Thursday, March 22, 2018

ICFA Report

The weather for the annual International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (see for details about the organization and the conference) was sunny all weekend. The temperatures on Wednesday, Thursday, and part of Friday, though, were almost chilly for Florida in March. Much nicer than home (Maryland), anyway! We got lovely days in the 70s and 80s from Friday afternoon on. With the theme of the bicentennial of FRANKENSTEIN, the main guest of honor was John Kessel, author of PRIDE AND PROMETHEUS, in which Mary, the bookish younger sister in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, meets Victor Frankenstein and his creature. I love a good crossover story, so this was one of my favorite recently published novels. Author guest of honor was Nike Sulway, whose luncheon talk on Thursday included her personal experience of first reading FRANKENSTEIN as a teenager in a shelter; her award-winning story "The Karen Joy Fowler Book Club" can be read on the LIGHTSPEED magazine website. The guest scholar was Gothic specialist Fred Botting.

Author Andy Duncan introduced John Kessel's Thursday night speech. Duncan offered the most entertaining and accurate capsule description of this con I've heard: "A science fiction convention with better food, and MLA for happy people." John Kessel spoke about the ethics and aesthetics of adapting preexisting stories and characters in one's own fiction. On one level, this activity is the essence of fanfic. On the literary side, this kind of adaptation has been termed "critical fiction," implying the re-use of elements from earlier works to expand on, interrogate, and critique them. Kessel quoted some critics who condemn this practice as, among other derogatory labels, "laziness." (Really? Shakespeare, almost all of whose plays were derived from earlier works, was simply "lazy"?) Kessel drew the sound conclusion that all writers inevitably build upon the works of their predecessors. Furthermore, the high value the modern era places on "originality" (in the sense of inventing one's own content) is a very recent notion, unknown to antiquity, the Middle Ages, or the Renaissance.

The Lord Ruthven Assembly, our vampire and revenant division, had its usual Friday night meeting. After the business portion, we screened ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, with popcorn. I'd seen it only once before and didn't remember much about it, so I had lots of fun watching it again. The movie drew pretty good attendance despite playing opposite the guest of honor readings. This mash-up of Dracula (Bela Lugosi himself), the Wolfman, and Frankenstein's monster contains some surprisingly clever humor as well as the slapstick. If you've never seen it, check it out.

Some sessions I especially enjoyed: The current state of weird fiction. The brave new world of publishing, with discussion of alternative publishing routes and tips on promotion. A "round table" with Theodora Goss on her THE STRANGE CASE OF THE ALCHEMIST'S DAUGHTER, another of my favorite recent novels; this crossover brings together daughters (biological or created) of famous nineteenth-century mad scientists—Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde, Frankenstein, Hawthorne's Rappaccini, Dr. Moreau—and a mystery for Sherlock Holmes. I was delighted to learn that there will be not only a sequel this July, set mainly in eastern Europe and introducing the daughter of Van Helsing, but a third book next year to conclude the series. Scientist Geoffrey A. Landis presented a slide show titled "To See the Universe Unseen," with enthralling images of the microcosm and macrocosm as viewed through microscopes and telescopes, phenomena invisible to the unaided human eye. He intriguingly declared, "The history of science is the history of instruments."

The weekend always concludes with the Saturday night awards banquet. The Lord Ruthven Assembly awards recognized THE COMPLETE SOOKIE STACKHOUSE STORIES by Charlaine Harris (fiction), VAMPIRE FILMS OF THE 1970s by Gary A. Smith (nonfiction), and MIDNIGHT, TEXAS, Season One (other media), with a special award for POWERS OF DARKNESS: THE LOST VERSION OF DRACULA, a translation of the early-20th-century Icelandic version (very different from Stoker's original) into English with critical essays and footnotes. I came home with the customary free books (given away at the luncheons and banquet) and inspiring thoughts about the realm of speculative fiction.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

No comments:

Post a Comment