Lunch on Friday included a presentation by the scholar guest of honor, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen. His talk was entitled “Undead,” and was a meditation on the meaning of that word — or, in other words, on zombies. Undead does not, Cohen noted, mean that the undead thing is alive; it is a restless state from which monsters arise. What is behind the shift in our literature from ghosts to zombies? Zombies pose no challenge to our minds, as ghosts do, but just want to eat our brains, the physical repositories of our minds. We don’t love zombies the way we might love some ghosts, but think of them as only bodies, things, a collective, a form. If horror is made for mapping what we fear, our new fascination with zombies might mean that what we fear right now is our obsession with unchecked consumption, consumerism, group-think. There is no nuance to a zombie, and killing a zombie is a murder that doesn’t count. It was an excellent presentation, very entertaining and thought-provoking.
That evening, Kelly Link read her story, “Two Houses,” which will be published this coming summer in a volume of short stories honoring Ray Bradbury. While it did partake of Bradbury’s ethos, it was an unmistakably Link short story, sufficiently strange to make me unsure whether I really liked it, wonderful enough to make me think
Saturday morning I chaired a panel on Monsters and Superheroes, with papers about Superman, Frankenstein’s monster and the X-Men. My take-away from this panel was that I need to watch all three of the X-Men movies, but don’t need to see a single movie using Frankenstein’s monster that has been produced in the twenty-first century.
The final panel of the conference for me was called “Rethinking the Canon.” This panel had representatives from those who have edited anthologies (Jeff VanderMeer), those who review and study science fiction and fantasy (Karen Burnham from Locus), academia (David Sandner), publishing (Jacob Weisman of Tachyon Publications) and archival work (John Rieder). It was an interesting discussion that ranged from the dangers of pigeonholing stories as one thing and forgetting they’re another (as, for instance, in categorizing a James Tiptree, Jr. story as feminist and forgetting that it’s also a good example of the weird) to format (for instance, stories told in hypertext as sort a time as ten years ago now can’t be accessed on current platforms; what does this say about our current .pdf and .mobi files?). There was a lot of audience participation in this discussion, which was a great way to end the conference.
But that wasn’t really the end. The conference always ends with a banquet, prefaced by a cocktail party hosted by the hotel. The crush of people is such that it’s sometimes hard to grab a glass of wine, much less to catch a few moments with your favorite author. I managed to speak with James Patrick Kelly and Rick Wilbur about their recent stories in Asimov’s, getting some gentle ribbing from Kelly about my feminist reaction to his novella, “The Last Judgment.” I also had a chance to thank John Kessel once again for pushing me toward short fiction, to have Peter Straub sign my copy of The Juniper Tree and Other Blue Rose Stories, and to admire Theodora Goss’s black ballgown and tell her how much I’m looking forward to reading The Thorn and the Blossom. It was a lovely evening.
I don’t know when I’ll get to ICFA again; it’s a long and expensive trip from California, and there are so many other conferences I’d like to experience and places I’d like to go. But ICFA holds a special place in my heart, as it does in the hearts of many. I know I’ll be back some day, and probably someday soon at that.