Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Arisia 2016

Like always, Arisia was chaotic and awesome.  For the past few years I've attended primarily in the capacity of staff which takes up a good chunk of my time, and this year we had to truncate our attendance due to work on Friday and Monday.  I also took part in three panels this year over the two days we were in attendance, so fun times.  Next year we're going out early Friday and coming back Monday evening... it really does make a difference.

I only had a brief time in which to check out the art-show, after the auction closed Sunday night.  The one frustration I've regularly had with Arisia is the hours things are open.  I'm used to late opening vendor rooms, but usually hand-in-hand with a vendor room opening at 10am or later, is that it stays open until maybe 8 or 9 (or later).  Maybe the few fandom conventions that I'm used to are the exception to the rule.  I was excited that the vendor room was open later than normal, which meant until 7PM instead of 6.  Programming starts somewhere around 8 am and goes until midnight (not including the movie rooms and LARPs).  On the flip side, this does allow vendors to attend evening programs with more ease.  So no purchases were made this year, even my annual re-stock of Tea & Absinthe blends.

In addition to panels I also managed to attend the Scalzi reading on Saturday, and get my copy of Lock In signed on Sunday.  The reading was phenomenal, and while we were asked not to talk about the specific details, the book he has coming out I think this summer sounds amazing from the excerpt we were treated to. Cannot wait for it to come out (well, I obviously I am waiting, but very very eagerly).  He also read to us a incredible blog post he wrote last year after being asked about raising strong women, and a hilarious piece about the gossip of smart appliances about their owners.  The Q&A after the reading had some great moments, including a discussion on "punching up" vs. "punching down" in comedy and why he strives for "punching up" when he's in the privileged position where "punching down" would be easier, and then at the end someone asked him about the differences between raising cats vs. children.




I also got to chat briefly with Max Gladstone, who's totally awesome and humored me when he heard some random lady (me) make a comment in the elevator about an author in the wild.  I recommend reading his books.

As for the panels, I had fun taking part, but totally wish I had the time to attend some.

Lovecraftian Intimacy: Body Horror & Mind Melds
Can you have noneuclidean love triangles? In this panel, we'll discuss telepathic bonds & body horror & how they play upon themes of separation, alienation & intimacy. These two tropes present with very different connotations and judgments placed upon them. Telepathic bonds are often portrayed in positive terms, where body horror has its connotation in its name. Are there instances where the horror of telepathy comes forward or where change and melding of the physical body are seen as positive?
With Alexander Jablokov (mod), Gabriel Squailia, Jeanne Cavelos, Catt Kingsgrave-Ernstein, and myself


This panel was loads of fun, and ranged all over the place.  It also involved explaining "the tentacle thing" and "one person's squick is another's squee."  In explaining the latter I gave an example of needles/injections being something that deeply unsettle me, complete with involuntary shiver, at which point the panest next to me said "See that shiver?  That's a what a squick feels like!"

It was not, as one might suspect, a panel about naughty tentacles, those they did come up.  Sex, fetish, eroticism, and taboo are clearly a part of this topic in both modern and historical settings.  In case you were wondering, erotic paintings of tentacally women is not a modern phenomenon.  If you weren't aware of this existing at all, I do not recommend doing an image search without SafeSearch on, unless you really want an eyeful.  

One of the more interesting directions I think the panel took was to talk about pregnancy in regards to body horror.  That was utterly fascinating, and not a direction I expected the discussion to go, even as someone who had something to add to the topic.  Another topic that came up was body-horror as a positive force in relation to trans and non-binary gender identities.  After all, what is more horrifying than being trapped in the wrong body?

The idea of inflicted wrongness of body and loss of control were a big part of all the discussions of body horror and mind melds, and nearly all of our discussion of mind-melds was in the context of horror.  Maybe mind-melds are often presented in a more positive context per the panel's description, but there's plenty of mind and body horror fodder available.


The Drowning World
From The Water Knife to Hurricane Fever, how are science fiction and fantasy taking on climate change, and what second order consequences are we missing?
With Alexander Jablokov (mod), Terry Franklin, Ken Gale, and myself

Small turn out for this one.  I guess 8:30 on Saturday night people are looking for parties or the racier panels.  We had some really neat input on the part of one of the panelists who's been hosting a environmentalist radio show for over a decade.  Overall, I'd have liked a bigger pool of titles for us to pull on in conversation than we were able to provide, but there was some great knowledge of early climate change fiction.  I introduced some of the folks to the term "cli-fi" which I've been coming across as a label for climate change science fiction.  Really good questions and talking points from the audience, though some were asking questions for which we have no answers (and that scientists themselves are trying to answer).


The Future of Disability in Literature
ST:TNG was famously critiqued for having a bald captain. "Won't the cure for baldness be discovered by then?" Roddenberry replied, "By the 24th century, no one will care." Most SF novels, if they include disabled characters at all, focus on a cure narrative. For the most part, the disabled seem not to exist. Let's talk about SF with universal access, visible disabled characters, and societies that don't force a cure and choose instead to accommodate everyone, regardless of disability.
With myself (mod), JoSelle Vanderhooft, Selkie, and Shira Lipkin

This one started out with a little bit of a shake-up.  For one thing it was preceded by a really fantastic panel that also happened to have amazing authors on it.  Also, FFS, how did I fail to realize that one of them was Daniel Jose Older?  Goddammit.  The short version is the panel went long, then many individuals in the audience (very understandably) wanted to talk one on one with the panelists (hell, I'd have been right there with them if I wasn't trying to get things set up for the panel I was moderating).  One of my panelists didn't show up, and another technically stepped out (but was in the audience offering fantastic contributions).  The latter tapped a really wonderful replacement as a surprise addition.  The listed names above are what was printed in the program, and doesn't reflect reality.

I came into this incredibly excited about the topic, to the point where I put together a slide-show with talking point highlights and some titles that fit within the scope of the presentation.  If you're curious it can be found here (please ignore the fantasy titles hidden at the end, the presentation was on SF).  Before I use this again, it definitely needs some tweaking.  I need to improve my attribution at various points, add several titles, expand the subjects, and rearrange or possibly even remove several titles.  Among other things, the representation of DID in Blindsight was considered rather offensive, so I have to figure out if it works better within "Speculative Disability" since it is full of deliberately created "disabilities" or if it should be removed completely.

I want to fold "disability as a metaphor" into the section on coding after some really stellar points brought up by the panelists and the audience, and I definitely have non-comic book examples of coding now.  The DaVinci Code isn't what I'd normally call SF, but the whole science & God thing, as well as the anti-matter bump it in that direction, and that gives me the "evil albino" stereotype.  The Giver was brought up as an absolutely horrifying book as read by a child with partial impairment and who was slowly losing their remaining sight, and blindness is often used as a metaphor for ignorance.

I'm also thinking about adding in a disclaimer at the start of the presentation if I do something like this again.  Something along the lines of "this list is flawed" and "polite suggestions and corrections are gladly received."  Because the list of books I included is flawed, regardless of the care taken in curation.  There are problematic titles here, and I'm super happy to learn about other titles that should be included.  Overall, even with the problems, the effort put into collecting the titles and the length of the list was appreciated.

One addition that needs to go in, or else I blank completely on it, is on the social vs. medical models of disability.  I took an absolutely fascinating class on bioethics last year, and I definitely wanted to pull on it more in this panel (Introduction to Bioethics).  Fortunately, I had panelists who were familiar with the social model of disability.

What I should have expected, but utterly didn't, was the sorts of inflammatory comments that might come from audience members.  The topic is one that is incredibly personal and complex to start with, then is further complicated by misunderstanding.  In particular someone tried to claim that sign language wasn't a full language and another made statements along the lines that mental illness diagnosis and pharmacy was largely a way of dismissing the "unwanted" parts of society.  The former was shut down immediately, the latter caused quite a bit of angry rebuttal from present individuals who needed medication for biochemical equilibrium.  I actually had to step in and bring the discussion away from personal diagnosis and experience stories back to literature.  This probably made for a more difficult than normal first time as moderator experience.  Now I no going in it expect issues, both accidental and deliberate, with opinions expressed.

SF Disability Representation Book List:
  • The Speed of Dark / Elizabeth Moon
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy / Douglas Adams
  • Postal (graphic novel) / Brian Hill & Matt Hawkins
  • Blindsight / Peter Watts 
  • Cinder / Marissa Meyer
  • Hawkeye vs. Deadpool (graphic novel) / Gerry Duggan
  • The Annihilation Score / Charles Stross
  • Nexus / Ramez Naam
  • Saturn's Children / Charles Stross
  • Empty Zone (graphic novel) / Jason Shawn Alexander
  • The Ship Who Sang (series) / Anne McCaffrey
  • Accessing the Future : A Disability-Themed Anthology of Speculative Fiction / Kathryn Allan and Djibril al-Ayad (eds)
  • Hammered (series) / Elizabeth Bear
  • Lock In / John Scalzi
I will be doing talks and panels similar to this in the future, though for those I intend to expand generally into speculative fiction, allowing me to pull in fantasy and likely horror.  I'm waiting to hear back about presenting at a conference next month on the subject, and at the very least I'll be applying to present at a local library conference.  This is a topic that is very close to my heart, and I likely have my mom to thank for that.  I want to expand my knowledge about the topic and see where I can go with it.

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