Saturday, January 31, 2015

Con Report: IllogiCon, Sunday

Religion and Mythology in Science Fiction and Fantasy
  • Debra Killeen
  • Ada Milenkovic Brown
  • Natania Barron
  • Misty Massey
  • Jacqueline Carey
  • Betty Cross
Don't proselytize!

Why do we see so many various religions in fantasy?
  • There’s a lot of appeal to a writer…you can create your own gods
  • A lot of wish fulfillment in fantasy - have your gods walk among your characters - more exciting
  • Game of thrones - lots of different religions  - 7 gods living in harmony w/nature - dualistic God/s
  • Richard Adams, Shardick - numinous book - a living faith 
  • Jacqueline wanted an actual live faith in her story
  • Natania sees a D&D aspect - gods as characters vs more of a concept
  • Go back to classical mythology - In the Iliad we look at stories as metaphor, but Homer wrote as literal truth – he believed that gods walk among us
  • H Hudson Blunt, the Eldrich age, short story - gods show up in Victorian England [if anyone has more detail about this, please share in comments! I was unable to find a reference based on these sketchy notes! :( ]
  • Scary when they do! If a God shows up in front of you – you might not really want that!
  • Christian Angels are described as scary looking! Not pretty with fluffy white wings
How do you feel about authors writing outside of their own experience? Cultural appropriation, or fair game?
  • Have to walk a fine line - it's easy to trip up when you think you know and are wrong
  • Belief systems are very emotional and deeply held
  • The presence of religion informs the whole culture/world
  • Want to be respectful of others’ culture, beliefs
  • Important for authors to stretch their own viewpoints, do research, get opinions
  • Research, research, research! You don't have to use it all, but it will inform your writing
  • Easier when you're doing historical - no one as readily available to call you out on mistakes
  • Jacqueline says we had a good Sat night Diversity panel - need for representation, more "outside our own" 
What are some seminal books featuring religion in spec fic?
  • Terry Pratchett, Small Gods - God comes back to the world thinking there are no believers, incarnated as a turtle...and finds a believer 
  • NK Jemison, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms - new but recognizable - interaction between gods and people 
  • Saladin Ahmed, Throne of the crescent moon – wonderful story - Islam but alien world 
  • Madeleine l’Engle - lots of religion and science, but not preaching
  • Neil Gaiman American Gods - dark scary truths - arc of covenant so terrifying no one should ever see it 
  • Greg Keys, Kingdom of Thorn and Bone - Magic - holy spots like ley lines 
  • James Morrow, Towing Jehovah -discover the body of God floating in the Arctic - what to do? Tell people God is dead? Or keep it a secret? 
Are there any existing religions that have untapped potential to be mined for storytelling?
  • Anything but Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian
  • Indian, Celtic, Pacific American, Islam, Thailand, Vietnam (crossroads of Buddhism & Hinduism plus older religions ), Eastern Europe, aboriginal Australian, Egyptian pantheon, mystic edges of more mainstream religions (Sufi)
  • Crossover between different faiths, pantheons of different faiths, can see patterns
  • Aliette de Bodard, Aztec trilogy, starting with Servant of the Underworld 
  • Sandra McDonald, Outback Stars 
  • Real world religions in fantastic settings – great Babylon 5 episode where a visiting rabbi ponders whether an alien dish is kosher
  • Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow 
What role does geography play?
  • What if we had two moons?
  • Cold/hot weather, drought, desert
  • Norse mythology would have been a whole lot less depressing if it had been warmer!
  • Religion is often an attempt to explain the natural world
  • Polynesian peoples don't have a flood myth!
  • In the Norse end-of-the-world myth, the good guys die at the end - is there any other where the good guys die?
  • Well, discussion about that claim to Norse myth: Earth is (or will be) reborn, Thor’s sons survive, the cycle will begin again…
Any good treatments of Gods as aliens, or superbeings?
Is there a line you shouldn't cross?
  • There's always going to be someone! Depends on how it's done and your tolerance for pushback
  • Be respectful, but don't be so afraid of offending that you write milquetoast
  • Blasphemy - if you're doing it in the service of art, not just poking at sacred cows
  • Taboos and blasphemy - if your book becomes subject of controversy how would you handle it? These days there's a real concern to protect privacy online and even in the real world
Marc Blake has an upcoming STRAEON issue focusing on religion


World Building
  • Jacqueline Carey
  • Clay Griffith
  • Gail Z. Martin
  • Thomas Mays
  • Chris Kennedy
  • Stephen King often starts his stories in the middle of "boring" and mundane-middle of the country, small unknown town-then brings in the “different”
  • You have to use terminology that your readers recognize. Even off-world, your aliens are already speaking English (or whatever you're publishing in) (this doesn't mean you can't use alien terminology, you just have to incorporate it in a way that will be clear to your readers)
  • Nature of good and evil - Limits of what you're willing to do
  • Logistics, economics, religion 
How do you learn about logistics, economics, geology, space (orbits, moons, etc).
  • Jacqueline struggled with learning about Aztec culture including human sacrifice, struggled w/how not to demonize, found some Aztec poetry. Beautiful language, including some poetry that included their views on death – something clicked and gave her a POV
  • Clay has background as a historian - if you're dealing with war, for instance, you need to be *aware* of all the spectrum of war, battle, logistics, food, health, etc...even if you don't actually talk about it
  • First rule of war: pay your army!
  • We don't think about how things work until they don't - part of the author's thinking about "then what happens" should include "what goes wrong?"
  • Layers levels of difficulties on the characters... There should be problems!
  • How do people react to the situations they're in?
  • Sometimes serendipity in the bad – traveling during a train strike in Italy leads to a story (I once missed a flight from LA to Sydney and discovered the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera at the LA County Museum of Art)
  • Small details - giant war armadillos must be scrubbed down, or they'll get a fungus
When you're reading or watching, what throws you out of your suspension of disbelief?
  • Glaring plot inconsistencies, when writer attempts to nail a detail they clearly have no experience (horses) – or haven't made much effort to learn
  • Write what you know...know more! Learn, ask someone who knows about your topic to read and check your “facts”
  • Consistency of language - modernisms or anachronisms...often (annoyingly) too overly cute
  • Too contrived - if I can think of three ways around instead of the most dangerous path, then give some good reasons why they can't do the easier thing
  • Explain why the action is unavoidable, so it doesn't feel too contrived
  • If magic exists, it would trump everything! Why wouldn't someone be king of the world
  • Problem with Star Trek reboot -guy in school suddenly jumps 6 ranks and is put In charge of a starship, then keeps it after the crisis?!
How do you manage pacing?
  • Jacqueline likes to give just enough detail to let imagination take hold...don't want to get too travelogue-y, keep the story moving, too!
  • Gail calls this dribbling the details in as reader needs them
  • Tom tries to make details organic to your character's POV - s/he won't be thinking about all the big picture (avoid the “as you know, Bob” in dialogue or internal monologue)
  • Chris thinks of Ben Franklin’s saying, “All good things in moderation”!
Is fan fiction an indicator of successful world building?
  • Jacqueline says she doesn't read Kushiel fanfic… Could be? Maybe more wish fulfillment from fan writers?
  • Gail says, “As an author, ask yourself if I were reading, what would interest me? At the end of the bus tour, where would you like to see more? How about that little alley down there?”
How do you choose when to include the tidbits of detail? Strictly as plot demands?
  • Jacqueline says for her it's very much as characters need to know ... Also have to bring the world they’re in to life
  • Clay agrees it's largely based on characters’ need to know
  • Gail adds that some cool things add spice for the reader, the  "cinnamon" of the book
Recommendations of good world building?

And so, with a loving heart, I offer you
I’ve heard many translations. Here’s my favorite:
The light of the universe that shines within me recognizes
the light of the universe that shines within you.



  1. I don't know if my earlier comment posted, so here it is again.

    Max Gladstone wrote several books with a religion in them, and Aliette de Bodard has a trilogy set in the Aztec empire. I recommend them.

    1. Oh, I will check out Max Gladstone, thanks! Yes, the de Bodardd trilogy was recommended in the panel - the first one is Servant of the Underworld (linked above). I sure added a lot to my to-read list from that panel session! World religions were the focus of my anthropology undergrad studies, and well-written religions and cultures in SF&F always fascinate me. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Conni!

    2. I read them as a trilogy in ebooks, so I don't really remember the titles of the individual books ^^;

      Small Gods is hilarious. (I think that's the Blues Brothers riff one.)

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