First up was a bit of blood sucking with Vampires: From Horror to Heart-Throb. It was chaired by Narrelle Harris, with fellow panelists Jason Nahrung, Sue Bursztynski and Amanda Pillar. The session started off with some interesting historical perspective of the vampire in fiction. There was a lot of discussion about the way vampires have been used to reflect particular societal issues of the time, from sexual repression in Victorian times to issues of empowerment in more modern times. In examining the more recent shift toward viewing the vampire as a romantic interest, it was postulated the removal of religion from consideration of the vampire switched us to being a representative of the other – and with growing awareness of the exclusion of the other (racism, sexism etc) we have naturally drifted into a more sympathetic treatment of vampires.
Of course some of the panel just thought that teenage girls like sexy, immortal beefcakes who will allow them to become immortal as well. Takes all sorts I guess.
The panel covered a lot of other ground including what is next for the vampire (most people seemed to think a period of inactivity followed by a reinvention guided by whatever societal trends were in vogue), issues with choosing evil vs having evil thrust upon you and the choice of metaphor that guides your representation of the vampire as an author.
Next I went along to Suffragettes in the Citadel, Amazons in the Engine Bay moderated by Jane Routley, with fellow panelists Jo Spurrier, Lucy Sussex and Kirstyn McDermott. This session focused on the role of default sexism in the creation of speculative fiction, fantasy in particular. The panel discussed the drivers of a default male pattern on societies and noted how seldom speculative fiction built worlds that were free from the default biases that exist in our contemporary society.
I found this session very interesting from a writing point of view. There were a lot of issues raised regarding world building and societal structures, including the use of matriarchal societies to provide a critique of gender imbalance, deriving alternative societies that are still based on biological history, using how work is valued rather than division of labour as a way of creating different societies and thinking through the role of a mother as a protagonist and what impact that has on story telling.
This was one of the most interesting sessions of the convention from a writing perspective.
Next was the guest of honour session with Sue Ann Barber, interviewed by Emilly McLeay. This was a very informal session, with Sue Ann Barber interacting as much with the crowd as the interviewer. The session covered Ms Barber’s involvement in Lego fandom, her trip to Britain representing fandom at an English convention (EasterCon), her involvement with the Star Trek club The Neutral Zone in Western Australia and programming AussieCon 4.
After lunch, I went along to see The Awards Debacle compared by Dave Cake, with fellow panelists Robin Pen, Kirstyn McDermott and Jason Nahrung. Given some of the commentary about awards controversy I’ve heard over the last year I was expecting some Jerry Springer style antics, but it was disappointingly calm and respectful. The panel talked about whether there were too many awards (conclusion no – the Aurealis Awards and Ditmar Awards fulfil different purposes), should authors be able to remove themselves from contention for an award (conclusion no except in special circumstances – but they can refuse to accept the award), the value of the short list (conclusion – great way of spreading the word about works), do awards actually make a difference to sales etc (conclusion no – but publishers think they will), the nomination process and how it works in practice (conclusion – perhaps room for some changes), whether or not “block voting” occurs (conclusion – not as much as people think) and some interesting commentary of the history of awards in Australia.
The most potential for biffo came when one of the audience started criticising the William Atheling Jr Award for criticism as not including works that were substantive enough, with one of last night’s winners sitting directly behind him. Unfortunately for my personal entertainment, it didn’t come to anything with the crowd member conceding that the work that won was indeed substantial.
After this I went to the bar for a drink with Sean Wright, Jason Nahrung and Kirstyn McDermott. Quite a few people drifted through during the afternoon (including Stephen Dedman, Robin Pen, Russell B Far and many more. I found when you are sitting with “known quantities” it can make a difference to how involved you can get in conversations. I had a great afternoon, and I don’t think I embarrassed myself. Jason gave some excellent advice regarding writing and writers groups, how to organise them etc and there were some interesting discussions about the state of the speculative fiction scene in general. I had a fantastic time.
In fact I was having such a good time that I missed going to the closing ceremony (sorry Continuum 8!).
All in all it was a good convention. I learnt a lot, with some good panels and very interesting people. I think I’ll sit on my experiences for a few days, then write up some more general thoughts on the convention as a whole later in the week. But for the time being, my tram is rolling towards my stop so I think I’ll publish this and say “farewell from Melbourne”.