On August 4-5-6, 2017, the 39th annual Armadillocon science fiction convention brought possible futures and alternate pasts to Austin. A friend of mine said that it is “a very literary con” and it lived up to that. On the second night, I saw a couple in Steam Punk dress, but there were no other costumes, no t.v. or movie stars, just books, authors, artists, editors, publishers, and, of course, readers. We had a great time.
Armadillocon prides itself on introducing the best new talent. The GoH (Guest of Honor) was Nisi Shawl. Her steampunk novel, Everfair, is set in an alternate Belgian Congo that is - going on the reviews; I have not read it - inclusive to minorities of gender and color. In addition, as is customary, there was a Fan GoH (A. T. Campbell III). Other special guests were Mark A. Nelson (Artist GoH), and Trevor Quachri of Analog (Editor GoH). Fantasy writer Tamora Piece was the Special GoH.
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And, of course, Wikipedia has good background:
The con is sponsored by the
Fandom Association of Central Texas
The panel discussions were all about the craft and business of writing, from how to get an idea, to how to turn an idea into a story, to how to sell to Analog (or anyone). Laurel and I attended several panel discussions together and split up for others.
“Writing Golden Age Fiction Today” (billed as Lou Antonelli, Alan J. Porter, James Reasoner, Adrian Simmons, but with Shane Friesner and Keith West filling in for Adrian Simmons) was interesting to me because I have an unfinished anthology, Millennium Wonder Stories, set the present, but as if written in 1937-1939. Like any good story, the action must be plot driven, fun, and adventurous, with a touch of romance. It has to be “a story that moves.” Introducing a new world is key. A weird menace with “a Scooby-Do ending” (unmasking the threat) is one way to frame those. A point made in other panels was that a plot is not “an extended conceit.” In a Golden Age story, there are no moral ambiguities. We get the future we deserved, not the one we got.
Also on the first night, I went to “Timeless versus Tired Tropes.” Like a riff in music, a trope is a recurring shorthand: the plucky girl, the evil corporation, the mysterious elf, star-crossed lovers, coming of age, bad-assed robot, first person smartass, alien invasion, the dream sequence. Panelist Ari Marmell said, “A trope is a cliché done well.” Steven Brust suggested subverting the trope, changing the reader’s expectations. Panel chair Shawn Scarber offered the city as a character.
Friday night closed with an investigation into the sidekick, “Frodo had Samwise, Han had Chewie…” with Michael Ashleigh Finn, Josh Roundtree, Patrick Sullivan, Rhonda Eudaly, and Skylar White. The sidekick can be relatable or inspirational, a friend whose presence relieves the author of writing interior dialog. It opens the opportunity for a story about the friendship. The relationship can be unequal or equal. The sidekick can also be a stand-in for the audience. It is also possible to “subvert the trope” as was done in Without a Clue in which Dr. Watson is the protagonist.
Saturday opened with Kurt Baty’s presentation on the Antikythera Device. The topic was a little far afield, though science is essential to science fiction. Kurt focused on the machine. I noted that the Antikythera Device does open up both alternate history and lost history as story devices. What would “wine punk” science fiction be like? A world of Daedalus hang gliders, mirror-and-lens burning rays, bronze gear calculators, for a society that speaks of geometry and astronomy. In the real world of the time, a legal slave could be a lawful millionaire.
Laurel and I went to “Writing 101.” They suggested taking a common domestic event and twisting the story, and other advice.
I went to the Guest Editor interview while Laurel was at “Pantsing versus Outlining.” (“Pantsing” is writing by the seat of your pants, not the now-criminal harassment we suffered in our childhoods.) I followed the Guest Editor interview with “How to Sell to Analog (and other Markets)” while Laurel attended “Sitting Pilates for the Sedantary.” We met up again for “You Have a Great Idea for a Story—Now What?” Laurel went to “Serial Killers: Books that Ended a Series” while I walked out of “Technology – Art – Business” which was supposed to be about how recent advances in graphic arts technologies have changed the markets, but turned out to be about where to get free copies of programs that let non-artists find out why they are not artists.
We both attended the session, “Novel or Short Story?” chaired by Louise Marley, with T. Eric Bakutis, Urania Fung, Michelle Muenzler, Patrice Sarath, and William Browning Spencer. We both took a lot of notes. Among the good information was an introduction to where to find markets. Laurel does more reading than I do, but we both benefited from learning about the meta-lists of markets. That was all explored again in depth on Sunday with “Short Story Markets.” That presentation started off rough with the panelists just naming markets in random conversation until another frustrated guy in the audience finally pointed to the easel and flipchart.
The same problem struck the presentation on Cartography which I walked out of. I completed my master’s degree with two classes in geographic information systems. I was looking forward to this. But I was astounded (and not in a Golden Age way) by a panel on Cartography without any graphics.
On Sunday, Laurel was at one of the very many readings by authors that are the structural skeleton of the convention.
Meanwhile, I attended “Clarke Centennial: 2001: A Space Odyssey.” I had a few problems with their opinions. It seemed a common assumption that HAL 9000 typified “technology out of control” a harbinger for petroleum which will kill us all with global warming. Quoting Dr. Chandra, I replied, “HAL was told to lie, by men who find it easy to lie.” Then, I lost my cool over global (even-if-it-is-real-so-fucking-what?) warming. However, I did meet panelist David Afsharirad who edited three volumes of “Year’s Best Military SF” for Baen Publishing Enterprises. I found him later in the dealers room. (He was buying at a table, not selling from one.) I bought all three volumes. He autographed them for me, inscribing them to my units in the Texas State Guard, the Maritime Regiment, and Domestic Operations.
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We picked up a ton of art cards, bookmarks, and other freebies, including self-published little stories. I bought a cool t-shirt, “Book Wyrm” in rich colors depicting a dragon in front of stacks of books. I also was happy to find a spin-off X Files/Star Wars poster (“I want to believe” with the Millennium Falcon for the flying saucer) from Vyktohria, who also draws pin-ups (website here). This was Laurel’s first scifi con. I went to a trekker con in Livonia, Michigan, back in the 20th century. All in all, we both benefited, and we brought home a lot to talk about, even a week later. One reason for this write-up is that we are still transcribing our notes in order to facilitate discussing them. We don’t do that for computer security conferences.
Previously on Necessary Facts
2017 Austin Energy Regional Science Fair
2017 Austin Energy Regional Science Fair