From the mind of Megan Arkenberg

May 29, 2012

Wiscon 36

Posted by Megan Arkenberg with No comments
Despite being a lifelong Wisconsin resident, I hadn’t made it out to Wiscon until this year. I know, I know, where are my priorities? The convention was capital-A Awesome. Getting the program was like being handed a menu where every entrée is chocolate, or a course catalogue where every literature syllabus includes M. R. James. Unfortunately, due to that work-thing that pays the bills, I could only stay for Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning.

If you were there and are wondering if you saw me, I was the young woman with long, very straight brown hair, wearing a waistcoat and carrying a black-and-gold brocade bag. My companion, the other young woman with long, very straight brown hair, was my sister, novelist Therese Arkenberg.
The first panel we attended was “Considering the Female Villain,” which discussed such varied issues as sexuality and sexualization, maternity, mental illness, and the all-important motive and motivations. The panelists hit on pretty much everything that an author has ever done to annoy me with their (mis)handling of a female villain: tracing her villainy back to some man who had done her wrong, overseuxalizing her, redeeming her through her relationship with the (male) hero. Allison Moon raised the excellent point that a female villain’s sexuality makes her less dangerous, since it offers the male hero a way into her affections, while a male villain’s sexuality (if it ever occurred—outside of the fandom-generated “Draco in leather pants” phenomenon, I can’t think of many sexualized male villains) would make the villain more dangerous, since the accompanying threat of sexual violence would be, in Moon’s words, “capital-S Scary.” Why, in this equation, female sexuality is seen as humanizing while male sexuality is violent and de-humanizing is another topic to consider.
The only academic panel I made it to was “Theorizing Vulnerability in Feminist Science Fiction” (Kathryn Allan) and “The Tribe of the Maiden and the Tribe of Monsters: Reconfiguring the Monstrous Feminine in Cathrynne Valente’s The Orphan’s Tales” (Suzanne Boswell). Both panelists were wonderfully articulate. The first paper dealt with a number of cyberpunk texts, a bit outside my area of interest, but the second offered an astute reading of Valente’s reimagining of the maiden/monster spectrum (not dichotomy!) and reminded me how badly I need to reread The Orphan’s Tales.
Saturday evening was the Tiptree Auction with the hilarious Ellen Klages: highlights included Ellen auctioning off her own shirt and Mary Robinette Kowal’s erotic reading of an early twentieth-century children’s book. Then off to the Outer Alliance reading, where Therese read a passage from her epic fantasy The Last of the LesserKings; Catherine Lundoff read from her werewolf novel (with a mature adult protagonist!) Silver Moon; Julie Andrews read a story about an alien robot invasion; Julia Rios read a modern extension of Hansel and Gretel; and Keffy Kehrli read an awesomely disturbing story about suicide. The reading went to well past my bedtime. At the end of it, I seem to remember turning to Rose Lemberg, brilliant poet and editor of Stone Telling, who happened to be seated next to me, and mumbling something inarticulate like “totally love your magazine.” At least, that’s what I meant to say. It probably came out “askdlfjlsStoneTellingyay!”
Sunday morning, I got up bright and early (well, definitely early—your mileage may vary on “bright”) and attended “Steal Like an Artist” for a spirited discussion about influence, fanfiction, deconstruction and cultural appropriation. No one actually mentioned the Anxiety of Influence, but that was definitely an undercurrent in the discussion: when all art participates in a dialogue with previous art, how do artists assert their originality? Highlights included Alexandra Erin’s concise rebuttal to the obnoxious “there’s only three/seven/fifteen/four-hundred-eighty-six-point-three stories in the universe” accusation/defense: “If you squish everything down to a nutshell, it’s going to look like every other nutshell.” Also, did you know Fifty Shades of Gray was originally Twilight fanfiction? I didn’t, because every time I get within thirty feet of a copy, the hair prickles along the back of my neck and greenish waves of nausea wash over me like the tsunami that will one day herald the rise of Cthulhu. (To be fair, similar waves of nausea washed over me when I saw there was a panel on rape fantasies at Wiscon. The whole topic of male-dom/female-sub is a Cthulhu-sized squick for me, in the classic and non-moral sense.)
Therese persuaded me to accompany her to the panel on “Writing the Singularity,” which is something I’ve never done but something she is interested in doing. I entered with no idea what the Singularity was or how I would go about writing it; I left with a slightly better idea of what the Singularity is and a very long reading list. *Adjusts Monocle-of-Fantasy-Writing* I say, what funny things you science fiction writers come up with!
My last panel of the convention was “It’s Actually Quite Hard to Rip a Bodice,” a panel on research and historical fiction lead by Vylar Kaftan, Lucy Adlington, Ellen Klages, Elizabeth Bear, and Alex Dally MacFarlane. (Side note: MacFarlane’s ““Numismatics in the Reigns of Naranh and Viu” in The Mammoth Book of Steampunk was perfect. You should go read it. Yes, now. I’ll wait.) The panel addressed the proper use of research, the challenge of stopping research, how to record and map out one’s research, and the difficulty of bodice-ripping. Conclusion: research is considerably more seductive than the ripping of bodices.
Next year I’ll hopefully be able to make it down for the full three-day weekend. I’ll also hopefully remember to bring a notebook so I can jot down and remember all the clever things people say at eight in the morning when I’ve been up until one the previous night. My human frailties aside, it was a fantastic, enlightening experience.
Now, off to find everything this weekend has added to my reading list.... 

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