This is the latest part of my write-up of programme items attended at CoNZealand, the recent online World Science Fiction Convention brought to the world from Wellington, New Zealand. Why not look back on part 1, part 2, or part 3?
The only thing I saw on the Saturday programme was the Hugo Awards Ceremony, but that went on for three and a half hours and has been extensively discussed elsewhere. So that brings me to CoNZealand’s Sunday, the last day, which for me started on Saturday evening and continued past midnight. By now I was a bit listless and had maybe seen a surfeit of Zoom panels and so perhaps did not engage as much as I could have done with the ones I viewed. Apocalypse as Insight, an academic session, saw Octavia Cade talking about the depressingly common tendency of dystopian fiction to feature women enslaved as breeding stock or to see the survivors of a post-apocalyptic world attempting to uncritically recreate the world whose faults led to the crash. Two books mentioned that buck against the post-apocalypse cliches were Sweet Fruit, Sour Land by Rebecca Ley, in which women refuse to have children in a situation of collapsing food supplies and Defying Doomsday, an anthology of short fiction about people with disabilities or pre-existing medical conditions making their way after a collapse in a situation of systemic collapse. Perhaps these books would repay investigation.
One late talk that I was completely engrossed by was a lecture by Ada Palmer (previously of the History and SF panel) entitled The History of the Book. I came late to this and it seemed to be primarily about early printed works, examples of which Palmer had for our delectation. There was some fascinating material here on the physical nature of old books, details I will mine for any Call of Cthulhu roleplaying games I ever find myself running in the future. One thing I was struck by was how relatively cheap a lot of old printed books are now – apart from a couple of star titles (e.g. Shakespeare’s First Folio), with most old books none of them are valuable enough to be worth forging, as the amount of labour involved in producing a convincing forgery would be phenomenal. Conversely actual old printed books can be acquired relatively cheaply, so cheaply in fact that if you ever see someone destroying a 17th century book in a film or TV series, the chances are they are destroying an actual book of that era, as it is easier and cheaper to buy such a thing than to make a convincing simulacrum.
My last programme item was the panel The Day After Tomorrow: Near Future SF, but I was a bit conned out by now and did not pay as much attention as the material deserved. Mention of the extent to which current SF is focussed on the near future was made, with this perhaps being driven by rising environmental concerns. The waves of interest SF has for different subjects was noted – 20 years ago there was lot of fiction about the technological singularity, something everyone seems to have now forgotten about, while the 1990s apparently saw a lot of material about first contact with aliens. Though frankly it is always hard to generalise – at any given time there will be writers producing all kinds of work, and while we are apparently now in a golden age of near future SF, this year’s Hugo winning novel was Arkady Martine’s brilliant Memory of Empire, set in an impossibly distant future.
And that is basically it for me and CoNZealand programme items. I was impressed by the technological solutions they had to the problem of running a Worldcon online. While I found participation by screen a bit alienating, it’s all we can manage in these troubled times in which we find ourselves, and I suspect it will be some time before there are in-person con events people can attend. Nevertheless, I hope one day to actually visit New Zealand – perhaps there will even be a future Worldcon there for us to corporeally attend.
Defying Doomsday (Twelfth Planet Press)