Posts Tagged ‘conventions’

Interzone magazine: the epitome of British genre culture

I read a column in issue 253 of Interzone that suggested we might be seeing a decline in distinctive national genre cultures. That with the international culture that comes in the age of the internet and global mass cultural industries, a certain amount of homogenisation is taking place. British science fiction and fantasy becomes more like American science fiction and fantasy becomes more like Japanese science fiction and fantasy becomes…

You get the idea.

I’m sure there’s an element of truth to this. Doctor Who has gone from something loved by Brits and the more diligent international nerds to a global phenomenon. New shows like The 100 or Gotham get around the world within weeks, and inspire works exploring similar ideas and themes. An e-book uploaded to Amazon becomes instantly and equally accessible around the globe, and the people we turn to in picking which book to read are bloggers and reviewers, often on completely different continents.

But I don’t think that means the total death of national differences. Conventions and other geographically located events mean that the hard core of geek culture in each region tends to talk with itself more than with the rest of the world, and then take those in-person conversations and relationships online. That builds communities of taste and interest that are geographically oriented, though no longer geographically bound. Brits are still more likely to be fans of Douglas Adams and Red Dwarf than anyone else is. I dare say there are books beloved by many Americans that the rest of us never see. But the geographical distinctions may start to become more about regions than nations, based on the area capable of supporting a local convention circuit.

Is geek culture becoming more international? Sure. Does that mean it’s becoming more homogenous? No, because that interconnected global mass allows the emergence of new popular genres and subgenres, things like steampunk and dieselpunk, as well as supporting independent creators. The scene is just as diverse, if not more so, but that diversity is more widely available.

We talk about declines as bad things. But for each thing that declines something new rises to take its place, and isn’t that a glorious thing?

If you’re writing from inside the head of someone who’s just been robbed, they’re not going to think ‘I’ve been delightfully subverted’. – Frances Hardinge

This panel’s description featured the most amusing misprint of the FantasyCon 2014 program, promising us a discussion that would cover ‘sex tricksters’. For better or for worse, the panel swiftly moved away from that dubious-sounding subject, into a fun discussion of the place of roguish characters in fantasy fiction.

One of the many disreputable figures up for discussion

This panel featured:

  • David Tallerman – author of various novels, including a trilogy about a thief
  • Joanne Harris – writer of both literary and fantasy fiction
  • Frances Hardinge – children’s author, wearer of a rather dapper hat
  • Kim Lakin-Smith – author of fantastical fiction, particularly interested in gender issues and mixing up biology
  • Libby McGugan – fantasy writer with a taste for science
  • James Barclay – fantasy author, chairman of the British Fantasy Society, has a certain charmingly roguish air himself – James was chairing the panel

Favourite roguish characters

Favourite examples was a good starting point for the panel, and one that grounded the discussion in familiar stories.

Joanne mentioned the Pied Piper, and how he appealed to her because he was a villain but one who had been wronged, the sort of character who emerges once black and white moral divisions have been used up. For her the appeal of rogues goes back to childhood and fairy tales.

David talked about his own character, Easie Damasco, who he wrote because he wanted to deliberately get away from treating thieves as sympathetic people. After all, in reality they’re criminals preying on the innocent. It was a bit of a cheeky answer to this particular question, but I’m currently reading the first Easie Damasco book and I have to say that Easie’s becoming one of my favourite rogues, so I’ll let him off this once.

Frances discussed the Dread Pirate Roberts from The Princess Bride. She pointed out that, much as we love Wesley, he’s presumably been killing lots of people in his pirate role.

Kim listed Pan, Puck and Robin Hood as among her favourites – mythic characters who intrigued her.

Libby picked Crowley from Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens, a character whose defining quality is that he is struggling with being bad.

Motivation and complexity

James asked if it was the motivation and complexity of rogues that made them appeal, leading to an interesting discussion about where that appeal comes from.

Reasons for their appeal that the panel mentioned included:

  • The fantasy of freedom, letting us safely imagine doing what these people do (Frances)
  • Respect for people breaking the system (Libby)
  • Catharsis (Joanne)
  • Realistic decision making (David)
  • We all do wrong sometimes, and it’s enjoyable to see this in others (David)
  • Being intrigued by the bad boy/girl (Kim)
  • The character showing a broader social context (Frances)
  • Corrupt systems making law-breaking acceptable (Joanne)
  • They’re more fun to write (Libby – and I suspect that’s how most of the panellists got to this point)
  • Characters determining their own moral code (Joanne)
  • Making bad girls/boys safe (Kim)
  • The distance of time making people more appealing – we love Caribbean pirates not Somali ones (Frances – and with my historian hat on this comparison made me smile – ah history, how you warp our perspective)
  • The fun of dressing up – rogues often have great outfits (Frances)

How to make them appeal

James asked a couple of questions near the end that covered how to make such dubious characters appeal – do they need the capacity for redemption, and is this appeal partly down to sleight of hand?

The general consensus seemed to be that the possibility of redemption was needed. As Libby pointed out, we need something to identify with in a character. David made the point that there’s not even tragedy without the possibility of redemption, and it’s hard to read anything without hope in it.

There was also agreement on there being some authorial trickery involved. As James pointed out, the cleverness of the rogues themselves distracts you. But as Joanne pointed out, there’s a darker side to this, as we rely on taking away the victimhood of their victims so that readers don’t think about those consequences.

Last thoughts

One of the last notes I made was another one about historical context – shock horror, the history grad paid attention to the history bits. According to Frances, it has been argued that the appeal of roguish characters is a particularly English thing, a cult of the criminal having grown up here in the 16th and 17th centuries, celebrating the innovation and courage of such people.

I don’t know enough about other cultures to make a comparison, but certainly the appeal of dangerous rogues to the English rings true. In the middle ages we were renowned across Europe as a violent and disreputable nation, and some people took pride in that. The fame of figures such as Dick Turpin, Robin Hood and even the Krays reflects a long held romanticisation of armed robbers and violent crime.

On that charming note I’ll leave you with one last question – who are your favourite rogues and why? Leave a comment, share your love of bad boys and girls who kick against the system.

FantasyCon 2014

Posted: September 10, 2014 in reading, writing life
Tags: , , , ,

As I mentioned on Monday, I spent this weekend at FantasyCon 2014, the British Fantasy Society’s annual convention. It’s only the second time I’ve been, and the first time was several years ago, so I was a bit uncertain of myself. Despite that I had a great time listening to panels, catching up with a few old friends and making some new ones.

Taking notes helps me to take in what people say when they’re talking. As a result I took extensive notes on some of the panels, and will summarise the more interesting ones over the next few weeks. But to start with I just want to mention a few people who impressed me and why:

  • Juliet McKenna – a politely spoken grey-haired lady who turns out to be a sword-wielding badass – this is what action heroes should be like
  • Foz Meadows – the most thought-provoking panellist I saw over the weekend, bringing intelligent feminism and an analytical attitude to social and political topics
  • Paul Cornell – a lively and entertaining host for the weekend’s two gameshow panels who tolerated my brief burst of fannish enthusiasm while he was busy feed his son
  • Chris Barnes – a Scottish voice actor who did a very entertaining reading with Graeme Reynolds, complete with accents and voice modification via pint glass.

Special mention should also go to writer David Tallerman, who I spent quite a lot of time chatting with. I recommend his bonkers comic Endangered Weapon B, which I bought on Comixology after seeing a copy on Friday night, and I am now the proud owner of David’s own battered copy of his first Easie Damasco book, which I’m looking forward to reading. Though unsurprisingly it’s not the only book I’ve come home with.

Just some of the books I accumulated at FantasyCon

Just some of the books I accumulated at FantasyCon

 

This post-FantasyCon post by Den Patrick is also an interesting reflection on an aspect of author etiquette at cons, and perhaps reflects how as creative types we sometimes shoot ourselves in the foot. Den’s name will come up again later, as he was on a couple of the panels I enjoyed.

More on FantasyCon and its panels later in the week.