As usual, this year’s LTUE report is going to take the place of today’s (well, technically yesterday’s) Being a Better Writer post. Three day’s summation of the best writing-related con stuff ever? You bet!
So, where to start? How about with a quick reminder of what LTUE is? For those who’re missing out (and yes, you are), LTUE is short for Life, The Universe, and Everything, and it is a writing con by writers and editors of genre fiction, for writers and editors of genre fiction. And anyone else who wants to come (*cough cough* unlike certain other cons I could think of).
Which basically means it’s freaking awesome. The guest list is, as always, insane. L.E. Medesitt Jr. Mary Robinette Kowal. Dan Wells. Lisa Mangum, Larry Correia … Seriously, that’s barely scratching the surface. Everyone from Sanderson to Wiesskopf has showed up at LTUE before (and many are regular attendees). It’s probably one of the best-kept “secret” cons out there.
And you really should be going. Seriously.
How great is LTUE? Let me put it this way. Attending for the first time this year was a friend of mine who is working on breaking into children’s books. He’s not a stranger to going to cons—quite the opposite, in fact. He’s been to cons all over the US, on every topic imaginable. In fact, he left LTUE already prepping for another con.
Anyway, he’s been to all these cons—many of which are dedicated to books, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy—and he made his words pretty clear.
LTUE trumps them all. Especially the other book cons. Which, yes, includes Worldcon (which he put at the bottom of his list, citing an unfriendly, unwelcome atmosphere that was openly hostile to newcomers and hopelessly out of date).
LTUE, though? Straight to the top of his list. He was able to talk to editors and authors alike to get one-on-one advice, attend panels that, as he put it, covered a surprisingly diverse range of topics while being highly relevant, play games with fellow fans, and basically just bask in an atmosphere of pure Sci-Fi/Fantasy awesome.
In the end, my friend was really glad he’d come. He made network connections with people all over the industry, got feedback and advice, and had a lot of fun browsing panels about neat topics.
Sands, he wasn’t the only one. Other friends I’d referred to LTUE showed up as well, with similar results. Great atmosphere, wonderful people, lots of helpful advice … seriously, LTUE just has a spark about it.
Right, right, so as you may have gathered, LTUE is freaking great. Wonderful atmosphere, full of energy, brimming with creativity and fun … It’s a great reminder of what Sci-Fi and Fantasy are: fun.
Right, so more on how it all played out this year. As usual, I’ll start with the panels, those fun, informative, and often hilarious insight sessions that give an audience a few moments to glean insights from an author or specialist’s mind.
This year, they were really good.
Okay, none of them managed to top last year’s inadvertently side-splitting panel on fantasy romance (which remains one of my top favorites of all times because, oh man, did those authors have some funny stories from inside a surprisingly sometimes-clueless industry to relate) … but only for sheer hilarity.
But this year’s panels did top last years for variance of topic. In fact, I can’t recall a year where there were more exclusively interesting (and highly useful) panels for the author that’s past the bare basics and ready for a bit more meat. Sure the basic panels (plotting, intro to ____, etc) were all packed, but the specialty ones had a good audience too.
And just as well. They deserved it.
So, what kind of panels did yours truly attend? Well, among the highlights over the three-day conference were a panel on spycraft (which covered both ancient and modern with a variety of well-informed individuals on the topic), health hazards writers face, innovation, and even modern warfare and military culture.
Right, if I spoke about all the panels I attended, I would quickly run out of space. But I can speak of a few that stood out to me.
The first is going to be on the subject of modern warfare. And, while I’m at it, I may as well toss in some information gleaned from the military culture panel (which, just for cool points, was headed by one member each from the four US armed services—Army, Marines, Air Force, and Navy—as well as an expert on ancient military composition—think Rome, middle ages, etc).
First thing that both panels really hammered home? That the majority of what you see in movies or on TV is junk. Especially in movies. There are a few that get things right, but most don’t bother … and the ones that do are often surprising (also, if you want a list, there’s probably one somewhere on the internet).
Anyway, this follows through to books. There’s a reason military books, while being niche, sell really well it would seem: The audience is half-starved for something that treats the subject matter properly and gets even the most basic facts right. Yes, I know we’re in the process of writing fiction, but even with my own limited military knowledge, it’s readily apparent that most forms of entertainment get it about as right as NCIS’s knowledge of hacking, or just about any crime thriller’s use of “zoom and enhance.” Or a criminal investigation of a murder … Actually, there was a panel on this too.
Anyway, point being, most books that touch on the military, modern or ancient, tend to get it very wrong, making errors that even a little basic research would clear up. Each of these panels (there were several on more esoteric knowledge) pointed out that a few hand-waves or even a small slip-up was okay … but getting basic facts wrong? That’s not. There’s not much of an excuse for it, especially when Google will give you an answer in seconds to a very basic bit of knowledge.
Which means that once again, some of these panels served as a reminder to always do the research. There’s no excuse people. And no good reason to get things wrong.
Of course, these specific panels do make it a bit easier to get some of the more obscure details right, which is always nice. Listening to several historians, authors, and soldiers (sometimes all three at once), for example, talk about the differences between ancient and modern war, both in politics and practice (as well as the most important factor—logistics!) was enlightening and fascinating.
Of course, those weren’t the only panels I attended. I attended on panel on totalitarianism, another on populism and populist movements (which, I might add, was one of the best panels I attended his year), one on urban planning and city development, yet another on colonialism …
If you’re sensing a theme here, you’re right, because there is one. Quite a few of the panels I attended I went to specifically because they were digging more deeply into elements that were a part of Colony and are parts of the sequel as I move forward. I ended up pleased with my choices, as I picked up more than a few minor details that will be appreciated (I hope) by those in various fields, as well as confirming quite a bit of my research as already on the right track (very satisfying, that).
Speaking of which, it is immensely satisfying to be at a con and talking to an author who is far more successful than you, and then show them the cover of your latest release and have them say ‘Hey yeah! I saw that on Facebook! Slick cover!’
No, I won’t say who it is. Suffice to say, they have a copy of Colony to enjoy now. But it did lead to me barely containing a squee of glee. Maybe. My memories get a little fuzzy around that point.
Also, if anyone heard a sudden, high-pitched ringing they couldn’t place their first day of LTUE … well … sorry?
Anyway, onto other panels! The one on scarcity and human-ingenuity was unique. It covered a bit, but the part that stood out most to me was some simple advice for coming up with ideas for Sci-Fi writing. Essentially, pick a need in society. Now, invent something that fills it.
Now, what happens as a by-product of that need being filled? What happens that was intentional? What about unintentional? For example, most seem to like the idea of self-driving cars, or even Uber … but what about all the cabbies going out of business?
Action. Re-action. Basm. Short story or book. Bam!
Of course, that segued nicely with the panel on current and future robotics. As well as the panel on human augmentation (both mechanical and biological). If anything, we’ve got a mine’s worth of golden Sci-Fi material to dig through, but we’d best move quick, as some of it is about to become science fact.
Right, that’s about it for panels. But not it for the con. There are a few other things I want to mention. First is that I got the chance to try out a few games for the first time. One of these was O.G.R.E. The other was Infinity, though I didn’t have long with that one before I had to run.
O.G.R.E. was good fun, though. Especially as someone who grew up on the Bolo books. For those unfamiliar with it, it’s basically two players against one another, one with an army, the other with a single, giant, nigh-unstoppable tank. What results is a game similar to cat versus mouse, except there are dozens of mice to the one cat. Good fun.
There was one other thing that happened at LTUE worth mentioning, though. Before I go further, I will say that this be rumor, as it be whisperings, snippets, and bits of conversation that I participated in. So what I picked up may not be standard for everyone, but it seemed that several authors in attendance were suffering from lagging sales.
There was no clear reason known. In fact, some of the authors seemed to be probing to see if anyone else could figure out why. But there was a worried current behind it. Some are alarmed. Others curious. But it sounded as though there may be a bit of a lean season going. Publishers, from the sound of many, are getting stingier as well, less eager to pounce on manuscripts, and tighter with their payouts.
No names were mentioned. Nor was anything super specific discussed, but I got the feeling that despite some publishers putting on a happy face, maybe things are still in flux a bit.
Who knows. Time will tell.
In any case, this year’s LTUE was awesome. I highly recommend it to those who wish to attend a writing con. especially if you want advice from some of the best in the industry, and some good. old-fashioned fun.
Oh! One more thing. I managed to pick up a copy of The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries by Howard Taylor! Better yet, I got the worn copy, with notes from the characters all over it.
Then I defaced it. Or rather, I had other authors deface it. Turns out that a few of the authors at LTUE already had favorite maxims they couldn’t wait to comment on. So I let them. I think I’ve found a new autograph book!
Anyway, LTUE was awesome. I heartily recommend it. I’ll be returning next year, with eagerness.
Oh, and I really, really want to see the panelists from the Colonialism and Colonization panel take one another on in a game of Civ VI. I’m sure the results would be hilarious.
Viking ZX out!