ICYMI, the recap of my first day at Boskone can be found here. I didn’t make it to day three due to some medical issues, so this is both my second and last post about this year’s Boskone. I also made it to fewer panels on Saturday than I had hoped, but still got to plenty and had a great time! I’m already excited for next year’s. 🙂 In case you all are interested, I’ve got an entire shelf on goodreads of recs that came up throughout Boskone.
The Historical Progression of Horror
My first panel, at 10am sharp! The moderator was Jack Haringa, and the panelists were Deirdre Crimmins, Brett Savory, Tonia Thompson, and the one and only Paul Tremblay! I unfortunately didn’t get a chance to make it to Paul’s signing, but it was still great seeing him speak in the panel! Tonia also saw the cover of my journal prior to the panel and gave me a shout-out as a fellow Twilight Zone fan, which was fun.
The panel began with a discussion of the stimuli that lead to horror, whether related to technological advances or cultural changes. Tonia noted that space is less scary now that we (the human race) have been there and that the focus has shifted back to Earth, specifically a fear of AI and lack of privacy. Paul piped in that the speed at which misinformation can now spread is also a contributing factor to fear and horror.
Deirdre pointed out that modern horror has embraced technology in order to exploit our fears of it, followed by Tonia noting that technology makes writers work harder. No longer can we rely on the trope of no cell service without coming across as lazy. This makes the isolation often inherent to horror a lot more difficult. Paul pointed out that it forces a different kind of isolation to emerge.
As the conversation shifted, the topic of underexplored tropes arose with Tonia’s assertion that zombie fiction has not been explored to its fullest. She talked specifically about traditional Haitian zombies, which have long been used as a metaphor for enslavement. On a similar line, she hoped that hoodoo (distinctly different from voodoo) would be explored as well.
Later in the panel, the concept of the happy ending was brought up. Paul said that he felt a happy ending still needed to respect the experience of the character, and that they could not be able to escape these horrors completely unscathed. Jack noted that it is harder to portray any internal changes in movies, while Deirdre added that on the flipside movies are able to do the heavy lifting in other ways.
Tonia later brought up the differences between US and Latin American horror, the latter of which is more focused on religion. She noted that it would be interesting to see US horror explore religion, or lack of it, a little more. Jack brought up the fact that while we do have horror that explores religion, it is almost always dealt with from a Catholic perspective, and rarely in a contemporary setting.
In Our Own Voices
This panel was moderated by Julia Rios and included John Chu, Kenesha Williams, Tonia Thompson, and Hillary Monahan. Julia started off the panel by asking if the panelists found it difficult to find themselves represented. Kenesha started off by clarifying that in traditional publishing, the answer is yes. She noted that there is more representation in independent publishing. She also brought up the fact that many black stories are limited to oppression stories and historical retellings, and that black people don’t get to be the heroes.
Tonia answered next, sharing the first time she had read a book with a biracial character — in her 30s. “I wept because I had no idea what I was missing out on” not seeing herself in books. Hilary explained that a lot of traditional publishers use a couple non-white authors to say they’re diverse. Also biracial, she talked about how white authors will write biracial characters, but only include the white half of their lives. She spoke about how an author can’t say someone is half something and then never speak to that half.
Julia asked where the panelists tended to find their diverse fiction. Kenesha used Amazon suggestions, whereas Hilary depended mainly on word-of-mouth. She said it’s important to listen to people in the community you’re looking to explore and that she’s skeptical of lists made by people outside of the community. Tonia said she likes to use conferences and conventions to find new authors. Kenesha jumped back in to say tailor facebook groups tend to help listing a few, such as Colors in Darkness.
The idea of writing outside one’s own lane also came up. Tonia expressed her frustration that white people continue to get recognition for writing outside their experiences. Kenesha added that you can tell when a white editor has had a heavy hand in a black author’s work, and that they need to step back and trust the reader. Hilary argued that you can write outside your lane, but you need to take the time to do it right, with research and sensitivity readers.
This panel had moderator Paul DiFilippo and panelists Fran Wilde, Michael Swanwick, Karl Schroeder, and Brett James. DiFilippo started by discussing an essay from Charles Strauss (“Worldbuilding 404”) where he asserted that looking into the near future was 85% knowns, 10% known unknowns (something will happen, but what?), and 5% unknown unknowns (black swan events). Karl noted that sci-fi must stand as a plausible future, we must be able to see how we got there.
Karl also brought up the question of what happens if you get something wrong that is wrong by the time the book gets published. Michael brought up an incident where he almost wrote a book that involved a nuclear war between the US and the USSR, but decided at the last minute that he thought it would be boring. Sometime between the book’s acceptance and its publication, the USSR had fallen. Fran brought up a more concerning point: what if you get something right and someone uses it as their guide?
Karl argued the importance of near-future sci-fi by stating that setting novels 10,000 years in the future doesn’t help to solve present-day problems. Near-future sci-fi can give us a way to envision solutions to these problems. Michael stressed the importance of having a modesty about what you’re writing and looking just to the edge of the present for inspiration.
Why Diversity Matters
This panel was moderated by William Hayashi and had panelists Gerald L. Coleman, Cerece Rennie Murphy, Carlos Hernandez, and Reiko Murakami. William began by arguing that diversity in media normalizes the actual population of the country, as Cerece stated that “we write the world as it is… it’s time for us to stop explaining our existence.” Gerald also stressed the importance of having black characters with “every person problems” instead of relying on stereotypes to create “black problems.”
Cerece was lucky in that she grew up surrounded by diversity, and didn’t quite know that there were places where it didn’t exist. She said that someone once asked her what made her realize that she could write science fiction as a black woman. It was that moment that made her realize she had never thought she couldn’t.
Gerald and William began to discuss the impact of the Wonder Woman movie on women and girls. They walked out of the theaters visibly empowered, feeling like they could accomplish anything. Some had to wonder, “is this how white men feel walking out of superhero movies?”
Reiko added that, as someone who works in the video game industry, she has noticed the developers’ assumptions about the player have changed. They are no longer catering only to white teenage boys. She also stated that the most important part of writing diversely is doing your homework and showing respect.
Young Adult Science Fiction
Justin Key was the moderator of this panel and the panelists were Erin Underwood, Lauren Roy, Michael Stearns, and Fran Wilde. Justin began the panel by asking why there is so much more young adult fantasy than young adult science fiction. Lauren pointed out that when something is written by a woman, it is less likely to be labeled as sci-fi. Michael also said that the sci-fi label is avoided in YA as it is seen as the death of a novel. This leads to YA science fiction being sold in the general science fiction section instead.
Justin also asked whether sci-fi is encouraging kids to go into STEM fields. He used himself as an example, saying science fiction was part of why he became a doctor. Erin said that having the fiction to lay the groundwork for these interests can be essential. Fran also noted that fiction doesn’t have to be future-looking to be about science, “it’s not just robots and rockets.”
Social Change and the Speculative World
Janice Gelb was the moderator for this panel and the participants were Andrea Corbin, Robert VS Redick, Christopher Golden, and Hilary Monahan. Hilary was adamant that all fiction is political and that marginalized groups writing naturally makes their works political. What you include and what you don’t include in fiction is impacted by who you are. Christopher added in “Ignorance is privilege, and privilege is ignorance.” Hilary also noted that sci-fi and fantasy can put a fun twist on difficult topics, keeping people interested who might have otherwise checked out.
An audience member asked about how economic inequality and class systems are addressed in speculative fiction. Hilary noted that there are very few narratives set around poverty, although there are always exceptions. Christopher noted the Hunger Games trilogy as well as the Red Rising trilogy as examples. Hilary continued, pointing out other social justice issues that aren’t given as much attention: disability, classism, fatphobia. Andrea added that when these are included, they’re often an undercurrent and not the focus.