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Updated Readercon Schedule

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Jul. 9th, 2009 | 11:08 pm

There were some last minute changes. Here's the new schedule...

Readercon 20 Program Participant’s Schedule

C. C. Finlay

Fri. 10:45 PM Salons A & E Meet the Pros(e) Party. Each writer at the party has selected a short, pithy quotation from his or her own work and is armed with a sheet of 30 printed labels, the quote replicated on each. As attendees mingle and meet each pro, they obtain one of his or her labels, collecting them on the wax paper provided. Atheists, agnostics, and the lazy can leave them in the order they acquire them, resulting in one of at least nine billion Random Prose Poems. Those who believe in the reversal of entropy can rearrange them to make a Statement. Wearing labels as apparel is also popular. The total number of possibilities (linguistic and sartorial) is thought to exceed the number of theobromine molecules in a large Trader Joe’s dark chocolate bar multiplied by the number of picoseconds cumulatively spent by the Readercon committee on this convention since its inception.

Sat. 10:00 AM Salon E History and Fictional History. Christopher M. Cevasco, Suzy McKee Charnas, David Anthony Durham, C. C. Finlay (L), M. K. Hobson, Howard Waldrop. [Greatest Hit from Readercon 9.] Certain things in fiction are, by convention and for good reason, not strictly realistic—dialogue, for instance, is a highly edited version of real speech. We ask: is history one of these things? When we devise a fictional history (either an alternate past or a history of the future), can and should it represent the way history really works (choose your own theory), or is doing so antithetical to good fiction? Isn’t, for instance, the dramatic structure we look for in most novels absent from real history?

Sat. 11:00 AM VT C. C. Finlay reads from The Demon Redcoat. (30 min.)

Sat. 12:00 PM ME/ CT The Genre Roots of the Mainstream Tradition in American Fiction. C. C. Finlay with discussion by Michael A. Burstein, Helen Collins, F. Brett Cox, Debra Doyle, Chris Nakashima-Brown. Talk / Discussion (60 min.) The plots of Charles Brockden Brown, America’s first novelist, frequently hinged on scientific speculation. Washington Irving and Nathaniel Hawthorne employed fantasy elements, Edgar Allan Poe invented a range of genre tropes, and James Fenimore Cooper introduced the series character—a staple of modern genre fiction. In the last century, some of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s earliest works depend on fantastic elements. Mainstream American writers, in fact, have regularly created fiction that would now be considered part of the speculative genre. Finlay will argue that genre elements are not isolated in a separate branch of the American literary tradition, but are instead at the heart of it.

Sat. 2:00 PM ME/ CT I Spy, I Fear, I Wonder: Espionage Fiction and the Fantastic. Don D’Ammassa, C. C. Finlay (M), James D. Macdonald, Chris Nakashima-Brown, John Shirley. In his afterword to The Atrocity Archives, Charles Stross makes a bold pair of assertions: Len Deighton was a horror writer (because “all cold-war era spy thrillers rely on the existential horror of nuclear annihilation”) while Lovecraft wrote spy thrillers (with their “obsessive collection of secret information”). In fact, Stross argues that the primary difference between the two genres is that the threat of the “uncontrollable universe” in horror fiction “verges on the overwhelming,” while spy fiction “allows us to believe for a while that the little people can, by obtaining secret knowledge, acquire some leverage over” it. This is only one example of the confluence of the espionage novel with the genres of the fantastic; the two are blended in various ways in Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, Tim Powers’ Declare, William Gibson’s Spook County, and, in the media, the Bond movies and The Prisoner. We’ll survey the best of espionage fiction as it reads to lovers of the fantastic. Are there branches of the fantastic other than horror to which the spy novel has a special affinity or relationship?

Sun. 10:00 AM Vinyard Kaffeeklatsches. C. C. Finlay; Geary Gravel, Rosemary Kirstein, and Ann Tonsor Zeddies.

Sun. 12:00 PM ME/ CT Slipstream in the 1940s? The Growth and Exile of the Fantastic in the Postwar American Short Story. Amelia Beamer and Gary K. Wolfe with discussion by C. C. Finlay, Peter Straub, Gene Wolfe. Talk / Discussion (60 min.) In the introduction to his 2003 anthology McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales, Michael Chabon complained that the literary short story was effectively taken over in about 1950 by a single genre—”the contemporary, quotidian, plotless, moment-of-truth revelatory story.” Curious about Chabon’s choice of 1950 as a change point, Beamer and Wolfe set about looking for fantastic elements in short fiction published in mainstream venues from the mid-1940s to the early 1950s. What they found was a revelation: dozens of stories that resonated with the ambiguities of genre and style characteristic of recent “slipstream” or “interstitial” fiction, published in The New Yorker, Colliers, the Saturday Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal, McCalls, Mademoiselle, Good Housekeeping, Woman’s Home Companion, Charm, Town & Country, and Story. They found examples not only from expected authors such as Shirley Jackson, John Collier, and Roald Dahl, but from the likes of Truman Capote, Robert Coates, E.B. White, Conrad Richter, and John Cheever—who later complained that his earlier fantastic tales had been overlooked as he became “ghettoized” as a chronicler of suburban malaise in the 1950s. Beamer and Wolfe will highlight some of these stories, and speculate on exactly what happened in the early 1950s to send them, effectively, into exile. Was it simply a shift in available markets for stories, or a shift in literary tastes on the part of a few key editors, or a symptom of a broader cultural “retreat” from the fantastic?

Sun. 1:00 PM VT Beneath Ceaseless Skies Group Reading (60 min.). Scott H. Andrews (host) with Saladin Ahmed, S. C. Butler, Michael DeLuca, Chris Dikeman, C. C. Finlay, Justin Howe, Margaret Ronald. Readings from the semimonthly online zine of literary adventure fantasy edited by Andrews.

Sun. 2:00 PM ME/ CT Mainstream and Genre. Amelia Beamer, C. C. Finlay, Gary K. Wolfe with F. Brett Cox, Ken Houghton, Robert Killheffer, Barry N. Malzberg, Kathryn Morrow, Eric M. Van. Discussion (60 min.) The (independently conceived) presentations by Finlay and Beamer & Wolfe raise so many interesting questions about the relationship of the mainstream to genre fiction that we thought we’d toss them together with our attendees for an hour of spirited discussion. What relationship did the postwar boomlet of slipstream fiction have to the long history of the fantastic identified by Finlay? Was there any relationship between the exile of the fantastic from the mainstream in the early ‘50s and the contemporaneous ascendancy of well-defined and exclusive genres? When the mainstream and genre began cohabiting again (in the UK in the ‘60s during The New Wave, or recently in the US with the likes of Michael Chabon and Jonathan Lethem), can this be fruitfully viewed as a return to the earliest tradition, or is it best viewed as the marriage of two now thoroughly estranged parties?

Should be a blast! Although raecarson wants to know where I can pencil her in....

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Comments {9}


(no subject)

from: barbarienne
date: Jul. 10th, 2009 04:14 am (UTC)

Are you guys flying, driving, or what? I know a great place for dinner, really fun, but reservations are needed. What time do you guys figure you'll get here, and what time would you like to go eat?

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Magical Truthsaying Bastard Shadesong

(no subject)

from: shadesong
date: Jul. 10th, 2009 05:13 am (UTC)

See you at the Meet the Pros(e) party! :)

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Chris Coen

(no subject)

from: clarentine
date: Jul. 10th, 2009 12:25 pm (UTC)

Oh, damn, those sound like good panels. Are they always this good at Readercon?

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Danny Adams

(no subject)

from: madwriter
date: Jul. 10th, 2009 08:26 pm (UTC)

By the way, in case you didn't see it, Michael A. Burstein / mabfan posted a good review of your whole trilogy here on SFScope.

I also finally just posted my review of Spell over on Amazon.

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Spoke to you at Readercon

from: stevendooner
date: Jul. 13th, 2009 07:13 am (UTC)

Hello Mr. Finlay,

I looked a little at the history of penny dreadfuls, dime novels, pulps and the early versions of literary magazines that helped shape American Literature.

Mark Twain, Stephen Crane, Lord Dunsanay, Max Brand, (even Tennesse Williams!) all wrote for the pulps and mainstream literature.

Movies first took over for all the Buffalo Bill and cowboy dime novels of the late nineteenth century and the first "genre fiction" to be ghetto-ized was the outrageously popular cowboy story. Cowboy stories were no longer primary but were extensions of what people were seeing in the silents and early talkies. The aviator and detective stories also started to become adjunct to the stories being told on film.

Still, in only an hour of researching, I found numerous examples of major magaizines running "genre fiction." Detective stories, "yellow peril" literature, some pretty tawdry stuff too--not to far from pulps.

'Colliers' published the serialized forms of Sax Romer's Fu Manchu novels right into the 30s.

In the 20s and 30s, 'Saturday Evening Post' frequently offered stories by Johm P. Marquand, Pulitzer Prize winner for The Late George Apely, but better known for his Mr. Moto stories.

'Esquire' published C. S. Forester (author of the Horatio Hornblower series), Carl Stephenson's "Leiningen Versus The Ants" and Max Brand stories.

Gerald Kersh published frequently abroad in the best magazines, and he was read widely here as well.

"Genre" fiction was still featured in magazines in the 20s and 30s. It may not have specifically been Science Fiction, but there was certainly a lot of it. After all, magazines published around 7 to 10 stories an issue. It could not all be "slice of life" narrative.

Barry Malberg is brilliant, and he is certainly right to say that there was a unique burst of genre fiction (Horror and Science Fiction both) appearing in Colliers, Saturday Evening Post and The New Yorker right after Hiroshima and ending with the age of TV, 1950s conformity and Wertham's "Seduction of the Innocent" that attacked pulps and comics as a dangerous influence on youth and a leading factor of juvenile delinquincy. This had been argued since Fawcett started publishing Captain Billy's Whiz Bang in 1920.

Science Fiction, of course, had a hand in its own undoing. The William Castle, Samuel Z. Arkoff and Roger Corman movies of the 50s and 60s as well as TV shows such as Captain Video and Captain Midnite fixed science fiction, horror and fantasy as drive-in trash and teenage boy literature in the popular consciousness. 'The New Yorker' wasn't about to publish what Irwin Allen was producing on TV.

Even the best stuff was not always high literature. I love Rod Serling but he was churning out script after script and some of it was bad O'Henry-esque story-telling with appended science fiction tropes. Matheson, Beaumont and Bradbury all wrote great stuff for the show, but it was never considered the darling of television entertainment and always on the verge of cancellation. "The Outer Limits" too was plagued by the "Bug-eyed" Monster syndrome well known from the covers of Argosy, Amazing and Astounding. Certainly Harlan Ellison's stories for that show were ground-breaking, but there were some pretty creaky episodes as well.

Still there were few genuine greats that appeared as literature and film. Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Haunting, Fantastic Voyage, The Birds, Psycho and 2001--all classics.

Today, we're trapped in the land of the Kenyon Revue, The Paris Revue and The New Yorker for our National Book Award and Pulitzer winners. But in the 20s, 30s and 40s, Esquire, Colliers, Saturday Evening Post featured the Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Erskine Caldwell alongside C. S. Forester and Max Brand.

Lastly, it was the 'Smart Set' and 'Collier's' ran F. Scott Fitgerald's fantasy fiction in the 20s. Too much!

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C. C. Finlay

Re: Spoke to you at Readercon

from: ccfinlay
date: Jul. 14th, 2009 05:47 pm (UTC)


The question as to "what happened in the 20th century?" is really what the whole discussion is about, but whether it was a case of SF being in favor for small periods of time or out of favor for small periods of time is open to debate. (I think that, with some exceptions in the 20s/30s and in the 50s, as discussed over the weekend, there's a lot more fluidity between genre and mainstream on the writing side of the equation that we're giving credit for.)

You're definitely right to bring the media into the equation, because any picture of the 20th centure without it is incomplete. Aside from that critical insight, this is all great material that fills out the picture. Though it brings to mind Shakespeare's proverb on treason prospering: genre never prospers, for if it prospers, none dare call it genre.

Anyway, I enjoyed our conversations this weekend, and I hope we can continue this dialogue into the future.


Reply | Parent | Thread

Thanks for the response

from: stevendooner
date: Jul. 15th, 2009 06:16 am (UTC)

Great to hear back from you. (I can't believe I spelled Barry's name wrong in my post, but, in my defense, it was 2 AM.)

I've thought a lot about the changing "hearth" in American Literature. The Bible seems to have been at center in colonial times. The new magazines and novels became the primary source of imagination in the nineteenth century--though Shakespeare and the Bible still loomed, and finally the dawn of cinema changed everything yet again. Moving images provided the new "hearth." Yet, cinema and television seem to have a stifling effect on the general imagination.

The supernatural and superstitious then was dominant in the fearful world of the 17th century, and 'Wieland' is an excellent example of how Enlightenment ideas came to challenge the superstitious imagination. Pseudo-sciences and spiritualism seem to still have possessed some diminishing power in the nineteenth century, but Dickens, frontier stories and Buffalo Bill took over the popular imagination. The American Frontier also seemed to offer the opportunity that would allow the future to be present at the moment--what Walter Scott imagined in the chivalric past was possible in the in Cooper's visison of the 19th century frontier. The Frontier story that ran all the way through the dime novels seems to be the "Futurism" of that time. Also, the frontier was istelf more literate and sensitive than is often realized, and cowboys knew both Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde, as Wilde found out when he visted the American west. It would only be a short series of leaps from Rousseau's noble savage to the cowboy to Tarzan to John Carter and Conan.

In the twentieth century, the images are now made for us, and with Valentino, Garbo, Marylyn Monroe, and James Dean becoming our stars and gods, it's hard to see written fiction occupying so central a place anymore.

Let me know what you think of Hawthorne's "The Birthmark" when you get around to it.

I hope to read "The Demon Redcoat" this week and will post again soon.

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C. C. Finlay

Re: Thanks for the response

from: ccfinlay
date: Jul. 15th, 2009 10:43 am (UTC)

When talking about colonial America in regards to the hearth, just keep in mind that it didn't exist as an "America" at the time, and there were strong regional differences. The Bible was not nearly as ubiquitous outside New England. In some parts of the colonies, illiteracy was not only legally enforced on up to half the population (at least after the 1670s) but was widespread among the rest as well. David Hackett Fisher's ALBION'S SEED is a good introduction to the idea of regional cultures in the colonial period (though I wouldn't rely on all his conclusions). That's something you're going to have to keep in the back of your mind as you continue to develop your hearth idea.

And yes, I'll leave you a note when I read "The Birthmark".

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(no subject)

from: hildebabble
date: Jul. 15th, 2009 03:12 pm (UTC)

I wanted to introduce myself to you at your lecture on genre in American literature but I had to sneak out early to help with something else. Drat!

Rather than be all weird and creepy in that "I saw you but you didn't see me" way, instead I just want to let you know I truly enjoyed your lecture! I knew nothing about Charles Brockden Brown before, and now I'm intrigued by him. Also snagged a copy of Patriot Witch from the dealers' room, and I'm looking forward to it.

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