I just spent a fantastic weekend at Toronto’s annual Science Fiction Convention, SFContario. The panels ranged from the technical (climate change, anyone?) to the delightfully absurd (Huggy snakes, anyone?). I’ve listed some highlights below of a few of the panels I managed to attend. As always, so much interesting stuff going on at once that you wish you could clone yourself. One clone for the sober technical discussions, one for the readings and one for the concerts and the improv. This is a great convention and I recommend it to anyone who finds themselves in or near Toronto during mid-November 2014.
* The Slush Session Workshop by D.F. Court, Editor of AE, was an eye-opener. Writers got to read out their first 250 words, and he’d stop us whenever he liked, or didn’t like, something. One of the most interesting things he told us was: never begin with a vague sentence, or in the middle of mindless action. The first 25 words should situate the reader in the story and the character. So if your story begins: “Stop right there!” he said” – then you’d better stop right there and rewrite it.
* Panels on Climate Change and the search for Earth-like planets with writer Karl Schroeder and Dr Dave. Intelligent and thought-provoking discussions. Just like Karl Schroeder’s books, in fact. If you haven’t read Ventus and the Virga series, I totally recommend them.
* The SFContario Idol. A panel of editors listens to an anonymous reading of your first page. You get ‘gonged’ out when a majority of the panel tinkles their spoon in a glass (or whatever). This is always a very entertaining session. You’re lucky to get past the second or third line. I remember in the 2011 WorldCon (Gardener Dozois was one of the panelists), writer Robert Sawyer (who was also on the panel) sneaked in a hard sf story published by Analog. Which was farted out after a few lines. The point being that every story is different and there is no formula and the panelists were being inordinately harsh. Still, I learn something new every time. In 2011 my story was dinged out because I mentioned ‘tea’ and this year it was because I mentioned hair color. Must remember not to do that again! Seriously though, I enjoy this session.
* A discussion on the boundaries – or lack thereof – between science fiction, fantasy and horror. As a reader and writer of science fantasy, I was delighted to find that just about everyone agreed that there aren’t any ‘rules’. Or there shouldn’t be. Star Wars, anyone? It’s science fiction because it’s set in space and there are all these cool weapons and aliens and spaceships. But it’s also fantasy because of the mystical ‘force’ that gives Jedi knights their supernatural powers.
And that’s just a small sampling of the delights on offer. The organizers are to be congratulated for excellent programming. I’ll be back next year! Without any mention of tea or hair in my stories!