This is a spoiler post! All spoilers, all the time, for all four books of Rosemary Kirstein’s Steerswoman Series.
Rather than put this off until I feel I can make a beautiful coherent post, I’m just going to post the notes I scribbled during the panel while trying to keep track of the discussion and at the same time mentally prepare what I was going to say next that fit into said discussion. As I am not Archie Goodwin, I cannot tell you which bits are verbatim and which summarized on the fly; I have also added stuff to make this recap a tad more coherent. I think I got some things out of order as well, since my notes are crammed into all kinds of small spaces in my little Moleskine. All inaccuracies are my fault.
Panelists: Kate Nepveu [moderator], Elaine Isaak, Victoria Janssen, Yves Meynard, Cecilia Tan.
KN: had us each name the topic we most wanted to discuss, because we had way more to discuss than we had time for. And I can’t remember specifically what those topics were, other than that “outstanding mysteries” was last.
CT: Steerswoman series is science fiction that appears to be fantasy at first glance, some “next-level consciousness,” predecessors Darkover and Pern. From interviews, knows that woman writers did this at first because science fiction was respected and fantasy was not.
YM: the diction isn’t the sort usually associated with fantasy. It’s not flowery but luminous. Knowledge, understanding, truth. Word choice is a matter of music as [part of?] an orchestra. Flows beautifully. Mystical intellectual ecstasy. [I had a note about the way Rowan is portrayed admiring maps.]
EI: role of the reader in worldbuiling – constructed like a mystery, reader is looking over detective’s shoulder. We know things the character doesn’t, so it’s very complex from a writing standpoint to set up the right level of tension. Rowan doesn’t have the right information; when will she get it?
CT [to Rosemary]: “You’re not a pantser, are you?” [laughter] It’s a large mystery full of smaller mysteries.
VJ: variety of genre tropes represented in the smaller mysteries, such as a long journey with companions, first contact.
YM: it takes Rowan six years to figure things out, he noted the time scale was carefully delineated.
KN: the section with Rowan and the demons is very disorienting, and it’s hard to shift out of it for book four. [to Rosemary] “Janus’ name is a little on point.” R explains she meant to change his name to something better but never got around to it and then it was too late. VJ pointed out later (on panel? in the green room with R.?) that the people in the book had no idea of the significance of Janus’ name.
KN: Noted portrayal of PTSD for both Fletcher and Janus.
VJ: deaf worker at Shammer and Dhree’s keep, apparently not part of a Deaf community, but ASL or some equivalent used with “wood gnomes” (I presume are chimpanzees).
CT: ASL [or idea of it?] crucial for demon first contact. Outskirters use military-style gestural language, hand signals at a distance. Outskirters also use the metric system and the clock system of directions, they “debrief,” plus seyoh sounds like “C.O.,” Commanding Officer. [KN exclaims, as she didn’t catch that before.] [VJ thought, but didn’t say, the Outskirters insist they were the first people; the scouts?]
YM: they are positive books, but not simple 2+2=4, there are shades of grey. There’s a high body count; reflects the world they are in.
KN: notes scene where Bel tortures a soldier, Rowan takes refuge in thinking about orbital theory. Rosemary later points out the torture happens off-screen (we’re in Rowan’s head, and see Willam’s reactions). KN makes sure to warn people about that scene when she recommends the books.
VJ: Bel fills the role a typical male hero might take in another series; willing to kill/torture, deadly skilled with weapons and fighting, we don’t get into her head really.
CT: a male character in each book who gets schooled, then leaves. Willam, Janus, Steffie. Gender role reversal.
VJ: understanding leads to empathy [not sure I said this or just noted it down]
KN: cultural understanding is not shown as necessarily frictionless, for example, Rowan with the Outskirters – should she adopt a matronymic? no!
CT: wizards – “power corrupts.”
EI: wizards are essentially sysadmins. [discussion of The Krue/Crew, losing their knowledge, losing empathy with “the folk,” not wanting things to change, which Corvus states explicitly; Janus says that as well]
Audience: female roles in society (innkeeper, dockworker) mostly equal to men’s, gender roles become background noise.
Discussion about outstanding mysteries we hope will be answered.
EI: the spaceship is close, but it lost contact?
VJ: has Slado contacted the ship? why did the humans bring chimpanzees and dolphins with them? Are the dolphins heading out to explore the planet’s oceans via the dolphin stair? What are they eating? [someone wondered if they could be robot dolphins, CT mentioned David Brin’s Uplift series]
YM: why terraforming this planet, when it already has a rich biosphere [though inimical to humans]? ended up there by accident, needed to make do? Einar’s song – is Earth dead?
KN: is the ghost lover in Einar’s song an AI?
YM: why the dragons?
KN: the basilisk? [discussion of these robots/weapons and what they might actually look like, their possible original purposes]
VJ: have wizards killed steerswomen before, because they found out too much?
Rosemary: “This is a writer’s dream, and you are my dream panelists.” Regarding all our questions, she “can neither confirm nor deny.”