Potlatch VII Program Notes
Book of Honor – War of the Worlds
panelists: Brad Lyau, ringleader, Gerald Nordley (Martians), Fr. John Blaker (Curate), Howard Hendrix (Artilleryman)
reported by Ian Hagemann and Lenny Bailes
Brad read the intro to War of the Worlds. This is the 100th anniversary of the publication of the book. The year before it was published, Dracula appeared. Wells' introduction to the book brought out the arrogance and complacency of the time: "The Balloon of human arrogance is in desperate need of pricking."
Our own species wreaks destruction. Wells refers to "inferior species": Tasmanians. Is it any wonder that the Martians would see us in the same way?
War of the Worlds can be interpreted as a critique of capitalism: Martians have superior technology. Replicators thrive on raw dirt. Yet Martians are vampires, they suck blood and have no internal digestive systems. Wells was an early predictor of non-anthropomorphic aliens, yet the Martians also suggest an ultimate, decadent evolution of the human species.
The narrator of the story is a philosopher. The contemporary paradigms of the period are being challenged: Newtonian physics, economics, "White Man's Burden."
Technology influenced War of the Worlds: "Martian telepathy" = radio? The work was influenced by Jules Verne. The propulsion system for the Martian craft relies on the viscosity difference of the Earth's atmosphere to cushion its fall."
The Curate is depicted by Fr. Blaker as an unsympathetic character, thriving on the status quo of his niche in society. A curate is an "assistant priest." The curate may have been chosen as an exemplar to illustrate what was wrong with the contemporary religious institutions of Wells' day.
The narrator's younger brother is depicted by Karen Fowler as purposely "faceless." A representative of everyman to bring out the "Godzilla rampage" portion of War of the Worlds. Karen finds parallels with a quote from Chinese history: "It would take an invasion from Mars to unite people in common cause." The Boxer rebellion came close to accomplishing this.
It would have been uninteresting for Wells to use the devastation wreaked by Martians as the basis for a morality tale: "good folks rise to the occasion, bad folks remain bad." Instead, he used this section to depict a universal human reaction to devastation. The POV is anglocentric. One woman imagines that the French and the Martians might be somewhat similar. These scenes became a model for later derivative renderings of post-apocalyptic destruction.
The Artilleryman (depicted by Howard Hendrix) makes the transition from "survivor" to "survivalist." He is a model for many stereotypical renditions of pragmatists in derivative works. The artilleryman rejoices in the breakdown of false and superfluous distinctions of civilization: no more class distinction. His embracing the benefit of the Martians eliminating the weak is a prototype for the Nazi philosophy of the 20th century. The artilleryman is a model paradigm borrowed frequently for action-adventure stories in 20th century s-f movies (specifically "Independence Day").
Howard believes that if the artilleryman were alive now, he'd be writing movie scripts. He plans to be a terrorist, and is happy with the idea that "the future eats the past", destroying and reinventing the present. Wells' Martians are "out of touch" with important things, like scientists. There is class warfare in War of the Worlds. "Eat the rich" is a literal maxim.
Wells' own opinion of the artilleryman might be that he is a curious creature with interesting ideas, but undisciplined.
Science Fiction as Literary Cartooning
panelists: Lenny Bailes, ringleader, Tom Whitmore, Eileen Gunn, Loren MacGregor, David Hartwell
reported by David Bratman
Lenny began the panel by asking if we've lost the satirical sense in SF, the exposing of the absurdity of the world in a broadly-applicable satirical statement, as in a political cartoon. He cited past and older SF writers like John Collier, Lewis Padgett, Fredric Brown, and Robert Sheckley as examples. Are there current SF writers doing what G.B. Trudeau and Scott Adams do in cartoons? He also presented a timeline, including the above authors, Pohl and Kornbluth, Theodore Sturgeon (his 40s stories rather than his 50s ones), H.L. Gold, Philip K. Dick, Grania Davis, James Tiptree, Connie Willis, Eileen Gunn, Jonathan Lethem, Martha Soukup, and (with an asterisk) Neal Stephenson.
Lenny's question produced several varied replies scattered throughout the hour:
- Yes, there are such current writers in SF. Authors and stories cited included: Ian Macdonald, Eileen Gunn, Leslie What (notably the upcoming "Say Woof"), Connie Willis, Jonathan Carroll (described by Loren MacGregor as "Philip K. Dick on drugs"), Ray Vukevich, "Danny Goes to Mars" by Pamela Sargent, Crank magazine, Eliot Fintushel, some Terry Bisson stories, Karen Joy Fowler, "The Dead" by Michael Swanwick, "Motherhood Etc" by L. Timmel Duchamp, Gene Wolfe's short fiction, "Horror We Got" and other stories by Howard Waldrop. David Hartwell said that half of Analog these days is satire, but not aimed at this audience: only 2 people present read it regularly. This lead to a digression on Analog: is it good satire? Is it well-enough constructed, or is it beating a dead horse?
- There are such writers, but they're working outside the SF field. The SF field is no longer the marginal safe corner it once was, and satire outside of the genre is more acceptable. Writers who might once have done SF are going elsewhere. Names cited included: Derek James, Kelly Acker, "Preternatural" by Margaret Bonnano (sp?). Comics like DC's Helix line, "Johnny the Homicidal Maniac", "Too Much Coffeeman".
- The definition is too narrow. Tom Whitmore cited cartoons like Ralph Steadman's, which are more painful than funny, and named J.G. Ballard as an SF writer in that vein. Other authors, like Harry Harrison, are more like video cartoons than print ones. Another problem, raised by Eileen Gunn, is that the "1950s tradition" which Lenny seemed largely to be discussing was too limiting. Damon Knight had taught her that the 50s satirists were too much "of their time" to imitate. She's been trying in her own writing to escape their influence for 20 years. Loren MacGregor added that it's the truth of the story's comment on society, not its 50s quality, that makes its pointedness.
- Satire has gone out of fashion. Lenny suggested that a kind of photorealistic writing has come into fashion that's incompatible with the kind of broad strokes appropriate to satire. Satire requires frustration, and perhaps we're not frustrated. John D. Berry elaborated by citing the conformism of the 50s. Amy Thomson suggested that the marketing and critical focus have moved to novels: "cartoon" novels are not really practical. Tom said it might be harder to write cartoon-like fiction in a world where real cartoons are being seriously deconstructed. See also David Hartwell's comments below.
- Perhaps the objects of satire have moved? Society has become self-satirizing (but hasn't it always been so?). The 50s satire was largely against marketing, but the postmodern age embraces markets. We need to satirize things now besides the old targets of bureaucracy and the military: the workplace, political correctness, the new sources of power like the computer industry. Eileen observed that writers write satires not because the subject needs satire, but because they're pissed off. We admire stories that were prescient (Kornbluth, Padgett, and Sheckley on TV when it was new), but we'll have to wait another ten years to know what was prescient in today's stories.
In the course of discussion, Lenny clarified his question by defining literary cartoons as stories whose endings have punch, and make the reader question aspects of society. Connie Willis is screwball comedy, not criticism of society. Many silly stories have a satirical look, but have no teeth: no social critical statement (Terry Pratchett; Pratt & de Camp's Gavagan's Bar, Spider Robinson). David Hartwell said that Willis, like Padgett's Gallagher stories, are surface funny, but wear their satire underneath. Lenny distinguished literary cartooning from social dystopia (H.G. Wells, E.M. Forster, Aldous Huxley) and deadpan critics of society (not funny, just gritty: Richard Matheson's "Twilight Zone" work, some Murray Leinster stories). Loren said that good satires work on several levels, not just as satire. David said 50s satire was relatively short and had flat, functional characterization. Eileen said it articulates one's own unspoken feelings, not repeated tropes. It synthesizes the moment, even if the subject or feeling is irrelevant later. An audience member suggested it should change your view of the world. Others observed that this is easiest with a younger reader: as Lenny said, one's first encounter with a meme can be life-changing, even if later it becomes a commonplace.
Why is there a sense that these stories no longer exist, since they do? David Hartwell emphasized repeatedly that the stories are being written and published, but they are being critically ignored, or called old-fashioned. The critical attention is elsewhere, and the audience is not engaged. Satire as such simply can't be marketed today: it won't sell. Call it cyberpunk instead. He dated this change in attitude to the early 70s. But Tom Whitmore replied that books like "The Space Merchants" and "The Silver Eggheads" weren't marketed as satire until the early 70s.
What makes satire last? Lenny said it's the timely and relevant, not the frivolous, that makes memorable satire. Tom Becker indicted toothless co-opted satire and uniform nonconformity. Tom Whitmore said that lasting satire is written out of a deep abiding anger (Jonathan Swift has certainly lasted a long time). Eileen cited Jack Sharkey as an example of a writer she liked as a child, but now feels is lame. She concluded the panel by suggesting that if the Golden Age of SF is 12, the Golden Age of Satire is 15-16: the most cynical age. David modified this to 17, the age of high-school seniors.
Science Fiction as literary cartooning
a vehicle for social/political commentary --
a tool for easing alienation?
Not just "The Tradition of the Space Merchants"
the panel might discuss:
the relationship s-f readers have formed with the great
s-f socio/political cartoonists:
Why is this tradition important to us?
(eases alienation? bridges to pop culture?)
How does "s-f cartooning" differ from the
dystopian and straight "social warning" traditions.
((H.G. Wells/E.M. Forster/Aldous
Huxley vs.Lewis Padgett / P.K. Dick))
((H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley))
deadpan critic examples
((Murray Leinster -- If you was a
Mocklin == Richard Matheson --
Monsters on Maple Street;
James Tiptree, Jr. -- various))
((Lewis Padgett, C.M. Kornbluth, Fritz Leiber, Robert Sheckley))
Can this tradition of "literary cartooning" still
find a voice in today's s-f markets?
How is the tradition changing?
((Neal Stephenson as the heir to the
great'50S literary cartoonists with Snowcrash?))
James Tiptree, Jr.
James P. Kelly
Neal Stephenson/Stephen Bury*
Life After Clarion
Panelists: Luke McGuff, ringleader, Jane Hawkins, Ian Hagemann, Kate Schaefer
reported by Lenny Bailes
Clarion is a six-week workshop. Every week has a different teacher. The emphasis is on short stories.
Some participants have good experiences, some have bad. A time for recovery is required in both cases.
Some Clarion participants are unable to write afterwards (Luke cites himself as an example.)
JH: Clarion call also spoil you. You get used to line-by-line critiques. It's challenging to be alone with your writing, afterward.
KS: Recovering from Clarion was more difficult than she thought it would be. She knew she would need recovery time. The community provided support, but she didn't set writing as a central priority.
IH: Insisted on working part-time to make room for writing in his life, but had an unpleasant Clarion experience. Emotional maturity of the group is unpredictable. If you decide to dress flamboyantly, you may have to accept the consequences of an "8th-grader" mentality.
JH: Administrators can influence how the social dynamics of the group get going. Jane warns of the dangers of participants picking a scapegoat in a group. This not only hurts the victim, but masks the real needs of the group. This can be poisonous to group dynamics. A Clarion administrator may be able to deflect this practice.
Laurie: Teachers can also set interaction guidelines.
Jay: When Clarion participants return to a mundane setting that's not as supportive of writing, how can they cope?
Jeremy: His critique group continued for six months by e-mail.
(?): Clarion dynamics are different for dorm and non-dorm dwellers. East vs. West:
East is all-dormitory. No distractions. Generally cheaper, except for transportation from the West Coast. In Clarion West novelettes are accepted as application stories.
Kate: Networking is an important factor in producing sales.
Kate: Who shouldn't go to Clarion? People who only want feedback from instructors. People who can't handle stress. Expect a monastic life and the shredding of your stories.
Question (Lenny B): Does Clarion explode dreams? (The process of being polished and and trained in technique.) Are participants made to feel that their aspirations on entrance are impossible?
Luke: Clarion did explode the dream for him.
Jane: It can inflate the dream. Reinforce ambition.
Rich (From audience): Clarion broadened his critical sense and helped him find direction.
Jeremy (From audience): Clarion also helped develop his sense of direction.
A sense of your own writing can help avoid Clarion homogenization.
Question (?) Is genre an issue at Clarion?
Luke: Mainstream stories are often critiqued at Clarions.
Summary – clues to recovery from Clarion Experience:
While at the conference find an understanding audience for your work.
Be prepared for stress.
After the conference: Allow time to recover – time off from day job.
Maintain post-Clarion student contact.
Insist on reserving time for writing as an
essential part of your life.
Writers and Readers: How common is the ground?
Panelists: Debbie Notkin, ringleader, Loren MacGregor, Phoebe Reeves, Elise Mattesen
reported by Kate Schaefer
This panel was suggested by Ruth Lafler.
When a writer sits down to write, what audience does she have in mind? How does that affect the work?
Phoebe Reeves, fantasy writer, teaches at U of SF; author of two textbooks. Elise M, poet, journalist, fanwriter. Loren M, novelist, techwriter, fanwriter.
E.M. never believed writers thought about audience, because she writes as if one to one – until becoming journalist, when audience became extremely important.
LM: tech writers must think of audiences, also. On Internet, he thinks he's writing clearly, and then gets feedback which suggests that he's not. At one client, he learned 300 translations & permutations of one word in different languages & cultures. He carries this back when he returns to fiction.
PR: in magic realism she thinks only about whether the reader will understand, not whether the reader will like it. Uses a small but eclectic group of first readers. For textbooks, the buyers are teachers, but the users/readers are the students, and it isn't always possible to get past the first group to the second.
Debbie N, editor: says to authors, don't talk down. Authors say back that other editors always say to simplify.
EM: Talking down is a question in journalism & spoken word performance. S-F gave her a background in introducing concepts in context so she doesn't have to talk down. GLBT (Gay Lesbian, Bi, Transgender) journalism gives a window into overlapping but not identical worlds, but it can be a minefield. If she offends, bars will pull ads & jobs may be lost.
LM: Stories w/content vs. No content, murky or clear – stories can be so clear that it's obvious there is no story there. Can be so filled with S-F tropes that it's not worth wading through to get to the story. LM points out the value of criticism that he disagrees with.
PR does care what readers think – stories are about ---(life?) & death, linear existence – how do you hook on to people? How do you make something clear without making it simple-minded?
Questions Sonja: – sometimes she reads a book twice because the perspective the first time through turns out to be wildly different from the author's intent –company of characters in process makes the first reading work, knowledge makes the second reading work very differently.
Questions Jacob: certain kinds of books show the author gets bored or loses focus 2/3 through. Very disappointing.
LM: Some early Delany books are like that for him, though he forgives Delany because the journey is so fun.
EM: Simple/complex. At textile museum, exhibits had to be 7 +/- 2 objects. Under 5 too few, over 9 too many.
Questions Joanne: Pet peeve, a writer who has done research but has not inhabited or imagined the world. Then the writer dumps the research as a lump.
EM: different duties when writing different stuff. Fiction works primarily with memory & emotion. The writer’s job is to recreate the shadowbox: the ghost of warmth of past hands.
Questions Jeanne Gomoll: What's different for reader included/excluded? Some people feel excluded from Sarah Canary. Jeanne feels included. A book she respects but always feels excluded from is White Queen – so alien. Third book talked about act of creation. (Finished more). Her discussion group hated it for all the same reasons she liked it.
PR: What is the quality of a book?
DN: I'm Lafferty-deaf. Too many brilliant people like him for him not to be good, but I miss his point.
EM: Sometimes there are neurochemical reasons for not understanding/ understanding books. Linear narrative is not her first language, but she can see how it might be useful.
DN: Linear is not simple.
LM: Has a brilliant coworker who chooses the right word. But readers use fuzzy logic, so the right word can be misunderstood because of (the lack of?) surrounding words that are wrong but close.
Questions John: in much of S-F, the writer doesn't have a clear picture – how much can a writer prepare?
PR: used cyberpunk story, B. Sterling's "Spider Rose" in class. The class stuck on all the technical details rather than reading the emotional content of story. Pr then had to question whether the story was good on its own or if it requires too much context to understand.
Question (?)": Doesn't think linearly. Books only thing (s)he reads front to back. Likes a Lem book because of the experience of not knowing whether it occurs in a dream or not.
DN: Rock musicians hate KS Robinson's Memory of Whiteness, classical musicians like it.
EM: Liking/not liking certain books is not a moral issue – people get different things from books - (Oatmeal shortage joke: "It would be terrible if everyone liked the same thing – think of the oatmeal shortage.")
LM: (Switches nameplates with EM): Movie Diva, book Diva. – Diva's translator was the same as (Umberto) Eco's translator for Name of the Rose. A different translator was used for other Delacorta books. LM can't tell if Delacorta is actually a good writer, but he's a different writer, differently translated.
DN: We all know what kind of stuff everybody likes, and no one wants to write it.
Question (?): If reincarnation is true, then if you have no resonance with a period then it's harder to write, but with resonance, it's easier.
LM: Worked at making male/female proportion 50/50: more women were named in his book. What happened is that a reader asked him if the women had taken over in his book.
EM: If [a group] is 30% female, most people will perceive the majority of the group is women – same applies to people of color.
Question (Dave Howell): His composition teacher was scornful of pop music – he wondered why, since its structure is immediately [arresting]. But that's all there is. More complex music requires more work & repays more work, as does, say, Gene Wolfe.
DN: [We call that] the Highest Common Denominator.
EM: A writer trying to write something new will look odd to the reader.
Question [Howard]: The degree of difficulty of explanation is inversely proportional to the degree of the audience's familiarity with the subject.
LM: Two workshopping questions: What is the writer trying to do? Does the writer succeed?
Question (Janet): The concept of comfort [in] inhabiting a world – Janet likes stories she's not necessarily comfortable in, though not horror.
PR: The film Devil's Advocate: non-genre friends didn't like it – people like to be uncomfortable in a certain way, and the forms of how you like to be uncomfortable are important.
Question (Lenny B): Horror succeeds when it synthetically evokes experiences the reader recognizes from real life.
Question (?): In his company, everybody read Neuromancer because the boss read it. But they didn't have the tools to comprehend it.
PR: Audience profiles, race, gender, etc. A critic said it's not possible to break down an audience that way – because how many straight people are actually straight? But you must start somewhere, so picture a reader, then throw the picture away.
DN: One of my agendas was to talk about writing for an hour and a half without talking about marketability & we did it.
The Spectrum of Respectability
Ringleaders: Ellen Klages, Pat Murphy
Assistant: Bill Humphries
Timeline of quality (Bottoms up!)
The Low end
My Mother the Car (definitional bottom), Hustler
I Dream of Jeannie, George of the Jungle
Xena, Warrior Princess
Peanuts? (fell off before typing)
Tarzan of the Apes book
Virtual Girl (Amy placement)
Virtual Girl (Dave H. placement)
]War of the Worlds radio show
Doonesbury, Naked Lunch (the book)
H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds
Lord of the Rings books
Left Hand of Darkness, Beloved (Toni Morrison), Lord of the Flies
The Tempest (definitional high end), The Iliad
The High End
Algonquins for All Occasions
Crones, sages and silly old women -- real lives of real crones. Remember what the gypsy said?
Role of the wise woman -- in your community? in science fiction and fantasy stories?
The power of aging -- Aging baby boomers are being forced by the evidence of their own receding hairlines to consider an alternative to youth-obsessed values. Are we beginning, as a culture, to acknowledge positive values of maturity and experience? Are you_ beginning?
12-step meeting for Patrick O'Brian junkies. How/why are Jack and Stephen different from Kirk and McCoy?
Do you hear the Horns of Elfland when you get into the shower? Have you ever contemplated becoming a hornplayer?
Who’s tougher, Xena, Warrior Princess, or Buffy, Vampire Slayer? What about Sabrina the Teenage Witch?
Authors who work changes dramatically: developing genius or burnout? Ursula Le Guin? C.J. Cherryh?, (Robert Silverberg?, Roger Zelazny?)
Feminist humor -- when is it OK to make fun of women, men, or blond(e)s? What do prejudicial jokes say about us individually or collectively?
Science fiction has had a moniker of being junk food for the mind; escapist fare only. Is that true? Not all of it is literature but surely some of it must be? Mustn't it? What literary trends can be found? What will withstand the test of time? And does it matter?
The face of the American political system has been changed forever by the advent of electronic technology. Can our system handle it? What will our government be like in 100 years?
Language includes/language excludes: Is thought without language possible? How are images and language related?
Sexuality, gender, and envisioning the future: Have any s-f novelists described convincing scenarios? John Varley, Melissa Scott, Greg Egan, Samuel R. Delany?
Since the dawn of the computer age, people have been talking about the "paperless society". Have computers actually generated more or less paper? What would a paperless world be like? Are we ever going to read "Magic Book" computer screens in the bathroom and on airplanes?
Were you able to sit through Andrey Tarkovsky's "Solaris?" Discuss the tradition of "Twin Earths". (From the "Twin Earths" comic strip, to "Space Patrol", "Twilight Zone", etc. -- What symbolic metaphor in modern science can replace the "Doppleganger Earth" hiding on the other side of sun?)
Talking costume dramas -- is there any real content in Babylon 5 or StarTrek? Are they just random collages of "sf gestalts", "implausible" military dramas with window dressing? (Or are some of them "plausible" dramas that make memorable literary statements?)
If money were no object, what would the perfect S-F prozine be like?
The spectrum of respectability applied to Science Fiction conventions: (World Fantasy, SMOFcon, University conferences, Potlatch, Comicon) What's the difference between "literature" and "trash"?
Influence of landscape on culture, plot and character: Do your subjective reactions to s-f stories depend on where you are when you read them?
Is resistance futile? Can writers break the rules of literary genres in their stories? Which writers and stories have done this successfully?
Jane Austen is as alien as Mars? (And how alien is Mars, anyway? Will the future regard "Tea and military revolution on the Red Planet" as just another genre setpiece? Could =Stranger in a Strange Land= be rewritten as a Noel Coward comedy?)
Narrative transvestites: Are you turned on by s-f stories dressed in fantasy clothes? Fantasies wearing s-f overcoats? Cross-dressing mysteries?
How To Write A Book Proposal: define the most bizarre "theme" anthology that your mind can conceive. Would Mike Resnick edit it? Is it possible to create a deconstructive "theme" anthology that would actually decondition the reader's proclivity to read the same gimcrack over and over again?
Can science fiction really be used to teach ideas? Which ideas? Which classes?
Is the popularity of Vampire fiction related to the spread of pragmatic, cynical memes in society?
What should we expect from our many religions as we enter the new century? Will Churches computerize and exploit pop-culture, as predicted by Norman Spinrad, Neil Stephenson, et al?
What science fiction or fantasy story would you like to see made into a movie? Is there any way to send a clue to people like Kevin Costner that might also reach the movie-going public?
Is the cultural fallout of the '60s still being felt in literature?
Is the cultural fallout of the '70s still being felt in literature?
Is the cultural fallout of the '80s still being felt in literature?
Is S-F bigoted? Are we as open-minded as we claim? Is the -s-f field dominated by a white, middle-class worldview? What are the tropes of closed-mindedness being reiterated in science fiction?
Would you make a case that the finest cyberpunk author today is a feminist who has appropriated and subverted the genre, if you were not the WISCON programming committee? Is there still a genre of "cyberpunk" in science fiction?
What do you think of as the most controversial moment in American history?
Does it make any sense to privatize the American school system? Has the tradition of John Dewey and Horace Mann outlived its day?
Care And Feeding Of The Creative Process: What sort of actions and environments are most conducive to getting and staying productive? How do you tell being blocked from being too tired?
What are your personal criteria for "good" or "great" science fiction? Are they differerent for :"good" or "great" fantasy?
Is the tendency to refer to "Chinese", "Italian", "Mexican", etc. cuisines when discussing eggrolls, pizza, burritos and the like, really an outmoded usage? With the assimilation of many ethnic minorities into American communities, can these dishes now truly be considered "American cuisine?"
Why is it that science fiction stories so seldom have religious protagonists? (C.S. Lewis, and Gene Wolfe, notwithstanding). Are there good examples (since Arthur C. Clarke's "The Star") of science fiction stories that make serious statements about issues of religious faith?