Welcome back to the first Weirdsday blog for Jordancon 2020. It also happens to be the first week of October, which means SF HORROR tropes. One of these days we might have to do a panel specifically on SF & Horror. Today I want to talk about the machines that we fear, but first let’s talk about April of 2020.
One of the things we are going to strive for this upcoming year is a sense of asymmetry in our panels. While I do not have an exact plan and we are limited in what we can do (sorry, no VR panels yet) each year I want to make changes in our presentations to make the track unique. This year we are looking at more interactive panels, giving you more things to do and more ways to interact with the content. Don’t expect leaps and bounds, but keep an eye out for some differences. As always we love your feedback.
There will also be more science focused panels. And they will be fun! At least I think they will be. We have a great resource of science focused members and those who can converse in the language of technology, that we want to take greater advantage of that. Again if you have any ideas that are feasible, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Deadly Machines
I thought we would kick off our SF Horror Month with a discussion of the machines that we love to fear. Science Fiction is full of machines that prey on people and in such antagonists we find much entertainment. Machines plague the human psyche in ways that are different than say, a face stealing alien. Robots and mechanization are something we deal with every day. These machines lesson our load but they also take away jobs and lack the human touch associated with good customer service. Now Alexa and her machine tribe can run our homes and order our groceries, giving a great deal of power to the machines and those who control them.
Who are these murder machines? Science Fiction is full of them. It could be argued that Frankenstein’s monster is a machine of sorts, but we won’t count Mary Shelley’s seminal masterpiece. Instead let’s concentrate on a few well known and not well known members of this particular club.
As I was thinking about this week’s blog, Ash from Alien is the first robot that came to mind. Ash is more android than robot with is human like appearance. This makes Ash very dangerous as he is able to hide his nature and the nature of his programming from the rest of the crew. We can give a shout out to Michael Fassbender’s David as well. Of course we cannot fail to mention the Terminator in all of its different guises. Although I think the original machine is the scariest, the others are remorseless in their own right.
My own favorite SF murder machine is Maximilian from Disney’s The Black Hole. Max is legitimately scary and one can imagine its creator making sure there is not an ounce of humanity in the machine, so that it can be the perfect foreman. That said, I think Maximilian is a great character in a movie that is widely underappreciated.
What are your favorite SF murder machines? Feel free to comment!
I am sitting here the Monday after Jordancon 2019, trying to get real life started again in a way that does not feel too abrupt. So far so good and with the musings from the 2019 Jordancon still in my head, I wanted to take a few minutes and roll them out.
Gratitude is too slim a word to express how I feel towards the panelists and the members who attended the panels. This year was a complete success for the SF Track from beginning to end. Every panel had good attendance and some the discussions spawned were interesting, to say the least. I want to mention a few folks by name whom made the track as good as it was this year.
Want to start off with Nancy McCullough my track XO. Nancy was there, asking how she could help, moderating panels, and doing a great job as always. Her presence allows me to leave the track room and engage other parts of Jordancon. When you see Nancy at Jordancon or if you know her, give her a high five, because Nancy more than earned it.
I am starting to get a few track regulars and I wanted to give a shout out. Gerald L. Coleman, Milton Davis, Amy DuBoff, Darin M. Bush, and JD Jordan: you were all amazing. Of course Billy Todd made our Star Trek panel awesome along with track newcomer Mark McCray. Between the two of them there is a metric ton of Star Trek knowledge. Quinn Howard delivered great insight and Jenn Lyons (and her husband) showed off her genre chops and enthusiasm. Will Kenyon and Valerie Lauer made for a great Hyperion panel on Saturday night. Danyelle Denham has been at every Smackdown and makes them fun even when I make a mess of it.
Speaking of the Smackdown… This year was great. I think the new format worked out pretty well and next year we will choose some different categories as well. Again, feedback is great both now while it is fresh in your heads and right before the Con when we are making things happen. There will be some tweaks next year to tighten down the rules.
As mentioned, all of the panels were good. Every. Single. One. Maybe not perfect but the energy and the discussions were A+. The SF Indie Authors round table was fantastic and the panelists networking during and after was fun to watch. The Expanse was popular and the Rise of the AI (thanks Darin) had some great conversations.
But there is no doubt that my favorite panel was the Dune for Wheel of Time fans panel. I love the WoT tie in panels I run and this has got to be my favorite of them so far. Honestly, I am not sure how I am going to top it next year.
So Say We All & Terror in 2020
Like many (or all) of you I am already thinking about next year. All I can say right now is:
Think about what inspires you
Think about what scares you
Think outside the box
…and tune in next week for out total unofficial track preview.
There are only three weeks and change to go now and of course the SciFi Track is prepping for the final few weeks. Time for some details on what we will be doing at JordanCon 2019! Plus, I want to talk about getting out of our comfort zones.
As always we have four panels on Friday and they set the tone for our weekend. I will give a brief overview of each one. Here is the link to the schedule as a whole.
What’s New In Science?
Every year we start off with this panel, a discussion of science and the discoveries that provide ideas for the fiction. Our panelists are knowledgeable in their fields as well as general science. If you have some expertise, please feel free to join in the discussion and offer up topics. As always, questions are welcome.
SF Feminist Literature
Women have been creating SF for as long as there has been SF. As we move into our modern era, ‘feminist’ is an ever-changing label and aims to be very inclusive. With that in mind, come discuss with our panelists some of your own feminist literature in SF and perhaps discover new ideas and authors to follow.
Flashback Friday: Farscape & Science Fiction Fantasy
Fridays are going to be for flashbacks from now on! This is a new concept that let’s us specifically tap into beloved old shows that shaped our love of SF. This year it is Farscape, a show much beloved by me and by others. Farscape broke some ground in its day and like other shows, died too young. Never seen Farscape? Well you are in for a treat then. Come on in and see what it was about.
Friday Fandom Smackdown
Are you ready for the Smackdown this year! Do you have your team ready and your spot chosen? We have six categories of fandom this year and space for six teams. Ribbons for everyone and Medals for the winners! Folks are welcome to come and cheer on the teams as well!
“…I’ve never been a racehorse…”
It may be no secret that Starship Troopers is one of my favorite books. Part of the reason for this is the through processes of the protagonist on the first page, where he describes the anxiety he feels even though he has been trained and conditioned to not feel fear. Jumping out of a space ship into combat I imagine would make one nervous, but most of us can understand how uncomfortable even familiar situations can be. Let alone something new and different.
Science Fiction can be new and different. The best works take us out of familiar places and ask us hard questions. It is not always comfortable and the line between hero and villain be thin. SF can questions our reality and our dearly held beliefs and this is not always a fun read or watch.
But there is joy to be discovered in SF. Yes it asks hard questions but it gives us permission to ask hard questions right back. Sometimes there is no answer, but often times there is an answer or the beginning of one. I promise you there is great joy in JordanCon’s SF Track; joy in the asking and in the answering with worlds to be discovered where more joy may be found. It won’t always be comfortable, but it will always be wonderful.
February is Black History Month, offering us a chance to examine the contributions and struggles of African-Americans to the American and indeed world historical record. “Struggle” and “Contribution” are accurate if badly understated descriptions of the journey the black author has had to navigate towards success and recognition. One blog cannot capture all of that, but at least we can shine a light, however briefly, on that momentous journey and some of its participants.
One month cannot hope to bring justice to the contribution of an entire continent and its descendants, however well meaning the intentions of those involved. These words won’t even scratch the surface of what we as SF readers do not know about Black Science Fiction and those writing it. What we can do however, is turn you onto some crumbs laid by those better qualified to speak on the subject and entice you to allow your imagination to be caught up in these fantastic tales written by talented writers. At JordanCon we will have a panel on this very subject that I encourage you to attend.
If you were looking for a place to start, then might I suggest Nisi Shawl’s excellent series on TOR.com, aptly titled The History of Black Science Fiction. Begun (I believe) in December of 2016, the monthly installments, it talks about books that Ms. Shawl outlined in her article “A Crash Course in the History of Science Fiction“. You will find a grand collection of speculative fiction pieces that outline the long history of Black Science Fiction, but does so with a great deal of heart and soul. There are many names there you will not recognize, giving you the opportunity to discover new authors, both living and passed. I personally have added Nisi Shawl’s Everfair to my own Wish List and will be picking it up soon.
I only came upon the works of Octavia E. Butler a few years ago, for which one of our author GoH rightly admonished me. I realized I had not been looking hard enough or thorough enough in my own journey through Science Fiction and had been neglecting many writers who could have filled my shelves. That is changing, but Octavia Butler holds a special place for me in that she is the only author to make me cry while reading one of her stories. Both Butler and Samuel R. Delany are Masters of SF and no matter how much we praise them, it is not nearly enough given their level of talent as story tellers.
But the problem is that Butler and Delany are (relatively speaking) know names in SF. Their works combined do not even touch the surface of the volumes of Science Fiction by and for black authors. N.K. Jemisin’sHow Long Until Black Future Month? asks a provocative question with its title as it suggests that our current visions of the future or worlds far, far away do not always include people of color and the powerful cultures that birthed them. The Binti trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor certainly provides one answer to the question, but there is so much more to do and so many voices waiting to be discovered.
A friend on Facebook challenged his friends to shout out the names of black authors this month. That post inspired this blog, but I do not know personally any of the authors I have talked about so far. To correct that let me point you to another book on my list that does include two authors I know through JordanCon as they have been guests in the past and I hope will continue to grace our convention in the future. Gerald L. Coleman and Milton J. Davis are great authors who along with eight others bring stories of the Dark Universe: Bright Empire to life. When you see them at JordanCon be sure to say hello!
It might seem logical that readers who enjoy fantasy would enjoy science fiction as well, since they are put together in most books stores for a reason. One is just a mirror of the other, with magic or technology being the primary difference in the two genres. They even mix together in space fantasy and steampunk, so what all the headache?
Truth is, the fantasy reader and science fiction reader are not necessarily the same person. While many folks enjoy both genres in other ways, films for instance, somewhat rarer is the reader who enjoys both. There are significant differences between the two genres and writing style may also play a part.
I enjoy both myself, though I prefer science fiction by a small margin because I find the questions SF asks to be more relevant in our modern world. I also think there is an inherent hope in SF, especially today: that we will be around in a thousand years to answer the questions we have asked today.
Bouncing off a Book
If someone who was not familiar with The Wheel of Time, but was a SF fan asked me to describe the series, I would say something like “Well, Paul Atreides goes on a quest to lock away the evil planet thing from Fifth Element.” It is not entirely accurate of course, but I would be speaking a language they understood. Conversely, I might use examples from TWoT to entice a fantasy reader to give DUNE a try.
Ironically, I hear the same thing about both Dune and The Eye of World when someone says they couldn’t finish the book, often followed by someone responding “you have to push through it.” I imagine this is true of a large number of books and genres one might want to try and get into but be afraid to try. As readers we enjoy our comfort zones and our reading budgets are not unlimited, though we wish they were.
Science Fiction Has a Place for Everyone
It may seem intimidating to try and dive into SF, but I assure you there are so many great stories out there that you can try. Everything from short to stories to epic series is available, to suit whatever your taste is. It is not all robots or spaceships or social SF. It is not all space opera or military SF.
This is one reason that this year, we will have our Dune for the Wheel of Time Fan, panel. Our guest panelists are going to be a great resource to explain why diving into this series might be the place to start. I hope you join us Saturday afternoon for what I guarantee will be a great and informative time.