M56 Programming Brainstorm

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Minicon 56 (2023) will take place April 7-9, 2023, at the St. Louis Park Doubletree.
Our Guests of Honor are:  Author Martha Wells, Artist Sara Felix, Fan Greg Ketter


Brainstorming phase is OVER!


[March 6] We are no longer looking for new items, and in fact are closing in on a final schedule. However, you can still volunteer for an item. Many panels are essentially full, but there are still some on the list that could use another panelist or two. See something you'd like to volunteer for? Shoot us an email at programming@minicon56.mnstf.org.


How to Host a Room Party

What do you need to host an excellent room party? Do you need a theme? Are chips and dips sufficient? What do you need from the con, and what does the concom need from you?


Asian Influences in YA Fiction

Modern YA fiction is increasingly using ideas and influences from Chinese and other Asian folklore and culture. Panelists are also likely to hit the usual beats of "What's New in YA this year?" but with the Chinese Worldcon coming up this seemed like a good time to broaden the topic a bit.

‘The Untamed’ Geek-Out

The Untamed is a Chinese live-action drama that started as a “phone novel” in China. It has spread worldwide, mostly through its popularity in fan fiction. There is a Chinese graphic novel, three seasons of an animated show (subtitled) and, now, a print publication of the English translation. We’re all big fans. (OK, actually we’re all obsessed with it.)

Writing Non-Gendered Characters

A discussion of the difficulties of using the English language without using gendered pronouns or descriptions. Ada Palmer has postulated a world where mention of gender is obscene. Becky Chambers’ Monk and Robot stories hide the biologic gender of both protagonists. And, of course, Murderbot chose to continue using it/its. It is difficult to write without pronouns? Should SF have come up with universally accepted non-gendered pronouns? Or we could just argue about whether we see Murderbot as male or female.

Gender & AI

Androids & AI in sci-fi disrupt the idea of a gender binary: what purpose is there for an Android and/or AI to have gender? Could an Android/AI be trans, gender-fluid, and/or non-binary? How will that affect how we as a society see gender as a construct?

Great Things in Small Packages - Small Press and Indie Publishing in F&SF

What the small press publishing scene like in sf/f/h? Where can you find out about books you might like to read? How about submissions? Pros and cons of small press publishing?

Teaching Science through Fiction

Science fiction plays a prominent role in shaping the public opinion of science, especially among children, teens, and young adults. As creators, what is our take on the most effective ways to inspire a new generation of scientists, engineers and researchers?

Worldbuilding in Fantasy vs Science Fiction

The Murderbot Diaries and Martha Wells’ fantasy books feature complex, detailed worlds. Is there a difference between creating an SF universe and a fantasy world? Is advanced science really just a form of magic? Are advanced scientific societies necessarily more advanced socially?

Pets or Pests

The creatures in F&SF are sometimes treated as beings (equal to us), sometimes as beloved pets, sometimes as annoying pests. They can be viewed as characters, companions, pets and pests, feral, and wild. How does that choice affect the story? What if a different choice had been made?

For example, fire lizards in Pern are depicted primarily as wild or pets. What if their primary role had been that of pests? How would that change the story? In the Liaden series, the cats are pets, but there are glimpses that they might actually be background characters.

Are there stories where the critters change their role over the course of the story? How does this transition affect the story?

LGBTQ+ Representation in SF/F

Queer characters are showing up in both YA and adult F/SF. Where are they? Are they getting it right? Which books/shows are the best? And, maybe, assuming that such representation merely a good start, what is the next step?

Professionals Writing Fan Fiction

Some professional writers are quite open about their fanfic writing; some got their start there. Do you need to hide your identity when writing fanfic? How is fan writing different from professional writing? How do you interact with your fans through fan fiction? Do you read fan fiction about your own characters?

Fan Fiction and “Ficable” Moments

An exploration of what makes a book or show open as a launch point for fan fiction. Is it a large cast of interesting characters? Lots of plot holes or moments of ambiguity? Or is it places where deeper relationships between characters are hinted at but not actually explored? Which shows/books are the most “ficable”? Are there good shows/books that do not lend themselves to fan fiction?

Writing the Twin Cities

There are stories that are of particular interest to the Twin Cities, that either take place here or represent a unique way of thinking.

Noir in F/SF

The hard-drinking, mostly-outcast detective working from a dingy office somewhere in the low-rent district, and barely getting by, never really went out of style. Though they no longer have to be male, right? Or a detective? What are some old and new examples of noir? What is the attraction of the noir story?

Humor in genre fiction

A serious discussion of funny F/SF and horror.

Retelling Court Intrigue Stories

Many fantasy and science fiction stories take place in societies modeled after Courts and Kings and Swordsmen. Or, rather, they are modeled after the stories we have heard about such things. Which books use these ideas? Do they have to be fantasies? Which authors provide the most inspiration (Dumas, Austin, etc)?

Changing Worlds

How have current events and changing social norms affected what we expect from fictional worlds? This panel was proposed for the 2020 Minicon, and seems even more relevant in 2023.

Easter Eggs in F&SF books and stories

Easter Eggs have become part of modern TV and movies. Do they also have a place in SF Literature? Why or why not?


Minicon Costuming, Past and Present

The Masquerade / Costume contest has undergone many changes over the years. It has been a big production, with it's own sound and stage crews, and it has been a small event for children. It has seen amazingly crafted costumes, and also "make-your-own at the con" style costumes. Come see some of the best and the strangest from over the years!

Genre Bookselling Over the Decades

Specialty bookstores have had a nearly unrecognized effect on the genre. How have they contributed to the field? Why hasn’t anyone noticed? What are the benefits and pitfalls of genre bookselling?

Are Corporations the Future of Nations?

As corporations accrue more power and financial influence, the world seems to be drifting toward corporations as governing agencies. Multinational corporations are organizing to explore space. This drift is being noticed by science fiction writers such as Martha Wells, Ada Palmer, and Paolo Bacigalupi. Is the galaxy going to be populated by nations or by corporations? Should we be worried about the current trend of corporations participating in government?

The Ethics of Robot Soldiers

AI? Autonomous drones? So many directions we could go with this.

Risk Assessment in the Modern Age

How well do we assess risk? How accurate are our risk assessments, and what distorts them? Examples are many: Covid and RSV risks and precautions, Monkey pox risk to different groups, airline travel vs automobile, food safety, crime. Panelists pick one or two current risks and discuss in depth.

Aging Fannishly, or The Next Step

How do we cope with the challenges of aging?  Mobility, hearing, and eyesight issues, and feeling overwhelmed by Too Much Change can interfere with our fannish lives. Agism is a nasty prejudice. What do we wish younger fans knew about older fans? What are the assumptions on each side?

RUNE Lives!

Writers, reviewers, and artists are needed to keep this fine fannish tradition alive.  Come hear about our clubzine in print and find out how YOU could contribute.

My First Convention, or What Not To Do

One person’s first con involved a broken bathroom door, a room full o' fans getting by cheaply, AND a broken bed.  Oh, and one person who'd been up all night announced to a roomful of sleepy people that the sun had just come up.  He was not defenestrated, but it WAS close.  Tell us your stories!

The Power of Play

The concept of play includes many ideas such as stress relief, a path to creativity, connection with others (and our younger selves), and more. Science fiction and fantasy fans enjoy playing around mentally, after all. Silly hats, clothes, footwear, and toys are encouraged for panel members and attendees.

Peeps Funeral / Memorial

The man who invented Peeps died recently. Would anyone be interested in organizing a memorial table with a diorama, or perhaps a procession of peeps dressed in black crepe paper tuxes and black gowns?


Designing and making the Hugo and Lodestar Awards

The famed Hugo rocket design has been the same for ages but, each year, the WorldCon committee choses a different artist to design a unique base. Sara Felix has designed two of these, and has also designed several Lodestar Awards. Come see a presentation by our Artist Guest of Honor about the awards and the design process. With photos!

Make Your Own Tiara

Sara Felix hosts a workshop in which everyone gets a kit to make a simple tiara, with extra bits to make it their own. Probably we will also hear about how to make tiaras, what supplies are needed, and where to get them. Bring your own projects or (Buy a kit for 15 dollars.)

Build a Filter Box

How to build a Corsi-Rosenthal Box to purify the air and help protect against COVID. [1]

This would need someone to coordinate it.

Crafting and Creativity

The world of Fine Arts seems to elevate some media over others. Our Artist Guest of Honor works in resin, inks, and tiaras. How do you choose an artistic medium? When does something usually called a “craft” become Art? Are some media meant for “letting go” while others demand complete control?

Creating with your Kids

Parents and their kids talk about teaming up to do a fannish/artistic pursuit.

Fabric Swap and Discussion

Bring your leftover or never used fabric for swapping. Share stories of how you use up scraps and pieces. Other than traditional fabric stores, where are some good places to find interesting bits to work with? What is your favorite YouTube channel for fabric ideas? How much is too much? Bring your extra bits and swap for other people's extra bits.


There are still many participatory events on the schedule, but none of them require volunteers beforehand - you just show up or sign up at the con. Poetry in Orbit is the exception.

Poetry in Orbit

Group poetry reading. If you would like to participate, please let us know!

Greg Knows Everybody

Really, he does. Name just about any F/SF author from the past fifty years, and Greg will almost certainly have a story. He can start with Harlan Ellison, RA Lafferty, Julia Adams (who played the Creature from the Black Lagoon’s love interest), and Joe Lansdale. Requests will be encouraged. [You don't need to volunteer for this one in advance either, but I'm leaving it here so people will think about showing up at the con. This is probably Greg's big event and he'd like a crowd.]


Individual Readings

If you would like information about scheduling an author reading, please also let us know if you’d like a 30 or 60 minute time slot, and if you’d like information about what you’re reading in the description.

Author Smorgasbord

Mini readings from a variety of authors. A way both for authors to share a small snippet of their work, and for readers to hear from a larger array of authors in an hour.


Ask a Scientist

A selection of scientists answer questions from the audience.

Ask a Scientist to Respond to Knuckle-headed Clickbait Headlines

Real headlines from articles that you don't want to read! "Scientists Hatch Bold Plan to Save Humanity From Supervolcano," "Selfies can now Diagnose Cancer," "Automated Cloud Security In Four Steps," "19 shocking food facts, you'll never want to eat again," "Is clickbait killing science journalism? The answer will shock you!"

ChatGPT Takes the World by Storm

How can we NOT talk about this? Suddenly ChatGPT is everywhere! People playing with it on Twitter, teachers panicking over plagiarism, AI specialists shouting "This isn't really AI, it's just a very advanced language processor!" (an argument they have clearly already lost, as Google and Microsoft try to shoulder each other out of the way in announcing their very own AI Search Engines). What's really happening here? Did the Singularity suddenly arrive through the back door? [sharon]

Food Chemistry

How does food nourish us on a chemical level? How does it affect our brain chemistry? What are some issues with food today vs issues 100 years ago? Can lab designed foods be healthy?

Caffeine: Different Effects in Different People

This could be folded into the item about Food Chemistry.

Gardening in Climate Change

How is climate change affecting what you plant in your garden? Is your climate zone changing? If so, is that killing your favorite plants? Is it opening the way to plant things that you couldn't grow before? Are new weeds, and new insects moving in?

Is gardening to augment your pantry becoming necessary, or is that just a trend? Will food forests take off? If so, who has access to the food?

Is it Time to Go Green?

With wind and solar energy finally reaching the economic tipping point and new government programs subsidizing electric cars - is it time to make the leap? Are you one of the local fans that are finally putting solar panels on your house? Do you love your electric vehicle and want to share your tips on finding free charging stations? What are some of the other ways that ordinary people can adopt new planet-friendly programs and technology?

The Future of Transportation

[leaving this here for now because it could be folded into the Go Green panel] From solar powered cars to self-driving cars, we are getting nearer to the transportation models in futuristic stories. What technology is coming down the pipeline? How green is the new tech? How do changes in transportation change the social landscape? What are the legal ramifications of self-driving cars? What tension exists between the needs/desires of manufacturers, insurers, and users, including disabled persons?


Evolving methods of storytelling

Some of us are used to getting our stories in some published form, like magazines or novels. But there are many other ways to tell stories. We will discuss live storytelling, the cooperative worldbuilding of fan fiction, video and board games, manga and graphic novels, and anything else we can think of except, possibly, interpretive dance.

SF/F Shows and Movies We Think You'd Like

Share your recommendations for what to watch and what to skip. A fun, informal panel that doesn't require any special expertise other than watching lots of TV and movies. Last year I got recruited onto this panel at the last minute and had a ball. So I'm leaving it on here to remind people that this is one of the items you can join at the con if it doesn't get dropped from the schedule. Which it just might if NOBODY volunteers in advance. -- sharon


Not the day of the week… the TV series. Discuss the show, the characters. Have they changed over time from other Addams Family shows? What do you love about the new show? Did anything not live up to your expectations? Not a viable panel at this time, but if you're interested, volunteer for SF/F Shows We Think You'd Like.

Sandman - Original vs Screen and Audio Adaptations

How well did the TV series reflect the original? Get your Squee on for all things Sandman... Not a viable panel at this time, but if you're interested, volunteer for SF/F Shows We Think You'd Like.