What I learned at a sci fi convention - thoughts for writers and fans
I’m on six panels this weekend, the first of which was “The Ethics and Morality of Ender’s Game,” which immediately followed a session I went to on “Ender’s Game: The Book versus the Movie.” I didn’t realize how passionate I was about Ender’s being an abused child, along with all the kids in Battle School, as I apparently am. There were moments I felt like getting up and walking out after I talked about the adults putting Ender in situations where they really want him to become a killer… particularly when they trick him into thinking he’s only playing a computer simulation of killing an entire alien race. Orson Scott Card’s story still resonates with me decades after I read the original short story and later the book. I think that Ender, as smart as he is, knew what he was doing was wrong… hated himself for it, feared he was like his brother Peter, and was so smart never realized the level of deceit his whole culture was playing in its desire to see him him and the “successful” Battle School commanders wipe out the enemy… which was not attacking them again, only defending themselves.
I guess that story gives me chills… I enjoyed seeing it on screen, so enjoyed the earlier panel comparing the two. My fellow panelists loved the story to, which led to an interesting discussion of the morality of the classic story.
The panel was moderated by David Walton (DavidWaltonFiction.com), who won the Philip K. Dick Award in 2009 for his first novel, TERMINAL MIND. He’s the author of QUINTESSENCE (TOR Books) and its just released sequel, QUINTESSENCE SKY. The author Ender’s Game fans on the panel included Robert C. Roman (robertcroman.com), a Steam Punk, Sci fi and Fantasy author, who is a teacher, and Samuel Lubell, former president of the Washington Science Fiction Association, who is more than a fan of Ender’s Game. Based on the thoughts he shared, he’s an expert – or perhaps, an analyst of the world and character of Orson Scott Cards work.
As ever coming to a con has offered nice networking opportunity. At dinner I saw Theodore Krulick, author of The Complete Amber Sourcebook and the biography of Roger Zelazny, and arranged to do a follow-up interview to the one I did on my blog last spring, Trapped in Amber, which later appeared as an article in Separate Worlds. After the Ender’s Game ethics and morality panel I became a fly-on-the-wall to a discussion between Robert C. Roman, David Walton, and two other authors on book piracy, whether it’s just the cost of business, and whether having a copyright is enforceable in this day and age. One of the authors I did not name learned of 7,000 free downloads of a pirated version of her work. She also got a complaint from a fan than an ebook with her coverart art and name that was purchased turned out not to be her book at all and the fan was very angry. Among the comments that surprised me was that some pirates are even offering to put the purchasers name on the pirated book’s dedication page… that’s a different, very brazen, level of piracy than I had heard of before.
Wonder what I’m going to learn tomorrow?
I was on two panels today, one on the “New Wave of Sword and Sorcery,” moderated by Margaret Riley, which included Alex Lidell, Esther Wheelmaker and one on “Writing a Series,” moderated by Tom Doyle, with Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Gail Z. Martin, Lawrence Schoen, which looked into the pitfalls and challenges authors face.
“The Writing a Series” session had me worried a bit… Lawrence Schoen and Gail Z. Martin have written and published a number of series and Danielle Ackley-McPhail not only writes but edits anthologies, a number of which are a series. I’ve just been writing the Plight and Dare2believe (and Dare hasn’t been published yet). What quickly became clear is that all of us allow our stories to organically tell themselves… and listen to the characters who may have a mind of their own. Mine certainly do. Among the advice given, Lawrence had ended one book with his protagonist injured and the in the beginning of the next, he’s fine. The fans wanted to know what happened, so he wrote a novella which he self-published online. The story helped keep his readers engaged before the next book came out and built even more interest in that next novel.
I also went to a number of sessions, including: “Moffat on Trial,” for his crimes against… well, the audience seemed adamant, the crimes of misogyny and narrative plot holes; and a session on “Commercial Space.”
The Dr. Who “Trial” was intended as a joke idea for Philcon by the session’s moderator, Allyn Gibson, which the program committee thought was great and ran with. The panel was rather impassioned. It included Jim Freund, a sci fi radio talk show host – who has interviewed both Steven Moffat and Russell Davies, Savan Gupta, and Crystal Paul. Many of the women fans in the audience wanted Moffat on trial for his portrayal of women in Dr. Who. The panel felt that as a writer, Moffat is amazing, but as a fan who has “control” as show runner, with another successful series running at the same time, Sherlock, Moffat has no one who can tell him, but this or “that is going against the continuity” or “doesn’t make sense unless…” I had to step out right before the verdict. I’m just a fan who enjoys watching the show, who, honestly, will never watch the worst episodes again On Demand. I watch for the cool, funnest, episodes and have long ago given up watching as a writer… some of those plot holes can be real deep. But the good episodes make up for it…
In the “Commercial Space” session was moderated by Frank O’Brien, a space flight historian. Allen Steele, who was the con’s guest of honor, was among those on the panel. Space X and Orbital Sciences were the two commercial space companies that Allen thought had the most chance of success. Frank looks at the commercialization of space as the equivalent of the 1920s, when the U.S. government granted contracts for airmail routes flown by the likes of Charles Lindbergh. The government expected the companies to become economically viable once they bought their own planes and established their new airmail routes. There’s also a reality that there are now about ten countries that send up the sixty rockets a year that go into space. Only China, India, and the U.S. seem interested in returning to the moon. For commercial space to work, there will have to be a lot more rocket going into space, which will require a very different for orbital world reality. Today, it’s largely about military and commercial satellites and the International Space Station, which is in a sub-optimal orbit for the future of commercial use.
The future is going to require a different kind of space station as a transit point for commercial flights, think of them as a cruise around the moon and back, or for near Earth asteroid mining. Allen Steele mentioned the fact that investment is coming from members of the Star Trek generation, who created computer and software companies that have made them rich enough to want to see us attain a vision of the stars, is an amazing development and offers hope for developing a profitable commercialization of space, someday. How soon? That’s an open question.
I was on three panels the final day of Philcon: “Using Social Media,” the not for kids session, “The Legend of Korra,” and capped off the day with “The Business of Writing,” moderated by veteran sci fi author, Steve Miller.
"Using Social Media" was moderated by KT Pinto, the panelists featured included Young author and now editor of a YA imprint, Christine Norris, and freelance writer, Alyce Wilson. Among their advice, keep family life separate online. You do not want your social media to be all about buying your book. Sharing something else can often bring people to your blog and website, who may be interested later in your work. Social media can be a terrible distraction for a writer, whose primary goal should be to write. When we spend three times the time writing on Facebook, something's wrong... admittedly, procrastination seems to be a feature of many an author's bad habits. Linking Facebook and twitter accounts so that what you write shows in both can be the best use of a writer's time, too. At one time Goodreads, Shelfari, and Librarything were all good places to build readership connection, Goodreads and Librarything are now owned by Amazon (Shelfari already was) and Goodreads have become, let's just say, problematic. A caution was given not to focus on comments... not to engage in a war of words. One of the panelists shared a negative comment, rather than respond directly and her fans did extensive commenting, which brought a lot of positive traffic to her online presence. However, Social media need not by limited to Facebook. Check out Wattpad.com (primarily for free Young Adult reading) or sites like Writing.com, where membership is free, and writers can connect with readers for feedback and more. Writing.com offers restricted levels of reading, so stories, which are being honed, are not publicly available on the internet.
“The Business of Writing” was what I’d term an intro to the business, because writing is a business and if an author’s goal is to
sell what they write, there’s going to be a price to pay, including tax issues… The moderator was veteran author Steve Miller, Alex Libell, and Christine Norris. Oh, rule number one, which I offered as my first tip, don’t give up your day job. My final piece of advice, check out the Superstars Writing Seminars, which is a two-day business of writing seminar run by bestselling authors Kevin J. Anderson, Eric Flint, Dave Farland and others.
It’s the “Legend of Korra” session that I found particularly interesting. The session was moderated by Savan Gupta and featured sci fi writer Don Sakers and myself. It was part of the kids track and no kids attended. “The Last Airbender” never was your average cartoon for children and for awhile it was basically under the radar. Its presentation of each season as a “book,” spurred interest in kids to think of the story literally like a book. The fact that the show was also art, and had depth that attracted not just parents’ interest but an adult audience raised “The Last Airbender” and now “Legend of Korra” to a new level.
The first season, or book, of “Legend of Korra” had its own story arc, which was like due to not knowing if the show would have a
second season. It also is missing the depth of thought that went into the first series, which was so meticulously thought out. For example, the Earth Bender capital city of Ba Sing Se, walls off the poor from the middle class, and palace, etc. The world building is extensive. But left the question open what do those without bending powers think about those who have them? “Legend of Korra” is addressing this, but also doesn’t seem to have the same level of world building… at least not yet. But one thing it has is an audience of girl fans who see Korra as a strong role model, as any good Young Adult story should present, one who “kicks...”
This nonbender bender dichotomy seems to be playing out as the science fiction versus magic, as our moderate saw it. The nonbenders are developing the technology to make them equal to the benders, but, if you watch carefully, it’s a bender powered technology. The street cars in Republic City are pushed through Earth bending and the power plant by lightning bending.
There was a great deal of discussion among the fans in the room about the characters and character development, which I think that best left for another day. After all, where’s the fun in sharing what we thinks in store for Korra and her friends? Check out the show and see for yourself… after all, this isn’t just a cartoon.
Author of Highmage’s Plight and the forthcoming sequel, Human Mage