At Wiscon Day One - Friday

I arrived yesterday afternoon after a 7 hour drive from Ann Arbor, met up with Adrian to get the key to the room at the hostel, and then went out to dinner at an excellent Nepalese restaurant on State Street. Today Wiscon kicked into high gear with panels starting at 10 a.m. and running continuously for the next four days. I think Wiscon is the only convention I’ve attended, except for Worldcon, that can maintain such a crazy pace for four days.

So far today I’ve been to two panels. The first was “Books you Bounce Off Of.” Chery Morgan was on the panel and posted her reaction. Some of the reasons for bouncing off of certain books mentioned were: inability to identify with the character, becoming overidentified with a character who is put into a horrific situation, lacking the literary experience to understand how a story works, being an expert in a field and being turned off by the portrait of the field or details that are incorrect. And more. There are probably as many ways to be turned off a book as there are readers.

One that happens to me, especially with fantasy, is being bogged down by too much material. This has happened to me in a number of fantasy series or trilogies that I’ve tried to read but ultimately given up on: George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, Thomas Harlan’s Oath of Empire, Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy. For Martin there were characters that I lost interest in and who were taking up more than half of the alternating chapters, for Harlan it was similar - there were just too many things going on that seemed unessential or were there just to draw out the plot a bit further, some of the battle descriptions went on for page after page without adding much to the novel. The second volume of Hobb was the worst I remember. I still liked the main character enough to finish the trilogy but the second book seemed like the ultimate filler to just make the villain more villainous.

The second panel of the afternoon was on constructed languages, in particular Klingon and Laadan by Suzette Haden Elgin. The conversation wandered into a number of interesting byways, including the wonderful statement by Suzette that English has become the most successful language in the world because it is the most deniable and the easiest to lie with. A large portion of the discussion focused on whether women needed their own language or not. John M Ford made a joke about the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis that got a chuckle out of me at the beginning of the panel. By the end I was wondering why SF/F seems to attract so many people who are interested in language and seem to accept some kind of Whorfian view about how language affects our worldview? Is there something about the genre that makes such a theory so plausible to its readers?

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Todd Suomela
Associate Director for Digital Pedagogy & Scholarship Department

My interests include digital scholarship, citizen science, leadership, and communications.