September 28th-29th in Montreal was the very final, last Farthing Party mini-convention, organized yearly by author Jo Walton (with a lot of help from very good friends) since the release of her novel Farthing in 2006, the first volume in the Small Changes trilogy. I have been to four Farthings in all, but most of the time, I would dash in and out on the Saturday, sometimes on the Sunday, and rush back home in Ottawa. This was the first one I was able to stay for the entire deal, from the Friday night dinner to the Sunday evening party. Since this was the last one, I had to be there for the whole thing; it was my last chance.
As usual, the panels were filled with good authors and good friends, usually being both, and the conversations during and between them was wonderful and engaging.
Good Reads: this panel is a tradition at Farthing and I participated to one a few years back. Each panellist suggests a good book that all read and then discuss and. This time, Christopher Davis, Jeff Heard, Howard To and Beth Friedman talked about four books I had never heard of, though one author was familiar. Jeffrey Ford's The Drowned Life is an American (sorta) magic realism collection I probably will pick up. I might also look into his The Well-Built City trilogy. Melissa Scott and Lisa A. Barnett's Point of Hopes from 1995 is a kind of alternate history that does not sound like something I would like. Jonathan Carroll's Sleeping in Flame sounds interesting. I know him from The Land of Laughs. James Alan Gardner's Expendable sounds like John Scalzi's Redshirts, but without any the irony and none of the meta.
After a panel on Mad Scientists, which concluded that comics and webcomics are currently much better at doing them than novels, I had the honour of participating on a panel about Candas Jane Dorsey's Black Wine, from 1997. I met Candas the same year and place I met Jo, at Boréal 2006, and was stunned then to realize that I had actually read and owned one of her books. Even if I could not then (still can't) find the copy I had bought in 1998. I have bought both the new edition ebook and a like-new copy of the first edition, though not hardback like the one I probably loaned to someone out there. Marissa Lingen summarized the panel discussion better than I ever could:
Candas Jane Dorsey’s Black Wine. Five Rivers Press has just reprinted this hard-to-find book. [Tournevis] told of finding it when it was new and she was a college student: “I opened the book again, and the sentence was still there.” That made me smile. Hardly anybody seemed to have just bought the book in a normal way when it first came out. It’s on the cusp of at least four genres (SF, fantasy, gothic, and horror) and refuses to choose between them rather than neglecting to do so. Someone suggested that the title should be taken as a warning, not to read this on an empty stomach, to take it slow. There was strong sense that everything on this planet was distributed unevenly, like tech and supplies are on our own planet. It was compared favorably to Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, which some panelists felt handled the subject matter in a way that was far more fetishistic than Black Wine‘s sense that people form a sense of normal that is local to their own circumstances.
In short, this novel is incredible! Go buy it now!
In the afternoon, Jo, Greer Gilman and Marissa Lingen spoke about the fact that all three women have had an exceptionally productive year so far. Jo finished two and a half novels and on one day wrote 10,000 words. Greer has written more this year so far than the previous several years. Marissa has a boat load of stories and two and a half novels as well. The panel was titled Maybe It's Sunspots, and it seems like the most plausible explanation. Interestingly, that evening, Jim Hines (not present) tweeted that his novel had reached 70,000 words in record time and Nova Ren Suma (also not present) blogged about having written more than 43,000 words in two weeks. Considering how much work, though no writing, I did in the last three weeks, I guess sunspots are working for a lot of people these days.
I went out for lunch and rest and came back for the late afternoon panel on Ends of the World. Jo, Alison Sinclair, Tom Womack, PNH and Jim MacDonald talked about the classic ways in which the world tends to end, the good perennial staples of world ending in fiction, as well as the fashions in apocalypses since the Second Word War. Each also spoke of their favourite ends, with examples.
The party was good. As a thank you for all the Farthings, Jo was given a stupendous necklace made by the incredibly talented Elise Matthesen. The necklace is called Ibidem and represents Jo's way of bringing people together all in one place. Jo was touched. I was floored. What a beautiful gift.
After a long and much needed sleep, the day started with the annual Joy of Reading, where a dozen or so people read excerpts from a favourite novel, poem or short story. I read a couple pages from Argleton by Suw Charman-Anderson and quite a few people wrote the information down. Fun was had by all.
Next came a panel on Mad Art, a counter point to the previous Mad panel. TMH, Jon Singer, Glenn Grant, Tim Cooper and Greer Gelman spoke mostly of mad people who made art, mad artists really, rather than mad art proper, though the art produced was often maddening. Henry Drager and Richard Dadd were mentioned at length. Glenn spoke of Burning Man, which he attends yearly. At least the Burn is a mad affair for sure. Jon Singer had been put on the panel as a mad artist of sorts and proved the point by being heard saying of a bowl he made : "The one was actually colored with 1% Europium Oxyde." Europium is kind of radioactive.
I left early for lunch and nap and returned for the Building Fantasy Worlds panel. Alec Austin, Marissa Lingen, Terry MacGarry, Jim MacDonald and Jo spoke of how they world-build, what they strive for, what they avoid and what they don't like to see in other writers. The most applauded advice came from Jim (who got it from another famous other whose name I did not write down and have forgotten 8 days later as I write this): "Do not give the reader time, distance and speed." These are too many data points for the reader to figure out what's wrong with the world you built.
Then came another perennial at Farthing, the writing process panel called You Write Funny. I always enjoy those the most. Jo, Debra Doyle, Terry MacGarry, Alison Sinclair and Lila Garrott spoke of all the quirks, rituals, necessities, tools and techniques they use to plot, put together and write their fictions. They may have changed over time, from one work to another. They of course differ broadly from one author to the other and the comparisons are what make the panel fun. Debra spoke of how much she hates writing the end. Jo spoke of the challenge of making your random berserker Visigoth a real person rather than just some random berserker Visigoth. All agreed with Jo that "The last words of a book are inevitable". Indeed.
The next panel was on the works of Patrick Rothfuss, notably the first two volumes of the King Killer Chronicle, its strengths, weaknesses, appeals and annoyances. I was not interested in this at all, but I stayed because one of the panelist was 10-year-old David To, who has recently discovered SFF, started reading it profusely only a few years ago, and met Rothfuss in person at WorldCon this year, at his first con. Farthing was his third con ever! He was adorable, insightful and held his own against Jo Alec Austin, Lila Garrott and Tili Sokolow. I was impressed.
The last panel was again a That's Another Panel!, which traditionally Jo puts together on the afternoon of the last day, on a theme that ran through the weekend's discussions. Jo, Marissa, Alec, Greer and Lila talked about stories that seem to go where they do not want it to or go where one wants to but in an unexpected way. They also discussed how story expectations differ in various cultures and between genres. They focussed on how genre expectations often prevent the readers from appreciating stories that undermine or overturn these expectations. All panelists try to use the rut of genre expectations to lead readers where they do not expect, with varying success at times. A great discussion and a fitting end to a great edition of Farthing Party.
After a good supper with good company, I went to Jo's house for the traditional Sunday night party, where the greatest cliché was realized when I joined a conversation of SFF readers that turned somehow on a conversation on children and parenting and which went back there every time we tried to steer it back on fiction and books. I left early because I was exhausted and no fun for anyone.
I will miss Farthing Party, but I would not be surprised if, one day, Jo or one of Jo's friends in Montréal puts a Farthing-like mini-con together again, just for the fun of it, because we all love Jo. Luckily, I go to Montréal often enough to see Jo from time to time, so at least I get to have a mini-Farthing all to myself.
Edited 18/02/2014: fixed broken link.