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Serious fun: Touching down at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts.
[FINAL Edition]
The Washington Post - Washington, D.C.
Subjects: Conferences; Science fiction & fantasy; Writers
Date: Apr 7, 2002
Start Page: T.15
Section: BOOK WORLD

Thinking back over these four days at the ICFA, I suspect I'll most remember various Wordsworthian spots of time, a few encounters, some clever phrases. [Joan Aiken]'s agent, the slender and courtly Charles Schlessiger, spoke to me about the work of her father, his old client Conrad Aiken, and a hitherto vain attempt to see the poet and novelist's work reprinted in the Library of America. Critic Andrew Butler suggested "remix" as a shorthand term for the way contemporary writers reconfigure the work of their elders (among whom none was more revered, and studied, than M. John Harrison, creator of the decadent city Viriconium, one of Earth's "afternoon cultures"). Of the magazine Interzone, it was said that "British sf wouldn't have survived without it"; while the rather jovial word "chappist" was used to describe often male-dominated British sf. The encyclopedically learned John Clute announced that science fiction was built on "an intense dialogue with the nature of ruins" -- and then went on to prove it. Nearly everyone agreed that sf and fantasy needed to be subversive and "should never be a language of consolation" (Tolkien's view). I particularly loved scholar Gary K. Wolfe's remark about the new British writers: "The moment I hear a word about 'Son of England Swings SF,' you're going to have to be stopped." Not least, nobody who was there, poolside, where shiny blue-black grackles fluttered and lizards scurried, will willingly forget Fiona Kelleghan, an expert on humor in genre fiction, lounging around in a breathtaking, satiny red bikini.

Because the ICFA is relatively small, meeting the learned and celebrated is concomitantly easy. Over drinks you might talk with Peter Straub about jazz and the underrated Arkansas writer Donald Harington, or listen to Brian Aldiss recite cleverly obscene limericks, or discuss Marxism with quietly intense, muscle-shirted China Mieville, author of the award-winning Perdido Street Station (set in New Crobuzon, a city that Poe might describe as "grotesque and arabesque"). During one dinner, at a restaurant near the Fishing Hall of Fame, I found myself chatting with Robert Holdstock, author of the World Fantasy Award-winning Mythago Wood, about the importance of place and landscape in his writing and in that of a novelist we both admire: Alan Garner, first acclaimed for The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath. At the conference's book exhibition, amid small-press chapbooks, old paperbacks and literary magazines (not least a special issue of the North Carolina Literary Review devoted to sf and fantasy), I was introduced, with some awe, to Daniel Keyes, creator of arguably the greatest, and certainly most touching, sf story of our time, "Flowers for Algernon." I then picked up a copy of his memoir, Algernon, Charlie and I: A Writer's Journey.

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