Program Ideas

Please suggest program topics here.

Potlatch has a single track of programming. It will run from Friday evening on February 21st through Sunday, February 23rd. There are standard program items: Opening Ceremonies, the Book of Honor panel, Clarion West Benefit Auction, and the Banquet. That leaves only seven or so open program slots that need to be filled.

Program topics do not need to relate to the Book of Honor or any particular theme. There will be a Book of Honor panel. As always at Potlatch, we will find interesting connections between the panels, and themes will emerge from the discussions. This will happen even if we start with topics that seem to be completely different. So please feel free to brainstorm and suggest anything you think would be interesting to discuss at Potlatch.

The con is coming up soon! Please get your ideas in now. We need to select the best ideas and identify participants and moderators by January 24th if possible, and by January 31st at the latest.

21 thoughts on “Program Ideas

    1. Tom Becker Post author

      I talked with Mike Ward about this. He mentioned San Jose writers Homer Eon Flint, Austin Hall, and James Fellom. Over 100 years ago San Jose was very futuristic. It was “the electric city” with a huge electric light tower downtown. (

      There also is the story of how the Santa Clara Valley transformed from an agricultural paradise into Silicon Valley. It was very much a patchwork and the two very different valleys coexisted for many years.

      1. Adrienne Foster

        Yes, my mother says that electrical tower stood over the intersection of Market & Santa Clara streets, IIRC. She said it collapsed in a wind storm in the 30s. Even more interesting, San Jose had a China town that was lost after it had been swept by fire. The Fairmont was built on that site and there is a plaque on the building memorializing the Asians who had lived there.

        San Jose’s most notorious event was the Hart Lynching, which took place in St. James Park. The book, SWIFT JUSTICE, details that story. My mother told me a story that happened at the old BoA building, where she took her first professinal job working in medical labortory. Many people don’t realize that BofA was founded in San Jose, although many sources say it was San Francisco. (I think A. P. Giannini would be sh*tting bricks if he could see how it is operating now.) There is a lot of intriguing history in downtown San Jose.

        1. Donald M Scott

          I think that lynching inspired a movie, directed by legendary Fritz Lang – Fury, I think it was called. Since Lang also did Metropolis and Die Frau im Monde, that would be a most interesting panel. Certainly some connections there.

  1. Chris Duval

    How about economic geography and SF books? Some instances include [spoilers follow]:

    –Ice from the outer planets. A recent book that took this up was Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2313. –Mining natural gas from the edge of the continental shelf in Schätzing’s Der Schwarm.

    –Coal deposits in Eric Flint’s 1632.

    –Lunar water ice in shaded arctic craters in Issui Ogawa’s The Next Continent.

    The uses vary and that’s what makes the topic interesting.

    –In Robinson, the ice brought inward was instrumental to the world building that provided motives for political conflict and inter-character drama. The multi-planet economy created realms with different priorities and thus the potential for struggle. The author also created diverse post-humans suited to their environments and their trade roles. The physical differences were complemented by personalities matched to astrological signs (mercurial, phlegmatic Jupiterians) and this drove the personal drama.

    –In Schätzing it supported a Promethean moral. The incidental environmental destruction provoked a harsh response from super-beings.

    –In Flint, material is used to contrast modernity with the recent past. The coal helps the West Virginians adapt of older resources to 16th century materials and thus survive in Thuringia. This aspect of the book resembles Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Author’s Court.

    –>In Ogawa, the water availability was a key piece of a newer example of old school technological optimism. It made the extravagant construction of a lunar wedding site feasible.

  2. Donald M Scott

    One obvious idea is a fiction/fact panel. NASA Ames is nearby, the Astrobiology Group is hq’d I think at UC Berkeley, etc. Maybe a panel of NASA scientists and sci fi writers. This might seem to be replicating the CONTACT conference’s programming, though, so it would be important to design the panel in such a way that it encouraged attendance at both conferences.

  3. Brad Lyau

    First suggestion: After the last BASFA meeting, Fred Moulton and I were discussing David Brin’s non-fiction book, TRANSPARENT SOCIETY (1999), and if its conclusions still hold up today. Do they? Considering the latest security leaks (Manning and Snowden) and continual improvement of spying technology, does Brin need to do a rewrite? Or can he smile and say “I told you so.”

    Second suggestion: Considering our book of honor, tho following topics are derived from it.

    1) The city as prop in SF novels. An obvious one, but a topic that can be taken in different directions. From More’s UTOPIA to Campanella’s CITY OF THE SUN to Wells’s WHEN THE SLEEPER WAKES to more familiar titles such as von Harbou’s METROPOLIS, Silverberg’s WORLD INSIDE, Murphy’s CITY, NOT LONG AFTER, and Kerr’s POLAR CITY BLUES (which would supply a great comparison to Mieville’s book!), so many examples can be used to show how the city, or idealizations of it, has supplied writers with endless material for commentary and entertainment.

    2) Eastern Europe as backdrop to the exotic? Bram Stoker went East for Dracula’s exotic origins, and this at the time of Western Europe’s peak of power and influence. Now Mieville is doing so during its decline. Even the names of the cities involved in our book of honor do not exactly direct us to think of the futures of London, Paris, or even Berlin. Something to discuss here?

    3) What would Sam Spade do in this novel. The novel is a police procedural. What would a private detective do in the novel? What if he came from the other city?

  4. Tom Becker Post author

    How about a discussion of well-written action scenes? Fantasy and science fiction allow for strange environments and characters with unusual capabilities. This can make action scenes even more complex than in mainstream literature and media, but when it is done well, the results are spectacular. What are some good examples? Maybe the panelists could read out some favorites. (Note: An action scene doesn’t have to be a fight. For example, when Paul learns how to ride a sandworm in Dune.) Can we break down how a well-written scene works? What are the essentials? Are there tricks? Finally, this is kind of wacky, but it might be fun for us to try reenacting an action scene. How does it feel to actually go through the movements that are written in the scene?

  5. Tom Becker Post author

    We could do a “People Suggest Books” panel. It’s been done before at Potlatches and it is always popular. Pick a theme that hasn’t been done before.

    If you have an idea for a theme, please suggest it in a reply to this.

  6. Fred Moulton

    It might be interesting to have a panel on some of the books which were not selected. This couild be a panel which discusses some of the themes and topics in the book without giving away too much of the plot or giving spoilers. I will volunteer to do 5 or 10 minutes on describing some of the ideas in Night Sessions.

  7. Adrienne Foster

    This may not be the most original of ideas, but I’ve noticed it’s always popular at conventions. For a lighter topic: Cats in the Fantastic Genres. What are the best stories where cats are important characters in the story? Which are the most inventive? Which are the most humorous? Which are the most pandering to the market?

  8. Chris Quenelle

    Since The City and The City is a crime novel / Fantasy story, we could have a discussion of other crime/fantasy combinations, and what works well or doesn’t work well in those books as a
    result of tying the two themes together?

    Here’s a meta-thought that be interesting:
    Why do you like each of your favorite SFF books?
    What makes you generally recommend a book?
    The answers are obviously different for different people, but talking about the inner
    values that we use to judge fiction is often glossed over in casual discussion.

    1. Cera Shields

      I think this would be quite interesting, since the distinction between ‘I liked this book’ and ‘This is a good book’ is so often lost.

  9. Tom Becker Post author

    David Bratman mentioned he’d like to see a panel similar to Bill Humphries’ weblog “More Like This”. Cool and interesting things in science fiction, feminism, technology, culture and music.

  10. Robert Meucci

    I’ve noticed a lack of steampunk in the conventions in this area. Is that because the genre is waxing or waning here in the west? (I’m a transplant from out east where the steampunk parade at Dragon*con gets immense)

    My personal interest in steampunk is as a technical source on aether physics. I’ve got a YouTube series called “SteamPunk Physics” where I use a decade of my own personal study to provide an alternative physics system based on real aether physics of the previous century (and earlier).

    Anyhow, it’s a very in-depth set of information that I’d gladly provide to the discussion if steampunk ends up as one of the topics of discussion. Just shoot me an email!

    1. Tom Becker Post author

      Potlatch is about all kinds of reading and writing. Steampunk is definitely included. A couple of years ago at a Potlatch in Seattle, Cherie Priest joined and we had some really excellent discussions around steampunk. This time we just didn’t have any steampunk program ideas suggested. We really depend on members suggesting ideas. They make the program actually happen.

      There is a good local steampunk oriented convention, Clockwork Alchemy. There also are several local steampunk groups. For information, check out the Bay Area fannish calendar in Science Fiction / San Francisco.

  11. Chris Quenelle

    (This is duplicated from part 2 of my post above.)

    Title: Core Values

    Why do you like each of your favorite SFF books?
    What makes you generally recommend a book?
    The answers are obviously different for different people, but talking about the inner
    values that we use to judge fiction is often glossed over in casual discussion.

  12. Chris Quenelle

    At the end of my Kindle edition of The City and The City there is a section called Reading Group Questions and Topics for Discussion. I don’t know if that section also appears in any other editions. There is a long list of possible discussion questions.

  13. Chris Quenelle

    Title: Origins of the Two Cities

    If there’s another book about these cities, how might the author explain the origin of the two cities (the Cleavage)? What are some ideas about how it might have happened.

  14. Chris Quenelle

    Title: Avatars

    What would it be like to be a member of Breach. Given the descriptions in the book, what other stories could an author tell about characters who are Avatars of the Breach?

  15. Jack William Bell

    Related to the BoH: panel discussion on interstitial spaces in fiction and reality. Both the physical places that exist in the space between other places and the more metaphorical interstices between artistic movements, musical styles, literary genres and the like.

    The idea would be to explore how the tension of the interstice informs your understanding of the things it stands between. And how that tension might be best exploited by a writer or artist.

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