Regina And Elisa Dish: The 2013 RT Booklovers Convention Sci Fi Panel

Our Dish column has traditionally featured a dialogue between two RT staffers about a book they both love, however, in this special Convention edition of Dish, RT editors Elisa and Regina Dish about a panel they both enjoyed at this year's RT Booklovers Convention. "Seduced by the Unknown — How SF Challenges Your Mind and Heart" was the lone science fiction/fantasy panel at this year's con, but it was packed with great authors who had a ton to say about the genre. Sarah Zettel, Janet Miller, Beth Revis, PJ Schnyder, Stacey Kade and John Scalzi joined moderator Linnea Sinclair to discuss where the genre is headed. Read on to learn what was said and what Elisa and Regina thought.

From L to R: Sarah Zettel, John Scalzi, PJ Schnyder, Beth Revis and Janet Miller

Elisa: So the panel started with a silly lightening round of questions from Linnea Sinclair. Questions included “Star Trek or Firefly?” “Starship captain or galactic bounty hunter?” “Alien invasion or space exploration?” and “Galactic evil overlord or kick ass planetary prince or princess?”

Regina: Pretty sure PJ Schnyder asked: “To be or to boink?” in response to one of Linnea’s questions, to which Linnea replied, “Your choice.” Schnyder responded, “I will not clarify which one.”

Elisa: I would boink Picard from Star Trek, TNG over anyone in Firefly, I gotta say.

Regina: Not even Wash? (Love you, Wash. You’re not forgiven, Joss Whedon.)

Elisa: Ehhh, I have no love for men who wear Hawaiian shirts. The panel then moved on to a more ... traditional format. Linnea continued by asking what makes aliens so appealing. You know, aside from the fact that they’re freakin’ aliens. Alien life represents a lot of different things for the panelists. Sarah Zettel said “possibilities,” while PJ Schnyder responded with “a contrast against humanity.” Stacey Kade brought up the Borg from Star Trek as an example, saying that unknown spec Is can represent “what we are afraid of or hopeful for.” In regards to writing science fiction, John Scalzi pointed out that “aliens should not be alienating.”

Regina: “Alien” vs. “alienating” is such an important distinction because the whole exploration of what it means to be alien (which is also, obviously, an exploration of what it means to be human) hinges on the reader’s ability to connect with an alien character. If there’s no reason for the reader to identify with your otherworldly character, you’ve basically just written horror, not science fiction.

Elisa: I do love me some horror, but it definitely isn’t sci fi. Sinclair continued to ask questions, including whether or not panelists think sci fi is escapism or as something society aspires to be. I really enjoyed Sarah Zettel’s comment that science fiction is meant to “push boundaries [and] recheck the organization of society,” and stressed that YA sci fi is going to be the next hot thing.

Regina: I think PJ Schnyder said “why choose?” and there seemed to be some sort of general feeling that the best SF contains both: escapism from the everyday and also inspiration for future tech and how humanity can evolve.

Elisa: When Linnea asked the authors which of their characters they would be, it seemed like such a tough question. I don't think authors necessarily always write characters they’d want to be. Still, Scalzi said he’d be Harry Wilson from The Human Division, and Stacey Kade said she’d want to be one of her villains, which I thought was awesome.

Regina: There seemed to be a consensus among the panelists that they treat their characters too terribly to really want to be their characters — one of the panelists, I believe it was Beth Revis, said she would want to be one of the people in the beginning of her first book, Across the Universe, who is like “um, I’m staying on earth.” Personally I think that totally makes sense since conflict and crisis are obviously what drive good, well-written stories.

Elisa: Like Sarah Zettel mentioned in the beginning of the panel, YA seems to be the future of sci fi.

Regina: I think the upshot of this was that adult SF had kind of calcified.

Elisa: John Scalzi mentioned that “there’s a generational reset for culture,” and I think regarding science fiction novels, the “reset” button is being pushed. Adult science fiction has branched off from traditional space operas (although those are still written) to other greyer areas, like steampunk. But because YA is relatively new (in the grand scheme of publishing), it’s taken longer to branch out. First there were contemps (Love you, Judy Blume), and then paranormal had its turn (I’m looking at you, Twilight), and now science fiction seems to be the new trend in YA

Regina: The whole surge in dystopian YA (Thank you, Hunger Games!) has really opened up both genres — it’s interesting to me particularly because so much of science fiction pits a protagonist up against a powerful, controlling force; and I think having teenage lead characters really highlights that sense of vulnerability. Are there people who feel less at home in the world or in control of their own lives than teens? The panel as a whole seemed to feel strongly that YA is where the richest contemporary science fiction seems to be coming from.

Elisa: It’s definitely fun seeing how teens fight the powers that be, whether it’s a government or a supernatural/alien creature, rather than adults. Lena, the heroine in Lauren Oliver’s Delirium series, is my fave dystopian YA protagonist. But whether it’s adult or YA, it looks like sci fi has a bright future.

Regina: Agreed!

Where do you think science fiction is headed? Let us know in the comments. And for more coverage visit our Everything Science Fiction Page. Curious about the RT Convention? Get the latest news on RT 2014 here.