By this point I had decided that the best way to get into the panels I cared about most was to stay in the conference centre, and skip the sessions right before the ones I most cared about so I could queue early. Today’s panels were
They then talked about gravity waves, which to be detectable need to be generated by collision of neutron stars or black holes. So far there have been no deviations from Einstein’s theory of general relativity. The panelist was concerned that black hole collisions might not be enough to find such deviations. Scientists are hoping to orbit a gravity wave interferometer which would have much greater sensitivity.
Someone asked about quantum black holes, and a panelist pointed out that Hawking radiation means such tiny black holes have very limited lifetimes before they “evaporate.” There are likely none any more that occurred naturally.
Scientists are also waiting for better measurements of the Cosmic Microwave Background, to reveal eddies in the early universe that could give information about curvature measurements and supercluster formation.
Someone asked a question about dark matter, which one panelist explained as a gap in our understanding arising from observations of the rotation rates of galaxies, which in current theories require invisible mass to explain. Experiments have ruled out many possible explanations (most of which break the Standard Model), but haven’t revealed what dark matter is yet.
There are three “standard candles” for calculating the Hubble constant, all of which disagree despite narrow error bands on the numbers. One measure is based on supernova observations, but is only good out to 2 billion parsecs. Another is based on the Cosmic Microwave Background. The third is based on the flare when red giant stars begin burning helium. There are three assumptions behind current models, at least one of which has to be discarded to explain the anomaly: mediocrity (we are not in some position of observational privilege), homogeneity (the universe is roughly the same everywhere), and isotropy (the universe is the same in all directions). One panelist thinks isotropy should go, but others think we may be in a “low density bubble” (that is, mediocrity should be discarded).
Several other topics were mentioned briefly
- There are plans (hopes?) for an X-ray interferometer for
imaging black hole accretion disks.
- A look at Kuiper Belt objects might give a better handle on
the cosmological constant.
- Exoplanets have challenged assumptions about solar system
formation; it is now believed gas giants form far from the star but
can migrate inward.
- A “mystery fluid” might explain the curve in the Hubble
graph, which ought to be a straight line. It’s a “fluid”
because it shows up in the equations with fluid-like behaviour.
- Some are hoping for “Dyson scale telescopes” by which I
think they meant interferometers with solar-system-scale distances
- Dark energy is controversial like dark matter; standard
explanations also assume isotropy.
Sylvia Spruck Wrigley talked about the common trope of an elder sibling taking over as caregiver when a mother is absent or dead. The trouble is that a 13-year-old orphan isn’t naturally able to take care of younger siblings without a role model. Women in speculative fiction rarely exhibit standard female/mother physiology such as lactation and menstruation.
Rivers Solomon talked about the lack or oversimplification of the role of mothers. For example, God of War has a classic father/son journey where they are alienated from each other and need to bond. The “hero’s journey” eliminates “family baggage;” mothers can’t run off and join a quest. This is related to the cult of the individual, which sidelines many kinds of relationships but especially mothers. Film (at least in North America) over-emphasizes beauty, such as having a woman wear perfect makeup while running from a zombie (in my experience British TV is better); there is less pressure for this in print. Common tropes include the “conniving mother” and the mother who gives up everything for her child; for all her badassery, Sarah Connor fit this trope in the Terminator movies, but she had no choice: she had to protect the “chosen one.” Girls (such as Snow White) are usually delicate, “made of glass and snow.” Authors should expand cargiving in stories but not erase the role of women; in the Harry Potter series, Hagrid was more of a mother figure than McGonagall.
Aliette de Bodard reiterated that mothers are usually absent or dead. In Black Panther, how might Eric Killmonger have fared if he had a mother after his father died? The problem is that things coded as feminine are not valued. Pulp adventurs for boys, and westerns, cut parents from protagonists' lives, as if they would get in the way; this is not true of literature from other cultures. A character may be seen as a failure if they don’t succeed on their own; the only relationships are romantic or those forged in battle; siblings are often elided as well. Pregnancy is often body horror, or the woman is relegated to being a vessel for a chosen one or the child of a supernatural partner. It is possible to centralize a birth scene; that kind of pain is just as important as battle wounds or torture when a novel wants something to go wrong.
Some other comments where I neglected to record context.
- No one can save a child from the problems of war.
- Why can’t parents have adventures?
- There are no toddlers in speculative fiction.
- When present at all, why can’t women help brothers or other kin, not just husbands and sons?
- In the second Alien
movie, the final confrontation was between two mother-figures,
Ripley and the alien queen.
- We need to expand caregiving beyond mothers.
The Young Adult market is aimed at teenagers, who are often in some sense “protected” but can also be exposed to bullying and violence. Teens are reading material darker that what they live; they are looking for answers to problems, with a pull between trying to be adults and needing support. On the other hand teens are living in a kind of dystopia, where their lives are planned out for them by authority figures.
As with the caregivers panel there was discussion of dead parents: is this necessary for taking away safety and forcing the protagonists to take action and become independent? It is a cliche from the days of fairy tales. The trope might be subverted by having the parents be antagonists. A common pattern is for adults to be unable to save the day, but also to dismiss kids. “Found families,” moving from the safety of kin to the uncertainty of friends, is what teens are living through.
Is saving the world from dystopia realistic? There is lots of activism today; kids are involved in saving the world, raised on a diet of dystopian novels that tell them they can do so. Everything feels unjust when you are young. Teens tend to be optimistic and want to save the world and overcome threats.
It may be hard to get readers if the kids fail, though that can happen in Book 2 of a trilogy without losing too many. Some level of hope is needed. Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy, likely not publishable today. However, one can change what success means to the character by the end of the story.
Some protagonists might seem too competent, but the cliche of hyper-competence has happened in real life; Charlotte Bronte was a prodigy at 13. But nobody is competent at everything, and a story should find situations that challenge the characters.
One can have smaller stakes than world-saving: the sickly younger sibling needs more attention and the protagonist worried about being forever lonely. They may need to save themselves instead of the world. World problems might still be there, but in the background.
- There is a thin line separating YA from adult fiction.
- Middle grade tends to have lots of humour.
- Portal fantasy is another way of removing kids from their
- Writers should read a lot of YA to see what their colleagues
- The life experiences of a mature author are relevant; you
don’t need to be young to write YA.
The panel seemed to me initially about the nature of urban fantasy with, on the surface, less emphasis on authors and characters from marginalized communities, but partway in I realized the composition of the panel, the example stories they recommended, and the take on what urban fantasy meant all made significant differences from other urban fantasy sessions I’d seen. In particular, urban fantasy from the margins includes taking standard tropes but applying a marginalized perspective. It appeals to anyone who doesn’t feel part of the dominant culture. (Aside: I happened to recall an internet comment about some editors saying “we’ve already seen this story” when in fact there were major differences in perspectives even when similar tropes were used.)
Urban fantasy is intimately tied up with the specific characteristics of the setting: the ‘city’ becomes a character. Cities act as ‘machinery’ or way of functioning for its inhabitants, and stories involve how people interact with place. It is almost always a magical modern setting in the primary world, but doesn’t need to be an actual city; Rebecca Roanhorse has set stories in an enclosed reservation that acts like a city. An urban setting with fantasy elements may not be enough; one panelist considered Blade to be a superhero story instead. Paranormal romance and paranormal detectives are two popular subgenres. Urban fantasy is more accessible than other kinds to people who don’t usually read fantasy.
Slice-of-life stories are a common Eastern mode of storytelling, and more fantasy should use fascinating nonwestern cities. Modern cities are often melting pots, with many cultures living together. (Aside: a Canadian like me tends to think in terms of a mosaic instead of a melting pot, where people retain much of their original culture instead of assimilating; I think mosaic is what the speaker meant, but melting pot is the conventional American phrase).
Lee’s secondary world, starting with Jade
Bone Street Rhumba series, starting with Half-Resurrection
- Ken Liu’s
in Strange Horizons.
- Anime, where angels and demons are distinctly non-Christian.
Editors are biased, and may say the character is not ‘relatable.’ British publishing is problematic; you need a private income to take a career as an editor, so marginalized people are less likely to become editors.
The ‘young orphan’ trope eliminates mothers, but the absence of mothers is characteristic of western literature. Chinese fantasy is more about cooperative endeavours and avoids the ‘chosen one’ trope that sidelines parents and mothers in particular. Elders are people with wisdom, and can be badass secondary characters when there is a younger protagonist.
Modern women are less likely to die in childbirth; they don’t fade when their children are grown, and can blossom.
There were several recommendations:
with Nanny Ogg from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.
Jemisin’s Broken Earth series, starting with The
Trina Cornwell, a 50ish admiral who makes tough decisions, and was
portrayed as desirable and having desire.
Marshall’s Crimson Empire series, starting with A
Crown for Cold Silver,
wherein former conqueror Cobalt Zosia comes out of retirement and
goes on a revenge tour. She is a terrible but complex human being.
Diane Lockhart character from The
and now The
described as “Nordic noir.”
Lee Moyer’s Brightfall,
about Marion after Robin Hood retires to a monastery.
McCormack has written Dr. Who and Star Trek stories; a panelist
(in which the character is pregnant after 40 and The
Star of the Sea
in Eric Brown’s Weird
Space shared universe.
Jackson Bennett’s City