The 52nd British Easter Science Fiction Convention
13--16 April 2001, Hanover International Hotel, Hinckley
GoHs: Stephen Baxter, Michael Scott
Rohan, Lisanne Norman, Claire
Brialey, Mark Plummer.
Paragon was originally to be held in the bizarre Norbreck Castle Hotel,
Blackpool, but it moved because...
There's a famous seaside place called
That's noted for fresh air and fun,
Lion and Albert
But the hotels there all were too pricy,
So they went elsewhere for Eastercon.
The even more bizarre Hanover Hinckley was a late alteration. The
reception building looks like a refugee from a
Garden Centre Conservatory
display, with a gigantic Poseidon
holding up the ceiling [I thought it was supposed to be Atlas, because of
the holding up, but apparently it's Poseidon/Neptune, because of the
trident ... which acquired a piece of toast at one stage]. Provided you
didn't want to go anywhere other than the hotel itself (in the middle of
nowhere, just off the M69), the facilities were excellent: good function
room space, friendly staff, and continuous, if somewhat monotonous, food
(there were still mushrooms for breakfast on Monday, but the lunch and
dinner "cheap" menu never varied.)
overheard near one of the numerous window
displays of bizarre hotel merchandise:
My god! It's full of tat!
Panel -- What is harder to predict: social or technological change?
Mike Scott Rohan, Mike Cobley, John Harold, Lisanne Norman, John E.
- That depends on what you mean by "predict", or "change"...
- SF is not about prediction, it's more about extrapolation in
- Planning plots with Mind Maps: "whittering tentacles of thought"
- We often know where we want to go in a story, the trick is working
out how to get there
- Social and technological change drive each other. Railways led to
setting of time across the country -- election of certain politicians
affects social change
- H.G. Wells and Verne were convinced they could do prediction -- but
- SF helps people prepare for change, to be flexible. It looks at some
of the possible paths. It thinks sideways, "what if"
- Not so long ago, computers took up a whole room, now we have PDAs.
How on earth to predict what comes next?
- It's harder to escape from our own times and depict changes to social
mores than to get tech changes right.
- In all SF films from the 50s, everyone has 50s hairstyles.
- Victorian illustrators showed men in top hats and women in
crinolines floating about in personal spaceships.
- Same difficulty in designing aliens not based on something on
- Whenever I need a laugh, I read professional futurologists,
especially those from the '70s. They get paid for producing utter
- Internet: no-one did a good job of predicting it
- It allows users of particular goods to get together and get
changes mad -- a new experience for companies
- Authors can market directly to the public -- easier to get
published -- harder to get noticed.
- Moore's law -- doubling of computer power every 18 months
- has lasted since 70s, and could well last until 2025
- what are we going to do with all that power?
- Biotech seems to be going even faster than Moore's law.
- Social change is cyclical
- people are still people
- There's probably been no social change in the past 100 years that
hasn't happened before in the previous 2000 years.
- Prophylactic fiction
- people take note, so the predicted future never happens
- Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, 1962
- George Chesney, Battle of Dorking, 1871, and other
invasion of England books
- We wouldn't be having such serious cloning discussions without
some of the fiction
- Alvin Toffler, Future Shock -- can only see pace of
change in retrospect, and it's often not that great -- in lots of
parts of the country it's still 1951
- What happens in the US happens 8-10 years later in the UK
- Failure to predict the obvious -- a book written in the 1890s
about 100 years of socialist utopia, still had servants
- Water wars -- Turkey damming rivers that flow into Iran --
mirrors water monopoly empires of the Fertile Crescent 3000 years ago.
- Can predict change, but people don't want to believe it
- Arthur C. Clarke -- "failure
of imagination versus failure of nerve"
- there needs to be an "aura of reality" about a
prediction, especially in SF
- tech change is easier to make interesting, and easier to accept
- Nanotechnology -- magic -- all bets are off
Panel -- If he dies we get our own show
Linda Stratmann, Garry Stratmann, Gabriela Bennemann, Jane Killick,
A look at media sidekicks: why can they not be heroes?
- Panel title comes from a Highlander blooper tape, when the
two sidekicks are trying to figure out how to save McLeod.
- The original sidekick was the squire, going off with the knight,
training to take over the role.
- Some early comics refer to Robin as "The Dark Knight's
- Don Quixote and Sancho Panza
- The DC universe
- originally Superman alone
- then hero plus sidekick -- Batman and Robin
- now teams of superheroes -- maybe sidekicks are not PC
anymore -- team members "different but equal"
- Purpose of the sidekick:
- someone to explain plot to
- comic relief -- they often have mannerisms -- many early
ones are "funny foreigners" (as are some later ones --
watchers Giles and Wesley)
- someone to rescue
- someone for the ordinary person to identify with -- didn't work
with Robin: reader knew they weren't like Robin, but could
dream of growing up to be Batman
- occasionally, someone to rescue the hero
- kill the baddies when the hero is too kind-hearted (particularly
- Callan, with unwanted sidekick Lonely -- "that's one piece of
slash I don't want to read"
- Some sidekicks do get their own show
- Dick Grayson (Robin) became "Nightwing"
- Orlando's Hideaway -- children's show with Sam Kydd, spun
off from Crane
- Steed, from the original Avengers -- but he wasn't really
- Some sidekicks are more effective than the "hero"
- Jeeves and Wooster
- Sancho Panza is the original?
- Sidekicks can have specialist skills, can be dishonest,
thieves -- couldn't have the hero being villainous.
- As heroes have got darker, less need for this kind of sidekick
[and Xena/Gabrielle reverses this pattern]
- so now need funny sidekicks again
- if Angel weren't so dark,
Wesley wouldn't work
- Digby is pure comic relief in Dan
Dare -- but wouldn't work today
- Married teams
- MacMillan and Wife
- "Thin Man" -- Nick and Nora
- Tommy and Tuppence -- Agatha Christie stories, each in the style
of a different detective pair
- Modesty Blaise/Willie Garvin
-- Ultimate hero/sidekick relationship
- The X Files --
Mulder/Scully are the hero, the Lone Gunmen are the sidekick
- Babylon 5 -- Lennier and
Vir started out as sidekicks, ended as major characters (the Lone
Ranger, and the Emperor)
Panel -- Gone but not forgotten
Judith Proctor, Steve Rogerson
What is the appeal of old fandoms? Does going to conventions and
writing about TV shows long gone still make sense?
- At least it's not going to change, and destroy a premise of your
- Loads of shows come and go, only some survive in fandom
- need a good show with good characters you relate too (or fancy)
- there's a big overlap of which shows inspire slash (there's even
Holmes/Watson slash! and Sim City slash!! and B7 characters
living in Sim City)
- people join a fandom because of the show, but stay because of the
fans (except for some of them...)
- Wonder how many Blake's 7 fans have actually watched an
episode in the last few years?
- B7 repeats on the BBC last year pulled in new fans
- new fans can have new styles and new kinds of stories
- Dr Who has less fanfic,
because there is the published novel
- Fanzines live on provided there is no professionally published
- Some fanfic gets "cease and desist" orders, from
publishers, film companies, protecting their copyright
- Fans tend to be fans of more than one show. Pick up new
shows, but stay fans of old ones, too -- that's why there are shared
- Fandom stays active if the actors stay involved
- although Patrick McGoohan won't have anything to do with Prisoner
- Josette Simone refuses B7 conventions
- virtually none of the major Star
Wars actors are involved, but the bit actors are --
especially the ones who appeared inside suits
- for the older shows, the actors are dying off
- Paul Darrow answered every piece of fan mail for the first 10
years -- helped kickstart B7 fandom
- The Internet has made some of the older fandoms viable again
-- you can find the other 50 people in the world who are also interested
- The older shows are more "ours" -- because the real owners
aren't doing anything with it
- Buffy should survive --
it has everything: good writing, good characters, angst, humour,
- Blake's 7 world
- dystopia gives writers lots of freedom of approach
- lots of background only hinted at
- characters hate each other -- good for writers!
- With some shows, if you write anything half-decent as fanfic, you
know it's going to be better than some of the episodes!
- ST:TOS episode had the Klingons using a Romulan Warbird -- "explained"
in a throwaway line at the end -- you could write a four volume epic to
fill in that backstory! Bloopers can be good for retconning.
- Some written fanfic is too brief. "The ship landed" -- can
forget the event when reading -- was the author thinking in terms of a
screenplay, hooked on the visual style?
- Dr Who fanfic has "gunfic" (action) and "frockfic"
Panel -- SF/Fantasy Authors' Websites
Simon Bradshaw, Mike Scott Rohan, Dave Hardy, Tanya Brown, Alex
Are they worth anything? Why do them? Should they do it themselves, or
leave it to fans, or publishers?
- Panelist run websites
- Reasons: showing off professional skills -- egoboo -- advertising --
publicity -- fanzine fiction -- BSFA make around £50 per quarter
from Amazon click-through
- Most authors don't run their own -- they have fan-run sites -- some
may even be classed as fanatic
- Most artists do have their own Websites
- Sites lead to fan-mail -- which is often "saner" -- email
written by someone just surfing the site is usually better than
something someone has deliberately sat down to write
- Search engines mean it's not really necessary to tout the site
- Visual aspect of Web is very strong
- SF lends itself to visual/hyperlinked structure -- exploit
- Geoff Ryman's 253
Website is good. The published work is a shadow of the
hyperlinked original. Could do it is a hyperlinked DVD.
- The site is the place to put annotations/research etc
- particularly good stuff, that might detract from the original
- as long as they don't end up with authors linking to Napster with
all the songs they were listening to while writing the novel!
- Keeping control
- Can put part of a story on the Web, get paid for rest
- Can't put part of a picture -- use low resolution
- Print on demand is becoming cheap enough, including covers
- Publishers aren't the right people to run authors' web sites
- Publishers sites are often "commercial" -- expensive,
- An author may have several publishers, but wants a single site
- Publishers are interested only in your latest book
- Baen's site has
free ebooks of some backlist
- Tor's site
is a bit bland, but has good content
- Paper Tiger's site
of their published artists is very good
- very proactive
- include work from unpublished up-and-coming artists
- There is to be a 2002 Hugo for best Website for work
published in 2001
- Other author's sites
- copyright issues
- Fan sites and copyright can be a difficult issue
- The Beagle 2 Mars Lander
project has copyrighted the hardware -- trying to prevent artists
painting it -- IAAA are very worried by this -- they are trying to
protect their ability to get funding
- NASA won't allow their logo on spacecraft in the movies -- they
learned a hideous lesson from Capricorn One
- Web publishing
- Lots of "SF romance" ebooks are sold on the Web --
unpublishable conventionally, because a very niche market -- authors
are making money
- For unpublished authors, it's probably better to join a writer's
circle, to stop getting lost in the noise
- Editors/publishers act as a very valuable filter
Panel -- SF and Genetics
Lucy Smithers, Joan Peterson, Julian Headlong, Nik Whitehead
How has the concept of genetics changed in SF over the years?
- I did a talk on "Vulcan genetics". After, a doctor came
from the audience to ask where I got all the facts. "I just this
moment made them up."
- Writers are still taking complete liberties with genetics, even
nowadays -- they ignore everything we know.
- In Star Trek, the fact
that all the aliens can speak English is more likely than that they can
- We could maybe replace legs with another set of arms -- using the
- but probably wouldn't get genitalia or excretory openings
- no centaurs -- horses require a lot of air -- so would have to
have a large nose!
- For alien life that evolved totally separately, even if it did end up
with the same chemicals in its DNA, still its RNA would read the DNA
- We have different ribosomal biochemistry from a lot of bacteria.
- It is possible to come up with variations on nucleotides. But the
ones we have twist to form a double helix, and pair up nicely, G-C and
- RNA doesn't form a double helix, because it has U instead of T. Its
linear structure is useful -- it can thread through the ribosomes.
- We barely understand how life works.
- We can handle the individual components.
- But how it all works together -- epigenetics -- is
incredibly complex, with cascading effects.
- Writers tend to take one piece, and ignore the interactions.
- In SF, you can ignore an "inconvenient fact", but some
writers ignore the whole field of knowledge. Not mentioning Tom
- Embarrassments in biology.
- Rule of 48 -- "all scientists are blind".
Humans used to have 48 chromosomes -- nobody knew what they were
for, and hadn't bothered to count them. When they did, they found
there were 46.
- Up until a few months ago, there were "100,000 genes in a
human" -- the original number came from the back of a fag
packet calculation, which ended up in textbooks, and everywhere --
now the number is 30,000
- So even hard SF writers who check their facts can get it wrong.
- There does seem to be a lot of junk between the genes.
- We assume it's junk, but it could turn out to have a purpose
- Greg Bear, with Darwin's
Radio, uses this. He postulates something amazing, but
doesn't try to explain it too much. He leaves well alone.
- A lot of stuff between genes tells other genes what to do, when
to switch on/off. Which is why we can get away with so few genes.
- Paul McAuley, The
Secret of Life, is possibly the hardest SF novel around.
- If SF authors paid more attention to genetics and biology, they could
have some real fun -- there's some really weird stuff there.
- Some pretty basic genes are unchanged between bacteria and us. Hoch's
genes are in fruitflies and in humans. But vertebrates have a double
duplicate cluster -- "spares" to play with?
- Mutation does not automatically lead to evolutionary success
- Vast proportion of mutations are very very bad
- Poul Anderson's Twilight
World had mutants developing cool new powers.
- The world of the X-Men
should have huge institutions caring for bad mutants
- problems include: physical, mental, and behavioural problems --
Violence includes violence against self -- cancer -- "inborn
errors of metabolism"
- radiation and carcinogenic chemicals do give an increased
rate of evolution -- and a lot of very sick people
- Need to separate social and biological change
- biologically, we are the same as our ancestors 100,000
- there are a lot of obese people -- socially there is more food --
biologically we are adapted to less
- General public go "yuk" at genetic engineering
- If we ban it here, it will just happen somewhere else with far
- GE just does what nature does -- "jumping genes" -- but
more directed, faster
- Problem is not the GE, but what you use it for
- Public needs to be educated -- currently stuff has to be packaged
into a fluffy, cuddly package -- Dolly is a pretty sheep
- In Canada, "traditional" breeding has been used to
produce a pesticide resistant crop
- Need to focus on the result, not the means of getting there
- In 50-100 years time
- people having babies will have a lot of difficult decisions to
- currently can't engineer out faulty genes -- only option is
- heartbreaking decision -- even if alternative is genetic
- the idea people would put themselves through this for less
serious problems is ludicrous
- even pre-implantation diagnosis for embryos has a very low
success rate, and is very expensive
- not going to be a major way of reproducing unless success
- even then, there is still birth trauma, later accidents,
things not tested for -- so won't get rid of all handicaps
- most traits not due to single genes, so difficult to predict
- there will be a lot more "vegetarian steak"
- Need social change, not genetic change, to help make rational
- Developments in genetic will apply to rich people in rich societies.
Even if the cost is £1000, or £100, the vast majority of
people will not be able to afford it.
- Nanotech is a magic wand -- with it you can do anything
Panel -- If Tolkien and Lewis had snuffed it in the trenches...
John Clute, Edward James,
China Miéville, Farah
Mendlesohn, Steve Jeffrey, Maureen Kincaid Speller
... where would fantasy be today?
- Clute has a section in The
Encyclopedia of Fantasy on the significance of WWI
- Many authors who were in the trenches, or significantly affected,
wrote "aftermath societies" --
Tolkien, Hugh Lofting, C. S.
Lewis, E. R. Eddison, A. A. Milne, E. A. Wyke-Smith, David Lindsay,
Robert Nichols, E. H. Shepherd, ...
- Arguably they all responded in a broadly similar way to WWI --
clear sense that something had gone seriously wrong -- fantasy as a
counter-narrative when treated seriously
- There is something distinct about Tolkein's and Lewis' response
to WWI -- their sense of loss and collapse manifested differently --
possibly because of their Christianity -- attempt of consolation,
underpinned with tragic background
- When Tolkien is defending fantasy as
escapist, he says it's
not the flight of the deserter, but the escape of the prisoner --
he's forgotten the lesson of the trenches -- so get an unpleasant
anti-life fable -- or possibly trying to create a just war
- An important figure between Tolkien and modern fantasy is AD&D
- it comes from Tolkien, but started fantasy as a commercial genre
- it shapes the structure, packaging, identikit nature of the
- if no Tolkien, what influences would it have drawn on instead?
- no Tolkien, the elves would still be the sidhe, the bad guys
- Someone once said "Even if there was no Tolkien, we'd still have
Terry Brooks" -- had to point out what his inspiration was -- Silmarils
- Cannot imagine that a fantasy industry could be sustained by Eddison,
or Peake. Also, Hope Mirrlees' Lud-in-the-Mist is complete in
- D&D comes from wargaming -- 2nd book of LotR is a big
battle, with everyone moving back and forth across the landscape, and a
quest -- readers complain if there's no quest, or no set piece
battle -- Tolkien is militaristic, travel-oriented fantasy
- Children's fantasy is either wholly fantastical, or you enter and
leave the fantasy world -- with lesser writers this can make the battles
between good and evil more trivial, because you just "go home"
at the end
- Most precursor texts were published in isolation, with no school, no
genre -- 20th century fantasy is countertext, an argument against what
is wrong -- became popular, a genre, only in 60s and 70s.
- Fritz Leiber's early Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser tales predate
Tolkien -- the later ones take the piss out of the genre -- example: a
split over how to spell Fafhrd, with an 'h' or not, because one way is
- Lovecraft, Weird Tales, much more nihilistic -- a very earthy
- Tolkien and Lewis are a more "reactionary" reaction
- Turning point is the 1965 edition of LotR -- a
progressive critique accidentally grabbing hold of a reactionary
critique and making it their own
- A Christianised fantasy (healing, consolation) took over from
dark fantasy (revel/Saturnalia, reversal)
- There has been Christian fantasy around since the NT
- Medieval romances, saints lives
- Morris was open-ended, liberating, Christian
- George MacDonald, Lilith is quintessential Christian
fantasy, but ecstatic/hallucinatory -- LSD trip with a crucifix!
- So can't blame Lewis/Tolkien for all Christian fantasy!
- But the core in Tolkien is a restitution of the status quo
- Tolkien's is a Tory, bourgeois, misogynistic, misanthropic style
- Tolkien started designing his languages as a boy -- he built the
world to have somewhere to set the languages -- but this came later
- Tolkien was sent home from the trenches in 1917, before the jingoism
had died, before the mutinies, mud, and flu -- his perceptions would be
- Tolkien did manage with some genius to work out how to tell a
particular kind of story
- Mourning the loss of the countryside is real, and would have
occurred without Tolkien -- but the peasants are always behind walls, in
fields -- the loss is the upper middle class's ability to play in it
- Lud-in-the-Mist is an acknowledged influence on a lot of
modern urban fantasists
- this world is intimately cross-hatched with another that we must
- much bigger effect on children's fantasy
- interleaving of fantasy and urban existence
- see E. Nesbit for this
- Lots of early pulp fantasy came from cod orientalism -- most
vulgarised it -- Leiber sophisticated it
- A strong positive influence of Tolkien was
- thinning -- setting fantasy in a dying world
- systematic secondary world with rules
Gary Stratmann -- Martial Arts in SF
Gary Stratmann, Linda Stratmann, [???]
- Gary and Linda study aikido (a martial art based on sword movements)
and Japanese sword. [???] studies karate.
- most of the stuntmen are kung fu black belts -- Rene O'Connor has
- (Clip from first season Xena episode "The Greater
Good", where Gabrielle, masquerading as Xena, beats up many bad
guys with her staff, and catches a flying sword.)
- If there are six guys with swords, and you with a stick,
basically you're dead, unless they are stuntmen on your side.
- The Xena stick-work is Japanese style -- really prevalent
in ancient Greece! The actors look good, the stuntmen fall over.
- Written martial arts has lots of "let's reverence the sword",
but then puts it in a culture that has no reason to reverence it.
- The samurai sword was the badge of the samurai -- after centuries
of tradition, during a long stable period of "peace", it
became a mystical symbol.
- Japanese kneel a lot, so many of the sword movements are based on
it -- it is integrated in the culture
- Noel Perrin, Giving up the gun : Japan's reversion to the
sword, 1543-1879, describes how guns were banned in Japan,
because they made it too easy to kill samurai.
- During the same time period in the West, there were lots of wars,
so technology improved, and became easier to use -- longbows were
replaced by crossbows -- "To train a bowman, start by training
his grandfather" -- swords were replaced by pistols.
- Many non-sword weapons are derived from agricultural implements --
the nunchuka is a rice flail.
- Speed is more important than size -- when hitting with a fist, ½mv2
shows the mass is not as important as the speed.
- The Paladin, by C.J. Cherryh, is the best story of learning
to be a warrior (except she starts much too old -- you need to start
- Distance between opponents is very important, and depends on their
- A lot of aikido techniques depend on the fact that the weapon you are
hitting your opponent with is the floor or wall.
- State of mind
- Effectiveness is based almost purely on not being scared of
getting hurt, and having no scruples about hurting the other.
- Target shooting -- almost anyone can learn to hit a piece of
paper. But when it is armed to the teeth, shooting back, and moving
around -- it's a different story.
Martial arts from many cultures
- Some of the traditional Indian statue poses -- such as standing
on one leg, with arms covering the body -- are (transitional)
martial arts positions.
- Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art disguised as dancing. Very
- Crouching Tiger, Hidden
Dragon is very traditional -- the folk tale, and the
leaping and flying.
- Many cultures have legends of leaping -- the Celtic "great
- A competition bout is three minutes of fighting -- in real life, if a
fight lasts more than 30 seconds, you are doing it wrong!
Related material from previous cons:
Helen Priddle -- Cloning: science fact and science fiction
The 2nd Science Fiction Foundation George Hay Memorial Lecture
- Roslin Institute
- biology of domestic livestock
- livestock welfare, breeding, genetic engineering
- pronuclear injection
- an early techniques -- fine glass needle injects DNA into oocyte
- crude -- foreign DNA can go anywhere, even somewhere harmful, or
- controlled genetic integration -- get the cell to put new piece
into the right place by tagging its ends -- happens naturally at a
- controlled way of introducing into given position
- Embryonic stems cells isolated from mice
- have all the info needed for any tissue in the body
- don't have much structure themselves -- mostly nucleus
- self renewal -- can be grown in culture, very rapidly
- pluripotent -- can turn into any kind of cell in the body --
muscle, bone, blood, nerve, ...
- manipulable -- easy to GE (mouse) stem cells -- homologous
recombination happens more easily than in adult cells
- take stem cells from an embryo, GE it, place in another embryo
- get chimera -- mixture of "own" and GE
- each sperm is "own" or GE
- so each individual in next generation is either fully "normal"
or fully GE
- Other species
- embryonic stem cells hard to isolate -- even in mice, it's only
certain strains that are easy
- so need another route from from a GE cell to an animal -- cloning
- Cloning by nuclear transfer
- reconstruct an egg -- remove original nucleus from oocyte --
introduce GE nucleus into oocyte
- Calves have been made from cells akin to embryonic stem cells (in
- Lambs made from an embryonic stem cell line (Roslin)
- But can't take an embryonic cell from an adult to clone it!
- Dogma -- can't clone somatic (adult) cells
- Embryo genes start to "switch on", particular cell type
genes switch on
- Nuclear reprogramming -- cells become differentiated
- Believed to be irreversible
- Dolly proved otherwise
- made from mammary cell of 6 year old Finn Dorset ewe
- nuclear transfer into oocyte taken from a Blackface sheep
- given an electric shock -- mimics activation by sperm
- some oocytes develop into blastocysts, some die
- blastocysts introduced into foster-ewe
- Dolly looks like a normal Finn Dorset -- has had many lambs by
natural matings over several seasons
- Somatic cells can be reprogrammed
- the oocyte environment reprogrammed the mammary cell genome
- bone marrow cells can become neurons
- may be able to do unlimited cell type manipulation, without going
through long-winded process of cloning
- PPL transgenic sheep
- engineered sheep with special proteins in their milk -- eg for
cystic fibrosis patients -- easier to extract from milk than make by
- somatic nuclear transfer is inefficient way to make these sheep
- Dolly -- too 100 attempts before success
- most cells die before they get to blastocyst stage
- a lot of spontaneously aborted pregnancies
- some lambs die shortly after birth
- 1998 -- isolation of human embryonic stem cells
- isolated from donated IVF embryos
- used to study developmental biology -- how embryos grow -- and
for drug discovery -- effects on cells
- future -- transplant medicine might
- take a cell from adult patient
- clone it to embryo stage
- extract stem cells, genetically identical to original adult
- make transplant organs not rejected by patient
- Stem cell therapy
- genetically engineer cells before replacing them -- eg, repair
sickle cell anaemia
- not as easy to engineer human cells as mouse cells
- A long way still to go -- a lot to gain
- need to be able to make stem cells efficiently -- by cloning, or
by reprogramming somatic cells (less ethically challenging!)
- need to make somatic sells from stem cells
- need to make organs from somatic cells
- safety issues
- embryonic stem cells are tumorigenic -- must all be
- mutant cells can be cancerous -- cultured cells can mutate
- could introduce a suicide fail-safe
- Is Dolly ageing?
- In an old cell, the protective ends, the telomeres, wear away,
and ageing kicks in.
- If you clone an old cell, do you get an old embryo?
- Still in dispute
- Dolly's telomeres do seem shorter
- Vets say she looks like a sheep of her birth age
- Mice -- take an old cell, and it "rejuvenates" --
don't know if this is rule, or exception
- Why is it so difficult to extract stem cells from other species?
- Inbred strain of mice -- does have something unusual that makes
it easy to extract stem cells
- If a mouse has a litter, then gets pregnant again, the embryos
don't develop until the first litter finishes suckling -- might be a
- Gene therapy -- what about the original damaged cells?
- Leukemia, etc, can kill the old ones with radiotherapy, etc
- Depends on whether the old cells are bad, doing harm, so need to
be removed, or are just not doing enough, so can stay
- Is Dolly all Finn Dorset, or does she have Blackface
- Probably Blackface.
- Mitochondrial genes are important for metabolism, but seem to
have little effect on the final animal -- but we do need to watch
- What if you give an electric shock to an unfertilised egg?
- It will start to divide, but it doesn't have a full set of genes,
and doesn't develop normally
- Use similar techniques to persuade undifferentiated cancer cells
- Cancers have switched on a gene to increase length of telomeres
-- research to switch it off again
- Cancer cells may be able to turn off "fail-safes", too
-- in a large population of tumor cells, need only one to do this,
and it could become a new tumour
- Human cloning?
- Roslin Institute's policy is that cloning of animals should be
allowed, but cloning of humans should not -- because of high number
of aborted fetuses and neonatal deaths
- Gene therapy of germ line?
- Currently, treating just the patient, not yet their offspring
Panel -- The Brits Awards
Andy Sawyer, Edward James, Tony Cullen, Tanya Brown, Farah Mendlesohn
A discussion of this year's BSFA and Arthur C Clarke awards. (The
discussion for the awards is merged, because of the high degree of overlap.)
- The (merged) shortlist for BSFA 2000 Best Novel (b) and Arthur C
Clarke 2001 (c) award is:
- Let's eliminate Salt
- I liked it -- an interesting conceit -- each of the different
colony ships believes something different -- two ships are
concentrated on: anarchic and autocratic
- the final chapter brings in a third voice to judge -- wrecks the
- I don't think it works -- exaggerated -- too much emphasis on
- I didn't like the pivotal episode of the book -- the rape
- It uses SF for a political novel -- there's not enough SF in it
for an award winner
- I thought it was really good -- juxtaposition of two narrators
explaining events very differently -- and refreshingly short!
- It's a good read -- I recommend it -- but it's the slightest book
on the list
- Salt is gone
- Revelation Space
- I found it difficult to get into, not gripping -- I couldn't
- That's fighting talk!
- I wanted to like it -- interesting scenario -- blurb promised
something large and metaphysical, but it was quite ordinary -- I
would have finished it if it had been shorter -- I drifted away
- I loved it - it shows some first novel flaws -- great space
opera, almost straying into Iain
Banks territory -- one of the most promising first novels I've
seen in a long time
- Very Banksian space opera -- huge sense of scale -- but still
human/metaphysical -- what let it down for me was was the ending,
where suddenly the rules change -- complex, maybe too complex
- Not a winner, but shouldn't get rid of it yet -- I couldn't
finish it in bits, I needed one sitting, I kept getting lost
otherwise -- also thought ending was weak -- promising -- not a
winner, but others are weaker
- The characters are better fleshed out than Banks' -- especially
the three strong female protagonists
- Parable of the Talents
- Should be eliminated because it's a sequel -- and weaker than
Parable of the Sower
- entirely agree -- I think it's the weakest of the Clarke
shortlist -- it's not SF, just set in the future -- not a cohesive
- I love Octavia Butler, especially Parable of the Sower --
this was grindingly dull
- I think it might be a winner because it's a "worthy"
- It's gone
- Perdido Street Station
- It's not SF! It's a great, wonderful fantasy novel, the most
enjoyable book on the list -- but it's not SF
- It has a coherent physical world with physical rules -- there is
a scientist exploring the physical rules of his world, which are
different from ours -- it's no more fantastical than a story set in
- We don't know if it's a parallel world, or a colony world in the
future -- some evidence for the latter: the two moons
- Not being SF has never stopped the ACC award in the past!
- It's a marvelous book -- there's so much SF that reads like
fantasy, it's refreshing to find fantasy that reads like SF
- After having read his first novel [King Rat], no-one
could have expected this -- like a unicycle followed by a thundering
great steam train -- it's a species of "science fantasy"
- It's fantasy masquerading as SF -- I enjoyed it, but it's
politics are strangely 1930s -- the supposed science seems to be
just drawing scientific symbols in the air, then things happen --
feels like magic
- I think it's weaker than his first novel [To Hold Infinity]
-- it's better written, but not as gripping as the psychic vampire
of the first
- It's got a great cover!
- It's gone
- I thought it was too long, and wasn't convinced by the historical
setting -- it didn't work as Alternate History, or as SF -- 1100
pages was too much
- If I'd bought it in the 4 volume version, I wouldn't have bought
the 2nd volume
- I totally disagree -- it addresses the question !"how do we
know what we know if we can't trust the sources" and makes a
stonkingly great novel out of it -- I just zipped through it
- I think it's marvelous -- the characters are fantastic -- the
main problem is the second half gets bogged down in a 600 page siege
-- it's one of the major books of last year
- I'm an historian -- I only read it because I was stuck on a train
for 8 hours -- and after page 800 I started to enjoy it - but I
wanted to throw it across the carriage -- it's brilliant research on
history, but not on historians and the way they work -- it's not my
cup of tea, I don't enjoy AH, but I still think it's a stupendous
achievement, especially the last 200 pages
- I read it in 4 parts -- probably got more out of it that way --
it's way too long in places -- it has certain stylistic twitches, a
"freeze frame" of Ash's hair -- and I had a huge problem
with the ending, which changes the rules -- but I found it clever
- Cosmonaut Keep
- The politics is so refreshing -- the space opera strand is nicely
done -- it's main problem is that it is up against two books [Ash,
PSS] that are so different, so above the level of the norm,
that it suffers in comparison -- it's a great book, and I hope it
loses to one of those two!
- It's the first in a series, but admirably self-contained -- but
it's a bit thin -- of the two time-lines, the near-future one works
better -- I like it a lot, but may need the rest of the series
- I'm only halfway through it, but I'm enjoying it very much -- it
has a kind of exuberance, like Revelation Space -- MacLeod
is an excellent writer, fertile imagination, sense of humour --
quite a unique voice
- I loved this -- it's proper SF -- very humorous and witty --
you'd never mistake a Ken MacLeod novel as being written by anyone
else -- and he's clearly growing, doing different things -- it is
self-contained -- this is one of our finalists
- Grimwood still needs to learn to do endings -- he has the fastest
upward curve -- he now gets characters, plot, ... but still needs
endings -- the politics is fascinating -- there is never a violent
incident that is not absolutely necessary
- It's interesting, fun, creative -- there is an ending problem,
though -- but it's a very good book
- I really enjoyed it, but it's not an award winner
- It's gone
- Revelation Space
- Let's vote it off, because Cosmonaut Keep is a better
variant of it
- It's gone
- It would be my third choice [behind PSS and CK]
- It is overlong and has some stylistic problems -- but I found the
footnotes helpful -- and I don't like the ending -- are the problems
down to editing? -- there are events referred to later that didn't
happen, and it's not a false memory sort of book -- it's a flaw
- It's gone
- Perdido Street Station
- I think this should win, as being one of the most stupendous
books -- I adore Cosmonaut Keep -- but this is something
special, something you come across very rarely
- Ash is a culmination -- PSS is something out of
- PSS is also the sort of book a lot of people don't like
- PSS should win awards
- So, Perdido Street Station is our hypothetical winner --
which guarantees it won't win, because we are always wrong! As a note of
caution, the first book we threw off last
year [Distraction], won
- If they go for a "respectable" choice for ACC award, it
could be PotT -- or it might be a "compromise" choice
of Revelation Space if PSS and Ash supporters
beat each other up
- Ash and PSS are head and shoulders above anything
published anywhere else in the world, not just the UK, in 2000 --
trouble for the Hugos?
[Ash won the BSFA Award; Perdido Street Station the
- "Dorothy", and "Thunderbirds
are almost go"
- Aidan McNelis as "James
Bond" (the Peirce Brosnan one, of course)
- "Harry Potter"
- An implausibly-named kind of Pokemon,
- "Mother Love" --
Karen Furlong as The Doctor, with Sabine Furlong as The
- Best audience reaction --
"First Steps into Space"
-- M@ as the Obelisk, or was that maybe Obelix?
- "Millennium Bug"
- "The Log Ladies"
-- a Damn Fine Con committee presentation (in a style strangely
reminiscent of last year's
"The Blue Rinse Brigade")
- Lord Darcy investigates "The
Death of a Dandy", with Tom Nansen, Andrew Patton,
and Andrew Adams
- Best in Show -- "Sons
of the Stake" -- ???, Linda Stratmann, and Gary
Stratmann (the MCs suggested that the women in the audience were
coveting the dress, whilst the men were coveting its contents -- it was
pointed out that some men were more likely coveting the dress...)
- Best Workmanship Award -- a bemused Alfred, and Queen
Victoria and John Brown reanimated as bicycle-steam-punk, in
- The evening's MCs, Sue
Mason and Teddy
Followed by a spectacular outdoors fireworks display
Panel -- Archaeology and Fantasy
Edward James, Lisanne Norman, Miller Lau, Martin Easterbrook, Michael
Archaeology seems to be a preferred hobby for fantasy authors.
- A way into fantasy
- I do SF -- archaeology allows me to sneak into fantasy, because
it's a science -- I can use it as an excuse
- I don't do fantasy through yet another quest, or yet another lost
prince, but through anthropology and archaeology -- some older
cultures had great sophistication
- the small things that tell you how people lived -- artefacts,
food, medical things -- are really fascinating
- Is archaeology the main inspiration -- rather than anthropology, or
- Archaeology of iron working
- a technology that originally looked like magic
- sword making -- brittle high carbon iron (steel) holds an edge,
softer iron is better for a strong sword -- so some swords were made
by plaiting the two, giving a "watered silk" finish
- the owner of a great sword would have an advantage
- Legends of elvin people hurt by iron
- Celtic bronze swords were exquisite, but would have been sliced
through by iron
- Celts tended to be short
- origin of some of the elvish legends?
- High quality bronze holds a wonderful edge -- early bronze was
closer to brass in colour
- nowadays archaeologists talk of "copper alloy" -- "bronze"
is too vague a term
- Iron poor cultures?
- there are 200kg of iron rivets in a Viking ship -- maybe not that
- very few helmets left, even in Scandinavia
- china tea services are very carefully preserved -- fragile and
- artefacts that can be reused/reformed not so common, because
reused until destroyed
- swords handed down the generations
- Belesarius stories of David Drake and Eric
- has a cavalry of 2000 "catefracts"
- as the army arrives, the houses start to shake because of their
- a real sense of wonder moment -- this is what it would have felt
- In our drive for greater authenticity in re-enactments, it's est to
have an archaeologist and an historian together -- one on own can get
- Very common in fantasy to have a society that is
unjust/boring/whatever, into which comes some artefact from the past,
which drives change
- 2001 has an artefact from the alien's past -- an "embodied
- History versus archaeology
- written records less focussed on mundane details of everyday
life that archaeologists are interested in
- Icelandic sagas -- about wielding swords -- archaeology -- about
how swords are made (although there is a saga with a character who
has to keep straightening a rather soft sword)
- before archaeology, people tended to take written records at face
value -- now realise how biased they were
- Tolkien -- strong sense of
living in a vast sweep of time, with a past -- numinous aura
- Even with research, can make mistakes
- Use archaeological facts at your peril! -- a lot of readers do
know this stuff quite well -- just as bad as using science details
- Never go to just one source -- pool info from multiple sources
- Jo Walton's The King's
Peace has a baby fed on cow's milk -- it's bad for infants
and when it started to be used in 19th century, infant mortality
rocketed -- should have been goat's milk
- An author had a journey through a desert, but based it on a 20th
century map, not a contemporary map
- better to leave out detail, than put it in and get it wrong
- Re-enactment helps
- Re-enactment helps you know what things feel like, and what
works in the mud, in the cold
- Confederates in the Attic -- story of US civil war
re-enactors -- some are obsessives, starving themselves for
half the year to be the right size
- one re-enactor worked out the purpose of some straps on a
gambeson -- they stopped the sword belt slipping -- but historians
won't accept this as evidence
- discovered from Agincourt re-enactors that the English archers
were suffering badly from diarrhoea, and so most were wearing
nothing below the waist -- suddenly gives a whole different picture
of this romantic story!
- Have to be careful not to be obsessive about details when writing
- facts can detract in some cases, like Arthurian legends -- would
you throw Mallory across the room because of the inaccuracies?
- one book spends a lot of time explaining how to clean chain mail
-- maybe an appendix [or Website?] is a better place for this
- the historian or archaeologist is responsible to the discipline
-- the write is responsible to the readers, for entertainment
- Fictional portrayal of archaeology/archaeologists is very poor -- "I
blame Indiana Jones"
- Too much fantasy is "just another quest"
- The two extremes of the myth of Englishness are Shire/Ambridge,
versus being the last of a wave of migrants/invaders
- Rosemary Sutcliff, The Eagle of the Ninth, Ridley Scott, Gladiator
- lots of details are wrong, but the atmosphere is right
- all the helmets being the wrong period in Gladiator was
- Kipling has a story of a boy joining a Roman legion who is caught out
because Romans march slower, because the have further to go -- no way of
knowing if this is true -- but it's a wonderful detail
Panel -- What if Richard III had not died at Bosworth?
Edward James, Freda Warrington, John Bray, Michael Scott Rohan, Steven
What cultural and sociological changes might this have had? Or would it
not have mattered at all?
- Two views
- Shakesperian propaganda -- Richard III was evil, and his death
allowed the "golden age of the Tudors"
- Josephine Tey, The Daughter of Time -- he would have made
a good king
- He would have had problems -- his support was deserting him
- Henry Tudor suppressed the nobles -- but that would have had to have
happened anyway -- maybe wouldn't have been that different
- If Richard had managed to establish himself, he might have moved
the capital to York
- How would he have dealt with the Reformation?
- This is an example of the "Great Man" theory -- can
one person make a difference?
- Henry VIII's Reformation had a great influence
- Margaret Thatcher -- structural changes in British industry and
- We would have lost one of the great villains of English
- instead, we would have had the "Tragedy of Henry the
- Richard III would just be another name in the list of kings
- Macbeth -- another Shakespearianly maligned monarch
- Why is he so reviled?
- apart from the Princes in the Tower, he was a very good king
- other kings of the period were as free with the headsman's axe
- any sensible person who wanted stability and a strong king would
of course have killed the princes -- given the history of
minors as kings
- being seen to murder a child for you own advancement was a "PR
disaster" -- was a bad habit of Plantagenets -- rather
different from wielding a headsman's axe against an adult foe
- any time anyone died of whatever cause, it was a standard
smear to say they'd been poisoned
- some rumours were circulating even before the Princes had died
- could be argued he wasn't ruthless enough
- To be a tool-maker, need to understand causality -- but then look
for causality everywhere -- leads to witchcraft, murder as
explanations of everything, rather than just death by disease
- If Richard had survived -- no Tudor dynasty -- no Elizabeth I --
maybe no Scottish union -- maybe a Spanish outpost
- The Reformation was happening everywhere, would have come here anyway
-- it was far to convenient for any English monarch -- but it might have
been a proper Protestant Reformation, rather than the sham of
the Church of England
- If Henry Tudor had been killed instead, there would have been a pause
before the next battle, searching for a new figurehead
- Might be interesting to play an earlier version of Diplomacy, and see
what alliances arise -- since with Diplomacy you always seem to get the
same alliances -- maybe the long-term outcome would be the same
- would Richard's legal reforms, limiting the powers of the barons,
have introduced democracy earlier?
- restricting the power of the aristocracy doesn't necessarily
produce democracy -- Richard was arguably trying to produce a "New
Monarchy" -- the Divine Right of Kings is an historical
fiction of the Tudor period -- earlier the king was the "first
- This is actually the "Great Battle" theory of
- AH centres around importance of battles, rather than people
- battles do get perceived as turning points
- even Agincourt didn't have a lasting impact
- battles are romantic -- Henry V's death unleashed the War of the
Roses -- but he died of dysentery, not in battle
- if people didn't think battles were decisive, they wouldn't fight
- different battles would have made different details -- different
myth structure, different pub names
- Richard's wife and heirs were already dead -- maybe he would have
married a Spanish princess?
- Being good to the common people was being a Christian king, not a
- Characters would have changed, but historical forces would remain the
same -- would different characters have coped so well, so badly?
- "Great Inventors" theory of history
- inventions don't go away
- sometimes the time is ripe for inventions
- Hero of Alexandria had steam power -- it went nowhere
- need an atmosphere fostering innovation -- patents
- need political/economic circumstances to exploit it -- the
Industrial Revolution used things invented earlier that hadn't
caught on then
- Decision of Ming Dynasty to stop exploration had a great effect
- Catholic England
- What if England had stayed Catholic, but Scotland had not?
- Protestantism got a hold in Scotland because of the English --
Highlanders versus Catholics
- But then again, maybe Scotland would have gone Protestant anyway,
just to oppose the English!
- The Union
- James VI of Scotland becoming James I of England seems such a
strange historical quirk -- would that have inevitably happened?
- That succession was very stage-managed by the English to diffuse
the Scottish threat, the "auld alliance" with the
- geographical inevitability -- the island is too small for two
- may have been by marriage, though
- Colonial influence
- no Bosworth -- no Elizabeth -- no Armada?
- big effect on colonial history -- might have been amplified?
- Elizabeth had to go into Ireland, because of the Reformation --
all those Catholics off the west cost
- no English experience in Ireland might have led to different
experience in colonies
- Henry Tudor had Welsh contingent in his army -- Henry VIII united
England and Wales
- Having a proper Reformation would have had the biggest effect
- "absence of great man" theory
- maybe 1485 [Bosworth] not so important -- maybe 1492 [?treaty of Étaples
-- renouncing all historical claims to France (except Calais)] is a
more interesting turning point?
- maybe a more civilised Reformation -- Bach wrote both
Protestant and Catholic music
- Middle ages -- 1066-1485 -- defined by battles -- but lots of
interesting things happening around 1500
- And, of course, if we hadn't been kicked out of Blackpool, we
wouldn't have come to Hinckley [down the road from Bosworth], and we
wouldn't have had this panel!
Stephen Baxter -- GoH talk:
The Fermi Paradox and The Meaning of Life
- There seems to be a basic intuition that "we are not alone"
- the universe is a big place
- if there is life here, there "ought to be" life
elsewhere -- it is more extraordinary to believe we are unique --
Earth is not a special place
- Bruno was burnt at the stake for his ideas -- Happy Easter!
- Fred Hoyle, The Intelligent Universe, p19-- "A junkyard
contains all the bits and pieces of a Boeing-747, dismembered and in
disarray. A whirlwind happens to blow through the yard. What is the
chance that after its passage a fully assembled 747, ready to fly, will
be found standing there?"
- We now understand complexity
- self-organising systems
- emergent properties from simple laws -- convection cells -- birds
- Saying life originated elsewhere solves no problems, it just pushes
the question of origin back
- life on Earth seems to have existed as soon as it was possible
- Principle of Uniformity: it's the same everywhere -- Principle of
Plenitude: if it's possible, it happens -- Copernican Principle: we
are not in a special place
- life on Earth spreads everywhere -- everywhere we look, we find
- Frank Tipler's cheap route
to the stars
- with today's technology, STL -- it's about 10,000 years
- von Neumann probes -- universal replicators -- are
- time from a probe entering a solar system, to being ready for
the next wave -- 500 years -- time from Columbus to the moon
- then, provided raw materials at new systems are considered to be "free"
-- can colonise the entire galaxy for less than the cost of the
- galaxy is big, 100,000 light years across -- 10 Myrs to cross at
100th light speed -- 100 times human existence, but only one
thousandth the age of the galaxy -- the galaxy is older than it
- if this had happened, the galaxy would surely look different:
radio, rings, Dyson spheres,
even Niven-esque lens around the
- consider an ant crawling around a swimming pool -- it might not
understand what it saw, but could not miss the artefact
we could do this, so could "they"
- We've tried to contact them -- plaque on Voyager -- digital
binary signals -- discs of whale song (but we don't use that
tech any more!)
- SETI -- we've been listening for radio signals for more than 40
years -- we've heard nothing
- these negative results are starting to be interesting in
- detection distances
- civilisation like ours -- within a few 1000 lys
- K1 -- control mass-energy of a planet -- within 40,000 ly
- K2 -- of a star -- within in a nearby galaxy
- K3 -- of a galaxy -- anywhere
- the solar system looks primordial -- no-one has been trying to
terraform Venus, modify the moon, mess with evolution on Earth
- stars are pretty simple -- simpler than bacteria
- no evidence of any changes
- nothing like a "Roman Britain" effect -- paths of
old roads, ruined buildings, etc
- So -- Where is Everybody? -- the Fermi Paradox
- What do we expect to see?
- TV SF has encouraged us to think humanoid
- the Krell in Forbidden Planet are more likely --
different -- and long gone
- Maybe other civilisations have existed, but are now destroyed
- Polynesians crossed 3000km, colonising everywhere by AD1000 --
filled all the islands -- nowhere left to go -- catastrophe of
- with a population growth of only a few per cent, the leading edge
of the colonisation wave needs to move at lightspeed within a few
- machines turn on creators -- a probe from Alpha Centauri could
land, and strip-mine the Earth, innocently, or malevolently -- all
civilisations already dead, or keeping quiet
- Greg Benford -- Galactic
- Fred Saberhagan -- Berserker stories
- the universe is a violent and deadly place -- comets, climate
change, supernovae, gamma ray bursters, galactic collisions, ...
- if so, our duty is to "fix the bugs" so we can survive
- but whatever mechanism you use, it has to destroy everyone -- if
there's even one survivor, we should see their footprints
- Maybe we are alone, or the first
- we are the "lottery winner" -- maybe intelligence is
- if so, our duty is not to wipe ourselves out -- and the Earth is
the most important place in the universe
- Maybe we just can't see them
- made of dark matter
- limitations of our perceptions -- we overestimate horizontal over
vertical -- natives couldn't "see" Cook's ships
- transcendence -- they don't use trivial things like radio or
starships -- our duty is to transcend
- but all it takes is one bunch of losers like us, just one
exception, and we ought to see them
- Maybe they don't want to explore/innovate
- why travel if there's nothing new to see -- jaded know-it-alls
- not tool makers -- dolphins, galactic clouds, ...
- very different life -- at centre of stars, feeding off expansion
energy of universe, ...
- but again, only one exception is needed
- They are hiding
- we're in a zoo -- Prime Directive -- being studied --
being farmed -- being uplifted
- they're here and watching us -- Roswell, X-Files
-- but there are easier ways to do this
- we're in quarantine -- we're being protected from danger
-- they are protecting themselves from us --
Greg Egan's Quarantine
- but, it still takes only one Ferengi to break through the cordon
- and why don't we see the "lights in the towns outside the
fence", the "con-trails from jets in the sky"?
- Maybe we're surrounded by fake scenery, living in a "planetarium"
- Brian Aldiss, Non Stop -- a forgotten generation-ship
- The Truman Show,
- Bishop Berkeley "proves" the non-existence of
matter -- Dr Johnson kicks a stone: "I refute it thus"
- reality is a simpler explanation
- we've "kicked rocks" out as far a Neptune
- all light, cosmic rays, neutrinos, need to be faked
- takes a lot of energy to produce massive simulations
- what are the required capabilities of civilisations that can fool
- info is needed to generate a holodeck
- a hydrogen atom can encode about a megabyte
- it all takes energy, which limits the size of simulation
- K1 (planet) -- 100 km radius simulation
- K2 (star) -- 6000 km
- K3 (galaxy) -- 100 AU
- (universe) -- 100 ly
- so if we had a consistent culture crossing 100ly, we couldn't be
living in a "planetarium"
- How could we search for a leak in reality?
- most stress at boundary of planetarium
- in 1969, had to replace a painted fake moon with real rock --
that's why the dark side looks so different -- it was a rush job!
- look for programmers' signatures ["Easter eggs"] --
solar eclipses are a bit
- look for hidden control mechanisms -- there's a big heat engine
somewhere (unless the laws of physics are different, too)
- so, push the boundaries, "rush the fence", "crash
- eventually we'll know so much, they won't be able to fool us
- if we're being contained, it's a relationship of unequals -- "if
you're listening -- show yourselves!"
- paranoia data points
- cold fusion -- for the first few weeks, everybody could reproduce
it, then nobody could -- took that long to fix the bug
- Mariner 9 at Mars -- biggest dust storm in history as it arrives
- inconsistencies between GR and QM
- If they've faked Boltzmann's
constant -- all these calculations are off -- they could be
capable of a lot more
- Planetaria don't have to be perfect -- they could control us
by taboo -- control the space programme, etc -- we should seek out
places it's hard to probe
- Perfect simulation only when being looked at -- less
processing power required -- more opportunities to catch them out
- If we crash the planetarium, would what we see be any more comforting
than what we see now?
- We're already hitting light speed boundaries -- we're backing
away from geostationary satellites to cable, because it's faster --
maybe we all end up in a 10 cubic metre box
- Another zoo hypothesis: we're all so repulsive, no-one wants
- Wasteful broadcasting occurs over a short time period -- everyone
else is using cable, or very fine beams -- we're already having problems
with mobile phones next to PCs
- finale: Sign Language Party Piece
- Stephen Baxter demonstrated sign language -- signing along to the
audience singing White Christmas -- what better way to
Panel -- Bournemouth Vice!
Ian Sorensen, David Lally, Eddie Cochrane, Julian Headlong
Who might star in TV shows if they were made on the other side of the
- Blake's 7 -- by the cast of ST:TOS -- Vila: "I'm
a sneak thief, not a doctor!"
- ST:TOS -- by the cast of Thunderbirds
- Lost in Space -- by the cast of The Clangers -- Will
Robinson by Tiny Clanger, the Robot by the Iron Chicken, etc
- Gerry Anderson and Irwin Allen made the same series:
- Stingray -- Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea
- Fireball XL5 -- Lost in Space
- Secret Service -- Land of the Giants
- whatever the show -- "Peter Davidson as the Doctor -- he always
plays the doctor on any British show!"
- Captain Scarlet -- by the cast of Starsky and Hutch,
with the Angels by Charlie's Angels, TV and film -- which gives
6 Angels -- the name of the 6th? Density?
- If Buffy were done in
the UK, it would be done as only six episodes, very high-tech, never
mentioning the V word, people would like it, yet it would be shown only
once -- oh, it has!
Amanda Baker -- Missions to Mars
The Mars Society's Mars Programme
- Climatologists are interested in the nearby planets
- Venus -- runaway greenhouse effect
- Mars -- almost no atmosphere -- 7 millibars
- Missions to Mars
- 1964 -- Mariner 4 -- first evidence of craters on Mars -- very
- 1971 -- Mariner 9 -- better pictures -- some evidence for liquid
- photographs -- spectroscopy -- sample studies
- Neither USSR nor US has very good track record with Mars
- USSR -- two Phobos probes
- US -- Mars Climate Orbiter, Mars Polar Lander
- However there have been successes: Mariner, Viking, Mars Global
Surveyor, Pathfinder and Sojourner -- Sojourner was a killer Web app!
- NASA has more missions planned -- but enormous price tag -- $500bn
- Robert Zubrin, The
Case for Mars
- Mars Direct challenge -- within 10 years, $50bn, no new tech
- first phase -- robotic -- to manufacture fuel on Mars for return
flight -- then send crews -- "progressive exploration"
- Mars is resource rich -- enough water locked up to cover Mars to
depth of 600ft -- resources needed for life: hydrogen, nitrogen,
oxygen, carbon -- resources for industry: heavy metals
Panel -- Big Books
"No book can make it in today's best-seller list under 800 pages"
- (Despite her best efforts, Farah could not get a really vitriolic
argument going between the two camps, because they were all too busy
pretending to be frightened of China
Miéville sitting in the front row of the audience, and so
huddled together for safety :-)
- "I could not pick it up."
- "Short books good, long books bad" -- "I'm sorry,
could you boil that down a bit?"
- It's good to have something tight to work with. You go through and
cut things away. Some authors seem to go through and add stuff. They
- SF used to be said to be short because of the difficulty of
maintaining the world
- Now there is more room to flesh out characters against a backdrop
- Blaise Pascal: "I
am sorry for the length of my letter, but I had not the time to write a
- Writers are persuaded by publishers to write longer books.
- Less is more -- you can bury the point you are trying to make in a
barrage of verbiage
- You can read a short book in an afternoon, yet its image can remain
forever -- the single brushstroke that gives the illusion of the whole
- You can have big worlds to explore, big ideas to explore
- A world is fractal -- the closer you look, the more there is too see
-- big sweeping issues and fine detail, all in one book
- I've read tightly edited long books, and short books that could have
been shorter -- there is bloat at all lengths
- I didn't set out to write a long book, but to tell a particular story
-- I did feel that the next book had to be about the same length, though
- I called my editor in a panic -- "It's big, what do I do?"
-- "Don't worry, tell the story"
- I can bring in secondary characters to examine different aspects of
- American readers, more than British readers, take a world and make it
their own -- bigger books allow this
- Revelation Space
-- wanted to imitate James Ellroy's The Big Nowhere crime novel
-- impressed by it -- studied its structure and pacing
traverses a whole planet, need a whole book -- it spans 15 years of the
life of the protagonist -- first draft had a lot of background -- needed
to write it to understand the world -- but was cut because the readers
didn't need it -- final draft is 45% of the first draft
- Ursula Le Guin, Lathe of
Heaven -- 125 pages that brilliantly describe several worlds
- A book should be however long it needs to be -- sometimes it takes
lots of layers and levels -- sometimes it can be concise
- redRobe has a
description of an entire world in one chapter
- the shape of the story determines its length
- a short book can have a continuity of tension, a page turning
structure -- can't maintain that for 600 pages
- everything I've done is 50% longer than what's finally printed
- I write a description of something so I know how it works, then cut
- Think of writing as a sculpture --
what you cut away reveals the
shape within -- it's almost more important than what you leave in.
- "Well, if you want to write for people's short attention
- The short form focuses on just the significant aspects relevant to
the plot -- the long form has more detail, more "ordinary"
- In short form, might use a 1000 word flashback to explain how an
event affects a character -- in the long form, can slip this information
- Long form tends to have a cast of thousands -- need to keep very good
notes! -- can choose the right character for the viewpoint for a scene
-- can have multiple viewpoints of the same scene
- Multiple characters allow new tensions in the reader -- one character
might not know they are being chased, say, but the reader can, from the
viewpoint of another
- Can write big books with only a few major characters -- see the world
through the eyes of only one character because that's how we experience
- Is a trilogy just a "big book"?
- Lisanne: my series is 7 volumes and growing, each volume has an
ending, but it's all one story
- Ash is easier to
read as 4 volumes -- there are 4 "endings" to help
- Kim Stanley Robinson, Mars trilogy -- each book does something
- Ursula Le Guin, Earthsea
trilogy -- separate narratives that fit together into a larger work
- For a slower reader, multiple plotlines can make it difficult to
remember what's going on
- Big books are physically difficult to read -- too heavy to hold, too
big to carry around
- The digressions in Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow are "the
book dreaming" -- to get this kind of effect, need a big book
- K. J. Parker, "Fencer" fantasy trilogy -- can get totally
sucked into the book's dream
- Can an arbitrary page limit impose a useful discipline?
- I was asked to cut a book by 50 pages, to go into a large print
edition -- 7 years after original publication -- did an adverb
purge, removed unnecessary words, unnecessary scenes -- realised it
was so much better! -- but maybe would have preferred to cut only 40
- Imposing a longer limit can make a book worse -- cutting
(usually) improves -- padding (usually) makes it worse -- shorter
helps you stick to the point
- A slim book is like a marathon runner -- a big book is like a body
builder who eats a lot then cuts out the fat to finish "ripped"
- Do you write long/short books because that's what you want to read?
- I like reading good books
- Some books feel long
David B. Wake -- 20:01, a Sunday Odyssey
"One Minute Past Eight" -- another hilarious 90 minute play,
with wonderfully imaginative "special effect" (like the rotating
polystyrene space wheel, and the rotating ball point pen inside it), with
high points including:
- based on 2001, and 2010, naturally. With a chorus of
filkers singing "aaaaall ... theeeese ... woooorlds ...
ARE YOURS!" to the signature theme
- David Attenborough and the apes
- Space: 1999 -- the monolith is just outside Moonbase Alpha
- Captain Scarlet -- well, actually, Captain
- the space hopper
- the mobile phone
- Red Dwarf -- CAL / Holly computer
- The MS error messages from CAL, and the "three-fingered salute"
- DVD demonstration -- foreign language versions, fast forward,
subtitles, director's voice-over, dolphin PoV, ...
... and much more. I just hope there's a video version of this one, too
Colin Fine -- Lojban workshop
A discussion of the artificial language's novel and unfamiliar features
- John Woldemar Cowan, The
Complete Lojban Language
- Derivation of Loglan
- James Cook Brown -- 1955, heard of the Sapir-Worf hypothesis
- build an experimental tool, an artificial
language, to investigate it
- give it a special feature -- poetic? concise? predicate logic?
- teach the language, and see if it affects thought
- went public with Loglan in 1960 Scientific American
- dictionary and grammar in 1969, 2nd edn 1974
- Around 1980, there was a schism mirroring the Volapük schism 100
- When Volapük was discovered to be impractical, changes were
suggested, but the heretics were excommunicated!
- possible reason for the rise of Esperanto
- For nearly 20 years, Loglan and Lojban have been developed
- Lojban considers itself to be an instance/manifestation of Loglan
- totally different vocabularies
- some rapprochement recently
- Incorporates predicate calculus
- tokenisation -- no "grey tape" versus "great ape"
- syntax/parsing -- no "fruit flies like a banana", no
garden path sentences
- lexical semantics -- no multiple meanings for words -- "set"
in English has over 20 different meanings
- some marked, constrained semantic ambiguity, via metaphor
-- probably necessary for an extensible, usable language
- Grammar is LALR(1) parsable -- yacc syntax
- Why people study it
- intellectual interest
- insight into other languages
- communication with machines -- but probably too difficult for
people to use
- European languages -- forced to make distinction between singular
and plural -- "this table, these tables"
- Japanese, Chinese, Lojban -- not obligatory distinction
- all natural languages have some form of obligatory tense/aspect
- entirely optional in Lojban
- generalised to place and motivation as well as time, all optional
- mechanism for extension
- individual / mass / set
- difference between objects as individuals, as a mass of stuff,
and as as set (irrespective of number)
- "a herd of cows" -- these individual cows -- this local
mass of cowness, distinct from global mass, or the individual cows
- some writers who don't know the language properly use individual
for singular, mass for plural -- but it has nothing to do with this
- has some parallels with aspect -- "I read the book, I was
reading the book" -- distinguished in Slavonic language -- same
event, viewed differently
- veridical -- what a thing really is
- non-veridical -- what I am choosing to refer to as an X, and I
expect you to understand what I mean by that -- metaphorical --
referring to a table as "this chair" whilst sitting on it
- obligatory distinction
- [Since I have no idea what "what a thing really is"
means (surely anything is only what we choose to classify it as? the
alternative sounds rather Platonic?) I presume I would always
use the non-veridical form?]
- Nouns, verbs, adjectives
- In Russian, there is a verb "to be blue"
- In Japanese, an adjective is actually a kind of verb
- In Lojban, there are no nouns, verbs, adjectives -- rather there
are n-place predicates, little words, and names
- A one place predicate, like "sleep", tends to get
translated as a verb: "X sleeps" -- but it could be a
noun: "X is a sleeper"
- There are loads of two place predicates
- Words are defined with all their "necessary" arguments
-- "see" is a 3-place predicate: X sees Y against
- the slots don't have to be filled, but they are part of the
word's "necessary meaning"
- "go": A goes from B to C by way of route D by
- "I go to the door" -- explicitly choosing not to
mention the source, route or conveyance adds to the meaning
- there is a word to suppress a place -- different from choosing
not to specify, rather asserting it does not apply in this case
- "I go to London (suppressing route)" -- not sure what
this would mean? [teleport there?]
- Heinlein mentions Loglan, but
the references show he didn't know what it was
- a whole load of "little words", non-logical,
non-predicate -- that can be put anywhere
- "happy", "sad", "uncertain" about
what I'm saying
- can distinguish "hearsay", "inner certainty",
- tone of voice should not be significant
- sarcasm -- either deadpan, and risk being misunderstood -- or
modify "I'm really happy to see you, not"
- logical -- "I am not talking to you", "I am doing
other than talking to you"
- meta-linguistic -- can answer "have you stopped beating your
wife" with a negation "your presuppositions do not apply"
- The Sapir-Worf hypothesis is meaningless, and therefore there is
nothing to dispute or investigate
Panel -- TV shows into movies and vice versa
Eddie Cochrane, David Lally, Linda Stratmann, Sabine Furlong, Noel
Why some projects work and some just die
- If something is successful on film, people say "let's turn it
into a TV series", but without considering what made it successful
- Often the film cast don't follow to the TV show -- it can't afford
- A TV series can be better -- it has more time to develop and
grow characters and story lines -- like Buffy
(who would have thought from the film that it would have made such a
good TV series?), or Highlander (at least by the 2nd season)
- Alien Nation had a good transition
- There's a long tradition of great half-hour comedy series being made
into very bad films -- they get stretched out, the pacing is all wrong
- A script for a long episode is different from a film script
- ST:TOS turned into a successful film
series -- after the first try
- Bilko, Mission Impossible -- went for big blockbuster
films, but lost the feel of the series -- just capitalising on the
success of the series
- Some things don't translate well because of the change of scale
- Stargate has managed
to keep the "feel"
- Blue Thunder -- had loads of spare footage from the film to
use up -- massive lack of continuity -- dumbed down for TV
- Often have to dumb down, or savagely cut -- to be on an early TV slot
- The Avengers movie is just too painful to talk about
- There are also "next generation" TV series -- like Knightrider
2000 -- aaaargh!
- X-Files movie was
really just an extended episode
- Some films are not a continuation of the TV series, but a remake --
The Fugitive, Lost in
- The Brady Bunch -- gave the movie a very strange and
interesting twist -- a 1970s family living in the 1990s
- Galaxy Quest
should not be made into a TV series -- it is perfect in itself
- Buzz Lightyear is a good cartoon series spin off from Toy
- What about The Pink Panther? -- most extreme example of a
minor character getting their own series?