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Reflections on Continuum 2018

I have just wrapped up my first ever Continuum weekend.

I had a great time, caught up with some people I knew and got to know them better, met some new and interesting people, and sat in or on some fascinating panels about Speculative Fiction which catered to both craft and to fandom.

“This Panel is its own Grandfather”. A discussion of time travel, excellently moderated by Marlee-Jane Ward, and featuring (L-R) Corey J White, me, Darren/Lexie and Thalia Kalkipsakis.         Photo Credit to Sophie Y (@Smoph)

The con started with a real commitment to making itself a welcoming place to all comers. There were colour-coded pegs available so people could indicate whether they were actively seeking to meet new people, or if they preferred to avoid new social contact. The membership name-tags had a space to indicate your preferred pronouns and the toilets on one level were gender neutral. The con organisers made the code of conduct explicit and clear and gave people a variety of ways to report when con-goers might have violated that code. They had also deliberately tried to minimise waste, using digital rather than print wherever possible and ensuring that the name-tags were recyclable. I thought each of these little efforts went a long way to establishing the tone of the con.

Probably best that I leave it to others to judge the success of the panels I sat on, but for my part I really enjoyed The Good Place panel on Friday night, and filled the role of Chidi as best I could.  On Saturday the Speculative Ethics panel which I had proposed ran to a packed room and the immediate feedback from those in the audience who sought me out afterwards was very positive. Sunday’s time-travel panel was great fun and I learnt a lot about different kinds of time-travel stories which I’m adding to an ever-expanding reading list. On Monday I moderated the panel on Speculative Detectives, and got yet more reading recommendations and enjoyed the discussion about why detectives are so enduring in genre fiction.

My top-3 highlights as a guest:

I enjoyed the Zombie Politics panel discussion. Pete Aldin and Rjurik Davidson had some interesting perspectives on why audiences are so attracted to zombie fiction, and how the symbolism of zombies has changed over time. Julia (I’m sorry but I didn’t catch her surname) made a great point about the origins of zombies, their links to slavery, and what these stories have to say about our fear of losing agency of our own bodies. I was particularly interested in exploring how these undead figures might represent our political fears, and that’s probably something I will explore in more detail to come.

The panel on mental health in Spec Fic also had a lot of interesting things to say about how mental health conditions are represented in fiction, and the difference between good rep and damaging rep. As recent events continue to show us, mental health is a huge issue facing (in particular) the western world and I think it’s great to see efforts to remove some of the historical stigma and have a meaningful conversation about these conditions.

The Sunday night panel on Secondary Worlds Sans Magic was relevant to my own writing, and it was great to see other authors and readers exploring the concept of Fantasy stories which don’t have wizards and sorcerers and spells. The debate really centred around whether magic was essential to the Fantasy genre, or whether these magic-less world s were a different genre entirely. Mostly the panel agreed that non-magic worlds could still be Fantasy, but I was particularly interested how ‘magic’ could be defined. I wondered if N.K. Jemisin’s ‘Orogeny’ was magic, or China Mieville’s ‘thaumaturgy’. It is a well-known quote that ‘any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’, but I wondered if perhaps the reverse was true: is any sufficiently well-studied magic indistinguishable from technology?

So overall, an excellent weekend and plenty within it to have fueled my creative fires. I added about 1,000 words to the WiP over the course of the weekend and I’m about to go back to it this evening and have another crack at it in earnest. I think it’s not too far away from beta-reader stage and I’m sure it will be better for incorporating some of the ideas and inspirations I’ve gotten out of the weekend.

Thanks to all the organisers, panelists and guests for making it such a great con.

 

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Continuum 2018

This weekend I’ll be at my home-town Speculative Fiction Conference, Continuum. I’ll be in the audience for a whole lot of really interesting panels (you can see the whole program here) and probably throwing out a whole lot of tweets using the official hashtag #Con14 (this being the 14th Continuum Conference).

Continuum

I’ll also be on four panels, one each day:

Friday: Welcome! Everything is Fine
From 9:30pm Cecilia Quirk, Corey J. White, Natalie Haigh and I will be discussing The Good Place. We’ll explore comedy afterlives, ethics in popular fiction, moral philosophy and puns.
The good news here is that you can join in even if you’re not a member of the convention, as the Friday panels are open for people to come in and dip their toe in the water (for a small contribution. About $5 I think?)

Saturday: Speculative Ethics
From 3pm, Laura Wilkinson, Tania Walker, Sam Kiss and I will explore the connections between Spec Fic and questions of ethics and morality.
Whether this is the battle between good and evil on Pelennor Fields, the Prime Directive of the Federation, or T’Challa’s decision for the future of Wakanda, Fantasy and Science Fiction have often raised difficult questions about what it means to be good, the obligations we have to each other and the implications which arise from our moral beliefs. As readers and viewers, we make moral decisions about these stories: Who ought sit on the Iron Throne of Westeros? Should we be Team Cap or Team Iron Man? Can I justify post-apocalyptic murder?

Sunday: This Panel is its Own Grandfather
From 4pm, Corey J. White, Lexie (Darren), Marlee Jane Ward, Thalia Kalkipsakis and I will be talking about time travel: the good, the bad, the paradoxical. The works that exist, and the works that have not yet been released in this timestream.

Monday: Speculative Detectives
From 11am, I’ll be moderating the panel of Devin Jeyathurai, Kat CLay, Narrelle M. Harris, and Robert Hood
We’ll consider shows and books like the Expanse and Altered Carbon, where the cross-genre detective is making a comeback in a big way. Why is it so easy to mash-up the detective story with speculative fiction? And what makes a great genre-bending detective? These fans and authors discuss where these pulpy detectives come from, the best (and worst) stories and how to write one without falling into the trope traps of hardboiled PI meets femme fatale.

If you’re going to be at Continuum too I’d love to meet you. Come up and have a chat, especially if it’s your first Con. I’m always keen to meet people in the Speculative Fiction field and hopefully I can help people feel welcome and included in our shared interests.