Saturday, March 22, 2008

2008 ICFA Highlights 

In addition to the grad student paper presentations and the author readings, the conference program also features panels, in the manner of more typical SF conventions, on particular topics. Friday morning I attended one about World War II and SF, moderated by Gary K. Wolfe, with panelists Kathleen Ann Goonan (whose WWII novel In War Times I just read last week), Joe Haldeman, Andy Duncan, Ellen Klages, and Eileen Gunn, plus Brian Aldiss and Rusty Hevelin from the audience, all telling fascinating stories about their own or their father's experiences in the war, and peripherally some of the problems in turning real life experiences, which tend toward anecdotes with punchlines, into believable fictional drama.

The luncheon banquet featured what must be one of the most memorable guest scholar presentations in ICFA history, Roger Luckhurst on "Contemporary Photography and the Technological Sublime", asking, "Can There Be a Science Fiction Photography?" After some theoretical forwarding -- about found genres, such as alien abduction stories, he went on to present a series of photographs by various contemporary and not-so-contemporary photographers that present unusual subjects in ways that bring new perspectives on real or contrived subjects in ways that variously echo the powers of science fiction -- Bernd and Hilla Becher, of industrial architecture, those forgotten gas tanks and cooling towers and mineheads that people don't see; Andreas Gursky, whose vast prints depict strange patterned landscapes that aren't what you first think they are; Edward Burtynsky, a series of "Before the Flood" photos of the dismantling of various Chinese villages to make way for the Three Gorges Dam, photos that look post-apocalyptic; and others. Luckhurst made the point that the current digital revolution has affected photography, with the possibilities of digital manipulation, far more profoundly than it has publishing.

A late Friday evening panel moderated by James Morrow was on "Global Fantastique", with David G. Hartwell, Brian Aldiss, Kathryn Morrow, Stefan Ekman, and Javier Martinez, addressing issues of SF in translation, and the different pleasures to be experienced by SF from different cultures. Ironically, it's often noticed that American SF publishing seldom looks outside to works translated from other languages, but the Ekman noted that the same is true in Europe -- the French don't translate the Germans much, and vice versa, and so on to many other combinations of languages and cultures. Hartwell cited someone's definition of good SF (in contrast to 'literature') as that which retains its power in summary or in translation.

Saturday morning was a panel about Cyberpunk and Beyond, with John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly (promoting their anthology Rewired), Ted Chiang, and Ellen Datlow (plus Kevin Maroney, Eileen Gunn, and others from the audience) discussing what has happened since cyberpunk, is there any equivalent movement currently, and how Neuromancer, seminal as it was, is less impressive the more you know about certain other books and stories that had been previously published and which Gibson read -- contemporaneous works by Haruki Murakami, for instance. They also discussed how, in a way, the "mundane SF" movement is similar to cyberpunk or "radical hard SF" -- they both want to re-examine premises and take them more seriously.

Later I listened to readings by James Morrow (a forthcoming short novel called Shambling Towards Hiroshima) and Guy Gavriel Kay (Ysabel), and hung out by the pool for a while chatting with Ted Chiang and Deanna Hoak.

At 7 was the reception for the final event of the conference, the awards banquet, which began at 8: the usual buffet dinner, typically the longest portion of the evening, with a salad bar, three kinds of risottos, and some sort of little pork sandwiches, plus desert, following by the relatively brief awards presentations. This year they included Sheila Williams presenting the Dell Awards for stories written by undergraduates, the Lord Ruthven Society awards for works about vampires, two ICFA awards for essays, one by a grad student, the other -- now named in honor of Jamie Bishop -- for best non-English language essay, and finally (after president Farah Mendlesohn made a special announcement of the BSFA Best Novel of 1958 award to Non-Stop by the attending Brian Aldiss), the last two awards presented by Gary K. Wolfe: the Crawford Award to (as previously announced) Christopher Barzak's One for Sorrow, and the scholarship award to Roger Luckhurst.

After that--a *post*-banquet reception, at first derailed by reports of rain outside by the pool, later rebooted by updates that the rain had passed. Though the cabana bar was closed for the night, people bought their drinks in the bar and trickled out to chat in the dark by the pool and pond (which, at least one person reported, an alligator lurks).
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Mark R. Kelly

The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of Mark R. Kelly, and do not reflect the editorial position of Locus Magazine.
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