Readercon did not disappoint this year, or at any rate it didn't disappoint greatly.
- Sarah Smith gave a great reading from her next book, which has Brazil and birds, and Sarah was born to read a chapter with talking birds.
- Greer Gilman, Harvard’s retired forensic librarian, read a wonderful preface to Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Kingdoms Of Elfin. I’d never heard of these, and they’re fascinating. They appeared in The New Yorker in the 1970s, they have no scintilla of empathy, and they’re brilliant. Here, for example, is a story about interracial love among the fairies. I wonder what Shawn made of these?
- John Clute is always wonderful, on any topic. The memorial panel for Gene Wolfe was spectacular, as was a confrontation in a panel about the etiquette of criticism when Clute and John Langan went after it hammer and tongs over whether the critic’s duty of honesty is evaded if we choose a tactful silence when coming across a bad book. Note to moderators: drama is good, and we’re all adults.
- Too many panels are now predictably political, affirming things we already believe. In some cases, this entailed making claims that are probably not true because they serve our political ends: we have a name for people who do that, and that name is “Republican.” For example, in a (two-part!) panel on finding Medieval settings that are not as Lilly-white as Ivanhoe, a panelist claimed that “King Arthur flour” was chosen because the flour, like the King, was white. But that’s wrong: the brand was invented because the proprietor had seen a good musical one night and there Arthurian virtues like honesty and strength made sense for a flour brand. King Arthur flour is unbleached, and so it’s less white than generic store flour. Referring to the race of the real Arthur doesn’t help, because there was no real Arthur even if (as now seems unlikely) there was a late-Roman Artorius who ran the protection racket in Devon for a few years.
- I miss The Year In Novels and The Year In Short Fiction.
- The Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award when to Carol Emshwiller.
- One panel explored the topic of Compassionate AI — AIs that don’t rise up like the past and try to kill everyone. This panel seemed to be unmoored from either the history of the field (Simak’s City is 1944, Leinster’s “A Logic Named Joe” is 1946, and Heinlein’s The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress is 53 years old) and the interesting angles about AI that have arisen more recently. I’ve got to stop attending Readercon panels about computing.
- Rose Fox had a presentation on cultivating and culling one’s personal library, a topic of pressing concern to me as one of my office bookcases recently collapsed under the weight of its books, while the house is really becoming a hopeless land of book piles. Yet, old habits die hard and the panel devolved into another iteration of that old Readercon tradition, Bookaholics Anonymous. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not what we came to hear. I do think that culling books is problematic: the specters of Alexandria and of Warsaw are real, especially today.