Updated Readercon 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....