I recently got back from a four day geekend that was an international conference on science fiction held in London, as the 72nd WorldCon, an event so big that countries and cities bid for it in coming years (like the Olympics, but instead of athletes you get nerds) – indeed, it was held in a venue so big that it had two – TWO – train stations. Count them… Two.
The conference was on diversity in science fiction, from its conception and inception to form and content, including text and hypertext, passive and interactive narratives, and, specifically for me, narratives that operated outside of the dominant paradigm of the straight white male.
As I was struggling with a dissertation on the (feminist) posthuman in Iain M Banks novels, Alice Ferrebe threw over a CFP email and I went for it with all the verve and vitriol I had. And they accepted my abstract.
And then I panicked.
But I had my mentors, the staff, in their all-knowing glory, to gently persuade me. And encourage me. And push me. And at times point blank tell me to stop messing about and get on with it.
The travel and accommodation (just off Baker Street and including breakfast!) was paid for by research funding from HSS. (For which I, in all fairness, owe some lecturers a beer or three.) That was nice, sure enough. But being there?
Being there? Was amazing. I saw people argue over phonetics and cultural dissidence regarding post-colonialism (Kirk vs Picard: who would you rather be told off by?). I asked Hannu Rajaniemi if he would ever come out as a string theorist? (He would, but grudgingly). And I met and befriended an author from New Zealand who brews beer on her house boat and gave me an original draft of all her works, and who I’m still in touch with.
Fandom aside, the conference itself was amazingly invigorating. There were papers on topics (horror, disability, porn) that threw a welcome spanner in the works as to how I viewed the material. One of the best aspects about the entire process was, for me, being on three panels and responding to audiences about the themes. The panels themselves were very thrust-riposte, and the audience interaction was invaluable in cutting down my typically robust ego into some black-and-blue shade of humility.
I also, and right now it’s pretty much the prominent thing in my mind from all this, had a huge turn around in my dissertation argument. After a panel I was chatting with another panelist and an audience member, and Use Of Weapons (a text I hadn’t considered) was presented in a way that I couldn’t ignore.
Which is why now, so close to deadline, my supervisor is losing the hair he so cunningly shaved off to avoid such raggings.
If you ever see an event or conference that will benefit you, I implore you to go for it. Submitting the abstract takes nothing. The time afterwards is priceless.