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Think GalactiCon: small new progressive Chicago con

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The below note comes from Jef Smith (not to be confused with Tiptree literary executor Jeffrey D. Smith), who's involved with a small new sf convention to be held in Chicago in mid-July. The con is explicitly modeled after WisCon, though the focus appears to be leftist politics rather than feminism per se, and it has cool guests.

I'm not at all affiliated with this convention, and I'm not even sure I'll have time to go to it, but I think it sounds great, and I figured it was worth passing the info along (and yes, I got Jef's permission to repost this).

The con is a new project for Think Galactic, a Chicago-based leftist SF reading group [...]. Modeled after WisCon, we're hosting a weekend of interesting and challenging programming on topics of race, gender, class, power, and others. We're looking to push the envelope, so to speak (fewer "101" panels), and hope to generate some intense yet engaging discussion.

As a part of the convention we'll be publishing a chapbook that reprints stories from China Miéville and Nisi Shawl with commentary and advice for forming politically oriented SF reading groups.

Current guests include Nalo [Hopkinson], Nisi [Shawl], and Nnedi [Okorafor-Mbachu], as well as Jim Munroe, an author/DIY publisher from Toronto, and SF critic/scholar Gary K. Wolfe.

The details:

Think GalactiCon, July 13-15 at Roosevelt University in downtown Chicago. (Official press release (PDF))

We're collecting programming ideas on our LiveJournal community.

For more information, email Jef Smith. Reminder: I (Jed) am not in any way affiliated with this con, so I'm unlikely to be able to answer questions about it.

8 Comments

Mixing fun with politics. Mph. :P


Anonymous: It's remarkable how many disagreements I have with such a short comment.

As is probably obvious, I don't consider sf to be purely, or even mostly, about "fun"; a lot of sf is quite political, and as long as it's not heavy-handed about it, I like that. (It's rare that I like heavy-handed political stuff of any kind.) And quite a lot of the not-particularly-political sf that I like isn't what I would call "fun." Though I also like some fun sf, of course.

Then, too, a lot of fun stuff also has political implications, regardless of whether those involved want it to or not. And, of course, political stuff can be fun as well. So I firmly disagree with the dichotomy that your comment presupposes.

...I'm a little surprised to see your comment in my journal, because my journal mixes fun (and sf) with politics quite often; I would think that someone who found such a mix distasteful wouldn't have been among the first people to read this entry. I'm certainly not saying that you shouldn't read my journal, or that you shouldn't comment; just wasn't expecting this kind of response as the first comment to this entry. But life is full of surprises.


Jed, do disregard my email about this convention--I'll just send Rachel the link, now that you've made it public.

Cheers!


Maybe Anonymous is concerned about the SINFUL TOPIC that arises when you mix FUN and POLITICS. Of course, FICTION PLUS sometimes results as well, or that neat Brin audiobook about SONIC UPLIFT. But before I INFLICT (an) OPUS upon you all, I should let you know: CLIFTON IS UP!


That Anonymous was me--I missed my login roll there. That's what I get for posting before nap. -_-

Anyway, to clarify: SF/F is one of the few places where (for the most part) I feel like I can leave modern politics behind. The one thing we can all agree on: we'd like a better future, something with sense-of-wonder and to spare.

Too, since I know about 10 progressive SF/F authors for everyone one conservative one, hearing about a progressive SF/F con feels a little like hearing about an all heterosexual's club. :)


Anyway, sorry for flubbing the login!


Interesting, M.C.A. Me, I think SF is better suited than any other genre to addressing current political issues — by showing us our future, it illuminates our present. Political SF has a lengthy pedigree, from George Orwell and Ursula LeGuin to Ken MacLeod and China Mieville. For that matter, the political resonances are some of the most interesting things about the current Battlestar Galactica series. De gustibus non disputandem, of course.


Oh, I don't argue that SF/F can be used so, jere7my... only that (with very rare occasions), I find it very tiresome, particularly if it's intentional.

BSG is a splendid example: I thought the abortion episode was brilliant because it examined the issue from a completely different, unlikely angle, in a situation that has no direct analogue to ours... and so we end up considering it without the baggage of current social context.

On the other hand, the attempt to draw a parallel between events in the series and the Iraq war felt forced to me, as if the authors had stepped back and said, 'Hey, it's time for an obvious allegory so we can say something specific about what's going on now!' I found that part of it very irritating, particularly since the script writers seemed to be selling a specific point of view... and not entertaining, which is horrible in fiction.

I don't read/watch SF/F to get my daily dose of polemic, nor am I interested in watching people get up on a soapbox (even if they agree with me) and paying them for it. People will do that for free on their blogs...!


j7y: :) re anagrams, and thanks for the comments on politics.

M.C.A.: Thanks for elaborating. A few (lengthy) thoughts follow, but I should start by noting that none of this is meant as an attack on you; I think that you and I have some fairly strong disagreements about art in general, sf in particular, and politics, but I like talking with you and I like your writing, and I'm always happy to see you comment in my journal. Nothing here is meant to push you toward shutting up; this is meant as a friendly exploration of a disagreement.

First, I would make a very big distinction between "political" and "polemic." A lot of my favorite sf is strongly political, but I generally strongly dislike stuff I see as polemic even when I agree with its point (and even when I normally love the author's work). In fact, I consider at least one of your stories that we've published ("Unspeakable") to be pretty strongly political, without straying across the line into polemic, and that's one of the things I love about it.

This may just be a case of our disagreeing about definitions of "political," though. I'm not sure I can define what I mean by that term, but here's a rough first approximation: to me, a story is "political" to the degree that it addresses, discusses, or works with issues related to things that real-world people tend to hold politically oriented opinions or beliefs about, including (but not limited to) the ways in which people do or don't fit into their societies in areas that tend to be real-world politically contentious. My definition is a pretty broad one; to the extent to which the idea that "the personal is the political" is true, it can be hard to write a story with plausible characters in it that doesn't verge on the political.

Your comment about the all-heterosexuals club has been running through my head, and I'm not sure I have a good answer for it. But I do think that most people in the modern US who hold strong political views see their political group as being beleaguered, under attack. I think a lot of liberals feel that the US is in the midst of a long rightward swing, and being part of a group where the majority more or less agrees with their political views doesn't make them feel any less like society at large (and the current administration in particular) is attacking their beliefs. (And, of course, a lot of conservatives feel that the US is in the midst of an even longer leftward swing, and the fact that conservatives have been in control of both Congress and the White House recently doesn't make them feel any less like their core beliefs and values are under attack from the culture at large.) (This paragraph, btw, is not an invitation to readers to argue about whether the US really is more liberal or more conservative; I'm talking about people's personal perceptions, and I'm pretty sure I'm right about the perceptions because I've seen people on both sides in recent years write sincerely, vociferously, and at length about feeling under attack. Anyway, even asking that question would presuppose a vast oversimplification, because "the US" isn't any one thing.)

Then, too, although I agree that the field as a whole generally tilts leftward, I don't think it's as much or as far as you seem to be saying, though you may've been exaggerating for effect. I think there's a very strong (and very vocal) libertarian streak in the sf community, for example--which doesn't in itself contradict your point about the ratio of liberal to conservative writers, but I think it does contradict what I saw as the implicit corollary that 90%+ of the field is liberal. And we at SH continue to receive a surprising number of stories in which the evil PC liberals have taken over the US and ruined the country.

I would also say that an explicitly leftist convention is likely to lean quite a bit further to the left than the sf field as a whole. Most sf readers and writers tend, in my experience, not to be especially comfortable talking explicitly about things like race, gender, sexual orientation, or class in relation to sf, much less going "beyond 101" in those areas. (Side note: a lot of leftist sf people are similarly uncomfortable talking explicitly about religious and military issues.) When I talk about those things on panels at conventions other than WisCon, I tend to get a fair number of blank looks and/or angry retorts. There are plenty of people who believe that those things have no place in sf or in discussions of sf, and that any attempt to discuss those issues is an attempt to apply fascist-PCist standards, to make all sf a bland and uninteresting mush in which every possible underrepresented group is celebrated. It's hard to have a conversation about some of this stuff at a deeper level when you have to constantly justify your premises. I imagine plenty of conservatives in sf feel the same way.

I do think that it's a bad idea to talk only with people who agree with you. But I don't see that happening in the sf world, at least not in political areas.

As support for my point about the idea that this convention will be significantly more leftist than most, I offer the expectation that not a whole lot of people will want to go to it. I imagine a fair number of the WisCon crowd will be interested, but I suspect most sf readers and writers, including most liberal ones, wouldn't be interested.

Onward to Battlestar Galactica:

Note: Some vague spoilers for the beginning of season 3 of BSG follow; I apologize to anyone who hasn't gotten to that point yet. If anyone responds with more specific or later-occurring spoilers, please mark them as such.

It's true that part of the show's idea from the start was to examine current political issues through the lens of sf--but to me, one of the ways in which the show has succeeded is that it generally hasn't been heavy-handed or exact in its parallels. Yes, we did see terrorists portrayed in a positive light early on, and we did recently see the good guys engage in suicide bombing--but I don't see the show as clearly delineating "good guys" and "bad guys" as such. Not all of the "good guys" saw the suicide bombing as a good thing, and some of the "bad guys" have been pretty sympathetically portrayed. I like me some shades of grey, and there are a lot of them on that show.

Your abortion-in-BSG comment may be an example of your and my differing definitions. To me, just about any work of fiction that deals with abortion is inherently political, because readers are pretty likely to hold political ideas about abortion in the real world, and to view the story in light of those ideas. To me, a story that deals with abortion from a new point of view is still political, it's just (probably) not heavy-handedly political, which makes me more likely to like it.

I guess for me all this boils down to feeling that exploration of political issues is one of the things I like best about a lot of sf, but that simplistic, heavy-handed, and blunt statements about political issues are among the things I like least. It sounds like we draw the line between "heavy-handed" and "interestingly complex" in different places, though.

One last comment: I also still disagree with the idea that it's bad when fiction isn't "entertaining," though that may again be largely a difference in definition. But I don't think I'd be willing to use the word "entertaining" to describe most of my favorite fiction.