Tayler described himself as the non-award-winning web-comic creator, a reference to his loss for the second year to the Foglios at the Hugo Awards.
Tayler is a keen roleplayer, and talked a lot about his roleplaying adventures. His funniest story involved the party meeting the Slug King, who saw the value of everything in terms of how wet or dry it was. They invented a language in which every metaphor involves water.
He said that GMs have nothing on authors. An author will go up to a total stranger, make them love a character, and then kill the character in front of them.
When working on Schlock Mercenary, he thinks up the long-term story-lines six months to three years in advance, but only comes up with the punchlines for each individual strip as he's writing them.
He wants to take NZ over as his evil lair.
Tayler talked quite a bit about the possibility of "machine life". He claimed that machine life isn't something that we will deliberately build, it will be something that will just happen. But we have nothing to fear, because machine life won't be in competition with us humans.
Readings at the con were arranged as double-bills: one writer would read at the top of the hour, the other half past the hour. I went along to Walker's reading because he was paired with Charles Stross, a writer I greatly admire. I had never heard of Walker. In the event it transpired that Stross had been double-booked and his reading moved to another time. But I'm very pleased to have attended Walker's reading, as he is doing some very interesting stuff. He is an academic who specializes in the history of Venice. His first book was a biography of a Venetian spy who was executed for perjury.
His second book - Five Wounds - is a beautiful hardback volume that he describes as an "illuminated novel". At one level it is 'just' a fantasy novel, the text of which could be published as a mass-market paperback. It differs from other novels in several ways: it is illustrated with inline drawings and pages of plates; each sentence and section is numbered, in a manner reminiscent of the Bible; the names of the five main characters (the five wounds of the title) are printed in red to suggest that each character is wounded in some way; each page is headed with a heraldic crest that gives a hint as to what is happening on that page; there are occasional "hand-written" corrections of the printed text; there are two contradictory endings. Walker said that he included these last two elements to get away from the notion of a definitive version of a text.
This is an interesting and ambitious project. I can see it going either way: it might just be a flash in the pan. Or it just might be the start of a whole new style of Fantasy publication.
Panelists: Jennifer Brozek, Bob Kuhn, Howard Tayler.
Tayler talked about his GM, Brandon Sanderson, describing his new Fantasy series The Way of Kings as being one of the best epic Fantasy stories ever, and encouraged us to imagine how good roleplaying was when the GM is one of the best Fantasy writers in the business.
The panel posed the follow question: is roleplaying art? They concluded that it was, but that there is good art and bad art. Tayler defended the famous "piano" piece Four Minutes of Silence as a work of art because of the reaction (perhaps outrage?) it engenders in the audience.
They talked about the relative merits of "fluff" and "crunch" in a roleplaying campaign - where "fluff" is the mood-setting descriptive text and "crunch" is the rules and mechanics.
Pity the poor GM: no plan ever survives contact with the players.
When the moderator asked for questions from the audience, he said, "Please ask questions, don't make comments. If anyone makes a comment, I'll roll d20..."
The best comment of the session came towards the end when discussing Call of Cthulhu: "Sanity is overrated."
Panelists: John Scalzi, Alan Stewart.
This panel was a good demonstration in how an interesting discussion could be generated out of no preparation. When Scalzi turned up at the front of the room, he had to ask the audience what the panel was going to be about! Despite this he did a superb job of discussing the subject, and the other panelist got left in the dust a little.
Scalzi talked about his project Metatropolis, in which six writers designed a world together and then each wrote a story set in that world. He said that working with five other writers was a good number, as any more than that and you run the risk of having things designed by committee.He also talked about working as a creative consultant on Stargate Universe, and the extensive 'bible' of how the SGU universe works.
There's a blurred line between franchise and the shared world.
Fanfic written in shared worlds is common, and in SF the line between fan and pro is fluid, almost to the extent that it's a false dichotomy - pros are just fans who happen to have made a sale.
Some writers are open to the idea of fans writing in their worlds, some are not. Scalzi talked about the case of Marion Zimmer Bradley initially encouraging people to write fanfic set in her world but then changing her mind when she got sued by a fan for stealing that fan's ideas.
Scalzi claimed that the two enormous shared worlds: that of Star Trek and Star Wars have treated the problem of continuity very differently. He claims that the Star Trek system did not have a mechanism for maintaining continuity, and that each book written only had to be consistent with the movies and the TV series, not with other books, while the Star Wars system has continuity editors and big stacks of material considered canon that writers are not allowed to contradict. Star Wars does a much better job of canon management.
He said that in the big comic book series continuity has been screwed up so badly that the producers don't even bother trying to maintain it anymore - they just set stories in multiple parallel universes ("and then there's Universe 973 where all the people are made of Oreos").
One person in the audience asked if canon breaches really mattered, just so long as people enjoy reading the books? But the opinion of the panelists and the room seemed to be strongly in favour of maintaining continuity, as this helps to add to the reader's enjoyment by adding to the sense that they are experiencing a real world.
Scalzi mentioned that Perry Rhodan was the longest running shared universe in existence.
When asked about series that went on too long, Scalzi pointed out that, while some shared worlds (Thieves World, Darkover, Shadow Unit) were labours of love, most were produced by gigantic corporations that will keep producing material as long as the demand is there.
Some people look down on writers who work in shared worlds, but it's actually harder to work according to someone else's rules than according to your own. Besides, "authors are full of poverty", and you can't blame them for taking the commissions that come along.
The session started with Scalzi saying "Don't get me started on the physics in the new Star Trek movie!", and ended with someone getting him started on the physics in the new Star Trek movie. What followed was a hilarious and quite foul-mouthed rant about black-holes with effects that change as the plot requires, supernovas that threaten all life in a whole galaxy, high-tech societies that don't notice that their sun is about to pop, and - of course - Red Matter. It was a fun end to a fun and interesting discussion.