Up SpecFic Alleys

2015 Toronto SpecFic Colloquium, once again at Round,152A Augusta Avenue, brought a powerful set of presenters for an over-filled day of fantasy, scifi, horror and SpecFic panels.

After grabbing a great bagel and coffee from Nu Bagel on Augusta I was ready for the long climb up the stairs at Round (how do drunks manage these steep, unlit stairs?) where I was greeted by an impressive loot bag of ten books (mostly trade paper size) and a flurry of promo postcards. (books in the loot bag: Kevin J Anderson: Resurrection Inc.; Ellen Datlow ed: Fearful Symmetries; Field Research Org: Half-Cat; Kenneth Mark Hoover: Haxan; Laurence Klavan: The Family Unit; Amanda Leduc: The Miracle of Ordinary Men; Michelle Sagara: Silence Douglas Smith: Chimerascope; Right to Know: Edward Willett) Organizers also provided a huge urn of Tim Ho’s finest and a wide selection of donuts & muffins.

loot

loot bag loot (note Rocksteady travel mug not part of the loot)

The wide selection of presenters was satisfying & probably better for me than the donuts. First up was Alex Leitch: Retrofuturism and Spectacular Collaboration: ‘dirt is more interesting than glass’ dirt makes the future world real. She suggested that going up an ‘alley’ in a story is more intriguing than walking along the main street. Being partial to taking pictures on laneways I had to agree. I also had to agree when she said we live in a culture where it is cheaper & easier to tear down & rebuild than it is to maintain.

She was followed by Derek Newman-Stille: Accessible Space: The Final Frontier? Disability in Speculative Genres: with a great presentation on disability – how easily we are deaf to using terms like ‘turned a blind eye.’ With examples from Star Trek to Dr Who he showed how disability is rarely allowed to be normal but was either noble or vengeful. I love his statement that ‘as a disabled person he doesn’t feel the need to be a para-Olympian just to prove he’s accepted himself.

art

wave of the present art at NuBagel

After a brief break Dave McIntosh: Quipucamayoc: Interactive Media Art Project in Cusco and Buenos Aires: a fascinating presentation on (amongst other things) quipu – a South America form of story telling with knotted strands – knots as a sort of binary code – an ebook that doesn’t need a battery. I wonder how many of us will try to use the fact that at one time the faces of heroes would be peeled off at death & taken out once a year to be shown & animated like a puppet. I found it ironic that he couldn’t access the files on the Interactive project.

The lunch break was welcome. I had the silver bass with white beans. I worked on the vampire unicorn porn part of a long short story I’m developing (more about that later in the week). After lunch keynote speaker Nnedi Okorafor gave an inspiring, perceptive talk about her history, race & her writing process. As a black woman she’s been asked why she doesn’t write about American racism – as if that is the only thing she can write about authentically – that she is wasting her talent writing SpecFic when she could write serious work. One of her editing tips is on the fourth edit to change the font of the entire manuscript. I could go on – maybe I’ll do another post just about this talk in a week or so.

loot2

loot close up

After another brief break Simon McNeil: From Guernica to Gamergate: The Inseparability of Art and Politics. Partially a look at the misuse of the label ‘censorship’ – i.e. how voicing a contrary opinion become an attempt to censor what you feel contrary to so you better keep your contrary opinion to yourself. One of the conclusions is that like beauty, political content is often in the eye of the reader not the creator. Another complex presentation that may result in my writing more about it & the notions of PC, freedom of speech & censorship.

The day wrapped with a fun, perceptive almost fanboy teen squee by David Nickle: Secret Agent, Secret Shame. A presentation on the embarrassing appeal of Ian Fleming’s James Bond. I’ve always enjoyed seeing literary history re-interpreted though the lens of present day theory – such feminists looking at misogyny in the works of Conan Doyle. Here Nickle reveals the racism, misogyny etc in Bond. But none of that keeps most men from wishing we had those gadgets, that attraction for the opposite sex & that sense of cool in the face of danger.

Angela Keeley did MC duties for the day & kept things running on time. Her enthusiasm for the genres was contagious – not that anyone would have wandered into the Colloquium without being infected already. All the presenters were more expansive than I can adequately explore here so forgive my rather narrow selectivity of their talks.

more of my pics: http://topoet.tumblr.com/post/113080879268/before-the-round-house-fills-for-2015-toronto

samples

Here’s a bit of what I was writing when I wasn’t making notes or enjoying some of the male eye candy. The shorty story, untitled at this point, features three writers, writing in different horror genres reading from their work. One of them is launching the fifth volume in his series about vampire unicorns.

Red Horn could smell the woman. He stood still at the edge of the parking lot, the moon reflecting silver on the windscreens of the cars. Cars that were another of the ways humans had ruined the habitats of his race.

Humans, he snorted, as his front hooves scraped at the asphalt. He could feel the earth struggle to breathe beneath this hard crust.

He heard the woman gasp at the sound of his pawing. Her fear scent increased. The tip of his horn twinged briefly. It knew there would be blood soon. This was one way of righting the balance of nature.

Suddenly the woman stood. “Please don’t …” she begged.

Red Horn was pleased to see he ranked as she approached him.

“You started me,” she said brushing his mane with her hands. “I am the one who summoned you and yet when you appeared I was afraid.”

Her hands moved along his flanks, under his belly to dance briefly along his gentiles. “Most of all I was afraid of this.” she squeezed his testicles. “That it would be too large.”

The twinge moved down from the top of his horn. He knew she was ready. When the blood was willing it tasted better. He nuzzled her breasts and then let his lips open at her neck.

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Colloquium in the Round

This year’s Toronto SpecFic Colloquium was held at The ROUND in Kensington Market. Fending off being haunted, hunted by Walmart & other big box invaders this was the ideal setting for first presenter Wendy Gay Pearson’s: Unnatural Histories and Haunted Cities. She talked about how readers have to intuit the author’s intent as we put our own meaning into it at the same time. Keeping the ghost in its historic context is a challenge. The presentation was rather academic but avoided, what I call blinding academic syntax usage, so that anyone without a linguist degree could understand what was said. Next was Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Undisclosed Desires: V.C. Andrews and H. P. Lovecraft – a hefty title for a great presentation which didn’t really require a deep knowledge of either of the authors. Again we were reminded that the reader brings their own context to a novel which was why Andrews appealed more to teenage girls than boys.

carcar out of historical context

After a break was Christopher Golden, Guest of Honour: in a Q&A with Christopher Golden interviewed by Mark Askwith – Asked about one of his novels he said, in effect: ‘an idea starts, gets written but the idea is not enough – how to make it bigger – by adding disparate elements – what couldn’t happen? Try that first.’ The Q&A covered a wide range of issues – how history depends on the context of the the viewer, how gender & sexuality weighting slants history (most history books are hetero-male-normative). A great discussion.

carseatcar seats out of automotive context

After the lunch break things continued with Peter Watts: Faith and the Fitness Landscape: he talked about the functional utility of God: believers in something are healthier, live longer etc. A funny rapid fire presentation full of acute insights: ‘our sense of morality isn’t rational’, ‘we don’t like people who do the right things, but those who do what is normal.’

snowmansnowman coping with reality context

The last presenter I stayed for was Madeline Ashby: she talked about her experiences as a fanfic writer and the nature of that community – ‘the edge is in the people who don’t do it for the money.’ She also spoke about how the Internet has ended shame – once an online nude picture of you could end a career – now it is so common place no one cares. But I thought try telling that to the teenagers who have killed themselves as result of said pictures.

Throughout all the presenters the theme of unnatural histories was explored in various ways – often the conclusion was history is in the mind of the beholder – maybe I heard this as a thread as I’ve been writing so much about personal identity as also being something we are powerless over – who we are is in the eye of the beholder.

snow03pippi without context

The Round was an excellent venue, nice lunch specials. Sandra Kasturi hosted and did a great job keeping things running on time. Best of all I won a raffle prize of a big bag of books (Oh how I wish they had been ebooks on a thumb drive I could just drop in my pocket). Next Colloquium is March 7, 2015.

samples

Recent political event in Arizona came up a few times – people amazed the the NFL stepped up – during a lull I wrote this piece:

Arizona

in this defeated

for now

Arizona religious freedom act

there was no burden of proof

gay was in the eye of the beholder

the only recourse

for the innocent heterosexual

perceived as gay

was to pull out a gun

stand your ground and shoot

the beholder in self defence

because the only thing worse

than being who you are

is being perceived

as something you are not

bookstexts without context