Tuesday, July 19, 2011

ReaderCon 22 - A Lit Fic Snob Dabbles in SF

This past weekend I got to attend the 22nd annual ReaderCon, a fan-supported convention of science fiction and fantasy writers and readers. The convention is held in Burlington, Mass., and every year attracts fans and authors known and unknown for four days (Thursday-Sunday) of bookish fun.

Although I'm not a big reader of science fiction/fantasy myself, I like to dabble, and the 2011 con was my third year of enthusiastic dabbling. I attended Friday and Saturday; Thursday is a half-day and Sunday I had other plans, namely going to a local Star Trek convention and meeting William Shatner. But I digress. My favorite session, Biblioholics Anonymous, was held Thursday night and I missed it due to illness; basically, people sit around and compare the size of their libraries. It's pretty fun. Last year British author Rob Shearman entertained us with stories about his 17,000+ volume personal collection and one year collectors of Hugo Award first editions traded tips on tracking down sought-after volumes. I wish I'd been there for this year's!

Friday I spent the day and went to sessions on Russian folktales, another called "Surrealism and Strong Emotion" and "Improv for Writers and Readers." Having just come from 12 weeks or so of improv classes, and having found ways to apply some of those skills to my writing, I was fascinated to attend this brief session. It was very interesting and funny and found some of the tidbits I picked up were reinforced. A very popular session running at the same time was entitled "Still Waiting for My Food Pills: Science in the Kitchen" and the conference showed some emphasis on non-Western science fiction/fantasy writing in sessions like "African Graphic Novels" and "Still in Kansas: SF in Developing Countries."

And the critics' best-of lists reflected this interest in books set in non-Western countries and written by a diverse authorship. My favorite session is always "The Year in Novels," wherein critics from a variety of publications (usually featuring the storied journal Locus) share their favorite novels of the past year. It's also where I draw up my own scifi shopping list.
The books I want to read are:
  • The Islanders, by Christopher Priest, which comes out in September and doesn't have a US publisher so this will be some kind of special order from Powell's most likely. Rising Shadow.net calls it "a tale of murder, artistic rivalry and literary trickery; a Chinese puzzle of a novel where nothing is quite what it seems; a narrator whose agenda is artful and subtle; a narrative that pulls you in and plays an elegant game with you," and the Readercon speaker compared him to Nabokov and the book to Pale Fire. My husband read and enjoyed a previous book of his and he wrote the novel on which the wonderful film "The Prestige" was based. I think I need to read this guy!
  • The Dervish House, by Ian McDonald. I'll pick this up as soon as the paperback is out. It's a kind of history of Istanbul, "a vivid portrait of the ancient city of Istanbul, layering it with political, cultural, and religious strata, as well as an ingeniously imagined world of practical nanotechnology" (from Bookmarks Magazine).
  • Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord. This is published by Kelly Link's Small Beer Press; it was available at Readercon but I couldn't get to the Small Beer table because Link herself was there are holding court to her many fans. I'll have to find it at a bookstore! From the Small Beer website, Redemption is "bursting with humor and rich in fantastic detail...a clever, contemporary fairy tale that introduces readers to a dynamic new voice in Caribbean literature. Lord’s world of spider tricksters and indigo immortals is inspired in part by a Senegalese folk tale—but Paama’s adventures are fresh, surprising, and utterly original."
Some more books that panelists mentioned were:
  • Quantum Thief, by Finnish writer Hannu Rajaniemi,
  • Nightshade, by Kameron Hurley,
  • Blackout, by Connie Willis,
  • Home Fires, by Gene Wolfe,
  • 7th Sigma, by Steven Gould,
  • Akata Witch, by Nnedi Okorafor,
  • The Clockwork Rocket, by Greg Egan,
  • The Half-Made World, by Felix Gilman,
  • The Boneshaker, by Kate Milford
Have you read any of these? The critics are one thing, but I'd love to know what you think!

The last session I attended on Saturday was called "I've (Fallen) Behind and Can't Get (Caught) Up!" In this session, author Jennifer Pelland, Washington Post critic Michael Dirda, writer and editor Don D’Ammassa, writer Craig Laurance Gidney and writer and critic Rick Wilber talked about their burgeoning book collections, obsessive reading and what to do when you realize you can never read it all. They shared their tips on managing a voracious reading habit and audience members shared their own stories as well.

So another great year at ReaderCon, and I'm already looking forward to ReaderCon 23!


ImageNations said...

Have heard of Nnedi's Akata Witch but have not read it. So many literary activities...

bermudaonion said...

I would have loved to have been at that last session! It sounds like you had a lot of fun.

Anonymous said...

We read The Dervish House last year and loved it. A rare science fiction mix of religion, culture and technology set in Turkey. A shameless plug for our review: http://bostonbookbums.com/2010/07/14/biblioholic-review-dervish%C2%A0house/

Meytal Radzinski said...

I'm not actually that surprised that interest is turning towards non-Western sci-fi. The genre has for so long been dominated by the male Anglo-American perception... it's about time that the focus turned to different approaches to sci-fi (whether culturally, racially, etc.). Personally, I'm really looking forward to many of the books mentioned. Looks like there are some very interesting options.

Zibilee said...

Oh, those panels sound wonderful and like something that I would have loved to attend. I am interested in hearing the advice about not being able to read it all, and hearing about the size of people's personal libraries. It sounds like this was an excellent event, Marie! I am so glad that you were able to attend!

Anonymous said...

The session sound interesting. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I would have loved to attend this, sounds like a lot of fun! I've recently been swept away with George RR Martin's series- I'm currently on book 2, A Clash of Kings, and am loving this medieval fantasy novel immensely. I will check out the list you've provided, thanks!

Anonymous said...

I don't read a lit of Sci-Fi but there are a few I consider all-time favorites. I really want to read Black Out.

Unknown said...

people sit around and compare the size of their libraries -- sign me up for that! Sounds so ... risque.

I do love sci-fi, but old school sci-fi, as I've rarely been able to get into contemporary stuff, except the door stoppers Neal Stephenson puts out every few years.