SFF Masterclass, Summary


The short version: I’m still processing.

The longer version: That was a lot of fun. The aim of the masterclass, says the original blurb on the Foundation website, is “to provide those who have a serious interest in sf criticism with the opportunity to exchange ideas with leading figures in the field, and also to use the SFF Collection”. Well, the latter was out of the frame this year — the Liverpool University library is being refurbished, so the class was held in London — but I’m not sure I or anyone else missed it terribly, and I’d say the first objective was resoundingly met. (From the sound of Jonathan’s summary, the post-masterclass Monday brunch at the Clutes’ place was also something to behold in this regard, but alas I couldn’t make that.) Since I don’t think I’ve explained the format of the masterclass before now, here’s the schedule:

Friday 20 June
10.00–13.00: Geoff Ryman
13.00–14.00 Lunch
14.00–17.00 Wendy Pearson

Saturday 21 June
10.00–13.00: Gary K. Wolfe
13.00–14.00 Lunch
14.00–17.00 Geoff Ryman

Sunday 22 June
10.00–13.00: Wendy Pearson
13.00–14.00 Lunch
14.00–17.00 Gary K. Wolfe

I don’t want to go into too much detail at this point about what each tutor covered, since I have ambitions of breaking that out into separate posts. But, briefly, I do want to say that I thought the three went together very well. Geoff Ryman’s sessions were about reading as a writer, first with a detailed look at Stand on Zanzibar, and then with sentence-by-sentence readings of the first chapter of Andreas Eschbach’s The Carpet Maker and Joanna Russ’s “When It Changed”. Wendy Pearson talked about postmodernism and queer theory, and then encouraged us to apply it to such stories as “Congenital Agenesis of Gender Ideation” by Raphael Carter and The Child Garden. (Hopeful Monsters would have come in here, but we never made it to that one.) And Gary Wolfe set out to persuade us that, one, trying to defend sf against attacks like this is basically futile, and may make things worse (defend the work, not the genre); and two, that most of sf’s subgenres are useless as labels, or at least should be handled with extreme caution. He also talked a bit about the practice of reviewing. And enabled some bad puns. I’d be hard-pressed to say which of these three I found the most interesting or useful; I was certainly most resistant to Pearson’s sessions, for reasons I probably need to think about a bit more, but all three contained nuggets of practical information that I can actually use.

It’s worth mentioning the venue: Kitap Evi on Tottenham High Road. As I mentioned, the Liverpool library is being refurbished, so the masterclass wouldn’t have been there whatever happened; but the original plan was for it to be held in conjunction with the SFRA conference in Dublin. Unfortunately, the Dublin meeting had to be cancelled, and a new venue was found pretty much at the last minute. Kitap Evi is a cafe downstairs and a Turkish bookshop/internet cafe upstairs, and it worked brilliantly; it was just the right size, and gave the whole meeting a nice, intimate feel. (It could perhaps have done with better ventilation upstairs in the afternoon, but that’s a minor cavil.) And the other thing to do, of course, is to thank the other masterclass attendees, all the people I mentioned in my earlier post and the rest — everyone participated in the discussions at some point, which as Jonathan said really brought home the usefulness of an extended critical community.

Other photos can be found here.

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