Day 3, Cont'd
Despite the late hour and the fact it competed with fireworks, our It's A Disaster! panel was well attended, and I quite enjoyed it. The panelists all came from different backgrounds: medicine (H.G. Strattman), popular culture (Laurie Man), journalism (Daniel Grotta, author of J.R.R. Tolkien, Architect of Middle-Earth), and intellectual history (me). We, along with the audience, discussed how disaster films can alternately entertain, provide morality lessons, warn and critique, and sometimes even affect policy (as in the case of Fail-Safe), as well as provide key insights into the fears of a given people and time. The lesser-known but fascinating film Testament came up repeatedly, as did more mainstream blockbusters, and the book and film versions of Children of Men were contrasted to show how each captured the (different) concerns of a decade. Grotta pointed out how the advent of 24/7 televised media has contributed to the sensationalizing of news, which in turn casts issues in ever more catastrophic terms. I found the discussion to be thought-provoking, and it was especially nice to get to meet gloriana in person at last!
Who knew Neil Gaiman would link to my blog? As they used to say in You Can't Do That On Television, it must be time for the Opposite Sketches...!
Sunday was a bit of a blur for me. I met some interesting people and had some great discussions, but the day seemed dominated by my panel Eh? The Revival of Audio Science Fiction, my academic presentation as part of the Apocalypse and Dystopia panel, and, of course, the Hugo Awards.
I was very pleased to be part of the Eh? The Revival of Audio Science Fiction panel, which also included Joe Mahoney of the Canadian Broadcast Company, John Grace from Brilliance Audio, authors Tobias Buckell (Hugo nominee for the audiobook Metatropolis) and Robert Wiersema, and audio SF enthusiast and moderator Nicki Lynch. The discussion was wide-ranging, but several key questions repeatedly emerged, including the issue of digital rights management and its challengers/alternatives, the kindship and differences between audio dramas and narrations, the role of radio in this new audio landscape, and the strengths and limitations of podcasting. There was a strong consensus that the field of audio SF, only recently so imperiled, will continue to thrive and diversify for some time to come.
The attendance at the Apocalypse and Dystopia program (which was organized as three separate but thematically linked presentations) far exceeded my expectations. Allan Weiss of York University presented "The Three Faces of Apocalyptic Science Fiction" (outlining a chronology of what he termed moral, amoral, and immoral apocalypses), I presented "Anticipating Worlds Gone Wrong: Contemporary Young Adult Dystopias," and then Thom Bryce (also of York University) presented "Under His Eye: Technology, Methods of Surveillance, and the Regulation of Bodies in Orwell and Atwood" (which gave me some great ideas about how to draw in Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale next month when I'm scheduled to lead a seminar on Yevgeny Zamyatin's classic dystopia We). The discussion that followed actually spilled over well into the next time slot, and I came away with very useful notes, so I count that as a success!
By the time that was concluded, people were already lining up for the Hugo Awards ceremony, so I joined the queue. Everyone who attends WorldCon may attend the event, so that was approximately 4,000 people, and by the time we'd all found seats, the place was packed. The ceremony was scheduled to take an hour, but it lasted more like an hour and forty minutes, and I had a fantastic time. By now most everyone probably knows who won the awards; I must say, I was particularly thrilled that the revived and reenergized Weird Tales was recognized, that Joss Whedon's little online experiment that could, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog won, and that Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book took home top honors. Little Brother was a close second for me, and both books will be turning up in my classes this year, but I really do think The Graveyard Book is exceptional. I'm glad I got to see it win.
It also occurred to me that there are many important reasons why the Hugo Awards ceremony is better than the Academy Awards ceremony. For one, you can wear Birkenstocks to the Hugos. (I did - very classy ones, mind, and a dress. But still.) For another, you can eat an ice cream cone during the Hugos. (A little boy in front of me did.) If you know the lines to the dramatic works that were nominated - and, of course, we all did - you can speak (or sing, in the case of the "Bad Horse Chorus") along with the clips, and even finish the truncated sentences when the A/V system goes wonky. Nominees need not be "players" - some of the more infamously reclusive of them not only didn't come, but also didn't send acceptance speeches via representatives in the event that they won. Rather than being strange, it's kind of cool. (Neal Stephenson, for the record, did show up just for the ceremony.) Perhaps most importantly, most of the fans are pros, and it seems all of the pros are fans, so it's really impossible to ask people to hold their applause at any point in the event - the emcees tried it once and immediately gave it up as a bad job.
“I’ve always liked the idea of a special Hugo to be awarded (by force, perhaps) to literary authors who write books dripping with themes filleted from mainstream SF and then deny that it’s science fiction ‘because it’s not about robots and spaceships’.”
– Terry Pratchett