2018 Williamson Lectureship

Williamson Lectureship science fiction newsThe 42nd Williamson Lectureship was held April 5-7, 2018, in Portales NM. The Lectureship, held to honor SF pioneer Jack Williamson, took place at Eastern NM University with casual gatherings around town. Santa Fe author S.M. Stirling, known for his Emberverse series and other alternate his­tory efforts, was the guest of honor, and Connie Willis served as toastmistress. The theme for the 2018 Lectureship was “Changes.” The event, often dubbed a “family reunion” by participants, felt “off” because of the absences of organizer Patrice Caldwell and author Steven Gould due to family issues. Also missing was Darynda Jones of Portales, who was ill.

The Lectureship began Thursday, with a science talk on the Sierra Lamar case by Cordelia Willis for 35 ENMU students and SF fans. “I gave the whole back­ground on the case. They never found her body, but they got a murder conviction. I went over the forensics evidence used in court, and how the investigation went,” she said. A large dinner gathering at a local steakhouse finished out the first day.

Friday morning’s group breakfast for 20 was followed by a 90-minute author reading from Stirling to about 55 people from his forthcoming book Black Chamber.

Cris Watson, assistant to Caldwell, welcomed about 85 people to Friday’s luncheon – a taco salad buf­fet – and introduced Connie Willis. Willis reminded everyone that Jack Williamson wrote groundbreaking books and worked to get science fiction recognized as legitimate and something that should be taught in schools. Willis also noted the deaths of Nancy Wil­liamson, Jack’s sister-in-law, and of author Victor Milan, who was guest of honor at the 2016 Lecture­ship. “Victor told me he wanted to try to come to the Lectureship every year,” she said. “I’m sorry he won’t be able to do so now.”

To lighten the mood, Willis then talked about true-but-odd news stories, including camels being disqualified from a race due to Botox injections, an animatronic T-Rex catching fire, and the Flat Earther who launched a rocket. She also noted that her research found several cow stories “which are important to Portales,” such as the cow who escaped from a Nativity scene and ended up in a department store, and cows who downed a drone and then tried to eat it. “It’s all some kind of Hitchcockian plot like in The Birds,” she said. “I think they’re fed up with the mutilations, and the dead cows in Close Encounters, and such.”

Connie & Courtney Willis ran a comedy duo bit to introduce Stirling, inten­tionally confusing him first with Rod Serling, then Steven Spielberg, and finally Steve Stirling, the Brit who married Mary, Queen of Scots.

Stirling said he was proud to be at the Lectureship, and admitted that he has stolen ideas from Williamson, but doesn’t think there is a science fiction author who hasn’t. “Darker Than You Think inspired me, and it was a pioneer of using supernatural tropes in science fiction. I used its ideas as the basis for my Shadowspawn trilogy.” Stirling went through several of Williamson’s ideas that have had real-world applications or inspired others. For example, Williamson coined the term “terraforming,” which Stirling said gave Kim Stanley Robinson a three-book series and a career, and “now Elon Musk wants to make it a reality.”

Stirling wrapped up his address, saying, “Jack’s books have ideas coming out of them like sparks off a cat’s hair on a dry day. His influences on the genre and the world are amazing. His work and ideas were profound, and he probably came up with more concepts and tropes than any other science fiction author.”

Wrapping up the luncheon, Connie Willis presented Stirling with his Lecture­ship plaque, and led everyone in singing “Happy Birthday” to Janet Stirling, who celebrated her 68th birthday.

After lunch, there was a tabletop gaming session organized by students, an ice cream break, and another forensics talk by Cordelia Willis. About 20 students attended her talk on forensic photography, an encore of last year’s presentation. “Your photos become a log of what happened,” she said. “They communicate the evidence.”

The Lectureship held two-track panels Friday afternoon in the Jack Williamson Liberal Arts Building, as the Golden “Student Success Center,” home of the Williamson Special Collections, will not be ready for the public until sometime in late May – if finishing touches stay on track.

At the afternoon panels, attendees heard about “Changes in the Sky: The 2017 Solar Eclipse”, in which physicist Courtney Willis explained that solar and lunar eclipses are rare because the moon’s orbit is on a different plane than the Earth’s orbit around the sun, and talked about the Willis family’s experience in Ravenna NE; and “Nuts and Bolts of Writing: How It Happens (and What I wish I’d Known Earlier)” with Emily Mah, S.M. Stirling, Walter Jon Williams, and moderator Betty Williamson, in which Stirling said, “There’s a lot of luck involved, plus talent. Good criticism is invaluable, and you have to find what works for you.” Williams added, “I’m an outliner and a plotter, but you have to know what you want to write about first. You need to have the elevator pitch in your mind. What is it about?”

The “Alternatives in Publishing: Self-Publishing and Small Presses” panel included Emily Mah, Sarena Ulibarri, and moderator Joan Saberhagen, in which they talked about publishing, editing, promotion and the changing role of social media. “You should have a professional editor look at your work, no matter what,” advised Mah, and Ulibarri added, “Are you still invested and are you getting better? And then you have to keep up with what social media works.” “Change the Channel: Science Fiction and Fantasy in Film” featured Connie Willis, S.M. Stirling, and Walter Jon Williams, with ENMU digital film instructor Jon Barr moderating, talking specifically about adaptions of stories and books. Williams remarked, “If you have a beloved book and you can tell the story the fans want, you can make a ton of money.” Willis targeted Hollywood deals an author might be offered, “As a writer, there are practical considerations to any deal you’re offered. What are the implications? Will you still control your characters or their world?”

Lauren C. Teffeau, Sarena Ulibarri, Walter Jon Wil­liams, Joan Saberhagen, and moderator Micah Don­nohue of ENMU were on the “Changing the World: Activism in Science Fiction/Fantasy and in Real Life” panel, addressing SF predictions and what is happen­ing now in the world. Williams noted, “Science fiction allows you to think about what might happen and give warnings. Hardwired, which I wrote in 1983, was sup­posed to be 80 years from then, but we’re living it now.” Ulibarri noted that a writer has a choice whether to include happenings in the real world, and “Sometimes a book hits at the right time in terms of commentary, but you can’t plan it. Sometimes it’s just right at that exact time.” Saberhagen said that government has become the enemy in a lot of SF, but it will always be there because you have leaders, and Teffeau added, “Humans are going to be humans. People are not perfect.” Across from that, Connie Willis, S.M. Stirling, and moderator David Sweeten of ENMU discussed “Wrinkling Time: Alternate History and Time Travel,” where Willis said that when you’re doing time travel, you have to do the research yourself “since you’ll recognize the information you need.” Stirling added, “One of the problems you have is readers who have learned wrong information about the past. So, you might write something historically accurate, but people will think you got it wrong.” Concluding the conversation, Willis said, “Until the day we get time travel working, writers can write whatever they want, but it has to be internally consistent. It’s easy to make a mistake, and you have to rise to the readers’ expectations. Lots of things change – society, technology, and speech dialect – but human nature doesn’t. Without the human element, time travel is interesting but not compelling.”

Friday evening’s dinner party was held at Gene Bundy & Geni Flores’ home, with lasagna, salad, cheese and crackers, wine, and several desserts. About 35 people chatted, enjoyed food and drinks, and signed books.

Saturday’s group breakfast was followed by a writers’ workshop by Connie Willis for college students. Fourteen students and SF fans listened as Willis advised, “You should be close to the story and emotionally involved, but you should keep the mechanics of writing and tricks in mind. Writing is a bunch of tricks designed to create a satisfying illusion.” She focused on mysteries, and when and how clues should be given to the reader. She concluded, “Keep your promise to the reader. What was promised at the beginning? The writer has to figure out what has been promised, and sometimes that’s not obvious.”

Attendees at the Lectureship included Jack Williamson’s niece, Betty Wil­liamson, and her husband Milz Bickley; Bubonicon organizers Craig Chrissinger, Jessica Coyle, Serge Broom, Kristen Dorland, Kevin & Rebecca Hewett, Patricia Rogers, and Kennard Wilson; booksellers Nina & Ron Else from Denver; Lec­tureship organizers Mary Ayala, Dave Asplund, and Greg & Barbara Senn; and special collections librarians Debbie Lang, Susan Asplund, and student intern Savannah Fulgham.

Saturday afternoon finished out the Lectureship with lunch, varied conversa­tions, and good-byes. Plans for April 2019’s Lectureship soon will be underway, including a guest of honor announcement, and an update on what role the Golden Center and the special collections library will play in the 43rd Lectureship.

– Craig W. Chrissinger

This report and more like it in the May 2018 issue of Locus.

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