them for future convenience if I can figure out a convenient way to handle threading.

Thanks for reading! More on Worldcon-in-general later.