Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Call for Papers, Panel Proposal for Wiscon 39

Wiscon is coming up, May 22-25, in Madison, WI. I'm submitting a paper to present on their academic track, and am hoping I can form a panel with 2-3 people interested in similar topics. Wiscon is a fan-run con; it's also more heavily weighted towards literary, theory-savvy, wide-read fandom than most, making it an ideal venue for accessible but in-depth critical discussion. Undergraduate, post-graduate, or independent scholars, contact me if you're interested in presenting something!

The panel concept I have is tentatively titled "Floating Ideas in Different Blood: Mental Diversity in SF", and might include papers related to:
  • Representations of intelligence, genius, or savantism.
  • Works that explore different modes of thinking, such as AI or hive-minds.
  • Intelligence among entities such as aliens, robots, post-humans/cyborgs, and non-human animals.
  • Different values, economies, cultural norms, or conceptual schemes in fictional characters, races/species, or societies.
  • Neurodiversity in SF/F, for example the representation of individuals with autism or developmental disorders.
  • How thinking, values, and decision-making are influenced by biology, gender, culture, and technology in speculative fiction.
  • Works discussed can come from any part of speculative fiction broadly defined--science fiction, fantasy, horror, or their many related and sub-genres, as found in literature, film, television, comics, audio format, games, you name it.
  • Wiscon always particularly welcomes works that address issues of feminism, gender, race, and class, as well as examinations of works by the guests of honor--this year they are Alaya Dawn Johnson & Kim Stanley Robinson.

I'm going to be talking about how different kinds of thinking and intelligence are represented in science fiction. Essentially I want to delineate a few common ways of representing non-human intelligence, focusing on two contradictory ones, with some commentary on how these imaginary examples are connected to ethics, politics, and our actual concepts of human cognition. The "Great Chain" model presents intelligence as existing on a linear, hierarchical scale, while what I'm calling the "Radiant/Divergent" model imagines thinkers who are not clearly more or less intelligent, but are clearly thinking differently. Depending on where I go with this stuff, I may circle it back around to some mental diversity here on this planet, including animal rights, education theory, and the neurodiversity movement.

I'm going to be pulling a lot of fast examples from popular SF, but I know I'll be using Poul Anderson's "Brain Wave", Orson Scott Card's early "Ender" books, C.S. Friedman's "This Alien Shore", and (shocker) C.J. Cherryh's work, particularly her "Chanur" series.

The submission deadline for Wiscon has not yet been posted, but based on previous years will probably be the end of February to Mid-March, so if you're even a little interested, contact me as soon as you can. Again, the email here is, and I'm looking for 2-3 more presenters (and a moderator if anyone's into it). If you haven't done this kind of academic presentation before, here's how it goes:
  • The moderator will introduce each of the panelists and make sure things move smoothly.
  • All the panelists will give their talk, usually 15-20 minutes depending on the length of the session and how many are on the panel.
  • That usually equates to roughly 3-5 single-spaced pages, depending on reading speed.
  • There is the ability to use powerpoint presentations or add audio/video samples, but make sure to let organizers know well in advance. (I'm planning on using some visual aids, so a projector should be available at least).
  • After all panelists have presented, the moderator will chair questions from the audience (and usually have a few prepared as well if it's quiet out there).
I was really blown away by my experience at Wiscon last year--combined the best aspects of scholarly and fannish cons; it was an extremely intelligent and widely-read group, lots of feminism, humanism, and equality in the air. Madison is also pretty  freaking great. I'm really pumped about this, hope I can find a few interested folks.

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