Sunday was yet another day of too many amazing panels, from disability in SFF to diversity in the future to young adult fiction. Although I could not stick around for the Hugos or attend the final day of the con – have to work tomorrow, unfortunately – I still count this as a hugely successful weekend.
To everyone I finally met IRL, hi! To those I just met, I hope to see you again.
We Dressed Those Girls: Subverting Tropes or Reinforcing the Status Quo?
Kate Elliott, Jeannette Ng, Nilah Magruder, Marcela Davison Avilés, Saladin Ahmed
Due to a scheduling mishap, I missed the first third of this session. But the portion I did see was very interesting. Magruder brought up one of the challenges of deconstructing tropes being the chasm between authorial intent and audience interpretation. In one example she used movie characters who wear skimpy, objectifying outfits and the cosplayers who consider the clothing empowering. The other example she used was from Deadpool 2. In the movie a female character was fridged in the first few minutes then unfridged in the mid-credit sequence. A lot of thinkpieces came out afterwards talking about how it subverted the fridge trope, but then the writers admitted they’d never heard of fridging when they wrote the movie. As Magruder put it, “is it a subversion if you aren’t aware of the trope?”
The Future You Imagine Is the Future You Get
Kelly Robson, Rebecca Roanhorse, Mario Acevedo, Marc Johnson, Aaron Duran, Gideon Marcus
This and the next panel were spawned a lot of panel disagreement and debate. The divide here seemed to stem from those who insisted western ideals as progress – civilization, computerized technology, etc. – and those who pushed back on that. Acevedo brought up how dangerous NYC was back in the 1970s and 1980s and how hard the city worked to clean up its act to make it safe today. What he failed to mention was that Giuliani’s Broken Windows approach to crime drove mass incarceration of POC. In other words, he and basically everyone but Roanhorse, Robson, and Duran were willing to overlook suffering of marginalized communities for their version of western utopia. Marcus kept saying one person’s utopia is another person’s dystopia, but that sort of hand-waving undercuts POC and Indigenous experiences. Roanhorse also reminded the panelists that not only are Indigenous people already living a post-apocalyptic life, but they had plenty of technology before colonizers showed up.
This panel also showed the hazards of an audience who can’t tell the difference between a comment and a question. Fucking hell. If whatever you have to say doesn’t start with Who, What, When, Where, or How and doesn’t end with a question mark then you best not raise your hand. I didn’t pay all this money to listen to your random-ass, long-winded opinions.
YA Vs Adult Fiction: Defining Boundaries
Fonda Lee, Miriam Weinberg, Fred Wiehe, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Katrina Archer, Sarah Rees Brennan
What is young adult fiction? To borrow an old quote, you know it when you see it. It’s the tone, the “age” of the book (not just the protagonist), voice and perspective, and who the target audience is. There’s often a sense of immediacy to YA, because for teens everything is new, overwhelming, and feels like the end of the world. Adult fiction often has a sense of distance. I can’t recall which panelist noted this but YA looks at what’s happening right now and adult fiction looks back with more perspective.
We Will Survive: Diversity in Sci-Fi and Post-Apocalyptic Stories
Charlie Jane Anders, Elsa Sjunneson-Henry, Rebecca Roanhorse, Leslie Light, Aaron Duran
A whole panel with no white men! Do you know how rare that is, especially at a geek con? I nearly died from over-excitement. You don’t even know. Roanhorse again pushed back against western narratives of expansion, colonialism, and the rugged individual “taming” the wilderness. Sjunneson-Henry reminded us that if we’re writing cyberpunk that doesn’t take disability into consideration, we’re doing it wrong. Cyberpunk is all about body modification, and disabled people often have enhancements, such as her hearing aid that connects to an app on her phone through bluetooth.
There were a ton of recommendations here: A Quiet Place (movie), Bitch Planet (comic) Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation, Finding Home: Community in Apocalyptic Worlds, Defying Doomsday, Broken Earth series by NK Jemisin, Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson, and Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse.
Disability In the Future
Kelly Robson, Elsa Sjunneson-Henry, Ada Palmer, Suzanne Walker
The best word to describe this panel is enlightening. The panelists had a fantastic discussion on tech, disability, and pain. Many of the technological tools that able-bodied people think of as convenient, like self-driving cars and smart homes, actually offer disabled people the opportunity to live independently, as Sjunneson-Henry noted. She and Walker emphasized that future technology cannot operate from a position of curing or fixing disability but on making life easier for disabled people. Palmer also brought up the idea that our very definition of disability will change along with technology. In the previous panel, Sjunneson-Henry said our current definition of disability as whether or not someone is capable of working came about during the Industrial Revolution, and Palmer took that one step further. She gave an example of a future tech that interfaced with a part of the brain commonly associated with being tone deaf. Today, being tone deaf is inconvenient but not considered a disability, but if in the future a person couldn’t use this new, socially prevalent device then they would be considered disabled. I couldn’t have picked a better panel to close out my 2018 WorldCon weekend.
Fonda Lee, Rebecca Roanhorse, Sarah Kuhn, Rivers Solomon
4 thoughts on “WorldCon 76 – Day 4”
Thank you for your con report! I’d love to discuss this topic further. I felt the venue was not well-suited to the discussion:
“Marcus kept saying one person’s utopia is another person’s dystopia, but that sort of hand-waving undercuts POC and Indigenous experiences.”
I was trying to make the opposite point. I was agreeing with Rebecca — for things to get “better” for some people, they often get worse for others. The mass availability of food, communication, and other desirable commodities comes at a price. A price to the environment, a price to non-majority cultures, a human price in the production process (suffering of laborers). Deciding what price is to be paid to sustain our culture is something we all should have a say in, and I don’t think a true utopia can exist without ensuring that the marginalized are fully represented and respected (and, thus, aren’t marginalized anymore!)
“[Acevedo] and basically everyone but Roanhorse, Robson, and Duran were willing to overlook suffering of marginalized communities for their version of western utopia.”
Oh dear. I hope that’s not what I conveyed, and if so, I apologize. I am absolutely not willing to overlook the suffering of marginalized peoples (and the pallor of my skin aside, I personally intersect in several marginalized identities). In fact, I’ve made it my mission to ensure that authors of marginalized background (women, queer, PoC) are not overlooked.
I did say that there is no way to sustain seven billion people on this planet without computerized society. It’s simply impossible. I make no judgments as to the value of such a society.
I would be very interested to know what utopia means to you, and if you think it can be achieved.
(this question meant in utmost sincerity — I would love to have a conversation on this tough topic!)
I appreciate your clarifications! To me, the panel felt somewhat contentious. I don’t know how anyone else interpreted it, however. This was my personal take. Intent versus impact, I guess.
I will add that you’re right that we can’t sustain 7bill people without computers – but that’s only from a western colonial perspective. Plenty of Indigenous cultures thrived and continue to thrive without a reliance on computers. Hell, ancient cultures weren’t generally brought down by a lack of advanced tech but by bureaucratic corruption or climate change. The societies that was to keep their smart phones will need computers, yes. But that isn’t the only way to sustain life, IMO.
Thanks so much for your reply! 🙂
There is no question that humanity once made do without reliance on computers or any level of technology at all. I make no judgments as to the relative value of non-industrial cultures — They may well be happier/more fulfilled/more able to actualize than ones dependent on industrial technology.
But the density of population a non-industrial culture can physically maintain is very low. The current population of the Earth is simply unsustainable without computerized technology.
I don’t mean smart phones (though don’t fall into the trap of calling them “luxuries” — for many, it’s the only computer that can be afforded, and absolutely vital to existence: for work, and more).
I mean basic infrastructure. If all computers ceased to work tomorrow, millions would die. Perhaps billions, ultimately. Including indigenous peoples; there’s no such thing as an unconnected culture on this planet anymore.
Finally, I think the term “western colonial” needs to be used advisedly. Science and technology are not owned by the west. Asia, alone, has four and a half billion people in it, more than half the world’s population, and their non-western lifestyles demand an advanced technology network to maintain them.
Again, this is not a matter of better cultures or worse cultures. Technology comes with trade-offs. But at the present time, were a non-industrial paradigm to obtain, billions would die. I don’t think that’s an acceptable path to any definition of utopia.
And that’s what I was trying to say. 🙂
Alright, well, you’ve clarified your point. Thanks again.