There are three things you can do while at Readercon during the day: talk to friends, browse and patronize the Bookshop, or attend the program. This is a significantly shorter list than provided by other science fiction conventions (which typically include an art show, gaming, musical performances, and so on). It's thus not an exaggeration to say that Readercon is all about the program. As we used to say, it's not just the heart of the convention, but the lungs, brain, liver, and kidneys.
Readercon covers the whole of imaginative literature (or "speculative fiction") from hard science fiction to fantasy, horror, and the unclassifiable, but with a special emphasis on the most literary, ambitious, and cutting-edge work in the field. Our regular Program Participants include writers, editors, publishers, and critics from the Northeast, and those from around the world with a special affinity for our emphasis.
Although we annually send out a set of invitations to participate in the convention, our list of worthies is far from complete! We welcome volunteers, and, in fact, some of the best-known names in the field first came to our attention as unknown Readercon "walk-ons."
Each year, we further supplement the program with experts on individual program items, such as our panel discussions appreciating the works of our Guests of Honor.
Readercon Program Participants pay no membership fee and may purchase an additional reduced-price advance membership for a significant other. Our Program Guide includes brief bio-bibliographies of all participants, and an index of their appearances at the convention.
If you think you have something to add to the Readercon program this year, please contact us.
The form and content of the Readercon program are shaped by the following principles:
- The broad range of interests and tastes of our attendees should be recognized and satisfied. In terms of genre, attendees may be into any combination of hard science fiction, literary sf, fantasy, horror, or "slipstream" (unclassifiable non-realistic) fiction. They may be variously interested in the writing and reading processes, in editing and publishing, and in the criticism and teaching of sf. They may like to hear panel discussions more than author readings or solo talks or discussions, or vice versa.
- There should be something of interest every hour for all but the most narrowly-focused attendee.
- It's better to force someone to choose between two attractive alternatives than to leave them with nothing of interest in a given hour. However, items with obviously overlapping interest should not be held simultaneously.
- There should be enough programming to keep our program participants reasonably busy: at least one item for everyone, a handful or more for our best speakers.
We've found that we can satisfy these principles by featuring the following simultaneously:
- Two panel discussions featuring five (or occasionally six or four) participants, usually including a "leader" who both directs and takes part in the discussion (sometimes with the more traditional "moderator" who directs but doesn't opine). The participants sit in arm chairs in front of coffee tables, rather than behind the usual table. Usually, the last ten minutes or so are devoted to questions from the audience, but the leader is free to solicit audience input at any stage. Although some of the panels are based on ideas given us by the participants, they are all ultimately the brainchildren of Readercon's Program Subcommittee (see below).
- Two tracks of author readings. Usually, each consists of a pair of compatible 30-minute readings, but there are 60-minute readings as well. Unlike nearly every other convention, we give you the title (and sometimes a descriptive blurb) in the Program Guide.
- Two tracks of solo talks and/or discussion groups (the "mini-tracks"), usually 60 minutes long, sometimes 30. Unlike the panel discussions, these are the brainchildren of the individual presenters or discussion group leaders.
- Two author Kaffeeklatsches — an intimate get-together between an author and up to 15 readers (who sign up in advance at the Information desk).
- Two autograph sessions in the Bookshop.
The items in any hour are carefully selected to avoid overlaps of genre and topic. If there's a hard sf panel discussion, there will rarely if ever be a hard sf author doing a reading, autograph session, or the like at the same time. (There's another reason for this: we want them in the audience of the panel discussion). If there's a panel we deem useful to aspiring writers (who are legion in our audience), it will not be up against a solo talk about writing. In fact, someone with a fairly narrow set of interests should be able to pick and choose their way through the program: first a panel discussion about fantasy, then a reading by a fantasy author, now a discussion, another panel, a Kaffeeklatsch, and so on. The attendee with broader tastes finds themselves (we hope) at a sumptuous but well-balanced buffet.
Very simply, we pride ourselves on doing panel discussions you haven't seen at a previous sf convention. We develop our ideas at meetings of our Program Subcommittee (there were ten of us this year, which is to say roughly half of the entire convention committee). If we have a driving principle, it's to start the panel at the right point, which is often roughly where the typical panel on the topic ends. In other words, we strive for panels that ask the next question (the driving cognitive philosophy of sf great Theodore Sturgeon, Memorial GoH at Readercon 2).
If this sounds attractive (or like a bold claim we need to back up), we urge you to read through the programs of past Readercons!
The convention begins Thursday at 8:00 PM with programming open to the public. (There's no registration, and we provide a handout with the evening's schedule in lieu of the full Program Guide.) Programming runs until 10:00 PM and consists of a relatively intimate, stripped-down version of what's to follow: a track or two of panels, a track of solo talks/discussions, and two tracks of readings.
Friday we begin at 11:00 AM with a full slate of our multi-track programming (local attendees who take the day off will thus be rewarded with the same wealth of programming that our out-of-towners enjoy). Since many local attendees do arrive after work and hence at dinner time, there's no dinner break. Special events start at 10:00 PM.
Saturday's full schedule runs from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. After 4:00 PM, there are yet more special events sandwiched around a dinner break. This year, due to popular demand, we hope to schedule a half-program (one track each of panels, readings, and solo talks/discussions) during the dinner break from 6:00 to 8:00 PM.
Sunday programming once again begins at 10:00 AM and ends at 3:00 PM.
While there are no lunch breaks at Readercon, we do try to populate the lunchtime hours with some of our more specialized programming — and if that fails, there's a concession stand which sells very satisfying sandwiches!
While the bulk of the program items at every Readercon are novel, there are a handful that you can generally count on:
- The "Bookaholics Anonymous" meeting Friday — a great way for folks attending their first Readercon to meet some of the regulars and get into the spirit of the weekend.
- A set of panels appreciating the career and works of our Guests of Honor, and of the outgoing Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award winner.
- Panels reviewing the year in short fiction and in novels, and the "Absent Friends" panel remembering writers who have passed away in the last year.
- The Readercon Book Club: An in-depth discussion of one of the major works of the field.
- A series of 30-minute author talks called "How I Wrote Novel Title." The titles are announced on the web site in June and are a mix of books just out in hardcover and just reprinted in paperback. You're all urged to read as many as possible before the con. (One of our past slogans was "The con that assigns homework!")
- The presentation of the annual Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award, Friday night at 10:00 PM. This is followed by:
- The Meet the Pros(e) Party. This is a chance to not only meet the program participants, but a fragment of their work! See the program listing for any recent convention for the details.
- The Rhysling Award Poetry Slan, Saturday afternoon at 3:00 PM (as part of regular programming). The Rhyslings are the annual awards of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, and Readercon is proud to be their ongoing annual host. (A poetry "slan" — to be confused with "slam" — is a poetry reading by sf folks. If you don't get the in-joke, ask an sf fan above a certain age).
- Interviews with our Guests of Honor from 4:00 to 6:00 PM on Saturday. Our Guests of Honor are eminent and interesting enough that we don't need to program anything else (except an open Bookshop) opposite them.
- The famous Kirk Poland Memorial Bad Prose Competition Saturday evening (after a two-hour dinner break). To our chagrin and secret satisfaction, we are perhaps as well known for "Kirk Poland" (widely regarded as the funniest 90 minutes in science fiction fandom, and certainly the funniest 90 minutes at any literary conference) as for everything else we do combined. Again, see a recent program listing for details.
- In some years, Something Else at 8:00 PM, between the dinner break and Kirk Poland. We've had a Poetry Slan, one-act plays, and several James Tiptree, Jr. Award presentations and auctions. Watch this space!
- The Shirley Jackson Awards Sunday morning. Jackson (1916-1965) wrote such classic novels as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, as well as one of the most famous short stories in the English language, "The Lottery." Her work continues to be a major influence on writers of every kind of fiction, from the most traditional genre offerings to the most innovative literary work. The Jackson Awards have been established in her name for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic; they are voted on each year by a jury of professional writers, editors, critics, and academics, with input from a Board of Advisors. Awards are presented in six categories: Novel, Novella, Novelette, Short Story, Single-Author Collection, and Edited Anthology. Readercon has hosted the Jackson Award ceremony from its inception in 2008 and is delighted to host it once again.
- Theodore Sturgeon Short Story Readings All weekend. Theodore Sturgeon was considered one of the most influential writers of the so-called "Golden Age" of science fiction, fostered by editor John Campbell in the 1950s and 1960s. Sturgeon was particularly appreciated for his literary style, his attention to character, and his treatment of important social issues such as sex, war, and the alienation of those felt to be different from the norm. He was the author of seven novels (including the International Fantasy Award-winning More Than Human), but his specialty was the short story, and the science fiction field's Theodore Sturgeon Story Award recognizes him as one of our greatest short story writers. He won the Hugo Award and Nebula Award for his short story "Slow Sculpture;" the Outstanding Achievement Award from the International Society of Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy for the Star Trek screenplay, "Amok Time;" and the Gaylactica/Spectrum Award for his ground-breaking story about homosexuality, "The World Well Lost." For the influence on comic books of his short story "It," he won the Inkpot Award. His idea of "bleshing" (the interaction of different individuals in a gestalt, from More Than Human) was influential for performers from The Grateful Dead to the Blue Man Group. Kurt Vonnegut has said Sturgeon was in some ways a model for his notorious fictional character, Kilgore Trout. His lifetime friendship with his contemporary, Robert Heinlein left traces in their work; Heinlein's name for robots, "waldoes" is a homage to Sturgeon, whose original last name was Waldo. He is also known for Sturgeon's Law ("90% of everything is crap") and the credo "Ask the next question." For his lifetime of work, he was awarded a World Fantasy Achievement Award, and was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2000.
Now, 25 years after Sturgeon's death, Readercon is organizing a set of readings of some of his best stories by authors who love his work. The readings also celebrate the upcoming publication of the thirteenth and final volume of The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon by North Atlantic Books, edited by Paul Williams. The stories being read demonstrate Sturgeon's unusual range, comprising fantasy, sf, horror and comic pieces. They will be moderated by his daughter, Noël Sturgeon, who is the Trustee of the Theodore Sturgeon Literary Trust. All are welcome to come and listen to some or all of these remarkable stories. A complete listing of stories and readers will be available in the Program Guide.
In the past, this panel has only compared the translations line-by-line without attempting to look at the overall flavor of the different translations. This year, we'll be remedying that oversight: we'll begin the panel by reading four versions of a passage of reasonable length. We thought we'd give folks the chance to familiarize themselves with the passage by posting the four-page handout here.
We expect to have a handout with a line-by-line comparison grid of selected sentences as well. See you at the panel Saturday at 7:00 PM!