Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Chapter 113: In Which I Report on FogCon 5

About two weeks ago, I attended the Friends of Genre Convention. It's in Walnut Creek, a suburb which is FAR from where I live in Oakland. I've never been that far north in the East Bay and the BART ride is fascinatingly desolate. It felt like I was commuting to San Jose or something. And the town itself straight up looks like Beverly Hills. There's no doubt I was in Wealthy California Land.

Anyway, I had a great time. FogCon is sort of like a western WisCon, coming from the whole "don't be a self-entitled asshole" school of con organizing. It was pretty small, and offered an interesting conundrum, as there appeared to be more people than programming for them. Thus, I ended up meeting and talking with a lot of folks. Even the simple act of grabbing a sandwich in the con suite was a great way to start up conversations with other writers and fans. I can see why the con is going strong four years after it began, because the atmosphere is so friendly and chill. I believe "relax-i-con" is the fandom word for such a thing.

I did four panels. Stories Within Stories on Friday was good. It was about, well, the title. To prepare, I read bits of The Canterbury Tales, a book I hadn't touched since AP English. When I was a teen, it was hard to get past lines like "Eek well I woot." Sounded like baby talk. Since speakers of the English language are unaware, I now declare that Canterbury Tales has literary merit, even if the poetic meter felt strangely like I was reading an extended version of the Vincent Price rap from "Thriller." From "The Wife of Bath's Tale":

I shall seye sooth, tho housbondes that I
As three of hem were gode and two were badde.
The three men were gode, and riche, and olde
Unnethe mighte they the statut holde
In whosoever shall be founde.
Without the soul for getting downe
Must stande and face the hondes of hell
Or rot inside a corpse's shelle . . .

To prep, I also reread significant portions of 120 Days of Sodom. You have to do your research. Problem: no one wants to be the guy on the panel to mention de Sade first. Thus, we went through the whole topic mentioning every author but de Sade even though we were all thinking it. All the other panelists were good and way more versed in books than I am. It was nice to do a panel with Cat Valente, a writer who did a lot to change the way I look at fantasy. I'm a big fan of Palimpsest.

After a few hours of the typical scifi con dillying, dallying, and dithering, came the Focus on Ferguson panel. This was the panel that earned me a book full of pictures of naked men. More on that later. It was about the Black Lives Matter movement that's been going on in some way, shape, or form for the last 400 years. The other panelists were Shayna Cureton, Laurie Edison, Michelle Murrain, and Na'amen Tilahun.  This was the one I was most excited about, as I've never been to a scifi con with an explicitly political panel, let alone one dealing with such an important topic. I was surprised at how abstract a lot of the questions were, such as, "What would your ideal future look like?" (We pretty unanimously agreed it wouldn't involve capitalism.) And several questions about the role of art in subverting white supremacy, which kind of threw me for a loop, as I had come to discuss politics. At one point the audience questions turned towards "What can white allies do to [whatever]?", to which the moderator said all the would-be white allies should talk to each other about that. As I stay away from a lot of online race debates, I forget how discussions of black pain are often co-opted to be about white pain. So, yeah. Best Moderator Ever.

The reason why I stayed away from the endless online debating following the Mike Brown lynching was because it seemed pretty fruitless. I already know how black people feel about it. To debate it with white people goes like this.

WHITE GUY: You should be dead.
ME: Well, actually, good sir, I would contend that I do deserve to exist as a life form.

Only black people are expected to go on public forums and justify to racists our right to exist. It's maddening and I refuse to do it. So it was nice to talk about these tragedies in a room full of adults.

Another interesting question turned to whether the internet makes these killer cops celebrities. Edison pointed out that racist assholes have always been celebrities. Back in the day they were the town sheriff or mayor. Now they're the millionaire Darren Wilson. The reach is farther but it doesn't mean shit because white supremacy is not new. From here, we talked about the white supremacist icon, the American Sniper, whose real name I can't be bothered to look up. Na'amen said the movie they added moral conflict to a guy who bragged in his book about how much he wanted to kill brown people. I find this think mind-boggling. People who worship the American Sniper do so because he killed brown people. He protected the master race. They could have made the movie character explicitly racist like the real guy and it wouldn't have mattered to the people who showed up with their American flags. But Eastwood chose to sugarcoat it. White supremacists refuse to be honest about their icons' racism, making it okay to kill browns-skinned people by the score as long as you don't enjoy it, I guess. They have to believe their heroes are actually morally righteous like He-Man or something. Meanwhile, the poor, PTSD-afflicted vet who shot the sniper got sentenced to life without parole. So much for supporting the troops.

Good panel, receptive audience. And I heard a lot of hopeful, articulate words from the other panelists that were pretty inspiring. I was not so eloquent. Somebody asked me the next day if I was uncomfortable with the topic, since I visibly was. I have a hard time putting up a mask, or collecting my thoughts to say something pretty when discussing the state-sanctioned murder of black children. Hopefully somebody got something out of my commentary. Afterward, I gave Edison a copy of my book, and she was kind enough to mail me hers. Male nudes. I'm hyped.

Did I mention I got swag? Free book table! I am most excited to read a book of Mexican science fiction short stories. I know next to nothing about Mexican SFF, unless lucha libre movies count,


I also got some Paul Tremblay and Yves Maynard, and The Couch by Benjamin Parzybok. Can't wait to read.

I also went to the polyamory panel. Four panelists talked about their vastly different experiences in poly, an the only consensus seemed to be that there's barely any poly representation in popular media. Also that TV sitcoms suck. It was a pretty loose panel with the audience chiming in the whole time, so at times it seemed like a bunch of people all talking over each other. A perfect encapsulation of polyamory.

I kid. I really enjoyed hearing different poly experiences. Lots of funny stories. Though I identify as poly, I haven't been in a longterm relationship in a long time, so navigating it with a partner is still very new to me.

On Saturday, I did a panel on space opera, "It's not over until the big spaceship sings..." I prepped by reading Flash Gordon.


The Flash Gordon strips are insane. They move at such a relentless pace it's wearying, with Flash meeting lion-men, fighting snake-men, suplexing dragons, and falling down pits all on the same page. The poor guy never gets a break.

The other panelists were Cliff Winnig, Michele Cox, and Chaz Brenchley. I did a reading with Brenchley at Baycon back in 2011, and hope to get randomly assigned to panels with him for many years to come, 'cause he's a delightful guy. Or delightful bloke, as they would say in his homeland. I liked that all the panelists had different experiences of space opera. For instance, Brenchley and Winnig know a lot about the genre in contemporary scifi lit, while I was the requisite anime guy. There was a good mix of lit and TV/movies talk. The prose genre of space opera grew up alongside radio and film, so I feel Flash Gordon was as instrumental in its birth as any novel. And I got to namedrop Robotech, Harlock, Yamato, Gundam, and Bebop. I haven't seen Firefly but I have seen Outlaw Star! The questions mostly came around to "Is ____ space opera?", which is fine, as these panels exist only to let us talk about X, Y, or Z story we like. "Is Harlock space opera? Sure! And here's why I like it."

Improvised folklore was fun as hell. The panelists did a series of round robin tales. Bawdy, ribald, good old-fashioned storytelling. Loved it. I also did a reading that went pretty well. In keeping with "stories within stories," I read the part in "The Elvis Room" where Junie tells her Elvis tale. This particular reading had four authors, a nice diversity of steampunk, dark fantasy, science fiction, and Elvis.

As far as panels went, my dance card was pretty full, but I had time to meet folks. Caught up with J. Malcolm Stewart and got a copy of his book, The Last Words of Robert Johnson. Talked a lot with Espana Sheriff about the history of fandom and cons from the 1990s onward. By then it was about midnight and I had to go home before I turned into a pumpkin, or the BART shut down, whichever came first. I need to start renting cars to go to these things.

Glad I made it to FogCon. My next convention is Tekkoshocon, the Pittsburgh area anime convention I used to volunteer at a decade ago. Anime as an art form is important to me so I'm glad to be a panelist; I'm also happy Tekko has become so big since it's humble origins out in some hotel by the Pittsburgh Airport. I'm running four panels (!) and should probably go prep for them. I'll do that now.

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