British National Science Fiction Convention
13-16 April 1990, Adelphi Hotel, Liverpool
GoHs: Iain M. Banks, Nigel Kneale
(unable to attend due to work commitments), Ken Campbell, (artist) SMS,
(fan) Anne Page
My first con at the Adelphi Hotel, a truly magnificent building (But
very difficult to find in a car travelling Liverpool's one-way system ---
we took three tries just to find the Mersey Tunnel).
Also, my first, and serendipitous, discovery of
filk (we caught the end of a filk concert
before Bob Shaw's "A Bit of BoSh".)
Julian Baum: Paper, Fish Tanks and Exploding Galaxies
How to get very impressive SF effects photographs using what can only be
described as crude techniques:
- Although perspective is difficult to draw, it is easy to photograph:
just draw it flat and photograph it at an angle.
- Fairly crude models look better in photographs, due to 'softening'.
And there is no reason not to airbrush detail in afterwards: it's just a
- Overexposure is a useful technique, especially for 'planets'. Just
paint a bit of card blue/green/orange, photograph it at an angle (to
give perspective and colour gradation) very overexposed, to give a very
convincing planetary effect.
- Line file (just black and white, no shades of grey) is great for
getting good, sharp silhouettes to be used in further exposures.
Dave Langford: Fun and Senseless Violence
An inimitable Dave Langford
review of SF from the point of view of genocide --- multiple genocide,
ordinary genocide, accidental genocide --- plus how and why various
weapons of megadestruction can't work.
The sound of one Waldo clapping.
For example: A spaceship is powered by two laser beams: "The one at
the back heats up the air, just like a jet. The one at the front clears
the air out of the way. To turn round, you must leave the one at the front
on, whilst simultaneously not turning off the one at the back."
[This talk can now be found in The
Silence of the Langford]
Panel: Batteries Not Included --- Hard SF
- It's harder to write 'correct SF': we know more physics than we used
to, so we spot the flaws.
- Don't explain! If the future people you are identifying with don't
think something is a problem, then you won't think it's a problem.
- 'Hard' SF means good science, even if it is one of the
'softer' sciences like biology, linguistics, etc. There is currently a
move towards the latter.
- The scientific investigations of a generation tend to match the
science fiction of their youth. They read about it, now they
want to study it. Which is why science fiction becomes science fact.
Jack Cohen: Genes Don't Make People or Aliens
- On genes
- If one person is an albino, and another not, there will be a
difference in their genes --- you say that there is a gene that
expresses the difference --- but genes are an abstraction.
- Moreover, it is not just the individual's DNA. The mother's
genotype (if your genes are the 'tape', she provides the 'tape
recorder' hardware) and her phenotype (whether she is pretty,
whether she smokes, etc) and other effects are also important. If
you think it is just DNA, you don't worry about giving the mother
thalidomide --- the genes are there okay, aren't they?
- For example: a knitting pattern prescribes a jumper (it
does not describe it). But, to make a jumper, you also need
environmental things: wool, needles, someone who knows how to knit.
- Recommended reading: Susan Oyama, The
Ontogeny of Information.
- On theories
- Look at a photograph of sunbeams diverging from a cloud. Isn't
that evidence for the sun being a few miles up? But you never
thought it was, because that isn't in your model. So: even wrong
theories can have strong evidence to support them.
- There is no one-to-one correspondence between 'cause' and
'effect', and believing there is can be dangerous.
- On a SF note: you can't have aliens made from bits of known
animals (head of a lion, body of a horse, ...) because there is not
a gene for the head, another for the body, etc.
- Anecdote: On his way to the Con, Jack Cohen met and Animal
Liberationist on the train. He'd freed mink:
JC: How could you be so cruel? Leaving them out to starve
to death, to be infected by parasites, to die in agony?
AL: But I gave them their freedom!
JC: You can't, they don't understand freedom. I could
give you your freedom by stripping you naked and leaving you on top
of one of the Pennines in midwinter. It would be the same.
- The idea that there is a 'Nature' looking after everything, that
there is a 'grand pattern' into
which everything fits, is dangerous. Actually, 90% of mammals
and birds die, in agony, before they can breed. (He is trying to
persuade the BBC to let him make a programme of what nature is really
Dave Lermit: Nanotechnology
- Minature silicon machines
- Silicon has three times the strength of steel, and doesn't corrode
- The mechanical switching speeds of these things are fast.
- 'Quantum wires', made of gold, with a radius of 300 atoms, have
already been made. They do not obey Ohm's law.
- Biological machines, at subcellular sizes
- They need to be programmed, and programmed correctly!
- To make anything, from waste products, you need
For example: an 'enclosed' toilet that makes loo rolls from the
- a computer
- a disassembler, to take things to bits, and tell the computer
what their structure was
- an assembler, instructed by the computer, to make things
- To replicate a living organism, is a single 'snapshot' sufficient, or
are vectors needed, and if so, to how many derivatives?
Panel: "Up the Walls of the World" --- Book collecting for
the Seriously Short of Room
I attended this to get some hints: we had just decided to build an
extension, because we were running out of space in the house for our
7000 books... However, it was a series
- One participant explained that he had attended a similar session a
couple of years ago, which had solved his problem then, but he
now had it again! There isn't a permanent solution...
- Someone erected a complete set of shelves in a double garage, to hold
60,000 books. They had just finished, tripped, knocked over one set of
shelves, which dominoed. It took them two hours to get out of the
- A Californian explained he just used bricks and planks. "Isn't
that a bit unstable?" he was asked. "I've never had a problem,
except in the earthquake..." Applause!
(This was soon after the large '89 Californian earthquake.)