In the context of a SFFH convention, here is a topic almost guaranteed to result in a really lame panel or one that gravitates to the gutter: "How Friendly were Frodo and Sam? Was there a homoerotic subtext to Lord of the Rings?"
I had to moderate that at ApolloCon last Saturday morning at 10 AM. Guess what: it ended up being a fascinating panel discussion, perfectly suitable for the younger ears in the audience. As throughout the convention (Programming Director Kim Kofmel does good work!) the composition of the panel was exceptionally apt. We had No Fear of the Future's own Jess Nevins, whose grasp of pulp fiction is literally encyclopedic; Selina Rosen, writer and owner of GLBT-friendly publisher Yard Dog Press; writer and graphic novelist Mel. White with her solid background in academia and anthropology; me, on the grounds that one of my stories won the 2002 Gaylactic Spectrum Award for short fiction; and Lee Martindale, writer, activist extraordinaire, and editor of Such a Pretty Face, an anthology of SFF with fat heroes and heroines.
The panel fluidly ranged from academic angles to activism. From Jess, we learned how far back into literary history goes the impulse to re-interpret or retell a story to meet the reader's emotional needs. We discussed the extensive impulses of media and book fans to write fiction pairing off their favorite characters in improbable and x-rated ways in "slash fiction." That topic segued into authors' legal and artistic rights to control how their own characters are used. Before the end, we got around to acknowledging how important it is to so very many readers - and writers - of fantasy and science fiction that an imagined universe be one where all kinds of people can exist and belong, including aliens, misfits, and flavors of humanity that no one even imagined until an author invented them!
Here was a fun little thing at ApolloCon. There were cartoon cows everywhere. That was the volunteers' mascot and they were proud of it. Meanwhile in the dealers' room at the Instant Attitudes table, there were oodles of plush toy microbes from Giant Microbes™. You could pick up all kinds of dire diseases. Sleeping sickness, Flu, Guardia, HIV, Heartworm... and a fuzzy little cow-spotted cylinder with cutely glaring eyes: Mad Cow!