Notes from Boskone 45

I know you’re not all science fiction fans — but I know quite a few of you are. Below you’ll find some of my notes from the first day of Boskone, Boston’s longest-running annual science fiction convention. (Sorry, these are just notes, not a polished convention report.)

A panel discussion titled “Deadenders of the Fantastic” is little more than the old familiar discussion of how science fiction and fantasy are in a sort of literary ghetto. Nothing new is said, but it’s still fun listening to articulate, intelligent, faintly geeky people talk about books. Someone points out that works of sf/f which incorporate popular culture can draw in people from outside the sf/f ghetto — thus the wild success of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: using popular culture, Buffy grabbed a lot of people who ordinarily wouldn’t have any interest in vampire stories. (I’m thinking to myself that the reason why I like sf/f has nothing to do with popular culture references, and more to do with the fact that I like reading short fiction, but I can’t stand the horribly dreary weakly-plotted stories that are published in the New Yorker magazine and which pass for literary fiction in the United States.)

I’m looking through the shelves of books being sold by one of the booksellers in the “huckster room.” A very nice man is trying to strike up conversations with anyone and everyone. So I squat down, ostensibly to look at the books on the bottom shelf, but really so I don’t have to politely chat with him — someone else chats with him instead. I’m an introverted person who works in an extroverted job, and during my days off I don’t have much interest engaging in small talk — since science fiction conventions are filled with introverted people (heavy readers tend to be introverted, it goes with the territory), no one minds if an introvert like me doesn’t want to talk.

I found the discussion on “Regional SF, Fantasy, and Horror” thought-provoking. Faye Ringel points out that regionalism in mainstream literature is “old hat”; by contrast, science fiction and fantasy are not supposed to be anchored to some specific local place. Brett Cox tries to define what constitutes regionalism in literature: landscape of course, shared cultural traditions, and “attitude.” Of course, science fiction and fantasy often create landscapes that have nothing to do with any real landscape, and cultures which are supposed to be literally unearthly; so where can regionalism come into play? Glenn Grant says that in Canada, sf/f writers, like other Canadian writers, tend to treat the landscape or place itself as a character (and thus, when a mainstream Canadian writer like Margaret Atwood writes sf/f, “it’s not terrible”). Horror presents a somewhat different case: Faye Ringel reminds us that a horror writer like H. P. Lovecraft was depicting a very specific place; Lovecraft was using horror to depict how south-eastern New England was a region that had fallen from prominence; this is a classic theme in Gothic literature. Brett Cox, a southerner, says that Lovecraft represented a “blank spot” for him until he moved to New England; then Lovecraft made sense. Yet in the end, as Daniel Dern points out, most sf/f is meant to be “a-regional.”

Amazingly, during the entire discussion on regionalism, no one refers to “post-modernity.”

Although the crowd at Boskone tends to be pretty low-key, there is still some good people watching:– An otherwise ordinary-looking middle-aged bearded man wearing a red nylon cape, well-worn, with a patch reading “Arisia” and a button reading “I never thought I’d miss Nixon.” A man wearing a slightly-too-small tri-corn hat and a blue jacket emblazoned with big yellow capital letters spelling out TYRANY RESPONSE TEAM.

In the panel discussion on “Hidden Biases in SF,” Tobias Buckell (a Caribbean writer who is bi-racial) talks “aliens as other” in sf. “Let’s make the Klingons religious,” he says, when the (white) human characters have no apparent religion [or unquestioned religious biases?]; worse yet, “Turn people who are non-white into scary monsters with bumps on their foreheads.” A member of the audience points out that while white people are the default characters in adult sf/f, that is not so true in young adult sf/f. Buckell says that of the biggest-name science fiction authors, it has been Arthur C. Clarke who includes a wide diversity of race and ethnicity in his characters, but without making a big deal out of it. (I note that no one mentions Ursula K. LeGuin, many of whose books include meditations on race and ethnicity.)

1 thought on “Notes from Boskone 45

  1. h sofia

    Interesting! I’m not a big science fiction fan – although speculative fiction is probably my favorite genre – but enjoyed this recap.

    p.s. I watched “Blade Runner” (final cut) the other day – squee! how brilliant!

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