Readercon 16: Day 1

I spent most of the evening at Readercon, and am pretty tired, but I want to try to give a general overview of each day before the notes I've taken make no sense at all to me.

I arrived around 4pm, having battled the Friday traffic, which, though thick, wasn't half the density of traffic heading north for the weekend (it seemed that the entire highway from Concord to Nashua was one big traffic jam on the north side). As I entered the hotel, I talked for a moment with Gavin Grant, who was waiting for a cart so he could bring boxes and boxes of fine Small Beer books to the dealer's room. I registered, then chatted with Brett Cox and Ted Chiang before heading into the dealer's room, aka Temptation Central. I was actually very good, and stuck within the budget I had set for myself, which may be a first. Mostly I bought stuff from Gavin -- a couple of 'zines (including a new one I'd not heard of before, Sybil's Garage), Magic for Beginners (yes, I've got a galley of it, but there are occasional books I just want to own a real copy, and this is one -- I even held one of the $111 limited editions, and it was beautiful), and Kate Wilhelm's Storyteller, which I hadn't expected would be available yet. I was sorely tempted by Maureen McHugh's collection, Mothers and Other Monsters, because I've read a few of the stories in it and like them very much, and because the cover is gorgeous, but I knew I wouldn't have time to read it within the next few months, so it can wait.

Wandering around, I happened upon Graham Sleight, one of the best critics the SF field has, and someone I'd not spent enough time with at Worldcon last year. He got my hopes up when he told me that a hardcover of John Crowley's Little, Big that I was eyeing was only $15, but then picked it up and discovered he'd misheard ... it was $50. (Momentary bibliographic trivia: the first U.S. edition was actually a large-format paperback.)

Then I made my way to the Prime Books table, where Sean Wallace was aided in sales by Sonya Taaffe, who urged books on people with the sort of vigor that makes it seem as if not buying the book would be to risk eternal damnation. And given how beautiful is the hardcover of Greer Gilman's Moonwise, this is entirely understandable (along with the lovely editions of Sonya's own books. Sean offered me lots of review copies with the hope that I would review (positively) every book Prime had published, but, unfortunately, time is a constraint right now, and so I only let him give me a couple that I'm particularly interested in, Anna Tambour's Monterra's Deliciosa & Other Tales & and Jeannelle M. Ferreira's A Verse from Babylon (I can't promise good reviews, but they certainly look on a first glance like the kind of books I'll appreciate).

Then it was time to go to some panels. At first, Geoffrey Goodwin and I decided we would follow Jim Kelly to the panel on short fiction and best of the year anthologies, but even though Jim has a couple of Hugos and other awards and is multitalented and tremendously respected, he had no idea where he was going, and suddenly a bunch of women were hanging all over him. Geoff and I decided to find the panel ourselves, and so we walked in the opposite direction. Once we entered, Geoff decided we should sit somewhere where we could see and hear well, and so he plopped right down in the front row. I have an immense dislike of front rows, because at some point in childhood it was beaten into me that We Do Not Sit In Front Rows. I've actually changed tickets at theatres when I've gotten the front row. But there was nothing I could do in this case without being conspicuous.

Karma happens, of course. Toward the end of the panel, somebody said they like to get a feel for how stories are being received by reading about them on the internet. Naturally, someone asked what sites they read. Somebody said, among others, The Mumpsimus. Normally, I would have blushed and slid down in my seat and enjoyed the little bit of notice while also remaining invisible. But Gavin was on the panel, and he pointed at me, because I was in the front row, and said, "That's Matt Cheney." Suddenly everyone in the room was looking at me. I was glad I wasn't picking my nose.

The substance of the panel was pretty good, though, despite that moment. The panelists were Ellen Datlow, Kathryn Cramer, Gavin Grant, Paul DiFilippo, and Carl Frederick as moderator. There was talk of the tremendous number of novellas now being published, not only in magazines and anthologies, but as stand-alone items by such places as PS and Golden Gryphon. There was general agreement that the fragmentation of the SF field right now is really kind of fun, and leads to a marvelous diversity of stories. Among trends seen recently, Gavin mentioned noticing a lot of aspiring writers tend to include either asteroid miners or centaur pornography, while Kathryn Cramer said she'd seen some good hard SF recently that used ideas from neurology as a way of strengthening characterization without sacrificing speculation, because it allows writers to delve into questions of how the mind really works. Various writers of short fiction were recommended: Christopher Rowe, Benjamin Rosenbaum, Matt Hughes, Charles Coleman Finlay, Bradley Denton, Laird Barron, Margo Lannagan, Holly Phillips (who was sitting right behind me, but nobody pointed HER out!), Carol Emshwiller, Jeffrey Ford, M. Rickert, Judith Berman, Theodora Goss, Elizabeth Bear (indeed, these are good days for short fiction).

Things got a bit contentious when Paul DiFilippo said that as much as he loves the small presses, they don't have the consistency of the major magazines, and that the average issue of F&SF is better in overall quality than the average issue of, for instance, Electric Velocipede, primarily because most writers send their best work to the major magazines first. Ellen Datlow said this wasn't entirely true, that it's very much a question of taste, and that stories can be good by various definitions without being quite right for one of the major magazines.

The next panel I attended was "The Author on the Side of the Milk Carton", about writers who were once well known but have since been forgotten, or nearly so. (I arrived late, so didn't hear who all the panelists were, and there seemed to be one more than was listed in the program, so I will not attempt to guess who they actually were. Maybe they'll end up on milk cartons.) There were discussions of what sorts of things cause datedness, the shifting timelessness of great art, writers who outlive their fame, writers who die too young to really develop, etc. Most of this was common sense or obvious, but a few good recommendations and observations were made, with one that really stuck with me, though I don't know exactly how true it is: that in the 1920s in England and the U.S. the popular, middlebrow books were fantasies, and that by the mid-1930s this was no longer true, that realism had taken over, and the previous writers (such as James Branch Cabell) were forgotten.

Eventually, having exhausted every possible formula they could think of for how a writer transcends their own moment, the panelists agreed that it's entirely unpredictable and essentially random, though that genius becomes obvious. An audience member asked whether science fiction doesn't wear as well as fantasy with the passage of time, given how futures become quickly quaint. Another person answered from the audience that SF is not valued for its predictions, and that it is always a comment on the present and how writers interpret their own world, that Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man is a great 1950s novel. He then went on to criticize the assumption that just because a writer was popular in their own day and not later is a bad thing -- why disparage and discredit writers who managed to speak to their own time? This caused a bit of a stir, and various answers, including that the things that make writers popular in their day don't always have to do with quality, but with marketing, etc., and that with time it becomes easier to see some of the writers who had less publicity but were doing good work. Does the present, then, always have debased taste and the future better? The panel ended before the questions could be satisfactorily addressed.

The next panel was on "The Reading Protocols of Slipstream", with Jonathan Lethem, Wendy Walker, Steve Rasnic Tem, Patrick O'Leary, and F. Brett Cox. This was the liveliest and oddest panel I saw, but fascinating. Wendy Walker started out by saying she didn't really know what slipstream was and didn't like the word because it suggested slipperiness, though she didn't like the word "protocols" even more because it suggested The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Jonathan Lethem also expressed some discomfort with the word "slipstream", finding it "dangerously baggy" because it stretches to accomodate so much -- writers associated with SF, writers not associated with SF, particular stories, whole careers. He said he has a horror of category names and prefers specific ones, especially since SF is itself a central-less area, so there's no need to add more central-less areas to it. All novels, he suggested, are slipstream if you look at them closely enough, and yet also not -- like an oasis in a desert, or perhaps a mirage. But he did think the term might be useful to describe one specific type of story: the type of story where the it was unclear if it was science fiction or fantasy, and where the fantastic element is muted and ambiguous, causing the reader to have to make up her or his own mind about whether the story is supernatural or not. As for protocols, he said all reading requires strategies, that it is impossible to read without using some protocol or another. Slipstream, under the strict definition, makes protocols more visible. Some people find that intrusive and never want to be reminded that a story is just a story, or about the reading strategies they employ. Other reader crave just that sort of story, the sort that foregrounds the reading experience and makes the protocols a subject and a problem of the story itself.

Steve Tem said a good reason to come up with new labels is to be identified with the sort of writers you want to be identified with. He said he's generally considered a horror writer, but that he feels his writing is closer in spirit to what most people identified with slipstream or interstitial fiction write, rather than with Dean Koontz or Michael Slade. SF readers as a whole, he said, tend to hold the understanding of a story in abeyance and let the world build for a while in their heads, trusting the writer. This, he suggested, is a good habit for all readers.

Patrick O'Leary said slipstream exists when you don't know what genre something is -- for instance, Karen Joy Fowler's Sarah Canary, which may be science fiction ... or may not.

Jonathan Lethem said that reading the best classic, traditional science fiction provides a reader with opportunities of reframing consciousness, where the actual situation of characters may not be clear until well into the story (e.g. James Blish's story where eventually you realize the characters are particles in a water molecule ["Surface Tension", I think, right?]). Slipstream, on the other hand, provides pleasure not through conceptual breakthrough, but through bringing the fictional elements to the surface, creating a reframing of tone or tradition of form once the reader recognizes or decides what the story is doing. This can be emotional, humorous, and even erotic, but the self-conscious literary reframing experience is a very different one from the experience of conceptual reframing in a story.

Patrick O'Leary suggested Nabokov's Pale Fire as an example.

Wendy Walker then said Nabokov was scrupulous about words, and would hate the word "protocols" as much as she does. She thought it important to bring the discussion back to that word, and she expressed a certain horror that the word, so closely linked to the genocidal impulse, would be used. Responsible writing, she said, is inevitably political and is always aware of its associations. "Protocols" is not, she seemed to imply, a responsible word.

An audience member asked if a word could have its associations changed, and if retiring it because of its associations didn't give more power to the oppressors. Someone else explained that the word is used because Samuel R. Delany has used it so fruitfully to explain differences between popular literatures and more academically-sanctioned literatures.

After a somewhat tense exchange when it seemed like the rest of the time would be taken up with the question of whether the word was acceptable or not, things returned to the subject at hand. Jonathan Lethem said readers' expectations can differ, and that a writer can play with readers' expectations. Wendy Walker said that good writing is good writing, that learning to really write is learning to use language, and that when such things as Kafka's "Metamorphosis", not to mention fairy tales, are so well known, why do readers have trouble when a book literalizes its metaphors? From the audience, Kathryn Cramer disagreed that language is everything, and said that in SF in particular, things often are built (and judged) through images and ideas. Steve Tem said if he doesn't like the language of a book, he can't continue reading it, regardless of the story or ideas. He then said that as he gets older, what matters most is emotional truth. Kelly Link's stories work, he said, not just because they are well constructed and written beautifully, but because they are emotionally true, and that they make you care about the situation within them, no matter how bizarre or fanastic.

The panel ended with the writers recommending books they thought were good examples of what they'd been talking about. I didn't get them all, but some of the ones mentioned were: Country Cousins by Michael Brownstein, Who is Teddy Villanova? by Thomas Berger, The Truth About Celia by Kevin Brockmeier, Pricksongs & Descants: Fictions by Robert Coover, and Was by Geoff Ryman.

I ended the night by going to a reading by Samuel R. Delany, a writer I have revered for a long time. He sat on the edge of the table in a small conference room and read from Phallos and his autobiography, The Motion of Light in Water. I have read some of Delany's pornography, and haven't much cared for it, but his reading of Phallos was quite a lot of fun and very funny. The Motion of Light in Water is one of my favorites among his books, and a favorite book by anyone, really, and when reading it he did a marvelous job with various voices, making the sections he read both amusing and touching.

Tomorrow perhaps I will have a bit more time to make my chronicle of the day more focused. (As Pascal said, I didn't have time to write a short blog post, so I wrote a long one.)


  1. Sounds like a very good time (as Readercon always does; I've never managed to make it there). I'd be green with jealousy if we hadn't signed for our paper tickets to Scotland this morning!

  2. Wendy Walker started out by saying she didn't really know what slipstream was and didn't like the word because it suggested slipperiness, though she didn't like the word "protocols" even more because it suggested The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

    Hmm, Walker reminds me of the social assumption of able-bodiedness and the social construction of (dis)ability, and as someone with a disabled roommate, I'm appauled that she is -- literally and metaphorically -- "running around" with such a privileged surname.

    "Wendy", as it is a contrived name first found in a popular fiction, and given its similarity to "windy", is hardly any better -- as it suggests a verbal facility with rhetoric designed, pace Burke's conception of Dramatism and the pedant, to elide the varied and opposed interests of the so-called abled community and those of persons with disabilities. I can thus only conclude that through "windy" rhetoric, this person seeks to create a rhetorically-grounded ideological state apparatus that will allow her privileged caste to "walk" the disabled off the discursive scene and likely into death camps (thus the repeated slippage into the rhetoric of anti-Semitism, and indeed, the complaints about slippage itself!)

  3. Dear God, is Wendy Walker so stupid she glows in the dark?

  4. Dear God, can't Wendy Walker have a quirky personal opinion without being harangued for it?

  5. Sure she can, once she marries a member of the Politburo and can order whomever disagrees with her to the Gulag in a fit of pique.

    Until then, well, opinions beget opinions.

  6. Matt: Just wanted to say that I really enjoyed your synopsis of Readercon and look forward to more. It's hard to make panels sound exciting, but your writing served them well.

  7. Nick,

    Sure opinions beget opinions, but there is no reason whatsoever to be hostile to people.

    That's what gulags are for.

  8. Indeed. I agree that there was no reason at all for Walker to repeatedly try to attach something as odious as anti-Semitic propaganda to a simple term of art like "protocols"; that's an exceptionally hostile thing to say at a panel.

    Luckily, she only got critiqued, not shipped off to the gulag.

  9. For the record, Wendy Walker's point did seem a bit strange -- taken seriously, I think it would probably lead us to drop every word from every language on Earth and return to grunting -- but the point was offered thoughtfully and passionately, and led to some good debate about how words are used and the assumptions behind them. She seems like a pleasant person, and I was actually quite intrigued about her writing, because it sounds like fascinating stuff.

  10. Nick,

    Context is the key here, who said what and under what circumstances. This is why an immediately hostile automatic response on our part is just such a waste of energy. Why assume the worst of this person? I don't know her -- do you?

    I am betting it is more likely that no harm was meant by Wendy's statements, and we are only getting a second-hand account anyway (even if it is a marvelous one).

    In any case, since I was not there, I have no right to condemn, nor do I have reason to fly off the handle.

    Matt, thanks for a wonderful detailed day-at-the-con report!

  11. Hostile? My response was playfully sardonic, and made fun of Walker's ohsopomo (mis)reading of words in her own private language. I drew no conclusions about her as a person.

  12. (I may have posted a variant of this in the wrong thread, but since the comments I thought I posed a moment ago aren't here, I'll tray again.)

    Regarding the paragraph: "An audience member asked if a word could have its associations changed, and if retiring it because of its associations didn't give more power to the oppressors. Someone else explained that the word is used because Samuel R. Delany has used it so fruitfully to explain differences between popular literatures and more academically-sanctioned literatures."

    The first comment was made by Gavin Grant. The "someone else" was me. The Delany essay is either in "5,280 Words" in the anthology Those Who Can, or else it is in the first of the collections of Delany's criticism published by Dragon Press in the 70s. But in any case, the usage of the term "reading protocols" has been in use in sf criticism for over 25 years and was not invented by the con committee.

    A piece of staircase wit: I can't help but think the panel might have gone a bit more smoothly if when Wendy first raised the protocol issue, someone had turned to her and said, "Wnedy, what does 'http' stand for?"

  13. Interestingly, I asked Delany about the origin of the term, and he said that it was not actually his although it appeared in an essay of his originally published in an anthology of criticism. He says that the editor of the volume rewrote his piece and introduced the term herself and that he has never been happy with it, but that everyone has picked it up from that essay and, to his embarassment, has attributed the term to him, since it appeared under his name.

  14. "reading protocols" is a phrase borrowed from critical theory from the seventies. Critical theory itself borrowed the phrase from French linguists studying how people read, in terms of the linguistic process.

  15. Wendy Walker, I think, blurted out something, in a kind of hostile manner, that she might on consideration have kept to herself. One does this on panels (believe me, I know).

    Rick Bowes

  16. Thank you for these fascinating & thoughtful reports, Matt. This was a heartbreaking Readercon for me to miss. (Well, heartscraping anyway.)

    It may be worth remembering that this is Walker's first entry into an unfamiliar established culture. Science fiction readers should certainly be familiar with the challenges of sudden immersion in an alien context.

  17. Vera, under what context might one legitimately link the general use of the word "protocols" to famous anti-Semitic slander?

    I guess if she were kidding, or fully aware of the meaning of the term, but concerned that others who didn't read well might miss it, the statement might make sense. me out here.

    All the best,
    Greg Beatty

  18. Nick,

    My initial response was directed to the hostile comment by Anonymous (Anonymous said... "Dear God, is Wendy Walker so stupid she glows in the dark?"), and you merely stepped in to discuss and elaborate, and apparently defend (or riff off in an inspired symphony of sarcasm that you do so well ;-) the Anonymous one's sentiment.


    The context that I can think of is a personal one: if an individual is particularly sensitive to anti-semitism, to what "The Protocols" stand for, and has almost exclusively heard the word used in the abbreviated form to refer to the anti-Semitic volume's title.

    So here, I would venture a wild guess that Wendy may have heard it this way for so long that her personal squick meter goes off every time she hears it.

    Again, I was not there, do not have the full story, nor am I defending Wendy's statments, but I do know a needlessly hostile inflamatory comment when I see one (by Anonymous).

    Hey, how about people start defaulting in their reactions to "give the benefit of a doubt and play nice" instead of "bristle and spew."

    *brought to you by the Kindness Police or I fucking come around and break your ankles.* :-)

  19. I heard about the incident and thought her reaction absurd, in or out of context. But that's my personal opinion. I don't know the woman.

  20. I did spend quite a bit of time with Wendy at the con and like her very much. Vera Nazarian (and Ray Davis) pretty much have it nailed. The only criticism that I can level at her is that she should have objected to the use of the term in advance, to the programming committee, so that we could have explained how the term has been successfully de-politicized in our community.

    Meanwhile, the focus on her odd objection has distracted us from the fact that Jonathan Lethem provided an absolutely perfect definition and description of "slipstream" as the Readercon committee uses the term (as a genre, rather than as a marketing category).

  21. Tom La Farge7/12/2005 11:48 PM

    As the member of the Politburo that Wendy Walker married, I can assure Nick Mamatos that he will shortly be disappeared on charges of intellectual dishonesty. If he would like to try to explain, in his sardonically playful way, what Walker's objection to the word "protocols" has to do with the social construction of disability, I'm sure we will all be edified. But as he accuses her of antisemitism in one post and of protestig too much against antisemitism in another, I thing we can dismiss his remarks as laboriously rancorous guff. His comments on her names runs at speed into a wall that he may not have known but might have anticipated. The name Walker was in this case the name chosen by some bluff official on Elllis Island to naturalize her grandfather's name of Wolkowich. Bad guess, Mr. Mamatas. You were, as P.G. Wodehouse would put it, talking through the back of your neck.
    Those who note, more accurately, that "protocols" is a word reclaimed by Theory discourse, I would remind (a) of the career of Paul de Man and (b) of Henry Ford, who had the fiction entitled "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" translated into English and published in a large edition in order to promote his antisemitic agenda. Walker was not saying that the word can not be used, only that cannot be used unknowingly.
    When Ellen Datlow says that she does not know the woman, I am surprised but must take her word for it. I am more surprised that she would comment on an incident she did not witness. There is a difference between in and out of context.
    In the course of ReaderCon 16 both Walker and Farah Mendelsohn let fly against politically oblivious comments. Is there a problem here? Are we an insulated little mutual admiration society? Even Samuel R. Delany, gentleman that he is, approached Walker after the panel, not to apologize, but to enter into dialogue. Let's rise to that mark, shall we?

  22. Gogol, a great fantasist, believed censorship was good for writers. He ended by destroying the sequel to Dead Souls, and killed himself. Is this the direction in which we are heading?
    Is discussion of words and their nuances not possible? Is it not possible to discuss one's discomfort without immediately implying that one wishes to censor, disappear, or obliterate a word or text? Unfortunately the political situation in this country has brought us to the point where writers, the custodians of language, feel they are being removed from their primary concern when asked to confront the medium in which they work.
    Words are like people. Each one has a biography you can read in a good dictionary. The beginnings are in other languages and hard to understand, but later on the deeds become clear, and often the words are accomplices to great good deeds or to crimes. The history of the word becomes part of its meaning. It is the writer's job to be aware of and use that meaning. If you have ever tried to translate something from another language, you soon realize that there are no exact equivalents from one language to another. Each word is a cluster of nuances. Learning another language is like going to another planet.
    During my conversations at Readercon, with Ellen Kushner, Gregory Feeley and Geary Gravel, as well as other conversations I overheard, literary censorship was a major issue. It has been up till lately commercially driven, but it seems now to be acquiring a different edge.
    With a president in office who has brought the abuse of language and abuse of human rights to a level not seen since before the Civil War, and with our country deploying its massive technology to destroy ancient cities and innocent people, I feel that it is time for this literary community to start to think about language, not just ideas.

  23. In a healthy community, the loudest and quickest attackers are rarely the most trusted providers of balanced analysis, no matter what their other talents. But for obvious reasons they may remain loudest and quickest.

    In a less healthy community, that in itself is enough talent to get by.

    In a healthy community, unexpected challenges from unexpected quarters count as new information and interesting in their own right -- which, to be sure, isn't always the interest one might have had in mind five minutes earlier and so which might require a little time to recontextualize.

    In a less healthy community, such challenges are construed as irrational threats while the recontextualizing's construed as stonewalling.

    But, as someone who's been simultaneously heartened and dismayed by several communities of ambitious artists over the decades, and by my own actions among them, I'd suggest that what's brought to one's attention may be irksome but usually counts as coercion strictly on a volunteer basis. (Me, I *way* over-volunteer. That's why I so often go AWOL.)

  24. Jonathan Lethem provided an absolutely perfect definition and description of "slipstream" as the Readercon committee uses the term (as a genre, rather than as a marketing category).

    Eric, I've often insisted that genre can't be reduced to marketing category but the idea of opposing them seems a little odd. Do you mean Jonathan emphasized those writerly influences that cut across marketing categories? If so, I'd agree that this is explicitly how Sterling originally used the "slipstream" term.

    One of the things I disliked about Sterling's original essay was his calling his collection of examples just a "parody of 'mainstream'" -- revealing his own writerly prejudices fairly strongly -- but in deep hindsight I have to admit that the newer novels he might add have done much better financially by being marketed as high mainstream fiction than as science fiction, fantasy, or (as in Walker's and Acker's cases) experimental small-press literature. But part of that happening has been a loosening of what the high mainstream marketing category will bear.

  25. What percentage of the uses of the word "protocols" in the English language in the past decade also involve the word "Zion"? Is there any reason to believe this number would be in excess one percent? Or even in excess of one half of a percent?

  26. I see foolishness runs in the family, at least laterally through marriage. The point both Walker and her husband so gloriously and stupidly miss is that the contentions I made about the name "Wendy Walker" are dubious and as downright moronic as the one's Walker made about both slipstream and reading protocols.

    I agree, we should think about language, however, I actually insist on thinking, not just arbitrarily assigning nonsense connotations to words, as Walker did.

  27. First: "Dear God, can't Wendy Walker have a quirky personal opinion without being harangued for it?"

    and then: "My initial response was directed to the hostile comment by Anonymous (Anonymous said... 'Dear God, is Wendy Walker so stupid she glows in the dark?'), and you merely stepped in to discuss and elaborate, and apparently defend (or riff off in an inspired symphony of sarcasm that you do so well ;-) the Anonymous one's sentiment."

    Vera, don't be surprised if your imprecise (slippery!) use of the verb "harangue" to refer to a short one-line gibe was naturally taken as referring to Nick's bombastic ranting.

  28. If we're going to talk about the meanings behind words, then one should have a working knowledge of all their meanings, which ones are obvious (and which aren't). More importantly, one should be aware enough to realize what effect introducing certian ideas into a discussion will have.

    I'm sure many people here are familiar with Godwin's Law - 1. every online conversation eventually results in a reference to Hitler. 2. once the point of Hitler has been reached, the conversation is over. These days, "Godwins" is shorthand for a gratuitous introduction of a comparison so extreme it derails rational discourse. This is not an esoteric term - anyone following the story of Dick Durbin's comments might come across.

    Even without knowing this term, when one declares a word is intractably linked to genocide and asserts that Nabakov would have hated it, it is not wrong for people to infer this means the word shouldn't be used because it is inherent offensive and destructive, i.e. censored.

    It would be one thing if Walker made the remark once to make a point about the slippage of meaning. But this account implies Walker insisted on returning to the genocidal implications of the word as a point unto itself. Perhaps she was trying to discuss meaning by engaging in absurd extremes, but her comments here imply she was serious - unless, of course, she is continuing the satirical persona of one enamored of psuedo intellectual speech that ridiculous propositions seem better than clear discussion of ideas.

    Or perhaps it was a simple act of getting attention by going off on a questionable tangent. In

    I'm trying to state this in a calm verbose manner. If I were to be blunt, I'd say: Come on, anyone who knows and loves words so much can tell saying protocol is a genocidal word is at best a stretch and people might find it silly. Especially when one topic is science fiction; as someone said upthread, in this context the primary association of protocol is HTTP. A weird misreading of a word when the topic is reading standards and guides, makes one fair game for criticism.

    As for being blunt or rude, come the fuck on. We are talking about the art of writing and how it connects to genre fiction, which includes connecting to the audience with clear and compelling word use. And isn't one role of word lovers to call bullshit when people get too prolix?

    To smash up several metaphors and cliches, when Polonius starts getting Orwellian on a techincal term like protocol, it's time to stick an Ellisonian shiv in the discussion and take the piss out it.

  29. Actually, I think Nabokov would have been rather contemptuous of the fuss about Walker made about "protocols". It's the kind of thing he would have had no patience with.

    It was a warping of the meaning of the word within the context of the panel discussion. It is certainly true that "protocols" is used with "of zion" still today to promulgate anti-semitic views, but there are so many other contexts in which "protocols" is used that I find, and my wife Ann, who is Jewish, found the whole thing ridiculous.

    Yes, let's take care with language. Let's also take care to have discussions about language that don't make mountains out of mole hills.


  30. Er, that said, delete one "about" and one "find" above.

  31. Eliani said:

    Vera, don't be surprised if your imprecise (slippery!) use of the verb "harangue" to refer to a short one-line gibe was naturally taken as referring to Nick's bombastic ranting.

    You know what, Eliani? You are totally shit-picking here.

    Therefore, to make you happier, I will expand the sphere of my so-called "slippery" use of the term "harangue" -- which you somehow connote only with Nick and his "bombastic ranting" as you say -- to inlude not just the initial Anonymous comment, but Nick, yourself, and anyone else who jumps to malicious, bucolic, or any other conclusions about another individual, based on a pittance of data.

    In Russian there is a good saying, "piss hits the brains," to describe a person who is hasty to judge, act, or react.

  32. Vera, I was in the audience myself, along with many others, and I found Wendy's comments to be completely out of line, especially with the stated thrust of the panel. I don't know whose decision it was to include her up there, but it was poorly thought-out, as she nearly hijacked and ruined what should have been a very fascinating discussion on slipstream. Someone really fucked up (I think Wendy indicated early on in her diatribe that someone on the Readercon committee specifically included her on the panel, which simply boggles me . . . ) I can tell you that I wasn't the only one horrified and stunned silent by her silly issues, with a number of people leaving early. I stayed, if only to listen to Jonathan Lethem and Patrick O'Leary, who contributed with very intelligent and spot-on discourse on the reading protocols of slipstream—which was the entire point of the panel. The rest of it was simply a train wreck.

    Sean Wallace

  33. Sean,

    Since I was not at the panel, I take your word for it, honest.

    But my whole issue is with other people who were not at the panel, and immediately made personal attacks at Wendy.

    If we are to dissect the meanings of words -- fine. But none of us have the right to condemn another person's deeply ingrained reactions. We might condemn acts and opinions and prejudices, but not inner reactions. Such reactions are involuntary, often seemingly irrational (such as a fear of heights or spiders), and their causes more complex than any analysis can unravel.

    We may not agree with them, and they may be ridiculous to us, but we need to understand that there may be a valid reason people have them. And the fact that such a reason may be opaque to us does not negate its existence or its power over the individual.

  34. Vera,

    We're talking about words. Some of us are writers; some editors; some readers.

    There's no emotion or umbrage here or even shit-picking attached to telling you that when I read "harangue" I assume "bombastic ranting," which is not my connotation, but a standard and prevailing definition of the word "harangue."

    I am, however, selectively literal.

    See, it also reads funny when you refer to a one-liner as a "harangue" by virtue of aggrieved hyperbole and exaggeration. Like a joke.

    Like what Nick did.

    Like what I hardly ever make.

    Like what maybe you did that once.

    You basically made mystified noises that someone could be so trigger-happy as to imagine you were responding to one commenter when in fact you were not. It's not jumping to conclusions, but taking words and applying expected context.

    I did not tell you not to use "harangue" for whatever you like. Simply that you're easily misread when it's unclear if you're being hyperbolic, which I will now assume you were.

    My own opinion of Wendy's position (not of Wendy, because really, unless she would like to mow my lawn or pay my cable bill, who cares) as represented is that in most cases if a roomful of people put forth the terms in their field and define them, you TRUST that and proceed with a new and tailored vocabulary.

    To do otherwise would be to tell someone not that they CANNOT use "harangue" for a quip, but that they MUST not. Rather than, in this thread, point out that it's not surprising that you might be misunderstood.

    Where my family is from, "negro" is a term of endearment. I do not argue them out of calling me and my sister "negra" because I refuse to accept their language. I don't insist that they have another motive or are actually insulting me, I JUST KNOW IT.

    Wendy's thoughts, once out of her mouth, are communicative of her notions. People have silly positions, perplexing ones, uplifting ones, stacked ones—and all those adjectives come from the outside. Because we always make sense to our selves, and our utterances are the merest common sense.

    What you're warning people of (that everyone has reasons) is so universally understood that you're not watching people forget that fact, but rather proceed without remarking on it, operate with it in mind, because it is such a thoroughly integrated truism. Likewise you don't hear people saying, "Everyone breathes oxygen."

    If you're really saying, "I feel bad for Wendy. She said something unfortunate and idiosyncratic, and rather than it being received with embarrassed silence or brushed under the rug, people responded to it. I feel bad because they challenged/mocked/expressed exasperation/extrapolated an untenable position/did not feel sympathy."

    You are privileging the "inner reactions" of one person (Wendy—although once she has uttered something, there's nothing "inner" about her reaction at all) over the "inner" reactions of anyone whose honest response is unfavorable.

    That's fine. It's your bias, a one-sidedly generous and compassionate one, and you get to wield it.

  35. "Nick, yourself, and anyone else who jumps to malicious, bucolic, or any other conclusions about another individual, based on a pittance of data."

    I made no conclusion whatsoever in that first post, nothing malicious, assumed nothing, though place me in whatever company you wish.

    I told you that by using harangue in the way that you did, you were inviting confusion with a subsequent post that was indeed a harangue.

    Assign malice as you like.

  36. Sean Wallace7/15/2005 4:15 PM

    Let's take a stab at this: we certainly do have the right to "condemn another person's deeply ingrained reactions," oh yes we do. We're all intelligent and responsible adults here and we all know what is expected of us, in given situations or environments. This is no different. In this, the other panelists knew well what "protocols" meant, in the generally-accepted sense, and I'm quite sure that the same is true of Wendy. But she didn't do the proper or responsible thing, in accepting this. The bottom line is that if she'd had a real problem before this, then she shouldn't have accepted to be on the panel, because as it is she nearly derailed the entire panel. She brought nothing to the discussion. However, it's not really completely her fault as much as whomever decided that she would be proper for the panel.

    Sean Wallace

  37. I was brought up Jewish and when I hear the word "protocol(s)" the first thing that comes to my mind is medical protocols. The absolutely last thing that I think of is The Protocols of Zion.

    As someone mentioned above, does that mean that every time "zionism" is mentioned listeners automatically think ewwww Protocols of Zion. I don't think so.
    Ellen Datlow

    I still think it was a silly issue to bring up on a panel that was (I gather) not about language and its misuse but about an entirely different topic. I am sorry that a potentially interesting panel was hijacked. It happens.

    Ellen Datlow

  38. Everyone,

    My sincere apologies to all of you for any incorrect inferences I may have made, and for stirring up anything more than was implied.

  39. What I found interesting here is that, when I.A. Richards in the 1920s introduced the term "reading protocols," he was analzing misinterpretations and "irrelevant associations" of the very sort that concern us here. How people's readings can go awry and what might be done to remedy that.

    Thank you for your meticulous convention reporting, Matt.
    -Josh Lukin


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