Tag Archives: panels

Military Sci-Fi & Fantasy – Who gets it right?

The Military SF panel I was on at DetCon1 did not get to a lot of the topics we had hoped to cover (partially due to a ‘hijacking’ panel member and partially due to the fact that we only had 50 minutes!) and several con attendees asked me follow-up questions in the days after. I love Military SF&F, and enjoy talking about it, so I’m glad so many others wanted to keep talking about it, too.

The most popular question is always: so who gets it right? Not every Military SF&F writer who has been in the military gets it right. Sometimes this is because the person is far removed from their time in the service, other times because they are writing what they don’t really know (a desk jockey writing about special forces missions, for example), it’s possible they aren’t that great at writing or storytelling, and sometimes they are just sensationalizing it or following a cheesy trope trend in order to supposedly give the audience what they want.

That last one disturbs me the most, because I like to think that SF&F readers are smarter than that, and because it is damaging to military members to continue to be stereotyped. There are especially quite a few military SF&F stories that get women in the military wrong (really badly wrong) and even take us a step – or many steps – backwards, despite supposedly taking place in a better future.

People are still writing books where the square-jawed, beefy, swashbuckling white male hero serves in an all-male unit while blowing many things up and saving the day. If there are women, they are often just there as a sex object, motivation tool for the main character, or a secretary.  One panel member last week rightly called some of the worst stories “war porn” – that is, nothing but loads of gore and things going boom, and glorifying war… with no real plot to speak of and very cliche’d one-dimensional characters.

But enough on all that depressing stuff. What I really like to talk about is the people who get it right. These include both people who have served and those who have simply done their homework very well. I’ll list them here in both categories, and the branch the author served in if applicable, if I can easily find it. This list is, of course, limited to what I have read and what I enjoyed. Please share your own recommendations in the comments!

Note that there can be some debate about how ‘military’ some of these are. I include anything involving professional military members, mercenaries, civil defense forces, rebel fighting groups, and fights big enough to be considered battles under the umbrella for my own personal definition. That can be debated in the comments as well!

Good Military SF&F written by authors who have served (in no particular order):
Paksennarion series (fantasy, Elizabeth Moon, US Marine Corps)
Familias series (sci-fi, Elizabeth Moon)
Valor series (sci-fi, Tanya Huff, Canadian Naval Reserve)
Forever War series (sci-fi, Joe Haldeman, US Army)
Starship Troopers (sci-fi, Robert Heinlein, US Navy)
Dune (sci-fi, Frank Herbert, US Navy)
Lost Fleet series (sci-fi, John Hemry writing as Jack Campbell, US Navy)
Stark’s War series (sci-fi, John Hemry)
Paul Sinclair series (sci-fi, John Hemry)
The Healer’s War (fantasy, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, US Army)

Good Military SF&F written by civilian authors (also in no particular order):
Old Man’s War series (sci-fi, John Scalzi)
Vorkosigan series (sci-fi, Lois McMaster Bujold)
Ender’s Game series (sci-fi, Orson Scott Card)
Liaden series (sci-fi, Sharon Lee & Steve Miller)

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#DetCon1 Wrap-up – thanks, @DetconOne!

Ok, now that we are finally mostly done with the massive road trip home, here’s the rest of the recap of DetCon1, the North American Science Fiction Convention (NASFiC) held in Detroit last week.  The other entries relating to DetCon1 are here and here.

In a word: awesome.  This was by far the smoothest-run con I’ve attended.  Smoother than the two WorldCons I’ve been to.  Three cheers for the staff and volunteers!  I did not run into a single programming snafu or any people having a shouting match.  It was all smooth sailing, and I had a lot of fun.

For the most part my panels were good.  There was one that devolved into that dreaded one-panel-member-and-that-one-guy-in-the-front-row-hijack-the-whole-thing, and another (“Teens Talk to Scientists”) where we only had two teens show up, but the other four panels I was on went really, really well.  So four out of six ain’t bad.  Even the one in the last slot of the last day was interesting and well-attended.  Those were some hardcore audience members – clearly exhausted but still enthusiastically participating.

The “Designing Fictional Spacecraft” panel went so well that people were still commenting to me two days later on how much they enjoyed it.  So that made me feel all warm and fuzzy – plus it was a really fun panel to be on.  Kudos for that to the excellent moderator, Philippe McNally, for skillfully steering the questions and conversation.  If anyone from programming is reading this, I highly recommend him as a panel moderator in the future.

The hotel was great.  Having inexpensive options at the food court was a nice change of pace from overpriced hotel restaurants, and the variety was good.  The hotel bar/restaurant was also nice, with decent food and less exorbitant price inflation than many places I’ve been.  I rarely had to wait more than a minute or two for the high-speed elevators, and the room was comfortable.  Navigating the facilities was a little confusing at first, but quick and easy once I got the hang of it.  It especially helped that the con staff put up more signs after the first day.

The attendees were well behaved – better behaved than I have ever seen.  The code of conduct was taken very seriously by the con-runners, and it showed.  A couple panel audience members made some sexist comments, but they were not as overt or hostile as I’ve heard at other cons.  And many people jumped in to shut them down quickly.  Even the rowdier parties felt like completely safe places to be, and the staff made themselves very visible walking around, making sure party hosts were carding, asking if there were any problems, etc.

I’ve already written about John Scalzi’s ’80s dance but it bears repeating: bodacious, dude.  Totally radical.  Some folks dressed up, some didn’t, but I still smile at the memory of one of my favorite authors rocking out in a tiara, and executing a pratfall-roll off of a chair he’d been dancing on.  I even broke out the neon headbands and entered a dance floor for the first time in… well, let’s not go there.  A long time.

The panel topics and panelists were interesting.  My favorites I attended as an audience member – identified by the fact that on the road trip, my husband and I were still talking about our favorites and these kept coming up – were the “Science Education Roundtable,” “What Am I Looking For,” and “Gender Roles in Genre Fiction.”  I’m not an educator but I am a parent and I do STEM outreach, so it was good to hear what’s new in science education from the “Science Education Roundtable,” learn what difficulties our educators are facing, and  pick up new ideas for improving how our kids learn science.

The “What Am I Looking For” panel featured editors and agents who work with both short and long fiction, non-fiction, pro and semi-pro.  They talked about what they are looking for, what they don’t want to see, what they would really love to see, and common mistakes/habits/crazy things authors do that drive them nuts.  This was really valuable for my writer husband, and interesting to me, as a reader.  “Gender Roles in Genre Fiction” I’ve already written about as well, but in a nutshell: it’s time to get rid of the nastier anti-woman tropes, and Jim Hines is really serious about it.

The programming track had great variety, and I routinely faced the dilemma of how to choose between three or four things happening at the same time that sounded  great.  I also wished I had the kiddo along as an excuse to attend some of the amazing-sounding kids programming events.  Ditto for the teen programming track.  I still look so young I always get carded, so maybe I should have just gone to the teen stuff anyway!

Not too many hall costumes or masquerade entries at this con compared to most, but the costumes I did see were excellent.  The masquerade evening, a combination event with the Golden Duck and YA awards, was the one absolutely painful time of the whole weekend.  I have no idea what took the masquerade judges so long to judge so few entries, but they probably should have just told everyone to go away and come back, rather than continue to have people try to stall… and stall… and stall.  I do like that they started some YA & middle-grade SF awards, though.  About damn time, and hopefully they get added as a category for the Hugo awards soon!

Overall, great con.  Kinda sad that this isn’t one they do every year because it means I can’t go back.  But now I have high hopes for next year’s WorldCon in Spokane, if the schedule and budget allow for us going.  They and LonCon both have a tough act to follow…

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#DetCon1 Highlights so far

I really, really appreciate how supportive of the military Baen books is.  I know they have a program for sending boxes of books to deployed troops, but was very surprised when they kicked off their roadshow by asking anyone active duty to come up and grab a free book.  Then they invited reservists, veterans, schoolteachers, first responders, and librarians.  It gave me a warm fuzzy.  And of course I enjoyed getting to see all their new books, new covers, etc.  I wish Tor was here doing the same!

The “Designing Military Spacecraft” panel yesterday was simply awesome.  We had a highly capable moderator, a very interesting mix of panelist backgrounds, and an enthusiastic audience that gave us some great questions to work with.  Best panel I have been on, and I hope I can do as well with my two panels today: “Women in STEM” at 2:00 and “Military SF” at 7:00, just before the awards ceremony and masquerade, followed by ’80s dance with John Scalzi as DJ.  I can already tell this  evening will be epic.

The best panel I have been an audience member so far was yesterday’s “Gender Roles in Genre Fiction.”  The panel discussed the past and current limitations on gender roles, and ripped apart some of the most damaging tropes out there (rape as a plot device or character-defining feature, the one strong woman who stands out among a society of weak and suppressed women).  Jim Hines made me want to hug him for his righteous indignation and rage over how often and how horribly these tropes are used.

They also talked about who isn’t well-represented in the currently conservative mainstream market (strong men who don’t have to show that strength with violence, minorities and people of color, and LGBT characters, to name a few).   Overall a great panel and I walked away with some new book recommendations to check out and hopefully find something new and different.

Due to our kid-free status at this con, this is the first time I’ve been able to check out the late-night con party scene.  About what I expected, except I actually had fun.  Normally I’m way too antisocial and awkward for that and end up bored and/or terrified in a corner, but I am among my people here.  Meaning it doesn’t matter if I can’t dance and don’t fit the mainstream media’s definition of pretty.  Rather, I found people who appreciated my Uhura impression, walked around showing off their lovingly and carefully made costumes. and didn’t care what anyone thought of their dancing.

At the Helsinki in 2017 bid party I enjoyed their spread of Finnish food and beverages, spent a few minutes mesmerized by the club lights at the Barfleet party, and observed the fireworks after the Tigers came from the 69th floor Con Suite while pigging out on cheese and crackers.  Fireworks viewed from above are awfully cool.

Ok, enough writing, I am off to hunt down breakfast and more panels to attend.

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DetCon1 is in full swing

So far I’ve scored some free books (thank you freebie table and Baen), chatted with the usual mix of highly interesting people, drove down Michigan Avenue with a local pointing out the highlights, and sat on a “Teens talk to scientists” panel where the audience was extremely small but very precocious.  Without a designated moderator (oops) or list of questions, we wandered across topics ranging from how to become a zoologist to whether or not time travel is possible.

The hotel layout is great for getting around once you get the hang of it, and so far there has been no massive elevator congestion – that may change on Saturday and Sunday, but fingers crossed the sailing stays smooth.  The dealer’s room is better than most, and I’m tempted by at least six of the t-shirts in there, but will probably limit myself to two.  Probably.

The view from the con suite (69th floor) is amazing, so even if you don’t want to partake of the company and free food, you can see all of Detroit from there.  I also recommend the view from the fitness center, which is on the 40th floor and looks out over the water.  The tail end of the sunrise this morning was absolutely gorgeous from up there, albeit a little blinding.

Overall it feels like a really well-run con and is off to a good start.  Now I’m heading down to my “Designing Fictional Spacecraft” panel.

 

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DetCon1 Here We Come!

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I now have my finalized – and therefore completely subject to change at some future date – itinerary for this year’s North American Science Fiction Convention NASFiC) – DetCon1 in Detroit, MI.  If you are going to be there, I hope to see you at one of these panels!

It’s going to be a very busy and very fun weekend.  I will also definitely be at the 80s dance, as I would not miss for all the world seeing John Scalzi as the DJ for that, and the masquerade (just as an audience member, as I have not remotely had time for cosplay this year).

What panel topics have caught your eye?  Do you have any suggestions for really badly done science/tech in movies or books that I can use in the Balonium! panel?

Teens Talk to… Scientists Duluth A Teen Fri 12:00 PM
Description Our panel of folks who work in the science fields (both hard and soft) talks about their work and answers questions about what they do and how they got there.
Designing Fictional Spacecraft Ambassador Salon 2 Literature Fri 4:00 PM
Description Our panel discusses aspects of designing non-existent spacecraft, such as applying current and historic shipbuilding and spacecraft-building practices to future designs, and keeping designs realistic. How do you make the ship suit its mission, and what considerations are there beyond engines and weapons?
Women in Science and STEM Mackinac West Science Sat 2:00 PM
Description Men still outnumber women in most STEM fields. What are the unique challenges for women in STEM fields, and how can they be addressed? What can be done to encourage more women to consider these fields and prepare for them?
Military SF Mackinac East Literature Sat 7:00 PM
Description Our panelists offer their opinions on the broad field of military SF. What themes and stories does military SF explore? Why do readers and creators like this subgenre? Who does it well, in terms of realism and good research?
Balonium!! Ambassador Salon 1 Media Sun 10:00 AM
Description Our panelist indulge their penchant for “oh, come ON!” in discussing the science, pseudo-science, and outright balonium in recent SF, whether in print, media, comics, or wherever!
Ask a Scientist Ambassador Salon 1 Science Sun 1:00 PM
Description Audience members ask questions they’d like scientists to answer. Carl Sagan once said: “There are naive questions, tedious questions, ill-phrased questions, questions put after inadequate self-criticism. But every question is a cry to understand the world. There is no such thing as a dumb question”.

 

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My DetCon1 Preliminary Schedule!

If you’ll be in the Detroit area in mid-July, consider stopping by the North American Science Fiction Convention (NASFIC).  The NASFIC is a special con that’s only held in years that the WorldCon is outside North America.  This is mainly for those of us who can’t afford to go to the really cool WorldCon location (London this year) somewhere to go and still do all the wonderful things we usually do at a WorldCon, just a little closer to home.

I’ve just received my preliminary schedule for panels.  I’m really excited about the panels I’ve been selected for, although I’m a little disappointed that, once again, I haven’t managed to make it onto their military sci-fi panel or anything closely related to that topic.  If the military sci-fi panel is yet again comprised exclusively of a bunch of older white males who have never been in the military (and no, the guy who made it through two weeks of boot camp doesn’t count), I’m going to tear my hear out.  At least the last one I went to had some people who had actually been in the military!

The whole reason I got involved in panels at cons in the first place was after two straight years of a certain unnamed local con having a “Women Warriors” panel made up of old white men who had never been in the military, and a “Military Sci Fi” panel also made up of old white men who had never been in the military.  I figured the best way to try to get the panel representation to mirror real life a little better was to throw my name in the hat.  I hasn’t really worked yet, but I’ll keep trying.  And trying.

But for now, I am on some very awesome-sounding panels, with some amazing-sounding people who I look forward to meeting and panel-ing with (and please note these schedules are pretty much guaranteed to change in the next few weeks).  Also, I am very open to reader suggestions for the Balonium panel!

Fri 4:00:00 PM Mackinac East – Designing Fictional Spacecraft
If your story or artwork includes spacecraft, it’s a whole other kettle of fish.
Our panelists discuss aspects of designing non-existent spacecraft, such as
applying current and historic shipbuilding and spacecraft-building practices
to future designs, keeping designs realistic, making the ship suit its mission,
and considerations beyond engines and weapons.

Sat 2:00:00 PM Mackinac West – Women in Science and STEM

What are the unique challenges for women in STEM fields, how can they be
addressed, how can we get more women interested in these fields, what can
you do to prepare

Sun 10:00:00 AM Ambassador Salon 2 – Balonium!!
Our panelist indulge their penchant for “Oh, come ON!” in discussing the
science, pseudo-science, and outright balonium in recent SF, whether in
print, media, comics, or wherever!

Sun 1:00:00 PM Ambassador Salon 2 – Ask a Scientist
Audience members ask questions they’d like scientists to answer. Carl
Sagan once said: “There are naive questions, tedious questions, ill-phrased
questions, questions put after inadequate self-criticism. But every question is a cry to understand the world. There is no such thing as a dumb question.

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I’ll Be Seeing You at Detcon1!

This week I received an official invitation to participate in programming at Detcon1, this year’s North American Science Fiction Convention.  I am always thrilled to be a part of programming at cons, and look forward to some really great panels this year.  This is my first NASFIC and will also be my first con completely child-free, as kiddo will be camping with the grandparents for this one.  Can’t wait.

So here are my Top Five Reasons to go to Detcon1, if you need some motivation to go:

5) I want to see for myself if Detroit deserves the bad rap it has.  I kind of doubt it, or my sister-in-law wouldn’t live near there.  And it’s way cheaper than going to the WorldCon in London!

4) People-watching and people-meeting.  I meet some awesome people at every con, and I love seeing the costumes some folks come up with.  There is some crafty talent well beyond anything I will ever manage, and I especially look forward to the masquerade.  I’m about as socially awkward as they come, but even I can manage to muddle through and make some new friends at cons.

3) The awards.  Since WorldCon is in London this year, that’s where the Hugos will be, but the Golden Duck awards for YA and Middle Grade Speculative Fiction will be handed out at Detcon1.  The ceremonies are always entertaining, and the award nomination lists always give me new ideas for things to go read.

2) The 80’s dance with John Scalzi as DJ.  First, I really like John Scalzi and will try not to squee too much about being in the same room.  Few people who haven’t been in the military can write military SF that doesn’t make me cringe over its ridiculous cliches and borrowed-from-Hollywood stereotypes.  Scalzi is one, and the only other I can think of off the top of my head is Lois McMaster Bujold.  Second, while I can’t dance, an 80’s dance at a sci-fi convention sounds like just the place where that won’t matter and I can look as ridiculous as I want. Third, there will be neon.  Lots of neon.

1) The opportunity to learn about interesting new things.  I may be the only person on earth who thinks the primary reason to go to cons is the programming, but I get really excited when the panel matrix comes out.  Presentations on the latest NASA missions, e-publishing vs. traditional publishing, the latest new SF TV show coming out, you name it, there’s probably a panel.  The STEM outreach is always fun at these events, too, because the audience tends to already be interested.  I usually have first, second, and third choices of what I want to see during each session.  Tough decisions, people!

I won’t know for probably a few months what kind of panels I might be doing, but usually look for me to be on panels for things like STEM outreach, women in STEM, diversity in fandom, “talk to a rocket scientist”, spacecraft design, getting kids interested in sci-fi, geek parenting, etc.  So, you know, the stuff I talk about on this blog.  I also make a point of asking to be on any panels with titles like “women warriors” or “military SF” because at my first few cons I was absolutely horrified to go to a “women warriors” panel consisting entirely of middle-aged men and a “military SF” panel without a single person who had ever been in the military.  Which, well, made me kinda angry… and that’s how I got into this whole paneling gig!

Are you going?  What are you looking forward to most?

 

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