Worldcon: Sunday

by , under expeditions, life

It didn’t feel much like Sunday, but at some point I said “it must be Sunday, I’m going to a panel about religion!”

On the tram I sat next to two teenage girls speaking Irish, which made me realise where the “Irish lilt” in English comes from: the speech melody was exactly the same, though of course I couldn’t understand a word.

I signed up for Sara Uckelman’s beer-with-the-author, as number 2 of a potential 10. This was at the same time as the Hugos, so I didn’t expect it to be wildly popular (also Sara isn’t very well known), but it was still nice to be on the list.

Another three-way clash, and I tooted this:

Hm, do I try for the fun panel (portal fantasy) or the instructive one (archaeology) or the useful one (literary blind spots)? Or do I assume I’ll be too late for the 10am panel and aim at the 11am one that most interests me (lack of technological progress in fantasy)?

Eventually I went with the flow and ended up being herded into a panel room by CCD staff, who addressed two femme-presenting adult humans as “you girls”. It would probably have been a waste of effort to try educating them.

Down the rabbit hole: the appeal of portal fantasy

I had such high hopes of this but I wish I’d gone to “Writing past our literary blind spots” instead, like Roommate and Friend and Other Friend. Seanan McGuire was the first on the panel, and very entertaining on her own, but then the panel proper started and it was so disappointing. Not much about the actual appeal of portal fantasy, but lots of “yes, this unlikely thing happens to be a portal fantasy too” without any exploring as to why. Also I was at the back of the room so I couldn’t see the panellists, and two of the four (and of course the ones with indistinct voices to start with) didn’t use the microphones properly. I didn’t even attempt to take notes because it was hard enough to merely understand what was being said, let alone process it and extract note-down-able phrases.

Then, of course, I was too late for “The lack of technological progress in fantasy”, so I went for a late second breakfast or early lunch. I managed to eat an entire wrap and answer a (siilly, and meant that way) survey while in line for coffee.

Gods, religion and atheism in the genre

Wow, Naomi Kritzer is such a wonderful no-nonsense person. Too bad that she was the moderator so she didn’t get to say much herself, though she did say a few much-to-the-point things.

First a bit of inventory-taking, mostly in universes I wasn’t conversant with:
Dragonage games have gods
Pokémon Go is a Shinto witch world

Naomi Kritzer: is there a difference between atheist worldbuilding and worldbuilding where religion is simply absent?
Derwin Mak: explicitly atheist takes as much work as explicitly religious
Dominic Riemenschneider: in fantasy you sort of have to have religion but it isn’t really part of the worldbuilding, it’s just there but doesn’t play a role
(I don’t think that’s necessarily true, by the way. It’s very much part of the worldbuilding if that’s done well, it seeps through the whole world.)

Ehud Maimon: atheism has to have something to push against, no religion doesn’t necessarily mean atheism
Meg MacDonald: Star Trek episode with false gods (Who mourns for Adonais?), implies that there are real gods

EM: nationalism, the secular religion

NK: asks about Spirited Away
DM: purification ritual in the bath-house
All creatures in Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke are kami
Pokémon is an electrical kami
Sailor Moon: religion is always there, in the background

NK (grew up Jewish) read the entire Narnia series and didn’t realize until the end of the last book that it’s Christian allegory

Battlestar Galactica: weird Mormon imagery

Most settings with more than one god have lots of gods, but only one Satan

Lois McMaster Bujold: What would religion that wasn’t dualistic look like
(in the Curse of Chalion series)
5 gods: Father, Mother, Daughter, Son and Bastard
Role of the bastard: keep the religion dynamic
The gods can only work through (willing) humans

Indecent theology
The queer god
(don’t know what those were about, leaving it in in case I remember)

“in our direst need, the smallest gifts” (from the Chalion books too)

NK: If we ever meet aliens and they have a religion there’ll definitely be humans who want to convert to it

DR: East Germany is the most atheistic region in the world
art history student: who is the guy on the cross

Me: (only time I actually asked a question on a panel): (straight from the panel description) Is it possible for atheism to exist in worlds where gods literally walk among the people?
Answer: (don’t recall who gave it): Terry Pratchett.
(And they were right, of course.)

Recommendations: Third Eye trilogy: all the characters are Hindu deities (at least I think it’s this one, it’s got reincarnated characters but the blurb or reviews don’t talk about Hindu deities)
Crazy Rich Asians
Anne Stevens, Godblind (too bad it’s grimdark so I think I’ll pass on this one)

Neurodiversity and extraordinary powers in SFF

Er, I went for the name of the panel, because I was waiting for the extraordinary powers to show up! But the longer description was spot-on: it was all about representation. Most people on the panel were on the ADHD spectrum, only Mikko Rauhala (who I don’t seem to have quoted) was autistic.

Elsa Sjunneson-Henry turned up with a very cute service dog. It sat gnawing its paws for a while, then she beckoned it under the table where it made a clearly dog-shaped bulge in the tablecloth.

Terri Ash: the Vulcans are coded autistic

Sherlock Holmes

Shweta Adhyam: if you don’t name the condition it still can’t do all the work of representation

ESH: othering my experience by making it non-human
SA: “aliening”
TA: it takes neurodiversity into the fantastic racism tropes, which is not a good place to be

ESH: how do we do it in a setting that has no words for it?
(I don’t remember any answers to that question. It makes no difference for my own writing, because I’m not trying to do explicit representation, only to have a world with all sorts as a matter of course)

Changeling myths

Physical conditions “pass through the portal”, you can have blind witches for instance, but mental conditions don’t seem to

Not naming = not medicalising
(which is a GOOD thing in my opinion!)

Recommendation: Mishell Baker, The Arcadia project

Establishing a different baseline establishes alienness and that’s a good way to do it

After this panel I went to have my Ellen Klages book signed, and told Ellen about my blog post (“I was that kid”), and she remembered it! Also bought a mug because the seller and I agreed that the last T-shirt they had with that text didn’t fit over my Great Tracts of Land. (I liked this one too but when I got round to buying things at this stall they didn’t have it in any useful form any more. (Mouse pad only, I think.) And more earrings: there was a stall with small dice earrings and I got them to change round two pairs so I could have an ordinary D10 and a tens D10.

I took the crowd out for pizza in a restaurant Roommate recommended because they’ve got it in Oxford as well and she knew it was good (and it was good!) and then it was almost time for the Hugos, where none of us went (anyway I had an appointment for Sara’s literary beer at 21:00), but it was streamed to a screen in the bar. Hilarious speech-to-text subtitles: “bored of the rings and cream of thrown”. (Roommate pointed out that Bored of the Rings actually exists, and I think I even saw it somewhere once.)


Then someone came to tell us that it was also streamed to the room next to the bar, with sound! (And also with a bar, only without any music.)

Literary Beer: Dr Sara L. Uckelman

Sara and I had already talked several times over the past couple of days, and found out we liked one another just as much as online. Eventually about 6 people turned up. “Do we bring our own beer?” “Unless you’re Sara Uckelman, yes.” I got another wonderful red ale (which I had about 10 pints of in the course of Worldcon, I think) but didn’t drink it right away because someone had brought their homemade mead to share!

Icebreaker: “what’s the high point of your Worldcon until now?” and I named the neurodiversity meetup as the high point I could actually point at, but it was mostly the general atmosphere of “nobody is weird because everybody is weird”.

We all cheered Archive of our Own winning the Hugo (someone was looking over their shoulder occasionally to see if there was anything going on that we shouldn’t miss), and we talked writing, and reading, and crafting, and everything, until my flatmates came to tell me they were going home and I decided to stay on for a while. I tried to buy Sara another drink (cider, this time) but it happened to be the post-Hugos party and the drinks were free.

I had to finish my cider quickly (too good to leave) in order to catch the last tram, “people, I love you all, but I really need to go”. It turned out to be the last-but-one tram, but better be safe than sorry.


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