The 62nd World Science Fiction Convention

  • Sept. 2-6, 2004
  • Boston, MA

Program Brainstorming Introduction

  • This weblog is a place where you can give us your suggestions for Noreascon 4 programming. What great new ideas do you have and what things have you seen at other conventions that you'd like us to "steal"? (Remember, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.) To make a suggestion, please add a comment under the appropriate heading. Feel free to write a short description of the topic and even suggest appropriate program participants for it. If there's a lot of interest in a particular topic, we'll add a new heading for it.

    Please note: This is not the place to volunteer to be on Program. If you are interested in being on the Program, please see our Program Participant Selection FAQ.

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September 24, 2003

Science Fiction and Fantasy (Literature)

This is where you can give us suggestions for program ideas relating to science fiction and fantasy as literature.

September 24, 2003 | Permalink


I would really like to see a panel on Discworld theology.
What would a comparative religion course look like in Ankh-Morpork? Would the teacher ask gods to drop by to talk to the students? Would there be a class project of adopting a small god and growing it bigger with belief?

Posted by: zale | July 23, 2004 05:46 PM

Pruning of the Canon?

Once upon a time, there was a common body of SF which most fans had read and knew. Today, with 400 or so new novels a year coming and hundreds more volunes of anthologies, collections, and reprints, it's impossible to keep up with the field. How do folks decide what does and doesn't belong as core works, and what's fallen off the list, that would have been essential decades ago?

Posted by: Paula Lieberman | July 15, 2004 11:05 PM


Speeding spaceships incoming, contraband, unruly aliens with incomprehensible customs and taking offensive capriciously, stuck cargo handling systems, bad drivers on the docks, riots, vermin infestations, sabotaged control systems, threats to blow up the station, refugees, hostage situations, pirates, warring political factions, and family/relations problems, just some of the everyday "challenges" faced by stationmasters on interstellar space stations. Just what characteristics and backgrounds do these people have, why would anyone want the job, and when, why, do they decide (or have it decided for them) that enough is enough?!

Posted by: Paula Lieberman | June 25, 2004 02:30 AM

Panel Suggestion: The Throne of Saturn: Science fiction set at the planet Saturn. The ringed planet has been a magnet for science fiction, ranging from works by mainly mainstream authors such as Alan Drury and Curt Vonnegut to the hardest of SF writers, like the late Robert L. Forward. What are some of the most memorable works? The best researched (and the worst)? The wierdest?
[Note: Saturn should be a timely topic because of the Cassini mission.]to"ãH

Posted by: G. David Nordley | June 17, 2004 03:52 AM

I like Ellen Kushner's suggestion; I just returned to my own original fantasy world of Nevya to write a YA novel for Viking. Talking with other writers who have returned to their created worlds years after would be fascinating. Our perspectives change over the years!

I would also like to see or participate in a panel on the development of language in sf and fantasy; English is now becoming the world language, whether we approve or not, and the way we create language in our fiction is of real interest: do we make up words out of nothing, or base them on existing phonemes and meanings?

Posted by: Louise Marley | June 7, 2004 10:46 AM

In a recent book, Gregory Benford credits David Hartwell with coining the term "transcendental adventure". This strikes me as capturing the essence of some of the best SF -- stuff that couldn't possibly be written in any other genre.

Posted by: Mark Olson | April 20, 2004 10:44 PM

I saw an interesting comment in a LoC to a fanzine recently: "Good fantasy, fantasy that works for me, is about 50% ethics mixed with 50% Oh Wow sensawonda at the beauty and strangeness of the impossible." Discuss. And could this apply to SF, also?

Posted by: Mark Olson | April 3, 2004 02:57 PM

Would like to see panel:

"inventions of the past. where are they?"

reading Lensman not so long ago, what happened to the many things that "Doc" Smith drempt of? I am sure Clarke, Asimov, etc also had many inventions from the good old golden days of books. So, where are they? do the exist in another format? (computers)

Just a thought.

Posted by: Tom Kunsman | April 1, 2004 12:18 PM

"Should Heinlein's 'For Us, the Living' have been published?"

Author's wishes vs. historical interest vs. literary quality. Yes: John Clute. No: F. Paul Wilson.

Posted by: Taras Wolansky | March 17, 2004 04:38 PM

Paula - please refrain from long involved geeky discussions which do nothing to add to the function of generating ideas here.

Posted by: priscilla | March 13, 2004 12:06 PM

Couple things, first item suggent, then a [long involved geeky] response to something brought up by John Hemry.

1. Survival skills in fantasy and science fiction (prompted by current discussion in Elizabeth Moon's newgroup about survival/ism and coping if civilization collapsed) -- what sorts of skills are necessarily for survival and civilization building, either for a new colony, or after disaster to civilization?

2. [major spacecraft and spacecraft tracking geekiness below]

Regarding John Hemry's comment/question:

The military spacecraft I dealt with had "north" and "south" sections [e.g., the communications amplifiers I was the project officer on were buried in the "North Panel" on one particular type of bird, and the contractor had failed to design the spacecraft to be able to get at them without having to disassembly a significant part of the bird... not as bad as the infamous radio under the seat in the F-4 since there weren't explosives that had to be disarmed for disassembly, but worse in terms of time, effort, retest, etc.]. Orientation of the spacecraft with rest to -outside- was with star sensors and sun sensors and earth sensors, and there was work going on for trying to get "autonomous navigation" -- that meant that the spacecraft would compare the internal star maps it carried to what the sensors were detecting in terms of frequency ranges and intensity and relationships of intensity areas -- basically, pattern matching. it's not only people who navigate by the stars and the sun!

Regarding orbital mechanics, "the first point of Aries" is taken as the zero value location for one of the orbital parameters. It';s been too many years since I'd done any orbit determination to completely remind -- something about Right Ascension of Ascending Node or some such. A non-rotating Earth model gets used as the basis.

But anyway, when doing celestial navigation for spacecraft, the directions do go by the stars, quite literally, and the best ones are the ones that are the bright and most identifiable, and that have relationships that are precisely determined with other stars. So, the navigation would involve taking fixes and comparing to the on-board latest and greatest starmaps and trying to filter out the noise background. And hoping that someone else isn't busily playing MIJI games trying to blind or confuse the sensors.

There isn't I suspect an equivalent in ocean military situations to "losing" a spacecraft that's a "spinner" by having the despun parts of the spacecraft get stuck and spin along with the spinning parts (happened to one of the birds I worked with. It got turned upside --classic gyroscope behavior--in the process of attempting to get the despun platform unstuck.

There is "galactic north" and "galactic south" if I recall correctly. There are also a number of different ways of measuring things -- apogee and perigee mean nothing in a truly circular orbit, for example, because they're the same, and you can't specify a circular orbit by the location of perigee or apogee. Spacecraft location in an orbit is a function of time, meaning that the location of a spacecraft over time is extremely predictable unless the thing has big maneuver engines and a -lot- of fuel. The same would be true for something going interplanetary or interstellar, get a relatively low number of fixes on it and you have a really good forecast on where it's headed. Plus, it tend to be nearly trivial to find spacecraft if you know what direction to look for them in. Most of "lost" payloads get "lost" because of rocket stage malfunction and the payload winding up in a very different orbit from the intended/expected one, with a way different orbital inclination and eccentricity and altitude. If there were sensors tracking all the way that wouldn't happen, but the sensor coverage that was around for space launches when I was tracking spacecraft was very limited in that respect. Finding a football in orbit isn't difficult, if you have a good idea where it's likely to be. If you have to search all of earth orbit to find it, that take a lot more effort, particularly if you can only detect and track satellites in specific coverage areas. Stationing sensor spacecraft out in space would provide a lot more coverage, than the ground-based systems that were in use when I was spacetracking.

Anyway, that's a really long-winded way of saying that ocean pilot references and space piloting references, are like comparing navigating on I-90 in the middle of the USA to driving around in Boston, only even more dissimilar -- driving in Boston and driving across country on I-90, the same car can do. Spacecraft aren't surface or subsurface water vehicles, and surface and subsurface water vehicles, aren't spacecraft. Form -does- for some things, follow function!

Posted by: Paula Lieberman | March 12, 2004 01:06 AM

Regarding the suggested panel about the Parallels Between Nautical Fiction and "Space Opera" or Hard SF Plot Lines and the question -
Is there a space pilot's equivalent of ordering our voyage to commence with the order "Sou' by West by Port o' West and Weather the Lizard?":
How about "Bear sunward two points to starboard, wear to port one point and weather the path o' the near moon."

Posted by: John G. Hemry | March 11, 2004 07:15 PM

Past panels that deserve to be repeated:

Entries from the Editors' Slush Pile
( a perennial favorite and hysterically funny)

Cats in Science Fiction

The Bad Writing Contest (from Readercon)
(The single best panels I've ever attended! Laughed till I hurt and learned something too.)

Non-verbal forms of communication at first contact
(dance? art? music? smell?)

Anything on Katherine Kurtz' Deryni books and/or her Adept series

Posted by: Pam Funace | March 5, 2004 12:42 PM

I'd like to see a panel, 'Humour in SF: Why isn't it taken seriously?'

There are several authors in Fantasy literature that write humour. But not since Robert Sheckley, have I seen much humour in SF, especially in hard-SF. Should there perhaps be a category of, say, the Hugos for humour?

Posted by: Carl Frederick | February 27, 2004 10:46 AM

One concern about "iron writer" is that the writers will want to attend and enjoy the con. Most "Iron ____" competition featured challenges that could be completed within the hour or two of the panel, rather than something ongoing.

Now doing an Iron Writer in ADVANCE of the con, with the winner published in the newsletter could be cool. Or, find writers willing to rush a first draft under the gun/clock. But if it's going to be something over the weekend, find volunteers willing to participate before making it a definite.

IMO, of course.

Posted by: Lis Riba | February 25, 2004 05:21 PM


Hand out three or four secret ingredients that writers must work into a short (1,000 - 2,000 word) SF or fantasy story over the course of the weekend. The stories are put up on the 'net or maybe photocopied and distributed (perhaps without authors' names attached?), voted on, and the winner glories in the title of Iron Writer. Make this open to pros and amateurs to spice things up, with a strict deadline (1 or 2 days after the cons starts?) to keep the number of entires reasonable and to wrap everything up over the course of the weekend.

This event presents some hurdles to organize it, but I think it'd be a lot of fun.

Posted by: Mike Mearls | February 23, 2004 12:36 AM

Sure, there are hive minds today. Look at the democrats and republicans. One says something and everybody in that party repeats it.

Posted by: David J Van Deusen | February 22, 2004 09:23 PM

Hive Minds in Science Fiction and Reality:
There have been many interesting treatments of hive minds, (alien, human and machine) in science fiction. How do they compare to the possibilities of the hive mind species currently on earth? Is humanity a hive-mind, considering how linked it already is? If it isn't, at what point does it become one?

Posted by: Susan Weiner | February 21, 2004 12:21 PM

Responding to Paula Lieberman's posting of 1/26/04: Historical fashion for historical fantasy authors. I'm recalling proofing an erotic short story once and having to call up the editor and tell her that ripping off a woman's pantalettes, petticoat, and pelisse was very alliterative but REALLY not the bodice-ripping moment the author was looking for.

Posted by: Susan de Guardiola | February 20, 2004 11:53 AM

For an offsite event, Boston has a lot of good and historic libraries. How about arranging a library tour of Boston for out-of-towners. I'd recommend the BPL, the Boston Athenaeum, Harvard's Widener and the MITSFS collection. You might have to arrange/schedule this with the libraries themselves, but I think fen would be interested. [Heck, depending on when it's held, I might even be willing to volunteer to lead such a tour.]

Also, the con should definitely provide a list/map of used bookstores in the Greater Boston area. A tour/storecrawl could also be combined with the libraries or as a separate event

Posted by: Lis | February 18, 2004 10:28 AM

(Not sure if this goes here, but--)

"How Do You Pronounce [Insert Author's Name Here]?"

Came up last Boskone when I heard someone say Vinge with two syllables, rather than the one I'd assumed it was. When I remarked on this, it was pointed out that this would be a good panel--Cherryh, Bujold, Brust, and of course Tolkien . . .

(It would be really cool if this were a little multi-media "click for sound file" station, but that would probably be difficult.)

Posted by: Kate Nepveu | February 17, 2004 08:27 PM

The J.D. Robb panels at Boskone this year and last have been big hits. Another author who has very dedicated fans across the sf and romance genres is Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series (with a recent novella in _Legends II_). I think a panel on Gabaldon's books, skewed heavily towards audience participation, would be great fun. I've read all her books and would be happy to moderate.

Posted by: Kate Nepveu | February 17, 2004 08:22 PM

I’d like to see a panel on auxiliary Discworld books; i.e., the many books that are about Discworld but not actually by Terry Pratchett. There are the two versions of ‘The Discworld Companion’, the two ‘Science of Discworld’ books, the Discworld quizbooks by David Langford, the six Discworld Diaries, the four maps, two books on Discworld GURPs by Steve Jackson games, Nanny Ogg’s Cookbook... and I’m probably forgetting something. The best person on this topic would be Stephen Briggs, if he’s going to be at the convention. Also Ian Stewart or Jack Cohen, (the authors of ‘The Science of Discworld’ books), David Langford, Paul Kidby (who did most of the artwork), any fan well-familiar with these works (I’ll volunteer), and of course Terry Pratchett himself.

Posted by: Becky Thomson | February 11, 2004 12:50 AM

1) The UNhappy Ending. Tragic plays from Shakespeare, Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides are still with us, hundreds, even thousands of years later. Not all stories have the protagonist triumph--sometimes they lose, sometimes they even die losing. Some science fiction and fantasy writers' unhappy endings stories are popular -- why do they succeed and what makes them successful at it, and why do other stories fail, or perhaps their authors not even try to write unhappily ever after?

2. Credibility -- what makes a story internally credible, as opposed to failing the "willing suspension of disbelief" criterion? What about expectations from the reader -- some have havesaid that there were things true in Ancient Rome and elsewhere in the past which they couldn't put in their stories set in those places, because the the general public/readership wouldn't accept the truth, as true!

3) Rhythm, Meter, and Use of Language. [[One of the reasons I find certain writers' work unreadable, or rather, sufficently unpleasant/unrewarding to read that I avoid their work, is that their writing styles have characteristics which buzz my brains, such as writing in unresolved anapestic foot [duh-duh-DUH! duh-duh-DUH! duh-duh-DUH!] or being full of short choppy. Sentence. Fragments. Or doing things like having the viewpoint change in the middle of a paragraph. But, apparently some of the same things that make some writers' work inaccessible/unrewarding to me, make it highly attractive to other people. So, I think that a panel talking about those sort of things, might be an interesting program item to have, and particular, discussing why readers would or would not be attracted to particular writing styles]]

4. Structures in fiction. The traditional structure of plays is a build-up to a climax at the midpoint of the play, and that being where the results of the ending becomes inevitable. There is a buildup of tension that heads to the climax, and then a slow drawn down until the ending and denouement. Some prose fiction works of fantasy and science fiction follow that model, others don't. What other models are they, and where are/would one of them be used, versus the traditional isoceles triangle structure?

5) Cardboard Characters -- Are They Always Bad? Old-fashioned SF used to be known for "cardboard characters, and being plot and action driven. But, having the cardboard characters wan't necessarily only from a perceived lack of characterization skills or interest on the part of writers and authors -- spending the time and effort to attempt to have more fully-fleshed out, multidimensional characters, might have led to different stories, not necessarily appreciated by the audience, or longer, more complicated stories, again, not necessarily desired by the audience. Then again, a lot of it may have been because of shortcoming and short deadlines for writers and publishing. But with all that, are there times when cardboard characters -work-, and are the right way to go?

Posted by: Paula Lieberman | February 8, 2004 12:28 AM

It would be fabulous if Noreascon 4 held a panel about the Parallels Between Nautical Fiction and "Space Opera" or Hard SF Plot Lines. (I am an avid reader of both genres and even do my own local "voyages of discovery" sailing around Boston Harbor and environs in the summer months.) We could look at characters and commanders, story lines, in what kind of missions and venues plots take place, dangers and antagonists encountered, dealing with the tedious bureacrats in home port who "don't get it" about what's happening out in the space frontiers or in far-away ports, etc. I even willing to go out on a limb and either participate of moderate. Shivermetimbers, this sounds like great fun! (Is there a space pilot's equivalent of ordering our voyage to commence with the order "Sou' by West by Port o' West and Weather the Lizard?" It doesn't sound nearly so romantic in GPS-ese, does it?)

Posted by: Sally Mayer | February 7, 2004 10:16 AM


Patrick O`Brien, Ian Flemming, James Salter may not have writen a word of SF, their novels are popular with SF fans. Why should these and other great writers be in your must read pile. And who else should be there- both fiction and non-fiction.

Posted by: James A. Wolf | February 5, 2004 06:07 PM

The link to my apocalyptic fiction article is at

Posted by: Tom Doyle | February 5, 2004 09:37 AM

I'd like to see a panel on the different types of love (and lust) that are explicitly dealt with in fantasy and science fiction. Some specific plot devices: soul mates, prophecies, reincarnation, Catgirls In Heat etc, love/lust potions. Can these ever be written in an intelligent way?

Posted by: Lisa Adler-Golden | February 3, 2004 11:29 AM

Mind the plotholes, dear: Discussions of various discrepancys/problems with details from any piece of SF+F and try to find a catagory for them (ex. temporal, silly, boneheaded, etc.)

Posted by: Paul Calhoun | January 31, 2004 09:10 PM


Philip Pullman’s three-book (and growing) series has become an international phenomenon, with spin offs into a six-hour play produced in London and the inevitable movie(s) on the way. For many, these books reach for a far higher literary ambition than Potter because of their grounding in Paradise Lost and Pullman’s searing critique of organized religion. It would be intriguing to have a panel explain, deconstruct and comment on the theological strands Pullman is yanking on for his work. Potential problem – you want to avoid panelists who steer the subject in the direction of whether Pullman is "correct" or not in his religious beliefs about the nonexistence of an afterlife, a God who is best overthrown, etc. The point here is to understand, not dump on, his subtext. One could have a more polemical panel on whether reading Pullman is "dangerous" for children, censorship issues and the like.

Panelists: what a coup it would be to get Pullman. Otherwise, there are many SF authors interested in religion, but I would like to see people from Harvard Divinity & experts from the religious community itself on this one.

Posted by: Dennis Livingston | January 29, 2004 01:08 PM


Ellen Kushner has informed us about the recently formed website of the Interstitial Arts Foundation (I can hardly say it without losing some teeth). A browse shows lots of great reading and fiercely intelligent discussion on a range of topics that span literature, art, music and performance which cannot easily be classified by conventional genre boundaries or any boundaries at all. Let us skip the paradox of such "interstitial arts" forming its own genre and cut to the chase. What does it mean to be part of a "genre"? If you don’t fit comfortably in SF or fantasy or horror or mainstream or fiction/nonfiction, where do they file you in the bookstore? What is the larger cultural significance of crossover material? What does it imply for the future of SF literature? Who is writing stories that fall between the cracks?

Obvious panelists include IAF co-founder Delia Sherman and others from the IAF board and working group, which includes some prominent "SF" and "fantasy" writers.

Posted by: Dennis Livingston | January 27, 2004 09:40 PM


As Paula Liberman noted earlier, the locale of SF stories is often an important element of plot and style. LA, New York, London, New Orleans – these and other cities have served as the distinct locations in many stories. What about Boston and other places around New England? A lot of writers live in this region, but how do they use it in their stories? Does locating a story in Boston, Providence, rural Maine and so on make a distinct contribution to the look and feel of SF & fantasy plots? Or would a story set in this region have the same grounding if it was located anywhere else?

Obvious suspects: Elizabeth Hand (Maine), David Smith (future Boston), Paul di Filippo (19th century New England), John Crowley

Posted by: Dennis Livingston | January 27, 2004 09:38 PM


In recent years, a genre of mainstream literature has emerged that uses scientists and science/technology themes as basic to plots and character development and yet is not otherwise SF in identity or marketing. Call it "scientific fiction." The pioneer here is Alan Lightman with "Einstein’s Dream," a meditation in fiction on the alternate implications of relativity theory. Other works of this nature include Dan Lloyd’s "Radiant Cool", which uses the novel format to present a theory of consciousness; Joao Magueijo, whose "Faster Than the Speed of Light" argues for just that possibility; Christos Papadimitrou’s "The One True Platonic Heaven," about quantum logic; and Rebecca Goldstein’s "Properties of Light," more quantum stuff plus romance. Is this a cultural trend? Why don’t these people just write SF, as so many scientists do? Are scientific theories becoming protagonists in their own right in mainstream literature? Does any of this matter for SF?

Some of these authors are local: Lightman is at MIT, Lloyd is at Trinity College (Hartford). It would be great to get them and some SF critics/reviewers together on a panel.

(Thanks to the NY Times for most of the above info.)

Posted by: Dennis Livingston | January 27, 2004 09:37 PM

Robots: Fiction and Future - Astroboy or T3? Positronic brains or emergent AI? Is artificial intelligence more or less important than artificial honor?

Posted by: Ernest Lilley | January 27, 2004 07:21 PM

The Present As The Future Past - It's not all that original, but I still think it's worth doing on a regular basis. It might be fun to focus on events of the last year and how they relate to SF prognostication. Allen Steele would be a good person on this panel, as I felt echoes of his Tranquility Alternative standing in the new National Air and Space museum and realized that all the futuristit aircraft of my childhood, the Concorde, the SR71, and even the Shuttle, are now old, and at least for the moment, no longer flying.

Posted by: Ernest Lilley | January 27, 2004 07:18 PM

The Fashions of Fantasy and Science Fiction [may be material for several panels, concentrating on e.g. Vampire Fiction Fashion, Fashions of Faerie, Merchant Spacer Fashion on Ship and and Station, How To Tell Spacers, Stationers, and Planet People Apart, High Renaissance Meets Goth: Fashion Wars at Conventions -- oops, that one's a fandom and fannish topic panel --]

Some authors go into much detail about the attire of their characters, describing boots, stockings, pants, garter belts, gloves, coats, hats, etc., in exquisite detail as to material, style, color, and fit. What drives, however, what the styles are, and what's considered appropriate/inappropriate attire for and by the characters, in the different subgenres of fantasy and science fiction? How much do readers' tastes and expectations, the author's particular personal clothing tastes, the characters, and the needs of the story drive the fashions and descriptions?

Posted by: Paula Lieberman | January 26, 2004 02:31 AM

I'd like to offer suggestions for two panels: 1) "They Gave It a Hugo; What on Earth Were They Thinking?" While it's easy to slam THEY'D RATHER BE RIGHT, there are a number of other winners that leave one scratching one's head (would the story have won had it been written by someone other than a Big Name, were politics involved in the victory?, can you remember anything about a winner as opposed to some of its competition). 2) It's depressing but all of us are greying; the Angry Young Fen of the 1960's (who came to the SF family via NEW WORLDS, DANGEROUS VISIONS, ORBIT, etc.) are now in their 40's and 50's. All of us have heard stories about a fan whose family/ executor, not knowing the value of his collection, threw it out upon his death. How do we prepare for the dispensation of our collections when we head for the Great Convention in the Sky? Sell it even though it would break our hearts? Do we leave it to a library or university? However, they'll need an endowment to take care of it or it'll sit and rot in a basement or be sold in a library book sale for peanuts. Do we donate it to a graying fannish organization to use as they wish to advance SF? What are the other alternatives? What are the advantages/ disadvantages/ practicality of each?

Posted by: Leo Doroschenko | January 21, 2004 05:55 PM

That was Benita, I think - and it *was* a great idea (especially since Seuss is sort-of local: a hero of Springfield MA, at any rate.)
So, let's all continue running this z/o/o circus!

Posted by: priscilla | January 14, 2004 12:16 PM

I love Paula Lieberman's idea about including Dr. Seuss as program material...the Good Doctor's centennial of birth is this year, and he's a master of fantasy.

Posted by: Ande Lyon | January 14, 2004 11:15 AM

If you focus on a historical personage (ala Ben Franklin in Philadelphia) I would vote for Dr. Seuss. Imagination is the cornerstone of all literature, however scifi fantasy takes more of it to accomplish, in my humble opinion and Dr. Seuss certainly personifies great use of one's imagination.

So what about a panel on what sparks writer's imaginations? And what about a panel about when imaginations are stifled due to personal health problems?

I would be willing to assist.

Posted by: Benita Gagne | January 11, 2004 05:32 PM

In reply to Ellen Kushner, Stephen R. Donaldson is returning to the Land after a 20-year absence.

Posted by: Tom Doyle | January 5, 2004 02:27 PM

Elizabethan Influence and Elizabethans in F & SF. The age of Elizabeth I and the people in it, are the basis of quite a number of books and stories -- Poul Anderson's A Midsummer Night's Tempest had Shakespeare as the great historian, Keith Robert's Pavane was an alternate world with the change point being the Spanish Armada not losing, Fritz Leiber's "Four Ghosts in Hamlet" is built around that staging of a Shakespearian play. There is also a long history of rewrites of Shakespeare, changing endings, adding characters, changing characters--what the continuing fascination, and what are the latest twists?

Living Again: Reincarnation, Dybbuks, and Transmigration of Souls. The music to the TV show Highlander asked, "Who wants to live forever?" with Adrian Paul one of a set of Immortals fighting to be the last standing. But what of fiction and beliefs where "immortality" involves rebirth as a child, or the soul of the dead, taking over the living? Where is it tragedy, where is it comedy, and what themes and consequences are involved?

Images of Faerie. Tolkein's elves are noble, Poul Anderson's are amoral, traditional fairy tales have them ranging into outright evil (the Queen in Tam Lin, the woman who curses Sleeping Beauty, etc.), and contemporary fantasy includes even punk rocker elves. Just where have all perspectives come from, and why? How did the changes occur from often-malevolent sprites, to urban fantasy characters?

Magic Horses, Unicorns, and Dragons. Just how far can a writer go making magic animals? How far will the readers suspend their senses of disbelief, for tireless steeds which never need rest or grooming or food, for dragons breathing fire and being magical creatures of great good or great evil, and for unicorns with their many centuries of myth? What makes magical mythical creatures believable--and what causes the reader to shut the book, with the disbelief snapped and running to find more realistic fare, or at least, something with a less familiar magic system!

Spaceship as Character. Some writers used the setting of their stories as a character, e.g., New York City is a setting which acts as character in quite a number of stories set in New York. In stories set on spaceships, the setting not only can be equally prominents, but some of the ships explicitly are sapient characters, such as Helva the Ship Who Sang, and Poul Anderson's ship Muddlin' Through. Just how much of a difference does it make for the ship to be sapient, as opposed to a more mechanical, and unaware, setting? What determines how far writers and stories go, in giving ships organic being emotions, and in giving ships regrets or relief, at being constrained to be a ship. [This one could be in Other, if bringing in e.g. the filksong with the lines in it something like "Once upon a lifetime/ I died a pioneer/Now I live inside a spaceship's heart / Can anybody hear?"

Allergic Reactions. Lesnerizing is much less common in science fiction and fantasy, than everyday life. While some characters have adverse reactions to magic, truth drugs, or dishwashing detergent with lemon, most characters never seem to suffer from food allergies, allergies to cats or wool or other animals or animal fibers, or exposure to poison ivy or other often-adverse-reaction-causing plants. When writers include allergies, why are they doing it--how much of it is to make the character seem more "real," how much is for some particular plot effect in the story, where the character's sneezing is important, or the wizard melts away with a bucket of detergent dumped on him? Do readers appreciate it, not appreciate it, or not care when characters' weaknesses include allergies?

Posted by: Paula Lieberman | January 5, 2004 04:18 AM

I wrote SWORDSPOINT in my 20's, and now 20 years later am back to working in that world. I'd be interested in being on a panel with other writers who've returned to a world some years after they first created it (not necessarily those who have been writing steadily in it)to see how one's own experience & maturity have changed one's approach or vision. I'm not as well-read as most of you; the only other such I can think of is Suzy Charnas with her Holdfast series....any suggestions?

I do know that Laurie J. Marks' recently-published FIRE LOGIC is one of those fantasies that began in teenage notebooks...thta would also be an interesting panel to attend.

Posted by: Ellen Kushner | January 3, 2004 06:09 PM

Now that we've posted our 100 page website (!!), I'm hoping there'll be room for some lively discussion of the Interstitial Arts Movement:

Working Group members include: Kelly Link, Gavin Grant, Delia Sherman, Terri Windling, Ellen Klages, Theodora Goss, Charles Vess, Chris Barzak & the RatBastards, etc.

Posted by: Ellen Kushner | January 3, 2004 05:55 PM

As part of a panel on Christian science fiction or religion and science fiction, I would like to see some discussion of Christian apocalyptic fiction such as the "Left Behind" books. My article for Strange Horizons on the topic is at

Posted by: Tom Doyle | January 3, 2004 12:27 PM

Sales Catalog of the Galaxy: Ads, ordering, and special handling considerations (including legal issues) for all the products you might want--or not!-- to order from Lepti Liquor to Martian Flat Cats and mail-order spouses. [Perhaps this one really belongs in Other. Does it show that I've been looking at plant catalogs in print and on-line [and crashed my browser while doing the latter.]]

Posted by: Paula Lieberman | January 3, 2004 03:06 AM

Next idea: Another possible panel I would love to put together and moderate -


Anthologies of original stories always say something about what the editors believe makes for quality stories and what themes they think are of significant interest, while some anthologies occasionally strive not just to reflect the genre, but yank it in new directions. A panel of editors of contemporary original anthologies will explore these issues – and inform us on what it takes to get into their books.

Likely suspects: Mike Resnick, Robert Silverberg, Kelly Link, David Hartwell, Stephen Jones

Posted by: Dennis Livingston | December 30, 2003 04:37 PM

I'd like to propose a panel, which I would be glad to help organize and moderate, on:


Science fiction has always challenged conventional notions of reality, but recent years have seen a growing interest in speculative stories that dwell on ancient conspiracies and secret histories, parallel dimensions which interact in strange ways with our own and hidden corners of great cities in which lurk creatures of myth and legend come to life. Panelists can explore these cracks in consensual reality and their implications for the future of SF itself as a genre based largely on developments in science and technology.

Likely suspects: John Crowley, Neal Gaiman, Charles de Lint, Alex Irvine, Paul di Filippo, John Clute, James Blaylock, Gregory Frost, Sharon Lewitt, China Mieville

Posted by: Dennis Livingston | December 30, 2003 04:35 PM

Author, Environment, Audience, and Works: The same story, written by different authors, at different times and places, and for different audiences, make for very different works. Robin McKinley revisited the Beauty story, writing two very different novels. The American Repetory Theater's staging of Greek plays and Shakespeare, use very different settings and costuming--and in the case of Greek plays, language! -- than the original performances. Marion Zimmer Bradley rewrote two of her Darkover novels, changing major aspects of characters and adding new characters, particularly, a new major female character to The Bloody Sun. How much of a work comes from the times it was written and topicality then, and how does that affect the audiences over time? How much does an author's environment and times limit the work, for perceptions and actions of characters conforming to the precepts and beliefs of the particular time (changes e.g. in Gordon R. Dickson's work where the later Childe novels, starting having women from the Dorsai planet with off-world careers), and how does this affect the readership into the future from when the work was written?

Posted by: Paula Lieberman | December 30, 2003 02:24 AM


Assuming Mike Resnick is coming, you've got to offer him the panel as well. He edited the anthlogy "Alternate Kennedys." (Yes, I know he's done MANY anthologies, but I think this qualifies him for this discussion.)

Posted by: Dan Kimmel | December 25, 2003 12:02 PM

A poetry panel would be nice. Many good sci fi
poets living in New England area, and I would think some will be attending the con. Saw a poetry panel at ConJose with Haldeman and others that was pretty good, well attended.

Posted by: G. O. Clark | December 23, 2003 04:19 PM

Religious Allegory and Symbolism in Fantasy and Science Fiction. The Holy Grail, the Stations of the Cross, and other religious symbolism and allegory appear sometimes hidden, sometimes very obvious, in various works of fantasy and science fiction. What is the fascination with these topics, and their presence, especially when hidden? What additional depths and meaning do they bring?

Posted by: Paula Lieberman | December 19, 2003 03:50 AM

Polytheism in Fantasy: Appeal, Sources, and Rationale. Why are polytheistic settings so common in fantasy? What are the sources that authors are using, and why? And why do readers find them so compelling?

Posted by: Paula Lieberman | December 19, 2003 02:36 AM

The Reader's Journey: [take a specific book, set or books, or a particular writer's or circle of writers' work, and dicusss how the work(s) change based on the age and experience level of the reader -- how the people see the contents and themes and meanings and relevance of the work change over time, based on their changing experiences and expectations, and knowledge, to bring to bear as readers.]

Posted by: Paula Lieberman | December 14, 2003 04:52 AM

Writers we don't understand:
Charlie Stross loads his stories with so much IT jargon it makes the head spin. A PhD in Physics is necessary to get full enjoyment out of a Greg Egan novel. China Mieville is best read with an open dictionary handy. Are these writers doing this on purpose? Are they that much smarter than the rest of us, or are we getting a year of painstaking research dowloaded into us in compressed format? Is there a good stylistic reason to confuse your readers or make them feel dumb?
(By the way, I actually like Mieville, Egan and Stross, and I do think there is a good reason to write like this.)

Posted by: Matt Jarpe | December 9, 2003 03:30 PM

I like the idea of a "JFK in SF" panel. Michael Resnick, Barry Malzberg, Joe Lansdale (for "Bubba Ho-Tep"), and Stephen Baxter (for "Voyage") are some of the potential panelists that come to mind.

Posted by: Michael Kingsley | December 5, 2003 01:50 PM

"Name That Poem"

Both Phil and Fruma have memorized an enormous amount of poetry. They sat in our car and did it for about a half hour without notes on the way down to Capclave. So I think they could do a fun "Name That Poem" (They'd start to recite a poem, and contestents would "buzz in" to name the poem)

Posted by: Laurie Mann | November 24, 2003 08:05 PM

I would very much like to see a panel (or more than one) on steampunk in literature, movies and TV. I would be happy to run such a panel.

Steampunk (an offshoot of cyberpunk) is any science fiction story set in Victorian times using, or appearing to use, the technology available at that time to do similar things to our current technology. The novel The Difference Engine is an excellent example. Steampunk can also be thought of as alternate history or specualtive fiction. Some people include actual Victorian SF/horror/fantasy (such as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Frankenstein, Jules Verne's novels, etc.) within steampunk.

Posted by: Bonnie Kenderdine | October 31, 2003 10:53 AM

What is the newest "New Wave" in SF?

Once upon a time, there were the Futurians. In the 1960's there was the "New Wave". In the 1970's there was the, ahem, "Labor Day Group". Then came the Post-Modern Cyberpunks and Humanists, at least, according to Michael Swanwick.'s%20Guide%20to%20the%20Postmoderns/Review.htm

Is there a new movement (or movements) afoot in Science Fiction? Who leads it? Who's in it? Who's marching in the opposite direction?

By the way, have there been similar movements in Fantasy?

Posted by: Zentinal | October 20, 2003 09:25 PM

I second the motion on the Christian sci-fi panel.

Also, last time I was in Boston, I was in someone's basement (I forget who - friend of the family, I think), and there was a painted portrait of JFK, with a spotlight on it. It is hard to underestimate how much he is still revered in many households in Boston. I think there should be a JFK sci-fi panel. (In the same way there was lots of Ben Franklin paneling at Philcon.)

Posted by: FrankWu | October 7, 2003 03:38 PM

Almost 30 years ago John Brunner wrote with Shockwave Rider basically the first Cyberpunk novel. What has become of the distopia of the cyberpunk since then. How is this still relevant for today, if at all.

Sounds like a good theme for a panel discussion IMHO.

Posted by: Nico Veenkamp | October 3, 2003 05:52 AM

[this occurred to me with MLO's contention about "numinous"]

Sub rosa SF -- Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy. A significant percentage of fantasy and SF is Christian SF&F, sold in Christian bookstores and usually not present in secular bookstores. Some works, such at Kathy Tyers' novels Firebird and Fusion Fire, have been in print from both SF trade publishers, and Christian publishers. What, if any, are the differences between SF & F published by publishers for secular, versus Christian sectarian audiences? Is writing Christian SF & fantasy a viable career option? Are there pratfalls, and issues that must be included/excluded? What are the taboos, if any?

Posted by: Paula Lieberman | October 2, 2003 08:14 PM

How about one on Mass. homeboy Dr. Seuss?

Dr. Seuss: Gateway to SF? – The late Springfield, Mass. writer/illustrator Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, created fantastic worlds where the Grinch stole Christmas, the Cat in the Hat could disrupt a household, Horton heard a Who, and Sneetches worried about whether they had stars on their bellies. How do his surreal and amusing stories prepare young readers for the world of SF?

Posted by: Dan Kimmel | October 2, 2003 05:47 PM

Okay, I admit it, I had to check the dictionary, so I'll share in case anyone else is linguistically challenged. Webster's says: numinous: 1. Supernatural, mysterious, 2. filled with a sense of the presence of divinity: holy, 3. appealing to the higher emotions or to the aesthetic sense: spiritual.

Posted by: Leslie Turek | October 2, 2003 10:53 AM

"Missing the Numinous" A discussion of why and how some writers just can't quite seem to evoke the numinous while others seem to do it effortlessly.
It might also discuss why the numinous is so important in SF -- how often, after all, does it crop up in mysteries or westerns? Is this because SF is at its roots interested int he same things as fantasy and fantasy has a particularly close relationship with thenuminous, or is it just that th enuminous is a great way to get a Sensawonder fix?

Posted by: Mark Olson | October 2, 2003 10:16 AM

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