This weekend my editor (aka “The Wife”) and I are at DragonCon, the largest sci-fi/fantasy/pop-culture/geek-fest in the US. The con is in beautiful Atlanta, GA…which is one long drive from beautiful Denton, TX.
We arrived in Atlanta last night about 8pm and decided to walk the two blocks down to the conference hotel to pick up our pre-registration badges. There we joined a line that wrapped around all four sides of the hotel, led into the grand ballroom, wrapped around 20 or so cordons, and ended at the booths where you pick up your registration materials. About 4 hours later, we had our badges in hand. Fortunately for us, we had some fun people around us that were cutting up and making the time go by more quickly. The only bad thing is that we essentially paid $20 less per ticket for the privilege of waiting about 4 times longer in line than if we hadn’t pre-paid. Lesson learned: next time, get in town earlier!
This morning, after our hearty breakfast, we headed down to begin our con in earnest. I was dressed as “Jayne Cobb” and The Wife was dressed as “Kaylee“, both from the series “Firefly“. We actually received a fair amount of complements on our costumes and even met some picture hunters: one was collecting “Kaylees“, another sought pictures of “that cunning hat“. Very fun…though I think my Jayne is more indicative of his later years when beer was more important to him than scheming or adventure…
The convention was spaced out over about 3-4 hotels in downtown Atlanta. We finally made our way to where the art show and comic artist alley were. Lots of wonderful art and interesting comics to be seen. We picked up a print by Mark Helwig entitled “Reading is Funda-mental”. It shows a cherubic girl reading a book with tentacles coming out of it. The caption reads “Visit the Innsmouth Library.” Perfect for a couple of librarians!
I also attended a great panel discussion of sci-fi/fantasy authors discussing “The Physics of Magic.” In attendance were Brandon Sanderson, John Ringo, Timothy Zahn, and Laura Anne Gilman. There were many great observations and bits of advice that came out in the discussion. Here’s a sampling:
- Many systems treat magic as energy, forcing it to follow the Laws of Thermodynamics as a means to give it order.
- Much of what is termed “fantasy” today can be categorized as either “Fantasy” or “Fantastic Realism”. In “Fantasy”, there doesn’t need to be any rules…in fact, they take away from the sense of wonder inherent to magic. This makes it easy to cheat in the course of the plot. In “Fantastic Realism”, rules are essential and expected. It comes from the same tropes and from the same publishing houses as science fiction. Much of the work termed “fantasy” in today’s market is usually actually “Fantastic Realism”.
- It is also true that much of today’s fantasy takes its form from the mystery genre, which is very structured.
- The necessity for rules-based fantasy world building in general, and in magic specifically, springs from Tolkien.
- Rules are especially important for the suspension of disbelief in the modern urban paranormal genre.
- These rules don’t have to be spelled out in the text, but revealed slowly and when necessary. The author needs to be aware of them in order to maintain continuity throughout and not “cheat”.
- What to reveal and what not to reveal often depends on the point of view of the protagonist.
- Keep in mind that what you are writing is a compelling story, not a treatise on your magical system. Establish character first.
- Limitations are often the most interesting part of a magic system. There needs to be risks as well as the inherent benefits.
- Also keep in mind how society reacts to magic. How would widespread magic affect a society? How does the society affect the way magic is used? Always go three steps further…
- Interesting idea: Magic as quantum physics…in which it changes or even disappears when studied or observed…
- The part in your outline or manuscript that looks like this: [stuff happens here] = “brackets of wisdom”…
- My favorite quote (by, I believe, John Ringo): “Lovecraft is the horror version of Calvinball…”
After that we had lunch in a lovely Irish pub and rested up for the evening’s festivities…
That evening we went to a Q & A with two of the stars of the hit webseries “The Guild“. Sandeep Parikh (“Zaboo”), Jeff Lewis (“Vork”) and director Sean Becker were a lot of fun. They showed the latest Guild music video (“Game On“). We got to see another side of Felicia Day on “The Legend of Neil” (NSFW). We also got to see a preview of Jeff Lewis’ upcoming new series “The Five Minute Comedy Hour“.
We finished out the night with a Q & A session with the cast of “Cinematic Titanic“. This is a new-ish venture by the original cast of the beloved “Mystery Science Theater 3000” series (Trace Beaulieu, Joel Hodgson, Frank Conniff, Mary Jo Pehl, and J. Elvis Weinstein). Essentially, they riff on abysmally bad movies. After the panel session, we viewed their take on “East Meets Watts” (aka “Dynamite Brothers“, aka “Stud Brown”), an awful mash-up of 70s kung-fu movies and blaxploitation films made hilarious by the riff-masters.
Pretty full first day…now to plan for day 2…