Wednesday, October 9, 2013

FenCon X Recap - Part 1

Here it is! For any of you that had to miss FenCon this year, I've got links to authors and writeups of the panels I attended. Enjoy!

Modern Good vs. Ancient Evil

* Barbara Ann Wright (@zendragandt)
* Vivian Caethe (@VivianCaethe)
* Julia S. Mandala 

First panel of the con! And of course, HUGE expectations. Well, not really. More like tired audience and tired panelists, especially on a Friday afternoon after driving 3 hours. But thankfully, these three women overcame that and facilitated a pretty interesting discussion.

- The panelists noted that a lot of the obsession with modern good vs. ancient evil comes from modern society being impressed with itself. In my own experience as a liberal bordering on communist ... yeah. This is sometimes true.

- It's fun to have a simple, easy-to-understand evil force to defeat, compared to a modern threat like terrorism whose root causes are difficult to understand and even more difficult to remove.

- However, there have been portrayals of ancient evil against which modern forces stood no chance. Lovecraft comes to mind. Also an interesting parallel in that Lovecraft's views on race and sex are pretty abhorrent by modern standards.

- Cabin in the Woods is a fantastic representation of modern good vs. ancient evil. Without spoiling too much, it definitely tends toward the Lovecraftian side of things.

- A great idea developed by the panelists: crowdfunded evil. A Kickstarter for a Dark Empire? I would read that story.

- Heroes used to be protective of the status quo. Think Lord of the Rings. Sauron disrupts the normal flow of life, and Frodo and friends struggle to protect it. Many modern good vs. evil stories are the opposite, featuring rebels or usurpers overthrowing evil. What does this change represent in societal views?

- One of the women in the audience made a fantastic observation that the modern good vs. ancient evil trope is mirrored in industrial vs. nature stories. Nature in these stories (think The Andromeda Strain or Alien) is often set up as an ancient force getting revenge. This is a little complicated by the fact that it's sometimes science that provokes nature's revenge, but this is also sometimes present in good vs. evil stories (Wheel of Time comes to mind).

Reading suggestions: Larry Correia, H.P. Lovecraft

Beastly Fans

* Barbara Ann Wright (noticing a pattern?)
* Kathryn Sullivan
* Mary Turzillo
* Rosemary Clement-Moore (@rclementmoore)

This panel was nominally about the lasting power of certain common fantasy creatures. Dragons, griffins, that sort of thing. What it really was about was dinosaur porn. Yep. Beasts led to Beauty and the Beast, which led to bestiality which led to the phenomenon of dinosaur porn. Blame Rosemary for leading us down that particular road.

Regardless of everyone's ability to stray offtopic, it was awfully enjoyable. Sort of a "had to be there" thing. Panelists were hilarious, and I especially enjoyed hearing about Mary Turzillo's risque escapades.

When Action Gets in the Way of Story

* Barbara Ann Wright
* Kevin Hosey
* Rob Rogers (@robcrogers3)
* Steven Brust (@StevenBrust)
* J. Kathleen Cheney

This panel was pretty much as described. When is action too much? How do you balance an awesome chase scene with, you know, actual plot and character development? As the discussion progressed, the panel lumped sex in along with action, which make complete sense as they serve pretty similar functions in most stories.

- Every scene should be worthy. This sounds obvious, but it's so important that it's worth stating. Steven Brust had a fantastic line here that he applied to both action scenes and sex scenes (though it works for any scene, really): Action scenes should be transformative, meaning something changes about the character. To that, I add 'revelatory.' That is, the character doesn't necessarily have to change if the purpose of the scene is to teach the audience something about a character we didn't know before. Brust's example was the 'fight' scene in Temple of Doom where Indiana Jones is confronted with a giant sword wielder and ends the battle with a single bullet. That's not particularly transformative, but it is exceedingly revelatory.

- A good trick to making action/sex scene meaningful is to focus on the dialogue. Dialogue is where character is revealed -- as long as you stay away from cheesy action one-liners.

- Another Brustism: "When a fish tells me about water, I'm bored." Avoid overexplaining, especially in things that the character would already be familiar with. It doesn't make sense for a character to stop and think about the mechanics of a hovercar or laser gun if they use one every day.

Copyright 101

* Patrick Nielsen Hayden (@pnh)
* Cory Doctorow (@doctorow)
* Paul Herman

FenCon is attended by a lot of writers, and as such, there's a lot of shop talk about the actual craft of writing. The copyright panel took a slightly different path. It wasn't related to writing specifically (though writing certainly overlaps here), but with the utterly broken copyright system in the US.

- The United States Patent and Trademark Office is funded directly by patent applications. This gives the USPTO a huge incentive to affirm patents.

- Non Producing Entities (a fancy word for patent trolls) don't produce any products, and as such, they can't be countersued. That makes them much harder to defend against than big companies, who pretty much know they're all infringing on each other in some way.

- What's the metric for judging the success of an intellectual protection system? We never got a good answer to this, which is unfortunate, but it's clear that "number of patents" makes absolutely no sense as a measurement.

- Once established, it's very hard to take away property rights. The interests involved are too powerful. Thus, gradual reforms are far more likely than a broad revamp of copyright.

- Copyright trolling falls under the corruption problem. Stated simply, it's hard to punish someone who benefits by hurting society, since their benefit (and thus power) is concentrated, and the harm is diffuse. Requires all the people harmed to band together, which can be difficult to manage.

- The Magnificent 7 Solution: Every year we can pay the bandits, or we can get together and hire the mercenaries. Crowdfund patent troll defense. Now, this was just a brief discussion, and my notes are sparse, so *please* don't nitpick Doctorow's solution on the basis of my writeup. But the gist is that people in risk of being sued (or who have been sued before) would dedicate money to a Kickstarter-like fund. Then, whenever one of the participants is sued, that money would go to legal defense to beat back the troll, which any legal fees won going back into the system. According to Doctorow, it would be self-sustaining; the more lawsuits patent trolls opened (which they'd have to ramp up, since they'd be losing money), the more money the fund would gain.

Now, the main problem I had with this problem is that it seems to assume that most (or all!) of the cases would be won by the defendants. This is a problematic assumption in a couple of ways. First, not all of the defendants are actually going to be innocent of infringement. And second, even when they are, there's no guarantee a court will actually see it that way. Courts are notoriously overprotective of IP.

When I raised this concern, Doctorow admitted that if it went wrong, it could create some very bad precedents, and you'd have to be careful. But he didn't really have a solution for the problem of losing cases. To be fair, his discussion was more general, rather than a fully fleshed out plan ready for production.

- "...gaping buttsex..." -Cory Doctorow. He was talking about porn and copyright, but that doesn't matter. What matters is I want to see that quote on next year's FenCon program.

- The panelists cited a study which said that most artistic work has a 14-year life span. That is, after 14 years, it's not really generating money for the IP holders any longer. Now, I haven't seen that study. I'm curious if it's still true in the age of digital publishing, where long tails can be loooooooong indeed.

- Doctorow floated the idea of a compulsory license for fiction. In the same way that you can cover a song on a CD or a bar for a flat fee without the permission of the artist, you'd be able to write fanfiction (for profit, even? maybe) for a flat fee. You'd probably have to make sure this only applied to individuals, and not, like, WB adapting your novel into a movie without paying. This probably isn't a workable solution, though, since authors are notoriously hardheaded about "owning" their work.

- Cory Doctorow's Utopian Copyright Solution: separate individual users from participants in the copyright industry. Adding on to the previous point, it is absurd to treat fanfiction and a movie adaptation with the same copyright rules. Absurd to treat someone downloading a copy of Harry Potter and someone opening a multimillion dollar Harry Potter theme park based on the same per-use measurement.

1 comment:

Tex said...

Freakin' sweet, dude. I am so sad I missed this! Sounds like you went to all the best stuff, though - Brust has been my personal Jesus ever since I heard him at ArmadilloCon last year, and JK Cheney is just so cool - completely stoked about her book. Thanks for taking notes for those of us playing the home game!