The 51st British Easter Science Fiction Convention
21--24 April 2000, Central Hotel, Glasgow
GoHs: Guy Gavriel Kay, Katherine
Kurtz, Deborah Turner Harris, John Salthouse.
The programme listing was again rather sparse, but again, the quality
was high: mostly new items, hardly any items I had seen before, and
On the Friday, getting into an SFnal frame of
mind, and not yet being attuned to the Glasgow accent, I through I heard
someone in the street saying "Pikachu", when they were in fact
selling ... the "Big Issue"!
I've been to Glasgow (home of blue
police boxes that acknowledge the
Tardis) and the Central Hotel with
its marvellous staircase before -- for the smaller Albacons in
'85 and '91, and for the
'95 Worldcon, where it was only one of the many
programme areas. It is probably straining the limits for an Eastercon: it
could have done with a third large programme room, and with more catering
(although it did have the breakfast queuing down to a fine art).
Overheard: "I'm trying to pull Amazon
out of the red all by myself."
Panel -- What Research? I Write Fiction!
Guy Gavriel Kay, Scott MacMillan,
Have you ever been jolted out of a good story because of some niggling
bit of historical inaccuracy? This panel looks at the importance of doing
your research so you can diverge with purpose.
- MS: archaeologists get phoned up and asked "what sort of nappy
did Egyptian children wear in Akhenaton's time?"
- GGK: you need to be grounded in credibility, of character, science,
setting, magic -- but research can be a seductive trap
- you can confuse the research with the novel -- "undigested
- having facts and details does not make the reader happier
- you need unobtrusive fats that work their way in to the narrative
without impeding the flow -- for example, Tom Wolfe's journalistic
writing like The Right Stuff is great, but his novels are
constantly arrested by lumps of research.
- SM: I'm a State Herald of Ireland, but I've never written about
Heraldry, because it would be boring, for me.
- My background is TV, which need to be visual, can't be held for
too long with explanations.
- For an episode of Outer Limits, I wanted a character to
fire a pistol underwater. Can it be done? I took a gun into a
swimming pool. The first bullet hit the side and damaged it -- the
second I fired the length, and it went about 15ft.
- Of Noel Coward: "How was your flight Mr Coward?" "Have
you ever been on an aeroplane?" "Yes." "Did you
go anywhere?" "Yes. "Well, it was rather like that!"
- GGK: There are libraries and academics to consult for straightforward
historical research, but how do you research the relationship between
Elves and Dwarfs?
- Tolkien researched by
inventing. It's important that there's more material background than
what appears in the book, to instill reader confidence that "this
narrator knows what they are talking about"
- I don't need to tell you everything about how people
travelled in antiquity. I need to tell you enough to give
you that "I can be trusted" feeling
- SM: And you can't write enough background to be convincing without
- My wife, Katherine Kurtz, has written a book based in Dublin --
even though we've lived in Ireland for 15 years she spent 3 weeks
walking around Dublin.
- I can drive, but I couldn't write credibly about driving to
Istambul, or driving a Formula One racing car.
- GGK: but you don't have to learn by doing, you can learn by reading
- SM: Read Das Boot to know everything about running a
WWII U-boat. A great plot can be readable even if the characters are
poor, but if the characters are good yet there is not plot ... well,
just look at the winners of literary prizes, then try to read
- GGK: the research can bring characters to life. For example, my
learning about mosaic art in antiquity influenced the way a character
developed -- fingers are always cut, from handling broken glass -- there
was conflict between different techniques, which gave a chance for a
- GGK: The Internet has changed my research -- not for the details, but
for finding the people I can ask
- MS: We did some research for Time Team on Mediaeval
Christmases -- the food, plants, songs... Then in a briefing the
producer says, "well, we've got this boar's head, and we've put up
some holly, even though they didn't used to..." Sometimes I wonder
why we bother.
- SM: I was the technical advisor on US mounted cavalry for the TV
mini-series Centennial . I drilled 30 guys on how to ride and
dismount properly. But the director said it was wrong, because that's
not how John Wayne does it! The scene was edited out of the programme.
- MS: The Mummy is marketed in US schools as "authentic"!
It's a curious mixture: there is perfect text written on the jars, but
the wrong number of jars.
- GGK: There is a point of diminishing returns. A production of Pride
and Prejudice, in a prestigious Toronto theatre, discovered what
women wore at that period, but deliberately didn't use it, because they
wanted to make an historical piece that pleased the audience. But they
were apologetic about it -- which a TV programme never would be.
- SM: they should have researched actor's costumes of the time
-- that would have been more appropriate.
- MS: to check the authenticity of the costumes -- look at the feet. I
saw 300 Frenchmen in armour, all wearing Doc Martens!
- SM: Shoe makers often make shoes too small, because they just have an
order for 300 pairs, and they can cut back on the materials used and
make more profit -- and then the actors end up wearing Doc Martens.
- SM: In Braveheart, the decision was "the Scottish guys
gotta be in those dress things, else no-one will know they're Scots".
Kilts were not worn at the time, the armies would have looked identical
-- which would have been just too confusing for any audience.
- GGK: sometimes modern sensibilities would be too distracted by
historical accuracy -- like the missing or black teeth in beautiful
women. It's a trap to show the real dirt and grit, because the
characters themselves would have noticed nothing unusual.
- SM: movies capitalise on the viewers' inbuilt visual images, and use
these for shortcuts or deliberate shocks.
- SM: Sometimes you just have to make stuff up. If you want
some difficult research: try researching the RUC -- the only police
force in the world with an unlisted phone number, and whose PR office
won't talk to you.
- MS: In a combat scene, you can't use a real sword, even though weight
and balance are important, because of the dangers. And if you had an
accurate portrayal of a mediaeval battle, the audience would walk out
after three minutes, sickened by the bloodshed.
- MS: When we see something inaccurate, we are angry because our
suspension of disbelief is ruined. Everyone raves about The
Engines of God, but it has bad archaeology: when they are
trying to rescue the machine that has important writing on it, why don't
they just photograph it?! Different things throw different people.
Related material from previous cons:
TechnoBabble panel game
Can the panellists tell the difference between science fiction,
science, and b******s?
a rerun of the Reconvene game, with some new
- "Danger, Kim Stanley. Danger!"
- "My [Bugs] scripts got rejected on the grounds that it was too
- "It's a quote from the longest running SF TV show." "What,
Sky at Night?"
see also: rasfw technobabble thread
Arts in SF
Gary Stratmann and Linda Stratmann
- Putting an actor in a mask is useful -- the audience can't tell them
from the stuntman
- The Phantom Menace
light sabre duel took a lot of training, and looks spectacular. It's
kung fu style stickwork. It was better than the earlier films, because
the light sabres didn't shatter during the fight, and were heavy enough
that the actors could really lay in with them.
- Xena/Hercules -- most of the crew are kung fu experts
-- they are very good at what they do, very good at making the stars
look good, and they can die well. They can run three steps up a
wall -- then fall off, because gravity cheats! We can expect to see our
heroes running up walls for years to come.
- "kung fu" just means "very good, master".
- Most SF uses is Chinese fighting plus Japanese mythology ("not
as clumsy as a blaster" -- especially one in the hands of an
Imperial Stormtrooper!) because it looks alien to USans.
- The Klingon bat'leth is definitely designed for people who drink a
lot then go out for a fight. It's quarterstaff style.
- Real martial arts is very quick. It has to be slowed down for the
screen (except for the sword duel at the beginning of The Seven
Samurai [Akira Kurosawa, 1954], and Captain Kronos: Vampire
Hunter [Hammer, 1974] has a sword duel lasting about a second).
- Screen fighting attacks the weapon, not the person -- lots of
- In Babylon 5
- The Minbari/Ranger fighting pole is just a staff
- The Centauri use a Roman short sword as a duelling weapon -- but
the Romans used shields!
- No amount of spiritual teaching will save you if the other guy shoots
you from 500 paces.
- Dr Who has Venusian
karate -- Jon Pertwee was taught aikido by the stuntmen, but he had a
bad back in reality. Real martial arts involves a lot of being dumped on
your ass, being hit, being kicked -- often all at once.
- It's cheaper to use martial arts, because there are no blaster FX, no
burnt clothing. But Hawk the Slayer  managed to have no
fake blood at all!
- The Matrix -- starts
as kung fu and ends as Hollywood. Trained the actors for three months to
- Very few alien martial arts are embedded in the culture. If you are
continually fighting wars, new tech replaces old. So in the West, few
martial arts survive -- no-one is sure how people really fought
with quarterstaffs (though there are a limited number of ways to hit
someone with a stick). In the East, they had more time on their hands to
develop the arts -- and were not allowed the high tech swords.
- The policeman's truncheon -- not a very good weapon, but it has some
tradition. Now being replaced by a sidearm baton, itself derived from a
Japanese weapon derived from a pipe.
- Epee fencing is closer to a practical fighting technique -- can hit
opponent anywhere. Foil fencing has a much more limited target.
- Military swords and bayonets survive, because you can always run out
- A tradition of duelling usually becomes a tradition of non-lethal
fighting, otherwise you run out of officers, or whoever, very quickly.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer
-- uses kick boxing -- Sarah Michelle Gellar had done it before -- it
looks very good on film, because it's slower than punching -- it's
easier to choreograph fights.
- Anime makes guns a martial arts -- especially
- All the posing is actually waiting for the other guy to do something
-- like blink.
- The fencing scene in The Princess Bride is tremendous fun --
traditional swashbuckling spoof style, done extremely well -- but it's
not realistic fighting. The Mask of Zorro is extremely good "Hollywood
sword fighting". The Oliver Reed version of The Three
Musketeers has a lot of hitting people with furniture -- making use
of what's available.
- The police use horses as weapons, to control crowds. (But horse don't
do well on marbles.)
- Jackie Chan is an extremely good acrobat. He doesn't fight, rather "plays"
with his opponents -- such as grabbing the hand of one, then hitting
another with it.
John Salthouse -- Son et Lumière
"exothermic chemistry" demonstrations ... or, "Things
that go bang. Loudly"
This is such a popular event that, due to the limited size of the main
programme room, it needed two sittings!
Liquid oxygen is such a dangerous chemical
they won't supply it to pyromaniacs like me. So I have to make my own.
As previously seen at Albacon '91
Panel -- The Arthur C Clarke Awards
A panel of past judges discuss this year's shortlist, and decide their
choice of winner.
- The shortlist for Best Novel is:
- First -- how can we ditch some? By weight? Let's just read the light
- Neal Stephenson
- Let's get rid of Cryptonomicon, because it's not SF
- But Clute has it as one of his top five SF of the millennium!
- The best bits are the WWII bits -- which aren't SF
- And being set in the future does not make a book SF
- Let's move on to something else and come back to Cryptonomicon
- Gernsback said SF should be 5% science and 95% romance
- Stephen Baxter
- The rumours why Red Mars didn't win was because it
was the first in a trilogy, so you couldn't tell yet if it was
any good (and the other two parts were rejected because they
were also parts of a trilogy)
- And Time: Manifold 1 is also the first of a trilogy
- The Sparrow won -- yet it has a sequel -- but it
does stand alone, whereas Red Mars does not
- Stephen Baxter one day has to let his characters stay dead -- he
has a real resurrection complex.
- We are agreed -- Time has gone
- Vernor Vinge
- Let's get rid of the Vinge.
- It wasn't as bad as I was expecting
- A Fire Upon the Deep was great -- this one is stretched
- I could hear John Wayne lecturing as in True Grit.
- I'm astounded it was nominated for the Prometheus Libertarian
Award -- despite the fact it's the best argument for Worldwide
Military Government since Heinlein's Starship Troopers!
- The Vinge is gone.
- Bruce Sterling
- I'll put the boot into Distraction then. It's like one of
those 1960s narrative history books, with little boxed asides about
the characters. Three pages of not very good info dumping at a time.
Off scene events.
- He's got some good ideas, great dialogue, but he doesn't know
what he's trying to say, there's no plot. Everything is set up to be
inevitable, rather than plausible.
- It made me laugh out loud in places, but at the end I hurled it
lightly against the wall. The satire on American society was
brilliant, but I got tired of it after a while.
- With a lot of this shortlist, I get deja vu. Distraction
made me think of Stephen Bury's Interface -- but that other
was a lot sharper.
- The Governor of Louisiana character was a bit unsubtle -- it was
just Huey Long dropped in.
- It didn't finish in a satisfactory way, no proper closure.
Sterling is much better at the short story or novella length. The
beginning as a novella would have been much better.
- So the Sterling is out.
- Kathleen Ann Goonan
- Goonan can't write, can she? She writes a chase scene and makes
it sound dull and leaden.
- I liked it. It had a plot, a beginning, middle and end. It's set
in Hawaii, which makes it fun. But it's too long.
- It shows a misunderstanding of American political history...
- ... and of the effect of diet on growth
- The ending is resolved by magic. He does some maths in his head,
then steps through a portal -- it's a magic spell! He should have
used the maths to build a portal, or find out where the portal was.
Very Anne McCaffrey.
- My big problem is I remember nothing about it. I lost the thread
while reading it, and now it's all vanished. Not memorable enough
for the ACC award?
- I enjoyed it, and it reminded me of
Connie Willis -- focussed
rather more on the characters than the events -- curiously detached.
- Of all the books this is the one with the best characters -- they
are real people.
- It rested on strings of coincidences -- very little logic
structuring it. But because the characters worked, I was interested,
and didn't mind the coincidences.
- It's not a winner
- Justina Robson
- I loved bits of Silver Screen. This is the only
one who can write.
- It's very British -- unlike the other British author,
Stephen Baxter, who's trying to be an American writer. Actually,
it's very Leeds. Like those other British authors -- Jeff Noon,
Ken MacLeod, Simon Ings --
they all have a sense of place, of culture. Parts reminded me of a
redeveloped Docklands -- very vivid images.
- I really enjoyed it, but I don't think it's that great -- the
plot is so simple, I can't describe it without giving it away. It's
a who/whydunnit -- although at the end we know who but not why -- a
rereading might make the why clearer.
- It makes me want to read her next book.
- There are lots of really great parts, but the integration isn't
done all that well.
- It doesn't have a "happy ever after" -- a character is
traumatised and stays traumatised.
- The characters work really well -- you believe in them. The
bulemia is handled well -- the sufferer can control it but
it's not going away -- the character is only "in control",
not some laid-back perfect heroine.
- I think it's flawed, but it is so great in places, and you want
to jump up and down and say "read this". Unlike all the
others. It's not overwritten -- just a single narrative with a
couple of flashbacks. I think it's a winner. The problems are with
integrating the pieces, not with the necessity of those pieces -- it
all belongs in there. Modern 400 page novels are often two 200 page
novels that the author seems to have dropped and shuffled the pages
- Neal Stephenson
- Cryptonomicon is physically difficult to read,
it's so heavy! And so complicated: I was having to keep notes!
- I got really bored with it -- even though I was really looking
forward to it. I kept putting it down. I only got about half way
through, then I finished off by skipping the modern bits.
There are some good bits
- So you missed the five pages on how to eat cereal?
- And the riff on the cultural study of beers was great!
- I've just heard an academic paper on the iMac advert just
- Lots of these have a theme of cryptography -- and of alienated
- I think Cryptonomicon will win, and it's the wrong winner. If
it wins, it will be a scandal -- but the ACC award is no stranger to
- The BSFA shortlist [Eugene Byrne
ThigMOO, Justina Robson Silver Screen,
Mary Doria Russell Children
of God, Simon Ings Headlong,
Ken MacLeod The Sky Road]
is much better than this one.
- Silver Screen is the best on this list. If you wave Cryptonomicon
around as best SF (if you can wave it around!) people will look at you
strangely -- the best bits are the historical bits.
- Let's vote: Cryptonomicon -- zero. Silver Screen --
- How many of the audience have read either? [about 4 had read one,
another 4 the other]
- Silver Screen is good old fashioned SF with modern techy
things, chases, and a plot. And characters!
- The ACC award panel is supposed to read each entry a second time
(after it is shortlisted) -- and base the award on second impressions.
(Sometimes on reading a book a second time, we wonder why we shortlisted
it.) Will anyone be able to read Cryptonomicon a second
- So, we've got a hypothetical winner -- but then we were wrong last
year! Whether it wins or not, Silver Screen is something we
[Distraction won the ACC award]
Katherine Kurtz -- GoH interview
- Author website at www.deryni.net
- Codex due to be published soon -- the author saw my notebooks on the
- British publishers didn't push the series, so it went out of print.
Currently available only as US imports
- I love writing stories involving the Templars. As an historian, that
Holy Blood and Holy Grail stuff really annoys me.
- I've fallen in love with Dublin. I had a lovely excuse for poking
around odd corners of the city -- I was doing research! It's a Gargoyle
story. The rot set in in Georgian times when they stopped putting
gargoyles on buildings.
- How did you feel when Gwynedd became the name of a real county?
- If I was doing it over, I probably wouldn't use a real
historical name. When I first visited Wales, after writing the first
book, it was lovely, but it didn't speak to me in an emotional way.
But when I crossed the border into Scotland, I felt I had come home.
- "deryni" is from the same root word as "druid"
and "oak", from the Welsh. It's pronounced der-rin-ee,
but deh-rin-ee is an okay second pronunciation.
- Part of the fun of writing a saga series, as an historian, is getting
intrigued by the historical flow. I personally am not intrigued by
prehistory, or the Continent, and prefer to stay in these Isles. My next
book about Joan of Arc meant I had to learn more French history than I
really wanted to know.
Gavriel Kay -- GoH talk
GGK had suggested, because his talk was rather serious Work In Progress,
that it should start with a dancing Klingon. So, much to his bemusement --
- I have a passionate belief in the importance and potential of fantasy
literature. Even in the SF community, some regard fantasy as trivial and
- Fantasy is usually seen as escapism -- and that's normally a
criticism. But all good storytelling is escapism -- it draws you
from your own life into the lives of the characters in the book.
- There is a place for entertainment and light fiction. It's hard to
read meaningful literature in 15 minute segments, which is all many
people have. Fantasy, or any genre, can fulfil this need for light
fiction. But because many or most works are of a certain kind, it is a
mistake to say the genre is of that kind.
- The best fantasy can come closer to mirroring the human story than
just about anything else. The myths, the legends, tap into us directly.
- Fantasy is not just about myth, but about history, about the past.
What can fantasy do, what traps can it avoid, that historical fiction
- Fantasy allows universalising of the story. It is removed from a
specific time or place. It detaches the story from a narrow context.
So it can be seen to apply more to the reader's life and
world than something that happened say 800 years ago in Spain.
- At the Hague Worldcon a Polish SF editor said he expected to lose
about half his readers and writers, because the writers would no
longer have to write disguised stories to get past the
censors. The fact that these writers were using SF/fantasy in this
way shows that it isn't "just" escapism. It can do things
like: demonstrate the dangers when internal hatred blind people to
external dangers; how totalitarians control by erasing history and
culture -- these are tropes -- if the story is set in an
invented world it can be made more relevant, because the reader
cannot say "this is just about Cromwell in Ireland" or
- There is the moral ambiguity of historical fiction. Consider
Oliver Stone's film JFK -- real footage is seamless spliced
in with the fiction -- what is real cannot be separated from what is
made up. [The same criticism that I made about the documentary-style
Walking With Dinosaurs.]
Ought there be limits to what writers of historical novels can do to
real people? Can we hide behind the fact that it is fiction? What we
get is only the author's fantasy on the inner life of a real
person. But with fantasy: I invent a man based on, but not identical
to, El Cid, and so declare I don't know how the real man
thought. Even though clearly drawn from history, we are
acknowledging the guesswork, the invention, the fantasy, of the
work. It's an honorable way of approaching history.
- What other writer today comes close to what you are trying to do?
- The trend is in the other direction -- towards "faction"
-- that real lives of real people are fair game. This has been
defended as "We have to allow authors to write what they want,
otherwise we wouldn't have had Richard III" -- a brilliant
piece of character assassination that stood undisputed for 300
years. I think we will see moves against faction, against the idea
that we are entitled to be there.
- Some fiction has appendices, separating the real stuff from the
fictional. Would you consider doing appendices for Tigana?
- I'm happier providing bibliographies to the source materials I
use. I don't like to make explicit what should be under the surface
-- you can lay too much stress on correspondences. It's like
dismantling a poem -- you can unpack a five word Dylan Thomas phrase
into a paragraph -- but then you no longer have the packed condensed
form. The unbundling can lose subliminal elements. Concordances and
Companions make sense for readers who are passionate about a work.
But some of the scholarly work grown up around
Tolkien can make us lose the
vitality of the original work. (And one of the most uneasy feelings
a writer can have is when reading what a scholar says about their
- What is your take on magic? You seem to be using less of it.
- It's one of the tools at the disposal of a writer. Like FTL
drives in SF may or may not be used in any given book. The
significance of the magic is determined by the story. Fantasy is not
defined by magic. If magic is what draws you to fantasy,
then you will be wanting to read those kind of books, but it's not
what defines the genre. I didn't use magic in my "El Cid"
book, because I wanted to make it hard for people to ignore the
point I was making [about how the rich Renaissance culture was
destroyed, and people could no longer communicate across religious
divides]. My next one is Byzantian -- and magic fits
- So how do you define the fantasy genre?
- There is a problem with categorisation. We are a remorselessly
categorising species -- we keep trying to squeeze square pegs into
round holes. The energy poured into categorising the work is
misplaced -- it ought to be going into "is it any good?"
Publishers need to put books into sections -- it's customer
convenience, that's all.
- Which of your books would you like to see made into a movie?
- Commercially -- I say take any, take all!
- Artistically -- how many of the books you've passionately loved
have been turned into a film you passionately loved? Add to that a
book of your own that you passionately love! Also, you would
have to telescope a 500 page book into a 100 page script. That only
works if you don't feel too much for the book -- which is easier if
the book isn't very good. It must have some small part that
sets the writer's or director's imagination alive, but with the rest
not needing to be treated particularly reverently.
Mark Simmons -- Behind the Scenes at C4's Time Team
"Tony, we love you, but you've only got 24 hours to dig the earth
This proved so popular that the original item, held in the third, small,
programme room, was repeated in a larger room.
- The budget for each Time Team episode is about £1M --
there are 22 archaeologists, and about 140 production crew -- very few
of whom appear before the camera.
- The set-up starts about a year beforehand, with investigation of
about 30 preliminary sites, whittled down to 12, then 8 are filmed. This
episode was filmed in September, but we got the go in June.
- There's lots of research, and it's a proper excavation. But it's
never clear exactly when it will be filmed.
- Student diggers are paid £75/week.
- The council painted the skips specially, to look nice.
- To get permission to dig trenches in people's gardens -- we pay them!
- There is a script -- what trenches are to be opened when. The
producer decides when and where, based on advice given by the
archaeologists. It has to look good. The script says what's
going to be in the trenches -- there's constant rewriting and
re-editing when stuff isn't found.
- There are also "cameos" -- padding for when nothing is
- Time Team is now desperate for skeletons -- because Meet
the Ancestors had proved so popular.
- Time Team is a very good PR tool for getting people
interested in archeology, and very good for local archeological teams.
- Developers now think that a dig takes three days! But then we say,
yes, if you spend £1M!
- TV requires compromises. Some shows filmed were never show, because
nothing interesting happened. But the sites are chosen carefully so that
they will find interesting stuff. So very little prehistory. And chose
sites with very little stratigraphy, to allow quick trenching.
- These are real excavations -- they are doing real archaeology
-- and the film crew put the spin on it after.
Amanda Baker -- The Chemical Evolution of the Universe
The inaugural Science Fiction Foundation George Hay Memorial
Astrophysicist and fan Amanda Baker gave an overview of the process of
nucleosynthesis whereby stars have made all the elements in the universe
(except for the primordial hydrogen, helium, and some lithium). Then, in a
section requiring rather more concentration from the audience, she
described some of her own recent research. A great start to this new
Panel -- Tolkien the Modernist
During a recent 'net discussion, Patrick Nielsen Hayden suggested
Tolkien was a modernist writer. The panel discuss.
- Tolkien has obviously learned
narrative modes from Beowulf, etc, but he is doing something that's not
early mediaeval saga. He's obviously learned from Mallory, but he's not
doing mediaeval romance. He has used modes from a huge range from Homer
and the Bible onwards -- but is doing something his own.
- He went through the Great War, which colours all his work.
- A young child asked of LotR "when did this happen?"
It's a mythical deep time where species that existed then are now
extinct, but are the foundation of our world. This couldn't have been
without the idea that the world is a lot older than 4004 BC.
They are creation myths in very deep time indeed.
- He gives the impression that he believes he is writing about the real
world, about reality. (So he's definitely not post-modernist,
relating to other texts or to itself.)
- He's not fundamentally a modernist because
- of the WWI impact. The first writings, in The Silmarillion,
were while he was recovering from trench fever. They are of "a
time where there was more green and less noise". For him the
war, and all that followed, were negative. The underlying impulse of
LotR is nostalgia, what is lost, what has been taken away.
This is the antithesis of the modernist view.
- of the psychology and characterisation. Tolkien's psychology is
pre-Freudian. One of the defining traits of modern writing, the
contemporary approach, is to tell why characters do what they do,
based on the unconscious, etc.
- he is far too interested in storytelling! Post WWI the world has
been shattered and cannot be made coherent; modernist art reflects
this fragmentary view. Tolkien was trying to write a really long
story and see if he could keep his readers engaged.
- Tolkien's Catholicism: there's something very modern in the idea of a
devout Catholic creating a pantheon of underlying deities.
- Tolkien's characters are not mediaeval, not all "types".
Some are types rather than individuals, but all the central
characters do have a degree of self questioning that is unusual, even
for a 19th century novel. Self doubt is not mediaeval, for the most
part. Also, the characters do not know what they are taking part in.
- Some of the characters are very modern.
- It's long been said that Frodo/Gollum are two halves of one
character, Gollum as the subconscious. And Frodo is always
struggling with his relationship with the ring.
- Boromir is not entirely bad
- He's post-WWI, but not post-WWII. Eliot's The Wasteland looks
like a coherent technocratic manifesto compared to what came after WWII.
- Jane Austen was an
acute observer of human behaviour. So you don't need to be a Freudian to
observe characters. But Freud introduced elements beyond our
understanding, beyond ourselves.
- All the characters act in their own self, but are also at
times aware of being part of a greater pattern. But without the Freudian
- There is the absence of subtlety in the female characters; and it is
a modern notion that a complex legitimacy be given to female characters.
(Jane Austen is noteworthy because of her significant female
characters.) Tolkien is here consistent with the tradition that precedes
- Frodo's struggle to resist the temptation to do evil is
- Tolkien turns the entire epic on one personal solitary decision
-- a modern idea.
- And Frodo fails!
- Eowyn -- in what way is her character not developed?
- Tolkien uses the model of the Amazon who fights and adopts male
attire -- becoming an honorary man. That model was available in the
literature. Eowyn started out as a variant of that, but
self-awareness made her a real person.
- I see Tolkien as Miltonic, not Modern -- Christian free will.
- It's all about the little person dealing with events on the
largest possible scales, and being the essential pivotal point.
Georgian versus modern -- nostalgic. It's a reaction to a machine
society, being a cog in a machine -- an antidote, where the smallest
of individuals can play a role and even define what happens
in the world. What Sam/Frodo do, what Eowyn does, completely
alters the course of events -- compare this with the idea of a
soldier in the trenches.
- Tolkien's ending, even with its great deal of sadness, is a lot "happier"
and forward looking than most modernists.
- Tolkien is constructing an origin of Man that is divine, not
- Newton: "If I have seen further than most, it is because I have
stood on the shoulders of giants". Do we see the world as a
progression to today, or as one where the true giants are in the past?
It's the battle of Ancients and Moderns. Moderns: we are the
culmination, better than the predecessors -- progress. Ancients: things
were wiser and better then. And the essence of Tolkien is things were
better then. The First Age was the glorious age; in the fallen Third Age
we do the best we can do.
- LotR has an exceptionally sophisticated narrative technique.
The cross cutting narrative, the interpenetration of characters. This is
a very modern technique.
- There's a lot of class politics. A mourning for the old upper
classes, a re-creation of the middle classes. But in the Shire there is
the notion of power coming up from underneath, no "ruler" (Sam
becomes mayor). Tolkien said "touching you cap to the squire may be
bad for the squire, but it's good for you".
Workshop -- Technical Tall Tales
- John Clark, Ignition, 1971. Many tales of liquid rocket
propellant manufacture. Fluorine is a good oxidiser, but needs to be
cooled. Chloro-tri-flouride is liquid at room temperature -- and the
closest candidate for what Aliens have
in their blood -- it reacts explosively with water, asbestos, sand, ...
- The experimental rocket DC-X vented hydrogen which pooled underneath
it a blew up. Harry Stine in Halfway to Anywhere has a picture
of where it landed -- four scorched circles corresponding to the rocket
motors. I'm sure this picture will end up doing the UFO rounds...
- JET (Joint European Torus) -- we were experimenting with moving the
plasma -- by switching the magnets on and off. But JET's power takes a
significant proportion of the UK grid -- we hit a resonant frequence --
fortunately we only did this for two seconds, not the 10 seconds we had
planned. We got an emergency phone call from the CEGB -- we had nearly
burnt out the bearings on a third of the generating capacity of the UK!
- The 0800 telephone number crash from a few months ago -- the system
got saturated, one system fell over, and it cascaded. Concentrators fold
2000 lines into 100, because not all lines are in constant use. There
are careful statistical models of how people talk -- which doesn't cover
modems and 'net access! The concentrators are close to falling over. We
are patching in s/w to at least handle 999 calls.
- Lots of cable cutting stories, including a ditch digger in Silicon
Valley that cut 4 cables carrying 11000 lines, that each had to be
reconnected by hand.
- Mars Climate Orbiter used "lithobreaking" -- it's like
aerobreaking, but it uses the ground instead of the atmosphere!
- During WWII the RAF "cut and shut" two captured damaged
Stukas -- without noticing they had different wingspans, they used one
wing from each. A German PoW brought in to diagnose the problem fell
- We were selling our aircraft to Israel. Our competitors were selling
theirs to Egypt. We got to test out in real combat!
- The kangaroo story...
- lots of other more minor disasters...
see also the Evolution panel Tall Technical
Panel -- Let's Kill the Cute Kid
A look at why children on the bridge are a nuisance, and why cuteness
in space is a waste of such.
- The original Buck Rogers had a kid!
- Kids are added to make it interesting -- to give the 14 year old part
of the audience someone to relate to. Nothing is cooler (for a kid) than
watching an adult adventure with a kid they can relate to. Now you are
adults, the cute kids annoy you because they are having the adventures
you never had!
- But none of us liked the cute kids even then --
although we were all getting beaten up as nerds, they were even more
sickening than us!
- It's not the kids we object to -- it's the cuteness -- they're like
Brady Bunch kids! (Europeans don't get the it's a spoof.)
- I think the idea of kids going off and doing dangerous things is a
good role model. (Laughter) I mean, today they are too overprotected.
- I hate it because it's saying "let's make the show more popular
by spreading the demographic". Let's instead try to get more of the
demographic that doesn't want the cute kid.
- But some kids shows -- like Girl from Tomorrow -- which have
a large cast of kids, work brilliantly. The trouble is with the token
cute kid. It also works when the kid isn't cute -- like in Terminator
- Kids parts are written very shallowly -- because generally child
actors have a very limited range, so they have to be given simple tasks.
- Are they being put in because "SF is for kids"?
- The kid in American Gothic wasn't cute. So it can be done.
Why aren't more like this?
- The Mystic Knights of Tir Na nOg was invented purely to sell
toys. We were selling toys months before the show even aired. There were
104 crappy episodes, live action was cheaper than animation.
- Kids have three purposes: to be menace; to create menace; to be
thrown to the wolves (and are interchangeable with women!)
- We keep seeing the cute kids in SF, but not in other genres.
- Lost in Space the movie wasn't the TV series. The TV series
reflected the pop culture of the time. The film pointed out that Matt le
Blanc should stay with Friends.
- Lennier and Vir are cute because the are naive. Wesley et al are cute
because they are cute.
- Wesley Crusher is an example of how bad the effects of PC can be.
He's a PC role model for kids. He only drank milk, he only said "gosh",
he wouldn't say "shit" if he had a mouthful.
- The Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone, etc, are aimed at adults. The
are all after he watershed, hence small audiences, hence small budgets.
Movies have £70M FX budgets -- and we demand this standard of TV
- Why did ST:NG need Wesley when TOS didn't need a cute
- Okay, maybe you need a kid for the audience -- by why can't it be
better? True Lies was ruined by the cute kid.
- So ... we now understand the reason for having the cute kid
-- but we still want to kill him! (Or maybe just kill the producer?)