Sunday, August 28, 2016


Hello everyone! Apologies for the delay in Positron updates, as the last month or two were consumed by Worldcon-related business for me. Now, finally catching my breath back in Chicago, I give you: vague observations and hasty thoughts.

This was my first Worldcon, and I had a great time! For those of you unfamiliar: The World Science Fiction Convention is among the oldest and certainly the most influential of the cons; it moves to a different city each year. Crucially, the Worldcon members are the voting body that issues the Hugo Awards, generally the most noted of the SF honors.

I typically conserve my con-energy (and finances) for those with a strong academic presence, which is not usually the case at Worldcon. Plus, it's often far away (Helsinki in 2017, for instance). This year, however, besides being a manageable distance for me, Worldcon teamed up with the James Gunn Conference, usually held in Lawrence, KS around the same time, giving me a great excuse to shape up a paper and go. The Gunn Conference also issue a few scholarships for attending, which I am immensely pleased to have received. As an independent scholar (who's not independently wealthy), travel costs are a major limitation to conference participation.

So: Gunn Center folks, thank you again. Positron readers: check out their programs if you're interested, they're doing good work in SF/F related scholarship and particularly in assisting educators to use SF/F resources.

So! Kansas City Worldcon, aka Midamericon II:


The "Is Cyberpunk Still a Thing" panel.
I had unrealistic dreams of livetweeting and/or blog-recapping a lot of these, but frankly it was too much for me. Major kudos to all those live-tweeters out there: harder than it looks!

I did take tons of notes, though, so I'll try to do some very brief recapping of a few panels. (Will attribute comments as possible; misattributions possible, and I'm paraphrasing). I'm going to post these separately; will update this page.

In general, pretty good paneling. Being more used to the academic conference than the fannish con, I'm easily underwhelmed by non-academic panels. They can lack substance, range too far from their descriptions, or be hijacked by panelists/moderators/audience members. All of which I saw, at least a little bit--but I also went to quite a few panels that were really, really great. Well-moderated, lots of insightful discussion. The academic track was smaller than I was expecting, but I caught some great papers.

My Talk

A sketch of the anti-fantastic effect of "deflation".
Whew! After much trepidation and last-minute re-writes, I felt super-good about presenting my paper: "A Series of Agile Distractions: Anti-Fantasy and World-Building in Swanwick's Stations of the Tide".

We had some technical issues with the projector/laptop interface that gunked up my visual aids, but the only slide I needed came through okay.

Normally I'd post the whole reading copy on Positron (as I did for my cognitive diversity talk from last year's Wiscon), but I'm hoping to publish this one, so that'll have to wait a bit. In a nutshell:
  • Elaborating a working definition of "anti-fantasy", and situating that relative to other definitions/modes of SF/F.
  • Looking at how anti-fantasy engages with some narratological ideas (Barthes' "writerly text", Brooks' ideas of plot and desire), and connecting that to some classic SF critical ideas (Suvin's "cognitive estrangement", the "sense of wonder").
  • Then, using Stations of the Tide to illustrate some of these ideas.
Felt pretty great about it. Will keep you posted as this thing develops. 

Kansas City

This was my first time in Kansas Cit, MO, and I had a great time! I did not expect it to be as INCREDIBLY HILLY as, in fact, it is. This was particularly evident to me as I was utilizing B-Cycle, a bike-share program, and my poor legs have been spoiled by Chicago's near-perfect planar nature.

KC has great veg options! I was very pleased with:
Also unexpected: really superb coffee scene. You may not know this about me, but coffee is like...what I do; my standards are pretty high. Very, very pleased with many of the cups I had in KC. Good joints:
  • Quay- Multi-roaster shop fairly close to the convention center; I spent the most time here. Had some absolutely top-tier cups, especially an Ethiopian natural from Sweet Bloom.
  • Oddly Correct- Microroaster, small space, loved it. Great spro and a stellar cup of a Costa Rican honey-processed SL-28 (!!).
  • Thou Mayest- I want to own this shop. Stellar, stellar design, large overall but feels cozy everywhere. Superb texture control. Coffee was good, especially the spro, and I also had a wonderful cocktail--they have what looks to be a really brilliant bar program for cocktails and draughts. Also turns out they have some roasterly connections to Dark Matter here in Chicago.
  • Blip Roasters- Couple coffee-folks hanging out at Thou Mayest told me I had to check this out. Over in the West Bottoms, which is like this semi-abandoned warehouse-y district (also the antiques/haunted house district?). Legit biker bar, there were 40 or so Harleys & Indians outside when I got there. Microroasting on a US Roaster, sweet custom Marzocco, had a batch brew of a natural Ethiopian that knocked my socks off.
  • Kaldi's- Very respectable batch brew & pastries, good service, and walking distance to the Con.
  • PT's- My coffee was okay, spro was near-perfect. I remembered PT's as being especially good roasters for espresso, pleased to see that still holds.
Positron: Come for the SF news, stay for the coffee reviews.

Final Thoughts

I had a blast at Worldcon, and I also had...many thoughts. Gleaned some weird insights into fandom, and maybe the genre, as well. After I finish typing up panel notes, I may try to summarize some of those insights.

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