Friday, May 29, 2009

A few days ago, I finished William Blake: An introduction by Raymond Lister.

I got re-interested in Blake from seeing an exhibition at the Tate Britain in London. It was a recreation of a exhibition Blake had given in his brother's home. The exhibition was intriguing, even though most of the exhibition items are either missing or so dark as to be hard to pick out details. I'm not sure if they darkness was due to the effects of time, or part of Blake's intention.

This book is an OK introduction, walking through the events of Blake's life and discussing most of his major works. The mix of biography and analysis, and the small size of the book, results in a shallow analysis of both. Given that Blake is so different from any other artist of the time (or probably since), I would have like more about how Blake came up with his unique mythology, or more analysis with more prints, preferably in colour.

William Blake;: An introduction to the man and to his work

Monday, May 25, 2009

I spent a ton of time this weekend at Baycon, the local science fiction convention.

I've posted before about Baycon. I'm not involved in the local fan scene, so I don't really know any of the people, so most of my con experience is about the panels. There were no real stand out panels I saw this year but I think I've refined my "panel triage" skills, since I enjoyed the panels I did attend more this year.

Here are some of my thoughts on the important items to consider in "panel triage".

Panel Topic
  • Aside from being interested in the topic, is the topic something that will be able to be talked about for an hour, usually by non-experts? If it's not, expect a panel that will digress and wander a lot.
  • is the panel intended to be a panel + audience or a more free form discussion? Both can work, depending on your taste.In the first case, the moderator becomes key. In the second, the quality of the audience is paramount.

  • are they experts (or at least knowledgeable on the topic)? A rough rule - if more than one panelist opens by saying "I'm not sure why I'm on this panel", check out a different panel.
  • how are their presentation/humour skills? For example, there are a few presenters at Baycon that are consistently amusing, no matter what the topic (Seanan McGuire comes to mind).
  • are there any blowhards on the panel? These can derail almost any panel, even with a good moderator.
  • how strong/experienced is the moderator? This is particularly important relative to the next category
  • if the panel is intended to be more of a "panel + audience", are there members of the audience who don't understand this and try to have a back and forth conversation with the panelists, even if they aren't talking to this attendee directly?
  • are there attendees who don't seem to understand that the panel isn't about them, and that there may be more than one person who has questions or comments? This can also be a problem with some panelists (see "blowhard" comment above).
I just finished The City, Not Long After by Pat Murphy. A post-apocalyptic story set in and around San Francisco.

I'm not sure why this is, but it seems the military is the villain of choice in any post-apocalyptic story, whether they caused the disaster (see Stephen King's The Stand), or whether they try and take over and impose their ideas of order and discipline afterwords (see CBS's Jericho, or many others. The one semi-original piece of this book is that the apocalyptic disaster is actually accidentally caused by peace activists, instead of the military industrial complex.

In this novel, the contrast is even larger because the protagonists are artists and free spirits who live in San Francisco in a very Utopian anarchic society. Who knew that all we needed for a comfortable life we could devote to art was for 99+% of the population to die off? In addition to that silliness, there is an uncomfortable anti-American vibe throughout the book. For example, the evil military leader espouses the values of "America" and is mocked by other characters and one characters opines that they always thought the old American flag was "ugly".