Readercon 20 was my first, and my first con of any kind in about ten years. The list of this year’s guests of honor—Elizabeth Hand, Greer Gilman, and Hope Mirrlees—made my decision to go very easy. (It would be difficult to understate the influence of Elizabeth Hand’s work on my fiction, Hope Mirrlees’ novel Lud-in-the-Mist is the subject of my MA thesis, and I genuinely believe that Greer Gilman is Our Joyce, except cleverer and kinder and more relevant to my interests.)
Half a dozen highlights:
…having the beginnings of really interesting conversations with so many of the people, including Helen Pilinovsky, Delia Sherman, Ellen Kushner, and Veronica Schanoes, who are doing my favorite academic and literary work. (Though alas, I missed Theodora Goss almost completely.)
…briefly meeting some serious, old-school masters in the field, including fergodssake Gene Wolfe, who treated me with great kindness and offered pertinent and practical advice, and John Crowley, whose Aegypt books hit me like a cyclone this winter, and whose talk on his imaginary life in theatrical set design was worth the trip all by itself.
…encountering John Clute’s brain in real life. The “SF as the Literature of Things” and “The Nature of Evil in Horror Fiction” panels were both interesting all-round, but my scribbled notes seem to consist mainly of Clute. Most memorably, he mentioned that the “supernaturally vacant” villain of No Country for Old Men killed his victims by “creating a shopping mall in the center of the forehead.” My Barthes-loving heart went doki doki and did a little tap routine.
…seeing the “Excellent Foppery: The Use of History in the Fantastic,” which was stellar, and which was also my first encounter with Graham Sleight, whose insights also took up a lot of space in my notebook. Same thing happened on the Readercon Book Club discussion of Mieville’s The City and the City, where Sleight and Jedediah Berry were especially on and Clute delivered a thunderous and (to me) welcome denunciation of the idea that readers must at all costs be protected from spoilers. I don’t think his claim—that the fear of spoilers is lazy and corrupt—holds true in every case (The City and the City, for example, is best approached cold), but I enjoyed his rant nonetheless.
…catching “After the Cover’s Closed,” the panel on endings moderated by Lev Grossman. It was densely packed with awfully pertinent advice based on both analysis and reflections on craft, and I really wish I’d raised my hand in time to ask the question I had about the relationship of satisfying endings to genre expectations, and the panelists’ sense of those expectations within the genres in which they work. (This relationship was at the heart of the arguments I got into on the intertubes years ago about Grossman’s The Codex, which I really liked, and which the readers on Amazon really didn’t.)
…having the opportunity to sit on a panel with Elizabeth Hand and on two with Greer Gilman. Both are some of the sharpest writers I’ve ever listened to, while also being astonishingly approachable. I did, on the second day, confess to Ms. Hand that I’d met her once before, about 11 years ago, on which occasion I was so star-struck that I turned pink, stammered something about transcending genre, and slinked away. I hope I redeemed myself a little by not falling off the stage or swallowing my microphone during our panel. (My other fellow panelists, including Faye Ringel, Sonya Taafe, Michael Swanwick, and Donald G. Keller, were also incredibly on the ball.)
Two things I didn’t expect:
That the level of analysis would be so stratospheric, and the amount of bullshit so correspondingly small. I had expected that the con would feature a lot of very smart people, but I hadn’t expected that the kinds of smart I most appreciate would be so pervasive. Yes, John Crowley and John Clute and Greer Gilman and Elizabeth Hand and Chip Delany and cetera were there, and yes, they’re ridiculously well read and quick on their brains, but dear lord, so was practically everyone at the pub. Though not all of them had actually read the OED from cover to cover like Greer.
That leaving would feel like being booted from fairyland with the taste of that goblin fruit still on my tongue. (I’d never quite grasped the fairy food trope on an emotional level, but when I got out of the car at a truck stop on the drive home, I got it all at once.)