So yeah. Wow. That was Continuum. My first Real Live SFF con and also, terrifyingly, the first con I was speaking as a panellist at. I figured it would be a way to meet people, which it was, but also, holy shit. Speaking in front of roomfuls of people.
We were in the “big room” for both panels (more on which in a bit) and, like, spoiler alert, but for all I fake this confident, jetsetting, rich hipster persona online I am super fucking shy in the real life. So I fumbled through my intros and babbled through the half the points I wanted to make while forgetting the others, but hey. I did it. So yay me. Achievement Unlocked: Panelist.
Anyway, that was only about two hours out of the three days (the con is four, but we had to fly home on Monday, so I missed that day… boo Qantas), so what was I doing for the rest of the time? Going to other people’s panels, of course, because I am a talking heads fucking junkie. And also spamming my Twitter feed with livetweets which, sorry not sorry, because the con was great and y’all should’ve been there.
World-building and Culture-building (and Appropriation; how not to)
(Laura Wilkinson, Rjurik Davidson, Rob Hood, Cecilia Quirk)
First up on the Friday evening, this one got diverted quite a bit into discussing things like monocultures in SFF. You know, that’s the thing where every single alien on a planet has the same religion and speaks the same language, whereas on Earth we can’t even agree on whether you’re allowed to use the plural “they” hundreds of years after it first appeared in literature (more on which later).
The idea of “bad” cultural representations being better than no cultural representations was also brought up, in the context of, “at least it gives people a conversation starter”, though the panel agreed good cultural representation was best. So do your homework, authors (a theme that would be echoed throughout the weekend).
(Alis Franklin, Laura Wilkinson, Hespa, Upulie Divisekera, Darren Sanderson)
— Katie Mack (@AstroKatie) June 5, 2015
This was my panel! Those are my books on the table and my slideshow on the projector, but thankfully I’m sitting out of shot to the right so phew. During the panel, we looked at older reconstructions of dinosaurs (the “terrible lizard” ones) versus some of the newer, more bird-like reconstructions.
Reframing dinosaurs as bird-shaped makes them seem real, rather than mythical #con11
— Rivqa Rafael (@enoughsnark) June 5, 2015
I mentioned the main reason why I think it’s taken paleontology so long to catch up on the dinos-as-birds thing, which is essentially that most of the best-preserved feathered fossils are coming out of China, whose paleontology has only recently been accessible.
We also talked feathers, and how certain components in the the colours of feathers do fossilise, which is how we know microraptors were iridescent blue-black like modern corvids. Plus a whole bunch of other stuff I could write a whole other post on.
Basically, it was a great panel and, as a non-scientist, I constantly felt like I was saying wrong stuff, but thankfully we had some smart people in the audience who’d chip in info when when we forgot things. So thanks, helpful hecklers! And I’m sorry if I said things that made you wince too much.
Interlude and missed panels #1
Anyway, after that I went out for a while for a well-earned dinner with my family. This meant I missed the Opening Ceremony, which I was kinda bummed about. But also: cocktails. So, yanno. Maybe next year. I also missed the Fanfic 101 panel, which I was bummed about but, also, apparently would’ve only been the second audience member in, so the cancelled the panel and went to the bar instead. As I was also at a bar at the time, I feel I still got the appropriate effect.
Continuum 101 (aka The Newbie Panel)
(Hespa, Fran La Fontaine, Amanda Elliott)
Back from dinner, I walked into this one late because I am a terrible person. The room looked relatively populated but apparently I was only the second “legit newbie”, as recognised by Hespa (who’s lovely, and who I’d just done the dinos panel earlier in the evening with).
Anyway, protip: go to the newbies panel if you are, in fact, a newbie. The point isn’t just to get information on how the con works, which you’ll get, but also to meet some of the organisers and to let them know that, y’know. It’s your first time so they can watch out for you for the rest of the weekend. Like I mentioned above, I’m super-shy but also have a kind of confident public persona1 so I think I often get into that situation where I’m scared to talk to new people but also they’re scared to talk to me. Going to the con 101 panels, as well as things like the hosted dinners and lunches, can help break that ice a bit.
Anyway, point being: everyone at Continuum was super-friendly and really lovely. So shoutouts for that.
Depictions of Nerds on TV/Movies
(Candice Schilder, Darren Sanderson)
My first really late-night panel, which mostly turned into a room full of girls loudly squeeing at each other over their favourite female media nerds, but also lamenting that some of the representations are a bit, yanno. Limited. The Big Bang Theory, and the fan polarisation thereof, was discussed, including a really heartbreaking story from one of the women sitting next to me who talked about how she loves it despite its problematic elements because it helped her get through a really tough time in her life. There was also a lot of talk about what, exactly, counts as a “nerd”, particularly as the trope relates to the “smart girl” character. Hermione is a smart girl… but would she be seen at an SFF con? Ditto for someone like Tony Stark. And, if not, does that make them not “nerds” as such? The room also spent a lot of time trying to think of nerds who weren’t “traditionally” smart–think Troy from Community–and came up mostly blank. So there’s some interesting territory there, I think, in teasing out the difference between “smart” characters and “nerdy” characters.2
Ultimately, the room concluded it preferred seeing TV nerds who were nerds in addition to some other role they played in their narrative, as opposed to narratives where the nerds existed just to be nerds, which I thought was an interesting conclusion to come to at 11 at night when everyone was half asleep.
Computer Geeks and Computer: Fail in Visual Media
(Kathryn Andersen, Jason Franks, Alis Franklin, Lisa Sinclair)
Saturday morning, and my second panel! This was a really brutal programming slot, since we were up against Margo Lanagan and Tansy Rayner Roberts’ panel about emotion in SFF and the panel on Queer/LGBTIQ Worldbuilding. Actually, every single panel on in this timeslot I would’ve liked to have attended, but sadly I had to attend my own one.
Or not sadly, because it was awesome! We had a clip show, going through a bunch of clips from TV shows and movies of people using computers, then talked about how they sucked or didn’t suck, as appropriate. The audience laughed a bit in appropriate places, which I thought was nice.
We focused a lot of example of hacking in media, because they tend to be the easiest to find. The main take home of the day was that hacking is pretty fucking boring to watch, even if it’s theoretically interesting, which is why, whenever you see it in media, it’s almost always intercut with some kind of more traditional action sequence. This is just as true in Captain America 2 (dudes closing in on Steve and Natasha in the Apple Store) as it is in The Social Network (Zuckerberg sitting alone in his room intercut with shots of hot students partying).
Also, I got to talk a little about Stuxnet and SCADA hacks, as well as some other things like social engineering, salami slicing, directory tree traversal attacks, and malware attribution. Actually, I probably babbled way too much in the panel. Oops.
Guest of Honour Speech: RJ Anderson
Anderson’s speech was pretty fucking amazing, talking about what adult fiction can learn from YA/MG fiction. The focus was mainly on hope; Anderson pointed out that you can go pretty damn dark even in stories for very young children, but the difference between it and adult fiction was that children’s lit needs an element of hope to it that we’re maybe… lost a little in adult fiction.
Here. Have some tweets:
Basically, Tolkien knew first-hand the horrors of war, and didn’t shy away from them in LotRO. But he also knew about the heroism and camaraderie that can develop between people in dire circumstances. Hence his outlook on violence and war is, while still being brutal, more hopeful and uplifting than someone like Martin’s. Martin who applied for conscientious objector status in order to avoid the draft for the Vietnam War.
This is an… interesting observation, I think, with a hell of a lot to unpack in it. Much more than I’ve got space for here. So, moving on…
I thought this one was really interesting, and it explains the whole “why do all book covers look the same?” thing. Basically, the US book market is dominated by a small handful of buyers for the big chain stores. If these buyers don’t like the packaging on a book, then they won’t buy it, it won’t get into stores, and the book will tank. So covers aren’t there for the author and they’re not even there for the readers; they’re there to appease the tastes of some dude at Barnes & Noble. Anderson talked about this in the context of her novels that were released in the US with a heavily feminine “pink and princesses” look… and didn’t do nearly as well as when they were released in the UK with a more gender-neutral fantasy illustration cover.
For the record, this echoed something I’d heard on Friday from an editor at Penguin, who was hosting a workshop at the #writingwhilefemale festival.3 Australia has a much stronger indie bookstore scene than the US does, so things work a bit differently here. I’m sure I’ll have more words on this subject at a later date.
Anyway, point being: awesome Guest of Honor speech. I think the whole room was tearing up at one point. Truly great stuff.
(Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts)
This was a live recording of the Galactic Suburbia podcast. I won’t spoil it, because I’m sure it’ll be up online to listen to shortly. Which y’all should do. Seriously, these ladies are great. So go listen to them, then go vote for them in the appropriate Hugos category, given they’ve been nommed this year.
The Racial History of Orcs
This was a solo panel to a tiny room; just me and one other dude, for the most part. Which is a real shame, because I think we got… maybe a bit chatty and deraily around the 101 parts of the topic, rather than letting Dr. Young talk more in-depth about her thesis. So I will say her book, Race and Popular Fantasy Literature: Habits of Whiteness sounds fucking fascinating. It’s from an academic publisher, so it costs like a zillion dollars, which sucks, but I’m totally going to buy it anyway, and if y’all can’t afford it, go ask for it at your local library. Or go add it on GoodReads. If there’s enough interest, hopefully the publisher will release a more accessible version…
The History of Australian Fandom
(Terry Frost, Bruce Gillespie)
Frost and Gillespie are fandom greybeards, who’ve been in the Australian scene since the 1970s. I admit I was bit, um, wary about this panel, because sometimes “old dudes talk about The Good Ol’ Days” is… not always the greatest for young women to listen to. Like, I was a little worried when the panellists started telling a story about a Certain International Author, infamous for sexual harassment, who’d come to Australia for a con and had asked the panellists to find him a “tall, leggy blonde”. This was one of those stories that starts with a sinking feeling, but ended up with something along the lines of, “I wasn’t real keen on pimping for [Author], and I didn’t know any ‘tall, leggy blondes’. But I did know a tall, leggy brunette. So I said, [Author], meet my mate [Bruce McMalename]. And [Author] looked me right in the eyes and told me, ‘You. Stay away from me.'”
So, after that story, I stopped being so worried.
Basically, everything new is old again. Oldskool fandom just had to wait thirty years for the technology to catch up.
My favourite story from this panel, however, was how the Scientologists tried to take over Australian SFF fandom in the 1980s. They used to host their own minicons, with the intent of pushing “terrible L. Ron Hubbard books” (approximate paraphrase) and Scientologist dogma. They’d get people in by putting on buffet lunches and dinners. Fandom, however, was wise to their tactics, and used to race in, eat all the food, and piss off before the speeches began. Eventually, the Scientologists gave up on this tactic, and launched their Writers of the Future initiative instead.
Other things I learnt from this panel: Larry Niven apparently brings a mean pavlova to room parties.
The Heroine’s Journey
(Amanda Bridgeman, Katherine Phelps, Jason Franks, Amie Kaufman, Lindy Cameron)
This one was a deconstruction of the idea that the Hero’s Journey is some kind of cultural universal. Partly because it doesn’t wrap well around a lot of traditional non-Western narratives, but also because it doesn’t wrap at all around traditional Western female-driven narratives.
There was, I think, a bit of an, um, undercurrent of discontent in this panel regarding the idea of separate Hero and Heroine’s Journeys. One of the reasons the Hero’s Journey archetype is so popular in media is that it’s really easy to write to; it gives a solid beginning-middle-end structure to a story, with pre-set emotional beats in all the right places. But some of those beats are a bit, um, sexist. So what do? Particularly given the traditional Heroine’s Journey, as exemplified by things like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty and the One Thousand and One Nights, relies much more on passive elements–the heroine is a beautiful pure cinnamon roll too good for this world until she’s “rescued” by the one man who appreciates her–that didn’t seem to resonate with most of the women in the room.
So there was a bunch of interesting discussion about women in Hero’s Journey roles; the Buffy and Ripley and Furiosa archetypes. But how these are problematic as well, since they can fall into the Exceptional Female/Blokes-With-Boobs trap. In the end, the only answer is to show a plurality of female heroes/heroines succeeding in a plurality of different ways. There’s plenty of room for the ass-kicking Tough Bitch and the Beautiful Cinnamon Roll who wins via kindness and compassion.4
Anyway. This panel room was standing room only and boiling hot because of it. Women turn out en masse to listen to women talk about women. Who would’ve thought?
Interlude and missed panels #2
Somewhere in here I spent a bunch of money buying stuff from the Crafter’s Market (geeky crafts!), and then got called out to Family Lunch. This meant I missed the Guest of Honor speech from Tansy Rayner Roberts, which I’m really bummed about. Bad time management, Alis. Sheesh.
Writing LGBTI Characters
(Narrelle M Harris, Lauren Mitchell, Emma Osborne, Cecil Wilde, Hespa)
Another packed, boiling hot panel.
There was a lot of discussion on asexuality, bisexuality, and genderqueer-ness, which was really refreshing to see. Fanfic and Tumblr were brought up repeatedly as amazing resources for people to experiment and explore their sexualities, and to share their stories, in ways previous generations haven’t necessarily been able to. The panel also discussed the idea that positive representations are really, really important for people with less visible sexualities/genders, such as ace individuals, so they don’t inadvertently find themselves in abusive or toxic relationships.
There was a lot of discussion around language and labelling, and how it’s important to get things right but also not to police the identities of other people. Let them decide what words they want to use for themselves. The panel also raised the idea that the marginalisation of non-binary genders in the West has lead to the multiple different types of gender neutral pronoun. It was suggested this might normalise itself out in a few decades, after non-binary presentations become more widely accepted and “standard” gender-neutral pronouns become more common in English. But at the moment, we’re going through a transition period, so basically call people what they want to be called.
There was an amusing aside here as the panel struggled with the use of words like “y’all” and “folks” in place of the gendered (and sexist!) “you guys”. Inclusive language is great! Except… it’s so American auurgh! As someone who says y’all a lot, I sympathised with this dilemma.
There was also an interesting question at the end, raised by an older member of the audience, about whether the modern focus on Happily Ever After in queer fiction erases the struggles past generations went through in order for alternate genders and sexualities to be accepted. I thought the panel dealt with this really well, saying that, yeah, there’s definitely a place for stories that reveal the ugly history of the QUILTBAG community’s struggle for recognition. But, particularly in the realm of speculative fiction–which doesn’t have to be rooted in Earthly faults and failings–there’s also a place for positive queer stories, in order to give hope and guidance to younger generations.
(Helen Merrick, Cat Sparks, Stephanie Lai, Justin Woolley, Jason Nahrung)
So just when I thought we were all going to die of heatstroke in these things… Stephanie Lai found the button to turn on the air conditioning. Which was kind of ironically appropriate for a panel that largely dealt with climate change.
Well, climate change and xenophobia, since those tend to be the two flavours Australian dystopias come in. There was a lot of discussion around Tomorrow When the War Began, which is… kind of a bit racist, and which goes in and out of favour in relation to Australia’s xenophobic zeitgeist (it is currently in, and a TV series is allegedly in the works).
Also a bunch of discussion in here about how Australian dystopic fiction has a nasty habit of appropriating the trappings of Indigenous culture while simultaneously erasing actual Indigenous people. Once again, the importance of research and sensitivity were stressed.
(Lauren Mitchell, Bismuth Hoban, Andy Hazel, Alan Stewart)
This was my last panel for the con, and it was another really late night one with only me and one other woman in the audience. It was also really freakin’ great.
Topics were pretty wide-ranging, talking about the way Twin Peaks captured the intensity of small town life, and the way it both recognised and critiqued the male gaze with characters like Laura and Josie. (Admittedly problematically, but, yanno. It’s Lynch.) There was also a lot of talk about The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, and how unusual it was to see such an intense look at a teenage girl struggling with abuse, sex work, and drug addiction. I’m totally going to read that now, I think–it seems pretty easily accessible from Amazon, in a variety of formats–and then I’m going to go watch Twin Peaks all over again because holy shit new season in 2016 amirite everyone?
So yeah. This panel? Totally got me all jazzed up for that. It was 1,000% worth staying up late to attend, and what a high point to end my first Continuum experience!
Things I learnt from my first con
So those were all the panels. This was the rest of it:
- Do make a schedule! So much stuff, so little time!
- If you’re a panellist, and you have a laptop, do bring the right cables (I didn’t, but fortunately managed to get some from concom). Also a notepad and pen. And water. Lots and lots of water.
- Definitely do attend the low-population panels. Some of my favourite panels at Continuum were the panels with only two or three people in the room. These are a very different experience to the popular panels; more intimate and “chatty”, and thus more memorable.
- If you’re in one of these, or in the front-ish rows of a more populated panel, do practice active listening. That means make eye contact with the panellists, and make appropriate facial expressions when they say things. Being a panellist is really terrifying, and there’s a tendency to want to talk to your fellow panellists rather than the audience, because the audience is scary. But, as a panellist (and with some few exceptions), you really should be talking to the room, not the panel. So help your panellists out by being the Active Listener they can connect to. Panellists, find the Active Listeners and address them. Rapport is important!
- Don’t derail 200- and 300-level panels with 101 questions. This happens a lot in the smaller panels, and sometimes it’s hard not to do it, but… try.
- That being said, do ask questions and join in when invited. Participation is great!
- Do attend the con 101 panel if you’re new. This will help you find friends and feel less left out.
- If you can, do stay in the hotel the con is held in, if for no other reason it’ll let you get to the late night panels. Late night panels are fun!
- If a panel room door is locked, or you’re told it’s full by the Chair, don’t barge you way in anyway. Seriously. I saw this happen and it’s a shitty thing to do.
- Most importantly, however, do have fun!
So yeah. Continuum 11. Fucking awesome. I had a great time, and I’m so glad I went, and so kicking myself for not going earlier. Special big thanks to my co-panellists–Laura Wilkinson, Hespa, Upulie Divisekera, Darren Sanderson, Kathryn Andersen, Jason Franks, and Lisa Sinclair–for letting me play in their sandboxes. And special extra big thanks to Hespa (again) and Sharon Mosely, for going out of their way to make me feel welcome at my first event where I knew exactly no one.
See everyone next year!
Oh. And one last thing…
My Continuum 11 makeup survival bag
I’ve got purple hair at the moment, so matching makeup is “fun”. Anyway, here’s what I shoved into my bag before I left:
- NARS Pure Radiant Tinted Moisturiser, NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer and bareMinerals Touch Up Veil, because I’ve kind of gone off full-face foundation. I like to see my acne scars! Just… not so much the actual acne.
- By Terry Ombre Blackstar Cream Eyeshadow (Bronze Moon) is fucking magical. I only bought this a day before I came down and, seriously. Instant love.
- By Terry Growth Booster Mascara in purple, to match my hair. I’ve never been a fan of mascara, but apparently that’s because I’m using the wrong ones. This is not the wrong one.
- stila Smudge Stick Waterproof Eyeliner (Tetra), which is a smudgy purple eyeliner perfect for my blind fumbling blending.
- NARS Dual Intensity Eyeshadow (Subra), for that 11pm panel smokey finish.
- NARS Audacious Lipstick (Liv) is a really dark purple. I didn’t wear it on its own, but rather dabbled a bit on and blended it out with the more naturally colored NARS Satin Lip Pencil, for a slightly-darker-than-natural natural look.