On Sunday the 27th, most of the participants rose early (since both the Hartwell and Cambias households involve young children who think that sleeping past 7:30 is "late"). We breakfasted at one of the inns in Westport called The Inn In Westport, then gathered again at the bookstore to watch David Hartwell interview Gregory Benford.
Mr. Benford spoke about growing up as an army brat in Japan and Germany, his career as a physicist, and the utility of being a twin ("I've got a backup copy"). Like many fans of his generation, he published a fanzine in his teens. Studying astrophysics at the University of California in the mid-1960s means that he got to meet just about all the giants of postwar physics. All this interesting autobiography meant that the interview didn't really touch on literary technique very much.
After a break for lunch, I did a reading of my own work. I started with "Makeover," which appeared in Nature in 2009. Because I catastrophically misjudged the time available, I finished with the better part of an hour left and nothing else to read. Happily, Diane Kelly spotted a copy of the anthology Crossroads on the bookstore shelf, so I took it down and read "See My King All Dressed In Red."
We re-empaneled to talk about "Invention in Science Fiction." This was an interesting panel because my opinion completely reversed early in the discussion. When I sat down, I was thinking that science fiction writers aren't engineers (except for the ones who are, of course), and so should not try to describe future gadgets. Instead, I thought, they should focus on future societies and the effects of technology.
But in the light of our earlier discussion of utopias and dystopias (or "Yourtopias" vs. "Mytopias") I decided that I had it exactly backwards. A writer who tries to describe a future piece of technology will either come up with something interesting, or not. But a writer who describes a future society based on his own personal ideology is in danger of becoming a boring propagandist.
Am I saying that we should all revert to writing Gernsbackian gadget stories? No. But I am saying there may be as much -- or more -- value in imagining future gadgets which real-life inventors can try to make real, than in imagining future societies which real-life activists can try to bring about. Quite simply, the body count from new gadgets tends to be lower.
Diane had to leave at that point, but I remained to watch Kathryn Cramer interview Elisabeth Malartre. She talked about her conservation work, and what it's like sharing a house with several thousand superpowered fruit flies. Gregory Benford then wrapped up the formal programming by reading a very interesting work in progress called "Leaving Night."
The sky outside was getting dark and threatening, so I decided to head home before the rain arrived. If there were any drunken brawls, shocking revelations, or experiments in polyamory that evening, you'll have to wait for someone else to reveal them.
Overall, this was a tremendously fun and stimulating weekend. I got home with a list of topics to email people about, a couple of ideas for future projects of my own, and a huge boost in my own enthusiasm. For me, anyway, that's one of the primary benefits of science fiction gatherings: they're like pep rallies for writers. This one was a roaring success.