Readercon Day 2, Part 1 (Friday)

I usually don’t sleep well in hotels, but I slept pretty good last night. In part it was probably do to the fact that I was up so late to begin with. I allowed myself to sleep in until just before 8am, usuaully late for me. Then I got up, showered, and had a quick breakfast at the hotel restaurant before heading up to the lobby.

Registration opened at 10am. I got in the growing line five minutes before and when I arrived at the front, they didn’t have my name on file.

“Are you a pro?” I was asked.

“Uh, yes.”

“Try over at the pro registration,” I was told.

Well, no one told me there was a separate registration for pros. Indeed when I got in that (much shorter) line, I recognized many faces. They had my badge and materials and I was on my way quickly thereafter.


I thought I might go browse the dealer’s room, but was dismayed to discover that it didn’t open until 3pm. I suppose they need time to setup or something. Instead, I eventually made my way over to the room in which the first panel I planned to attend took place. That panel was “The Readercon Classic Nonfiction Book Club: The Jewel-Hinged Jaw” and it’s described in the program as:

Matthew Cheney’s introduction to the most recent edition of Samuel R. Delany’s The Jewel-Hinged Jaw (Wesleyan University Press, 2009) makes the case for the importance of this critical work: “Since 1977, when The Jewel-Hinged Jaw appeared, it has been impossible for anyone writing seriously about the nature and purpose of science fiction to ignore the ideas of Samuel Delany. Disagree with them, yes. Take a different approach, certainly. But the ideas first expressed in The Jewel-Hinged Jaw and then refined and reiterated and revised in numerous other books [including his novels] are ideas that have so powerfully affected how science fiction has been discussed since 1977 that any analysis that does not at least acknowledge their premises is destined to be both inaccurate and irrelevant.

I am embarrassed and ashamed to admit this, but I didn’t know that the book was about the reading and criticism of science fiction, although I knew of its existence. I am further and embarrassed and ashamed to admit that I’d never read the book. But I hope to correct that. As the discussion of the book evolved, I opened up the Kindle store on my iPad and ordered the book, and seconds later, there it was in the Kindle app. As Scott Edelman wrote in the first editorial for Science Fiction Age: “We live in a Science Fiction Age.” Surely this feat is an example of that.

The panelists included Matthew Cheney, Elizabeth, David G. Hartwell, Don Keller, and Barry N. Malzberg and they made for a great group for discussion. Furthermore, Chip Delany was in attendance and sat behind me in the audience. There was something both remarkable and surreal about that: Barry Malzberg and David Hartwell sitting before me; Chip Delany sitting behind me. I was literally surrounded by legends of our genre.


And these legends could speak with authority on the subject and it made for a fascinating and engaging discussion. Liz hand commented that she felt this book was the single most important work of literary criticism to come out of science fiction (and I was kicking myself for not having read it.) There was excellent discussion of whether or not science fiction abides by the same critical standards as mainstream literature. It was just the kind of discussion I’ve come to expect and enjoy from Readercon.

From that panel I moved directly into the next one. This one was “Writing Within Constraints” and is described in the program as:

Whether it’s writing on a theme for an anthology, writing on assignment or commission, or simply imposing rules to jump-start your creativity, writing within constraints can be an incredible way to defeat “the tyranny of the blank page.” We discuss the rewards and challenges of starting with someone else’s idea.

The panel included Scott Edelman, Elaine Isaak, Michael Aondo-verr Kombol, John Langan, David Malki and, Madeleine Robins.


In this case, the title is pretty self-explanatory, but even so the panel did get me thinking about how I think of constraints. There is probably a organized taxonomy to this, but as I write this I am sitting in the Readercon bar and can’t summon the mental gymnastics to formulate the taxonomy (which merely makes it a subject for a future post).

Early in the discussion, John Langan pointed out that genre itself ws a constraint, and made the apt analog that essentially goes genre is to prose what form is to poetry. There are rules in each that hem you in, and those who can take advantage of those rules and make them improve the story are particularly adept.

There less abstract contraints: word limits, for instance, and the submission guidelines, more generally, of the markets to which you are submitting.

Scott Edelman described knowing what he didn’t want to write. Or perhaps you like an author’s style and want to write that way. Although it wasn’t formulated as such during the panel, I think of this as the constraint of influence.

There was a hilarious discussion of what was cliche in a genre and how those cliches provide constraints. Scott provided, as an example of cliche in zombie fiction, the apparently oft-used device of zombie-penises in stories. You could imagine how the audience reacted to that.

It was a fascinating discussion, the most concrete and boots-on-the-ground of the day to this point.

When that panel was over I moved into the next of my three-consecutive panels, this one with the pedantic title of “The Pseudo-Religiosity of Teleological Science Fiction.” I have to admit up front that most of the discussion was over my head on this one, so it is difficult for me to judge one way or another, notes notwithstanding.

And with that panel concluding at 2pm, I finally had a break, could take a breath, and start writing this post (which I am now finishing some hours later.)

Part 2 of today’s events will follow in a subsequent post, either very late tonight, or relatively early tomorrow morning. I wanted to get this one out, however, for those following along and for those who wanted to be here and couldn’t make it.

Lots more to come. Stay tuned.


  1. I was sitting in on the Constraints session too, over in the back, and thought it was pretty interesting as well. There were other sessions where the hardiness of the zombie trope was mentioned, with the clear indication that those kinds of stories aren’t going away just yet.


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