Loscon 35
November 28-30 2008, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Loscon

Science Fiction and Fantasy Panels

ALIENS BEYOND PROBABILITY Some fictional creatures are just too fictional to exist. What are some of the more outlandish and improbable aliens and mythical creatures you’ve read about or seen in the media?

ALTERNATE HISTORIES IN REALITY Science fiction is filled with “alternate histories”. But so are history books. “History is written by the victors,” wrote Machiavelli. Time does its part for re-writing history, too. Alternate histories abound. Think American Indians were noblemen of the plains who all lived in harmony with the land? Guess again. Then there’s Disney’s version of Pocahontas. And don’t forget Shakespeare’s rewriting of Richard III.

ARE THERE TOO MANY CATS IN SCIENCE FICTION? Cats seem to be everywhere. Science Fiction. Fantasy. There are entire anthologies of cat stories. And not just in our genre. Romances and Mysteries have more than their share of cat tales as well. Are dogs anywhere to be seen? Why is literature so catty?

BEST OF SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY FOR CHILDREN & YOUNG ADULTS Finding the perfect science fiction or fantasy novel for your child, niece, or nephew.

BEYOND HARRY POTTER What books would interest kids (or adults) who enjoyed Harry Potter? For many, Harry was the first fantasy they read. Why has it drawn so many and where can they go now?

BOOKS THAT CHANGED MY LIFE Some books have a profound effect on people. Come hear from our panelists which books had a major effect on them and share your own stories.

BOOKS THAT SHOULD BE FILMED Everyone talks about what has been filmed. Here is a discussion of works that haven’t been filmed but should be. What should you look for to make a good film? What won’t translate from the printed word to the visual media? Why haven’t these works been made?

CHILDREN’S FANTASY What is children’s fantasy? How does it compare with “adult” works? Does a work ever crossover between the two areas and what does it take to do it?

By Arthur C. Clarke. The city of Diaspar has lasted at least a million years. Everyone in the city has lived many times before. Except Alvin, who unlike anyone else in the city has never lived before. Come discuss his world, his life, and what he finds. And what made this book a Classic of Science Fiction.

By Isaac Asimov. In keeping with Loscon’s Roman theme, these adventures are set in the decline of a great empire, this one galactic. Asimov knew Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and cracked that he had “done a little cribbin’ from the work of Mr. Gibbon”. But ideas are easy. What makes this a true classic?

By Algis Budrys. Probably his most famous book, Budrys wanted to call it The Death Machine. It has love and learning, death and determination; as Nabakov elsewhere said, “the precision of poetry and the passion of science”. Unlike our other two “classics”, this one isn’t written by one the Great Names of Science Fiction yet it still qualifies as a classic of the genre. Come talk about why.

THE CONTRACT BETWEEN READER AND WRITER An arrangement of convenience? How can we define the process, and what does each partner bring to it?

CREATING BELIEVABLE ALIENS There’s little that’s more annoying then to be reading a good SF story and to come across an alien that’s either `just a guy in a suit’ or too far from what evolution and the laws of physics would allow to be believed. So what does it take to create a believable alien?

DO WE NEED A NEW DEFINITION OF LITERACY? In the next ten years, what will the word “literacy” mean? Can you truly be literate in tomorrow’s society if you can’t use a computer? Are computer icons replacing the need to read? What’s the future of libraries and bookstores?

DOES HARD SF HAVE TO BE DRY? Some people feel that “seeing all the rivets” is what makes science fiction good. But does it make Hard SF too stiff? Are there interesting characters in Hard SF books? Can they have the action of an old-fashioned sword-and-starship swashbuckler and still be good?

FANTASY - HOW CAN IT BE GOOD? To a lot of hard SF readers, fantasy stories are those where the authors don’t have to be consistent — it works because it’s magic. But good fantasy is consistent, within each world’s own rules. What are the rules and the restrictions for writing a “good” fantasy?

FANTASY DOESN’T HAVE TO BE ABOUT KINGS AND WIZARDS Well, does it? It seems like 100% of fantasy is set in medieval worlds with wizards and dragons and witches and elves and things. What other kinds of fantasy are there?

FANTASY ON TELEVISION Spooks and ghosts and things that go bump in the night. Has there ever been so much fantasy on television? And such successful shows, too. Buffy and Angel were fantasy shows and while they had definite followings, they weren’t the hits that Medium and Ghost Whisperer are. Why are they so successful?

FICTION 2008 High Fantasy. Hard Science Fiction. Dark Fantasy. Squishy Science Fiction. Some of science fiction’s most outspoken reviewers give their opinions on what was worth reading.

FORGOTTEN FAVORITES OF CHILDHOOD What books and stories do you remember best from childhood? Our panelists talk about their favorites and ask about yours.

FUTURE TRENDS IN SCIENCE FICTION Not long ago, we were awash in Splatterpunks, Cyberpunks, and even Steampunks. What happened to those SF literary movements? What’s the next trend?

THE GOLDEN AGE OF SCIENCE FICTION IS 12 A classic saying within the world of science fiction. Is it true? Is that the age when you’ll really develop a sense of wonder? Is it a good thing or bad? And what does it say for science fiction in general?

GOOD ENDINGS Writing is hard. There’s lots of work, lots of thought that goes into every sentence. But no matter how good your story is, how compelling your characters are, if your ending falls flat, so does everything else. How do you make your ending work?

GREAT FIRST LINES There’s nothing like them for hooking a reader. “Call me Ishmael.” “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” “Lessa woke, cold.” “His followers called him Mahasamatman and said he was a god.” “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” “Once upon a time there was a Martian named Valentine Michael Smith.” What are some of your favorites? And can you do anything special to force a great first line or do they just happen?

Loscon’s Writer Guest of Honor John Scalzi hops onto the stage for a free-wheeling Q&A session about everything and (most) anything, from his Hugo-nominated works of science fiction to his having been an in-house writer for AOL and, perhaps, even about taping bacon to a cat.

GUILTY PLEASURES Here are activities that give us great personal pleasure but somehow, down deep inside, we’re just a bit ashamed to admit that we like the Smurfs… or bowling… or mud wrestling. Hear people reveal their Guilty Pleasures and why they indulge.

H.G. WELLS AND THE BIRTH OF SCIENCE FICTION Sure, Verne was before him and there were others around the same time, but the popularity and acceptance of his “scientific romances” makes a strong case for his being the father of the form. Come hear about The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, and First Men in the Moon, and about his lesser-known works like The War in the Air and Tono Bungay.

HARD FANTASY Is there such a thing as “hard” fantasy, like “hard” science fiction? Is it just a matter of research or better world building? What does it take to make a fantasy “hardcore”? Who’s writing hard fantasy, what is it, and how does it work?

I’LL PULL OUT YOUR EYESTALKS AND STOMP ON THEM Science fiction has become more permissive over the years, as has most other media and genres. But are we now too violent? Is there anything wrong with violence as a theme? Should I punch out your lights if you disagree?

IN DEFENSE OF ESCAPIST LITERATURE 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?

IS “REALISTIC FANTASY” AN OXYMORON? What does it take to create “real” fantasy? Are there rules in a universe run by magic? How do you build a fantasy world?

LITERACY & SCIENCE FICTION There was a lot of fuss made about the sales of the Harry Potter books and what it said for children’s literacy and reading. Did it encourage kids to read? Will it have any long term positive effects? What can we do to encourage reading?

LITERARY VS. MEDIA SF Why the feud? Can’t we all just get along?

A LOOK AT PAST FUTURES Science fiction has always been a medium for prediction: what will the future be like. Well, gang, the future’s here. What did the science fiction of the ’30s - ’70s say about the turn of the century? Were they accurate at all? Which predictions do we wish would come true? Which are we glad haven’t come to pass?

MARS IN FICTION A discussion of the tradition of Mars exploration stories in SF, exploring the evolution of the sub-genre from its planetary romance roots to the current hard SF mission-to-Mars stories.

MILITARY TACTICS IN SCIENCE FICTION Many science fiction stories have a military background. Heinlein, Dickson, Pournelle, and many others have used space-faring soldiers as the centers of their stories. But how would those tactics work in “real life”? Who gets it right? What should be done better?

MISTAKES FUTURE HISTORIANS WILL MAKE ABOUT OUR TIME If we were to read a story written in the 23rd Century but set in our time, what might we find wrong with it?

MYSTERIES & SCIENCE FICTION Lots of science fiction writers also write mysteries: Vance, Brackett, Kuttner, Boucher. Some, like Niven, have written science fiction mysteries. Is there something inherently linking the two genres or is it just wide-ranging tastes and interests?

NEW SF & FANTASY FOR KIDS AND TEENS We all know about Narnia and Heinlein juveniles. But what else is out there? What’s new that we might not know about?

NOVELIZATIONS & TIE-INS Writers of TV and Film adaptations and spin-offs discuss the process of going from screen to the printed page and the challenges of bringing their creativity to these works, the secrets for making them good, and more.

OVERLOOKED BOOKS & OVERRATED NOVELS For some reason, some terrific books just don’t sell. Nobody’s ever heard of them. Others are taught in college as classics of the field, but no one can understand why. Our panelists let you in on some unknown classics you shouldn’t miss while they dismiss some lofty `classics’.

PAGE 119 Can you really tell if a book is good by randomly opening it and reading a page or two? Our panelists will read selected works aloud and let the audience decide if it was any good. Then they’ll reveal what it was they were reading from. Oops.

PARANORMAL ROMANCES It used to be easy. This book was in that genre; this book was in this other genre. Now the lines aren’t so clear. There seems to be a boom in romance novels and stories involving the paranormal, fantasy, and SF. Why is this area booming? Are romance readers looking for more? Or are the SF fans looking for romance? Or are the readers coming equally from all camps? And what does it take to make one of these work? Hear all about it from some of the people writing them.

PARODY, PASTICHE, AND HUMOR There’s a time and place for everything. Or is there? Does humor have a place in modern fiction? Can there ever be too much?

POLITICS & SCIENCE FICTION Which political ideologies from science fiction novels could and/or do work in real life? Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress or Starship Troopers? Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaids Tale? The whole Star Trek universe?

RACE & RACISM IN SCIENCE FICTION Why is science fiction so white? The characters seem almost all to be Caucasian or Alien. Is this simply because so many of the writers are white? (And why is that?) Or are there marketing concerns at work? Should we care whether Kimball Kinnison or Teela Brown is Black, White or Hispanic?

RELIGION IN SF BOOKS & MOVIES Religion is frequently ignored in science fiction and fantasy. But sometimes it isn’t. How is it treated? Do we see standard Earth religions or all-new ones? Or ones that just think they’re all new? Some authors seem to think that, come the future, all people will just abandon their religious beliefs. Does that seem likely?

SCIENCE FICTION POETRY What is it? Is there a market for it? How do you start?

THE SLYTHERIN QUESTION J.K. Rowling paints a negative picture of Slytherin House, its principles, and its students. Why would Hogwarts even have a house for teaching evil wizards? Isn’t putting them together likely to end up just reinforcing their evil ways? Or will the final book in the Harry Potter series show us, somehow, that these characters aren’t, um, lost to the dark side?

STYLE VS. SUBSTANCE Is science fiction becoming too concerned about literary style at the expense of storytelling?

THEATER, FANTASY, AND SCIENCE FICTION A discussion of fantasy and science fiction plays, today and through history.

VAMPIRES IN LITERATURE - HORROR VS. HEROIC Vampires are making a resurgence. And not just with the usual horror readers. They’ve gone mainstream, with some tales of vampirism reaching the bestseller lists. But what about the books that cast a different light (you should excuse the expression) on vampires, as heroes with bad press?

WHAT IS A “YOUNG ADULT” NOVEL? Young Adult is a popular category. But why are some stories about sex, drugs, blood, death, and sex considered Y.A.? Who’s reading Y.A. novels, and why?

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE “SCIENCE” IN SCIENCE FICTION? SF once was primarily a written medium which inspired countless young people to seek careers as engineers, scientists, and astronauts at NASA and in the aerospace industry. Today, SF covers a broad range of media, and many of its most well-known incarnations — e.g. Star Wars — present the visual window-dressing of science fiction without attempting to ground it in anything resembling science fact. Does contemporary science fiction still inspire young people to have science and engineering careers?

WHICH 10 BOOKS… Which ten books would you want to take with you to a desert island? How about give to someone who says they don’t like science fiction or fantasy? Give to a new reader?

WHY DOESN’T SF SEEM TO LAST ON TV? Fantasy shows like Medium and Ghost Whisperer are big hits. Why didn’t Surface, Threshold, or Invasion do as well? Is there a mainstream audience for television science fiction?

WHY IS SCIENCE FICTION SO WHITE? An exploration of minorities in Science Fiction, both the writers and their characters.

WOMEN IN SCIENCE IN SCIENCE FICTION Women scientists have featured prominently in many science fiction stories. Panelists talk about the image of women in science fiction stories, from the classics to today. How accurate are the depictions? And are these women scientists really scientists or just secretaries in lab coats?

THE WORST IDEAS IN FANTASY OR SCIENCE FICTION We’re always hearing the science fiction is a literature of ideas. And that this or that was a great idea. What just didn’t work? What seemed like a good idea at the time but…

WRITERS & ILLUSTRATORS OF THE FUTURE The Writers of the Future contest has been going on for several years and many budding SF and fantasy writers have entered, won, and gone on to make professional sales. Now there’s a new contest for Illustrators. How do go about entering these contests and why should you enter?