Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Deep Magic of Readercon

I’ve been fortunate enough to attend this past World Fantasy Convention as well as the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts. It wouldn’t be complete, I figured, without attending my first Readercon as well. I wasn’t wrong. After a particularly hellish plane ride that somehow lasted all day,  I was rescued from the airport, and a very expensive cab ride, by horror writers Bear Weiter and Steven Searce. I made it in time to catch a quick panel and then a late dinner with Maria Dahvana Headley, whose novel The Queen of Kings I had the fortune to review earlier this year. The following days were of panels and readings, yes, but also of tapping into that special community that these cons are known for.

Since I was finishing up an interview with China Miéville, it seemed only fitting to attend “The Literature of Estrangement,” (Christopher Brown, Lila Garrott, Greer Giman, Anil Menon, Jeff VanderMeer, Paul Witcover), which looked at how the drives between recognition and the strange play out in much fiction today. I really appreciated Chris Brown’s comment that this kind of estrangement always has a function—to give us new eyes with which to break us out of the mundane and the isolation which often numbs us.  It was then on to a engaging discussion lead by Maria Dahvana Headley about whether literature can lead to any kind of mass social change (“Uncle Sam Wants You to Write Better Books”—Rick Bowes, Barry B. Longyear, Paulo Di Filippo, Paul Park).

In “A Story From Scratch,” I got to see the wonderful Kyle Kassidy photograph a mobster story, Dismembrance, (fingers were indeed lost) that had been written by Elizabeth Bear and Michael Swanwick over the course of Readercon, with Lee Moyer creating the cover art. They read the story on the final day and gave slideshow presentation of Kyle’s photographs. Fabulous.

Speaking of stories, Kit Reed, Ben Loory, Rick Wilbur and Maria Dahvana Headley had made pact to each write a story about their trip while on their way to Mt. Palomar last November (during World Fantasy in San Diego). I remember a whir of feral girl scouts, a moving observatory, a doorknob made of purple glass, which, if you looked into it, you could see the surface of Mars, and a baseball star turned spy. I will be looking for all four stories in print soon, since they were lovely and haunted (and most, unfinished). I later got to hear Maria read part of her work, "Ossifer Bone," which reminded me, for its gothic grotesqueness, of Joyce Carol Oates' “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been.” I sadly didn’t get to hear Ben Loory read, but I did get a copy of Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day, which I can’t wait to review.

At some point, I went to the "Pointed Experiments in Indeterminacy” (say that three times fast) with Michael Cisco, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Peter Dube, Sonya Taaffe and Peter Straub (my bowtie hero although he was bow-tie-less during the con). I adore Peter Straub for bringing up both Lacan and Freud, whose theories I often use in my grotesque classes and who map the fragmentary psychology we so often believe is whole. “Horizontal Genre Transfer” with John Clute, James Patrick Kelly, Bradford Morrow, Kit Reed, Veronica Schanoes, and Peter Straub looked at a similar kind of in-between-ness regarding genre.

But besides all the great panels and discussions are the friendships I always find myself forming, or deepening, at these conventions. Academic conferences analyze the use of magic and wizardry in stories, but at WFC, ICFA and Readercon, you hang out with the people that create the magic. There is deep, deep love in this community. I saw it when we heard that Neil Clarke had suffered a heart attack, and people rallied around him. Others were going through a very hard time with other matters, and here they were loved, and hugged, and encouraged.

And me? I still didn’t have a place to stay for the bulk of my time in NYC, and I was still trying to figure out how to get from Boston to Brooklyn when Katherine Spendill found me a ride with Rajan Khanna, Matthew Kressel, Ellen Datlow, and Rick Bowes (excellent car mates). She also introduced me to new Tor author David Edison, who promptly offered me a room to stay in. All within the space of about an hour or two. No, Readercon isn’t Narnia, but I have a feeling it runs on the same stuff.

By Nancy Hightower