For whatever reason, it felt like Friday was the most programming-heavy day of the con; this made me very happy I'd taken the day off so I could get to more of it, but threw off my general feeling of the pace of a three-day convention. (It also made me sad that folks who couldn't take Friday off were missing such a significant chunk of the con. The programming during Arisia's extension into Monday didn't seem like nearly as big a loss for those who couldn't be there.) The upshot of all of this is that Saturday, normally the day with the most going on programming-wise at a three-day con, got me to one panel and one event. (OTOH, lots of good hallway/lobby conversations ensued.)
Saturday started with a serendipitous breakfast meeting with enegim
, D. (WINOLJ), Bob Devney, Michael Devney, and SFRevu's Ernest Lilley. That got the day off to a nice start with the informal Buffet Panel. (Among the topics: this discussion
of McCain's citizenship status; there's an argument, that will probably never see a court, that he was caught in a corner case of citizenship law at the time of his birth and retroactively naturalized by a 1937 statute.)
1100: "Why Don’t We Do it in the Reformation?: Underutilized Historical Eras in Spec Fic"
I didn't take nearly as many notes for this one as I did for Friday's If Free Electronic Texts Are Good Promotion, What’s Piracy?
, but did take some. Having finally had time to read through (most of) the comments on sartorias
's Bittercon post on the topic
(176 at last count), I have to agree that the online discussion was more generally fruitful than the panel. (The topic may just lend itself better to a medium that encourages multiple discussion threads and more time available to think about responses.)
The high visibility of alt-hist in the genre as a whole seemed to weight the discussion somewhat toward that are. The general consensus seemed to be that there was too much WW II and too much American Civil War, with everything else underused to a greater or lesser extent.
Farah Mendlesohn (fjm
) asked why the Spanish Civil War gets no love, especially since changing that would be one way to get a very different, or nonexistent, WW II.
Carolyn Ives Gilman (see? I'm not confusing Glenn Grant, Gavin Grant, Greer Gilman, and Carolyn Ives Gilman this year!) said that she thought wars were overused because war results in a much more stripped-down view of society (as depicted in fiction). James Cambias said that he didn't think that was as true for historical fiction as for AH.
Mendlesohn suggested (Readercon 20 Guest of Honor) Elizabeth Hand's Mortal Love
as a "travelogue with a tourist of 19th Century England". Walter H. Hunt asked her if it was "like de Tocqueville"; her response: "at times, very much like that."
John Crowley mentioned Paul Parks's (?) four book "Roumania" series, but wondered if you had to know the real European background to appreciate them. Hunt said "if you don't, then what? Is that why nobody writes in these settings?" [ckd: see also Cambias's comment, later]
Gilman noted that there are fads and fashions among professional historians, also. Some eras and/or areas become more popular than others.
Mendlesohn recommended James Morrow's The Last Witchfinder
, then suggested that the problem with many eras in Britain was "boring kings" and that there wasn't enough historical fiction set in Birmingham [ckd: or possibly even anywhere but London, really].
She then mentioned the earlier US civil rights era (running from the 1890s through the 1920s and 1940s) as being underused [ckd: I'd say it's also very very underappreciated in general]. I think there was some discussion at that point of some reasons it's less well known, mostly that those pushing for it tended to be socialists (or at least seen as such/associating with such) and therefore significantly de-emphasized in history class. Hunt said that John Dos Passos's USA
covers this era. [ckd: also probably worth reading as a stylistic influence on writers from Brunner to Haldeman. I should read it....]
Hunt then made some comment about the naval portions of the French and Indian War being "all different" (from something), which I didn't note down any details of, but obviously thought interesting enough to note at the time. Anyone who does remember and could refresh my memory would be appreciated.
James Cambias noted that fiction set in a particular setting tends to attract more fiction in the same setting. [ckd: This of course leads to the problem of an author doing "research" by reading fiction and therefore getting it wrong.]
There was some audience discussion/questions, including such various bits as a mention of the blast furnace being invented in monasteries, but lost when Henry VIII destroyed them; Slavic history (Mendlesohn asked how many people know when the US invaded Russia, and was happy to see so many hands go up); and a question about "why not more English Civil War fiction?" Mendlesohn's reply to the last was that there was plenty of it in the UK, much of which still takes sides.
Ekaterina Sedia made a point that's similar to one made in the Bittercon discussion: "There are no unused eras, just overused time/place/people combinations."
Cambias closed out with a possibly telling point: using an obscure period means that you have to do a lot of research work for the few people who do know/care, but that for the majority of readers it's likely to be just as new to them as a completely fictional background.
My congoing day then wandered off into various trips through the Book Shop, hallway conversations, a dinner run, James Cambias's card game Bone Wars
, the Kirk Poland Bad Prose competition, more Bone Wars, and then some sleep.
 As already mentioned, I didn't go to the con Thursday evening, so my experience was of a three-day con with an early Friday start.
 The second sentence of sartorias
's post starts with "I don't know how much interest this one will raise--"; I think we have the answer, and the answer is "a whole heck of a lot".