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After Party

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You know I was worried about this. A symposium thrown together with only four weeks’ notice? A general-audience section that starts in the middle of a work day? A Saturday— the time when a general audience might be most inclined to show up— given over to dry dusty academic talks with “paratextual” in their titles? And above all: me? Really? Anybody or their dog is going to show up to listen to people drone on about an obscure midlist SF writer who’s never been within lightyears of a bestseller list?

I knew it was bound to fail— but when people are flying in from Michigan and Chicago and fucking Australia to attend, what kind of a dick would I be if I said Nah, I can’t be bothered to take a twenty-minute subway ride? So I gritted my teeth, and made the journey. Scheduled a haircut just an hour before, so at least I’d look a little less like Rick Sanchez.

And the lady cutting my hair told me about her parents, left homeless when Hurricane Maria crawled overtop Dominica and just sat there, sandblasting that island down to the bedrock, for four days. Told me that at least now she knew her family wasn’t dead (she’d had a month to wonder about that) but that cell and internet were still out so she still hadn’t had a chance to talk to them directly.

Coming out of that haircut, the number of people who might or might not show up in Room 100 of the Jackman Building suddenly seemed a lot less important than it had been. I showed up at “Space Vampires and the Future of ‘I'” reality-checked, and significantly less self-absorbed. And you know what?

It was a pretty great time.

I'd asked for a box of Kleenex. The BUG asked, as a joke, for a bottlef Jamesons and a bowl of m&ms with all the green ones taken out. Guess which one of our requests got granted.

I’d asked for a box of Kleenex. The BUG asked, as a joke, for a bottle of Jamesons and a bowl of m&ms with all the green ones taken out. Guess which one of our requests got granted.

Attendance was, in fact, pretty much what you’d expect for an obscure midlist SF writer  who’d never been within lightyears of a bestseller— maybe 25 people showed up on Friday, 20ish on Saturday. Then again, in my experience those are perfectly decent numbers for a parallel track in your average academic conference encompassing a wide range of obscure subjects; it’s pretty damn good for the sole track of a symposium covering a single obscure subject. Friday’s readings and roundtable went great (and those in attendance got to hear a story never before unveiled and quite possibly never to be unveiled again, since it is ultimately owned by Rupert Murdoch and I may never get the rights back).  Saturday’s academic track wouldn’t have been an academic track without the usual technical glitches— our sole options for experiencing Ed Keller’s prerecorded talk came down to audio sans video or vice versa, and  Devin Oxman’s Braille software crapped out halfway through his presentation on multilevel selection and fractal narratives— but everyone managed to circumvent those rocks in the road with nary a stumble.

You could have just said so off the top.

You could have just said so off the top.


I found out what “paratextual” means, just in time to run into its sibling terms “epitextual” and “peritextual”. I stumbled upon an ongoing controversy over whether my oeuvre is rightly adjectivised as “Watts’ work” or “Watts’s work” (which, as debates go, is a welcome departure from the Watts-is-a-closeted-pedophile riff that surfaced briefly when someone on the Internet decided I’d portrayed Gary Fischer too sympathetically in Starfish, or the Watts-is-a-racist thread that emerged when someone else counted up the surnames in Blindsight and decided that too many of them were white). And during the Friday evening pub break up over at the Duke of York— an event whose success can best be measured by the fact that most of us were hung over for much of Saturday— I learned that at least one prominent Quebec scholar rejects the claim that I am a Canadian author.

I’m still trying to figure that one out. Insights gratefully accepted.

"Even prior to vasodilation, it was easily this big." Not Jamesons and cat wine in background.

“Even prior to vasodilation, it was easily this big.” Note Jameson and cat wine in background.

Also the perks! Homemade cookies*! Crabapple jelly! A giant bottle of Jameson, and 750 ml of Pinot Grigio in a cat-shaped bottle! A fan who flew in all the way from— I want to say, Chicago?— and who turned out to have spent four years running sonar and weapons systems on a nuclear sub! (Oh yes, I’ll be picking his brain for the next novel. You can put money on it.) Not to mention that Let’s-Call-Him-Ray gave me a very cool angle on how Titan could destroy the global economy using weaponized blockchains.

The presenters. And one imposter.

The presenters, and one imposter. From left to right: Ransom, Johnstone, Oxman, Unicorn Squid, Weiss, Grace, Eldridge, Wall, Braun.

They’re talking about doing it again sometime. I remain skeptical. I’m still basically dumbfounded that they even did it once. To that end, I have to thank everyone who came, and everyone who presented: Dr. Michele Braun, from Mount Royal University; Dr. Dominick Grace, of Brescia University College; Devin Oxman, of Concordia; Dr. Amy Ransom, from Central Michigan University; (soon-to-be-Dr.) Clare Wall and (has-always been) Dr. Allan Weiss, both of York University; and Dr. Ed Keller, from Parsons The New School for Design. And especially to Dr. Michael Johnstone, of the University of Toronto, for being the logistical shock troop that established the local beachhead; and Ben Eldridge of the University of Sydney, who— in less than a month— put the whole thing together from the other side of the world. Ben is a seriously misguided individual who has for some reason based his entire doctoral thesis (“Fiction, Science & Discursive Power: Peter Watts’ Functionally Generative Linguistic Paroxysms”) on the “use and abuse of language through Watts’ oeuvre”.  Sometimes my head tends to swell when I survey the number  of academic papers that have been written about my work over the years; it deflates back down to size when I realize that about half of them have been written by this one dude.

Thank you all, so very much. Even if the thing you created was not, perhaps, best described as a symposium after all.

Really, it was more of a party.


This is from Ben’s talk on one of my stories. Not entirely sure what the guy down in the corner is doing. I’m afraid it might be meta.


*Technically for the BUG, but I don’t have to tell you who ate most of them.

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