Thursday, March 25, 2021

Virtual International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts

Last week, from Thursday through Sunday, the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts held its annual conference (normally in Orlando) virtually. Last year they skipped it completely. It was nice to get back "together," if only online. Unlike virtual ChessieCon in November 2020, with only live sessions (because, as usual, almost all were extemporaneous discussion panels) except for a slide show on costumes, the IAFA conference prerecorded or uploaded all the paper presentations. Only discussion panels, author readings, and events such as meetings weren't recorded.

You can check out the organization here:


Disadvantages of the virtual con: Missing the hotel stay, the Florida weather, and the lavish meals. Not being able to watch all the "live" panels one might want to, because they weren't recorded for later viewing. No opportunity to see people face-to-face and talk at length. Also, one couldn't devote undivided attention to con events for the entire four days. Being physically at home, I could hardly pretend I wasn't there and ignore the pets, laundry, grocery shopping, etc.

Advantages: Much cheaper than the traditional conference. No need to leave home; I don't like traveling. The great pleasure of having flexibility on when to view most of the presentations. The complete program, with live links to prerecorded / uploaded papers and talks, was posted well before the actual weekend of the event and will remain on the website until the end of March. I think I got exposed to at least as many papers as I do when attending in person, maybe more. I also managed to fit in the few live sessions I felt a strong need to watch, e.g., the Lord Ruthven Assembly vampire panel, the LRA annual meeting, and the IAFA business meeting and awards presentation on Sunday evening. The best feature was being able to hear or read papers whenever convenient, without being forced to choose between them if they happened to be scheduled in the same nominal time slot—what a luxury!

I listened to Jean Lorrah reading from a forthcoming Sime-Gen novel, which of course I wanted to get right away. We have to wait, though, since it's not finished, much less published yet. The Lord Ruthven Assembly (our vampire, revenant, and Gothic division) had a lively panel on vampires called "The Dead Travel Fast," with a lot of discussion spinning off from the differences between the traditional folklore undead, usually bound to the vicinity of their mortal homes and families, and the wandering vampires of much fiction from Lord Ruthven (1819) on. Even though my computer doesn't have a microphone and camera, Zoom allowed me to watch sessions passively with computer audio, and the text chat sidebar enables written comments. I liked that method; it was nice and simple. A presentation on superheroes saving the world, referencing the widespread "Thanos Was Right" meme, brought up the concept of "fan labor"—how fan reception and response add value to commercially produced films and literature. Like many papers and discussions, this talk tied into the conference theme of the "Anthropocene," which inspired many presenters to discuss human impact on the environment as reflected in fantasy and science fiction. In other areas of interest to me, there were several papers each on Stephen King, Harry Potter, and Terry Pratchett. A talk focusing on Tolkien featured a slide show of maps. An advantage of viewing such material online is being able to see details better than one can from a seat in a meeting room. One of my favorite papers dealt with Delia Sherman's FREEDOM MAZE, exploring issues of identity and the "decentering" effect of the time-traveling teenage protagonist's landing in 1860 where she's mistaken for a slave, instead of a white Southern girl from a "good" family as she's been taught to think of herself in 1960. That presentation inspired me to reread the book, as a good piece of literary criticism ideally does.

The weekend concluded with the business meeting and awards on Sunday evening. IAFA's officers are considering the feasibility of offering some kind of virtual track every year, which would be useful to many members who can't travel to Florida for whatever reason. The plan faces potential problems and complications, however, not least the risk of seeming to establish a two-tier system of participation and the possible impairment of the deal with the hotel, in which perks such as meeting spaces depend on selling a certain minimum number of hotel rooms and meals. At any rate, this year's con seemed to rate as a brilliant success; it definitely was for me.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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