Bewildering Stories discusses...
Lurking at the 2015 World Fantasy Convention
with Edward Ahern
The World Fantasy Convention was held in
Saratoga Springs, New York, November 5-8, 2015
[Edward A.] The seven hundred persons attending were largely intelligent, articulate and creative. The many fifty-five minute sessions were — usually — startlingly interesting. The meeting and mingling was helpful to many of the attendees. But writing nice things is boring. Here are a few fractured impressions:
Swearing: The major gods didn’t swear. They didn’t have to. The couple of dozen authors who live well from writing just talked about getting and staying that way.
The camp followers didn’t swear: book dealers, avid readers, autograph seekers, barely published authors and editors of obscure journals. It wasn’t their place.
The demi-gods, however, swore, not always but noticeably often. It seemed part of a code of conduct, a code that embraced nerdiness but shunned heresy. The swearing often occurred when the code was being reinforced.
Atmosphere: It wasn’t a convention. It seemed a comfy reunion with members winnowed by death being replaced by a haphazard planting of younger writers and editors. There were not many virginal attendees, and those were frequently left to munch the bad grass at the edge of the herd. There seemed a strong sense of affectionate, inward-looking community. Kind of like a monastery.
Material: Many of the panelists and attendees hinted at reading an almost impossibly large number of fantasy novels by obscure writers. Even skimming, they would have to withdraw from a normal life to read about imaginary worlds.
[BwS] Thank you for the report, Ed! It’s quite unusual, as convention reports go. It invites all sorts of questions. For instance, contributors may wonder, “How might this affect me as a writer?”
The “major gods” and “camp followers” didn’t swear, but the “demi-gods” sound like sailors at work. Was their language colorful? What words did they use, other than the f- and s-words, of course, which are proscribed as expletives at BwS?
More important: what did they swear at? Heretics? What is a “heretic” in terms of fantasy?
The “monastic” atmosphere suggests that the fantasy community isn’t closed, exactly, but it doesn’t seem to be growing, either. What might happen if presentations and discussions were open to “heretics,” whatever they may be? Would broadening horizons and inviting controversy cause fragmentation? Or might it give the convention a shot in the arm, so to speak?
Readers may detect a note of ironic skepticism in “reading an almost impossibly large number of fantasy novels by obscure writers.” Did you suspect panelists of having read only jacket blurbs in some or even many cases?
And that raises questions about popular literature in the age of the Internet. These days, anyone can self-publish a draft of a novel, label it “fantasy” — or anything else, for that matter — and qualify as a “published author.” What’s a reader to do? What might the fantasy writers’ association do about it?
Sophocles was not only a literary genius, he was a one-man publishing house. He’s said to have written almost a hundred plays. Only six survive. Why? The fragility of writing media in Antiquity had to play an important part, of course. But ancient copyists did, too. There were only so many of them, and they were overwhelmed. As impromptu literary critics and agents “on the ground,” they had to perform triage. Who’s doing that today?
Bewildering Stories styles itself as a “lighthouse on the chaotic sea of the Internet,” but now anyone can create a website and pretend to be one. How shall lighthouses leading to “safe landfall” be distinguished from buoys luring readers onto reefs? If publication and self-publication become a kind of literary “Bitcoin,” who shall be the bankers, and how shall we know who they are?
Readers and contributors will surely have questions and answers of their own. Feel free to join in!
Copyright © 2015 by
and Bewildering Stories