Sunday, June 5, 2016

two panels and a concert

Dropped in at the Bay Area Book Festival in Berkeley this morning for two panels. The first, on "The Many Faces of Fantasy," could have been at one of those SF cons I'm no longer attending: four medium-to-youngish authors whose work I don't know saying the kinds of things they'd say there.

In defense of fantasy, they said things like, "I grew up wanting things to be stranger than they are" (V.E. Schwab) and "A lot of literary stories are depressing, and if I'm going to be depressed I might as well read non-fiction" (Na'amen Tilahun). Richard Kadrey testified that, as a child, he had a negative image of fantasy, but enjoyed The Lord of the Rings, not thinking of it as fantasy (in his stereotyped image) because it was so rigorous and even anthropological. Marie Brennan agreed that fantasy does have its form of rigor, contrary to those SF authors who say it doesn't, but added that any such creation will have its holes. Tolkien's work is great on some things, she said, but is unclear on, for instance, how lembas is grown.

Well, that's an amusing example, I thought (but didn't get to say), because Tolkien actually wrote an entire essay specifically on the cultivation and manufacture of lembas (it's in the posthumous volume The Peoples of Middle-earth). Brennan was right in saying Tolkien's sub-creation is not complete, but this shows that you never know what you'll find.

On the topic of diversity in characters, both Schwab and Brennan said that, if there's a character in a novel that they intend to treat really badly, e.g. by getting unexpectedly killed at the end, they're likely to make that the whitest person in the story, just to avoid risking bad stereotypes of minorities. If any right-wing conspiracy theorists were listening, this would confirm everything they've ever feared about SJWs.

On to a discussion with David J. Peterson and Nick Farmer, both of whom invent languages for TV shows, on "The Art of Language Invention." This was refreshingly specific and rigorous, though, curiously, when giving examples of their general principles, both tended to use not their own invented languages but compare Spanish to English. Peterson made the very Tolkienian remark that he likes creating vocabulary because he feels like he's telling the story of a people by coming up with the words they say and how they're constructed. He also said that, in college, he initially shied away from linguistics because linguists study language abstractly, and he didn't see the point. Curious, I thought, because for me, to whom learning actual languages is a slog, the abstract and generalizing quality of linguistics was catnip, and I only wish I'd discovered it earlier in my college career.

Then over to the SF Conservatory for a concert by a mixed pro/amateur group called Symphony Parnassus. They played a new English horn concerto by Stefan Cwik which was less interesting than its title and inspiration, which both were The Sword in the Stone. The woman sitting next to me was sure the program had been changed, because she thought the solo instrument was a clarinet. Then, Shostakovich's Tenth. Aside from the French horns strangling on the Elmira theme in the third movement, and the winds vanishing entirely for passages of the finale (which confused the entire orchestra and made them have to stop and try again), it was pretty good.

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