This is the first of what I hope will be many guest posts, by my beloved better half pennski
The Wiscon Chronicles: Carnival of Feminist SF vol 3.
Edited by Liz Henry
Aqueduct Press, 2009, 250pp
A challenge for this review is to try to convey what this book covers for those who have never been to a Wiscon convention. Will it mean anything to them?
So – my questions to myself about this book are:
What worked well?
How did this enhance my understanding of the Wiscon I went to?
What does this reflection add?
What new concepts have I gained?
How would this work for someone who had never been? Someone who had missed this one?
Who is the target audience and does it reach them?
First, some necessary background – Wiscon is a feminist science-fiction convention held annually over the Memorial Day weekend at Madison, Wisconsin. It has a multi-track program that ranges over books, TV, film, manga, academic papers, political discourse, fan fic, vidding, gaming, costuming and more. Most program items are in the form of panels.
From the outside it can appear to be scarily monolithic, with an accepted mode of thinking. From the inside, it is a broad church with many different views and thoughts, some of which are exhilarating, some of which are obvious and some of which are batshit crazy. Which is which of course, depends on who’s looking.
The purpose of the Chronicles is to “represent a cross-section of the diverse conversations happening at Wiscon and beyond”(viii) because “What happens at Wiscon doesn’t stay at Wiscon”.
While this representation speaks most clearly to those who were there, it is not exclusive – those who weren’t there are also invited into the conversation.
The most useful concept I picked up was “bracketing” – that of accepting and setting to one side the unacceptable part of something, so as not to reject the good part. All too often in the past I have rejected the whole of something rather than accept it in part!
What worked well for me is that several panels were reported in detail (caveat: from notes not recordings) with a series of responses and reflections. It was particularly good to read the transcript of and reactions to the “Elves and Dwarves: The Racism inherent in Fantasy” panel. I attended this panel and felt uncomfortable at the conflicts expressed. Afterwards, I rationalised it as “one of those panels that didn’t quite work properly” and put it aside. Reading the transcript, I found that a couple of years more experience enabled me to understand some of the dilemmas the panellists were exploring from their different viewpoints and to understand where the conflict came from. Reading Sigrid Ellis, John Kim and Bridget Collins’ responses has shown me that this conflict provoked Sigrid’s clear and valuable “Request to Authors of Traditional Fantasy Novels”, John Kim’s broader understanding of this topic within the fantasy field and his wonderfully creative “what if…?” suggestions for other types of delineation and Bridget Collins’ request of “Where do we go from here?”
On the sheer fun side, there was the panel report of “Let’s build a world”. I wasn’t sure how intelligible this would be given that I hadn’t been there, but it ended up being laugh-out loud funny. I was reminded of one point during a Tiptree auction, when the whole process stopped for laughter. Ellen Klages told us to remember this moment the following week when we were back in our normal lives and someone said “Feminist science-fiction convention? Sounds worthy but dull to me!” Of course, I can’t remember what we were laughing at at that point.
Something that didn’t work as well for me was the account of the Robot Collective uprising. This wasn’t something I was involved in – I saw it happen during the Tiptree Auction and my main reaction was “huh?” Reading the account didn’t really explain it any further. However, while this event made no sense to me, I can accept that for others it may have been a key part of their Wiscon. Bracketing in action you see.
Given that I’ve been steeped in Wiscon for about 8 years now, it is hard to imagine just what this would look like from the outside. I think some of the accounts are complete enough to be intelligible to any sf fan who is interested in thinking more deeply about what they read, whether or not they describe themselves as politically motivated. Other articles would be very hard to follow. I hope the plethora of commentaries would show that we are not all indoctrinated into one viewpoint.
The main target audience is going to be Wiscon attendees and sympathisers. I doubt anyone who wasn’t already thinking about attending a Wiscon would read this. It isn’t a proselytising work, but nor is it a secret handbook only for the initiates.
I found this engaging and readable – it brought my experiences back to life and enabled me to reflect on them a little more.
Originally published at Books, Bytes & Other Bits. You can comment here or there.