Over Thanksgiving weekend, as usual, we attended the Darkover Grand Council convention held just north of Baltimore. Despite the name, this cozy con of a few hundred fans and writers isn’t restricted to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s work but includes the full range of science fiction and fantasy. They have an excellent dealer’s room. This year’s guest of honor was Nalo Hopkinson. She spent part of her GOH speech talking about her life as an inhabitant of multiple worlds (culturally) and her childhood in Jamaica. I wish you could have heard her describing her grandmother’s recipe for Christmas cake (fruitcake raised to the ultimate) drenched in rum. Hopkinson also spoke about the craft of writing and mentioned the tendency of new writers to describe scenes from above and outside with a “camera eye.” She emphasized the importance of multi-sensory imagery and getting inside the “skin” of the POV character.
One especially thought-provoking panel she was on inquired whether minority (racial, gender, or sexual orientation) characters in fiction should get a “pass.” In other words, should they be a “protected species” not allowed to die or otherwise be subjected to horrible experiences? As you’ll remember, that issue arose when Tara was murdered on BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. Some viewers attacked the show for killing off half of a romantic lesbian relationship. At the time, I thought they were sort of missing the point. NOBODY on BUFFY got to enjoy a happy relationship for long, and no character was safe. Anyway, the panel at Darkover pointed out the importance of whether the minority character is a token figure introduced mainly to die (or otherwise get sacrificed) or whether characters in that category are presented as an integral part of the fictional society and developed as believable individuals instead of stereotypes of a class.
I read a bit of my humorous story “Dusting Pixie” in the Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading, a group of authors from Broad Universe (www.broaduniverse.org), an organization devoted to the works of female writers of speculative fiction. Five authors read for ten minutes each. I participated in three panels: One was about how to make yourself start writing, keep writing, and become unstuck if you get stuck. It was fun and informative to listen to the problems and techniques of other writers. “Why a nonhuman?” discussed the pros and cons of writing from an alien viewpoint. The third dealt with alien romance and got very lively on the topics of communication, power relations, and whether we’re likely to encounter any nonhuman species with whom we can have sexual or even platonic love affairs. One panelist who happened to be in all three of these sessions wondered why authors feel it necessary to deal with racism or gender politics by displacing these themes onto imaginary creatures. He felt if we want to speculate about such issues, we should straightforwardly write about them in a realistic human context. I strongly disagree. In my opinion, a story about racism or other kinds of oppression set in our contemporary world might affect many readers as “same thing we’ve been hearing about forever.” “Fantastic racism” (as it’s called on TVtropes.org), on the other hand, has the potential to startle us and make us see our own species through fresh eyes.
Plus, for me, such fiction is its own excuse for being. Speculating about interaction with nonhuman intelligent beings is just FUN.
A steampunk track has become an established feature of Darkover, partly making up for the sad demise of the annual costume contest they used to have.
The high point of the weekend, of course, was the customary Saturday night Clam Chowder concert. Afterward, the Clams always gather at midnight with a large crowd to sing the Hallelujah Chorus in the atrium, which I listened to from the window of our hotel room.
You can read all about the con here:Darkover
Margaret L. Carter,Carter's Crypt