Scintillation 2018 Recap

In Which the Spectacles Crew goes to Scintillation 2018

The Spectacles Crew had the wonderful opportunity to go to Scintillation Con this past weekend. This was the first year of Scintillation–a literary focused SF&F convention organized by Jo Walton in Montreal. We had all pledged to the kickstarter campaign that launched the con, and were very excited about seeing each other again.

Before the con started, several outings were organized, including dim-sum, tea-tasting, biking around city, and trips to museums and the local outdoor market. These outings were a great way to experience Montreal and to get to know the other attendees.

The con was fairly small, about 150 people, which ended up being quite wonderful. Everyone was so welcoming and friendly. It was very easy to meet new people and make friends.The small size also meant there were only two tracks: readings and panels. I appreciated not having to make as many hard decisions as I had to at ReaderCon.

The programming was all amazing–Jo Walton does have a talent for it. The Ask a Scientist panel was great–with representation from neuroscience, organic and computational chemistry, and sexual/developmental biology. There were several wonderful panels on language and linguistics. Not once did I hear the dreaded “I don’t know why I’m on this panel, but…”

The readings were also great, and the ones I went to were pretty much all forthcoming works. Max Gladstone’s The Empress of Forever was an exciting space-opera full of action and comedy, space-ships, monks, robots, and Max Gladstone’s signature expansive word-building. I really enjoyed the Craft Sequence, so I’m excited to read Max’s take on a far-future space setting.

I’m also very excited to read Jo Walton’s Lent which is historical fantasy about Savanarola fighting demons (which historically he claimed to be able to do). It reminded me a bit of a dry-humored fantastical version of The Name of the Rose. After the reading, Jo Walton talked about the ways in which Savanarola is depicted inaccurately by high-school history classes (apparently he was more burning-man than fire-and-brimstone).

Jim Cambias read from his upcoming Arkad’s World which was full to bursting with interesting and bizarre aliens, a fascinating setting, and according to the author is a homage to Rudyard Kipling’s Kim.

Marissa Lingen read from an unreleased short story about a magical lighthouse keeper in a post-magical-disaster world–amazing characters, language, and an interesting setting (watch out for the psuedo-turkeys).

Other highlights included seeing Ada Palmer and Sassafrass perform Viking creation myth music. The con hotel was in Montreal’s Chinatown, so the food nearby was amazing. A very friendly local guided us to a great smoked meat and poutine place.

I had a wonderful time, and am planning to attend next years Scintillation as well.


Here are some thoughts from our contributors:

Sophia Baker

My favorite aspects of Scintillation were the panels and readings. I learned about several authors whose work I was previously unfamiliar with. Marissa Lingen, in particular, was always insightful, and I very much look forward to connecting with her work. I was also reminded of my intention to read Winter Tide, by Ruthana Emrys.

I enjoyed the panels which talked about aspects of writing which are not always evident to the casual reader. In one of the Linguistics panels, Ada Palmer discussed how she used linguistic tools to communicate ideas succinctly in her “Terra Ignota” series. For example, an important character (J.E.D.D. Mason) is referred to long before he is introduced toward the end of the first novel. By capitalizing His pronouns, Palmer is able to suggest to the reader that there is something interesting and different about this character without going into detailed description. Furthermore, depending on the language the characters are speaking, Palmer uses different rhythms. The narrator uses iambic meter when speaking in English and dactylic meter when speaking Greek.

Overall, I had a lovely time meeting all of the authors and fans. I would definitely recommend checking it out next year!


Kelley Bolen

Ada Palmer’s Terra Ignota series creates such a vast landscape that, to the observer, it would seem to go on to infinity. And yet she tethers infinity, explores every facet of this landscape to such crystal detail that the infinite becomes knowable: well defined characters, intricate society structures, complicated political mechanizations, and on, and on, and ………

Amazing, right?! But it begs the question: how would such dense text translate into a reading by the author? It’s not like we can rewind a live reading as easily as we could reread a passage when things get too complicated.

The answer?! It translates brilliantly! Beautifully crafted passages read by a fairly savvy orator. What I didn’t expect from her reading was the absolute depth of emotion that would have about half the audience suppressing sniffles (only to make sure they could hear every word, to not miss a single nuance).

You may not be able to hear this, but I typed the above in hushed, reverent tones.


Tanis Winchester

Montreal is a beautiful city, and unlike D.C. they have an actual, vibrant Chinatown.  Our pleasant surroundings served to frame an equally enjoyable con experience. While at first it seemed like everyone else already knew each other, we were quickly welcomed into the fold.  I’ll touch on two particular moments that stood out amongst an array of good times.

The Reclaiming C’thulhu panel was a perfect mix of historical context, literary analysis, and dunking on H.P. It wasn’t only a witty, well-informed panel, but showcased a great way to grapple with compelling works produced by a person who held reprehensible views. In addition, the authors discussed how their works and the works of others (like The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor Lavalle) builds on Lovecraft while at the same time subverting him. I’m sad nobody recorded it, because it would have made for an excellent preface on a Lovecraft collection.  

The other moment was a purely social one:  we went tea tasting at “Camellia sinensis”, a famous Montreal tea shop. While I certainly enjoy tea, my horizons were blasted open by both our group organizer, Jon Singer, and our tasting host from Camellia Sinensis. In addition to being exposed to a host of new and delightful teas, I rode a remarkable buzz through the rest of the evening.  Not only were the staff extremely knowledgeable, they were also very excited about helping customers enjoy their tea however they might prefer it. While we were sure to load up there, I have discovered since then that they also ship tea to the states.

Verdict: con good.  We’re planning on returning next year.


Caitlyn Buchanan

This was my first convention! I was surprised how exhausting it was to attend panels all day, and I was glad I packed water, snacks, and several layers of clothing.

The first panel of the con was called “A Good Read” and introduced me to the work of Zenna Henderson, a mid-twentieth century author who wrote science fiction featuring women and children. Other panels discussed such classical science fiction topics as robots, the nature of good and evil, and language evolution.

While all of the panelists were intelligent and passionate about science fiction, a few really stood out. Maria Farrell told great anecdotes, Marissa Lingen was on my wavelength and steered the conversation in fascinating directions, and Tamara Vardomskaya prompted me to consider language from a more global perspective. But I was most impressed with Ada Palmer, who advanced discussions regarding a range of topics from environmental engineering to censorship to Petrarch, both with regard to her Terra Ignota series and in general. Her musical group Sassafras’s performance was also a hoot.

I’d also like to take a second to recommend Montreal. It has a canal bordered by construction landscapes, an excellent bikesharing system called Bixi, and a hill with a lovely view in the middle of the city. And the stereotypes are true – Canadians are indeed inordinately helpful and friendly.

Here are a few of the recommendations I received at the con:

  • Of Men and Monsters by William Tenn
  • The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells
  • The Good Place on NBC
  • Phoenix (manga) by Osamu Tezuka
  • Censorship and Information Control museum exhibition
  • Soldier of the Mist by Gene Wolfe
  • something by CJ Cherryh already
  • Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

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