The 61st British National Science Fiction Convention
2-5 April 2010, Radisson Edwardian Hotel, Heathrow
M Banks Liz Williams
Mike Carey Carlos Ezquerra (artist) Fran
and John Dowd (fan)
Eastercon 2010 pages.
The fourth con I've attended at the "Radisson Non-Euclidean",
and the geometry seems even more confusing
than ever -- there seem to be even more
mirrors, even longer corridors, and more implausible angles (maybe I'm
just discovering more, and more impossible, regions). The main auditorium
had a peculiar variable star background -- very distracting! The catering
this year was excellent -- multiply-located (I think -- though maybe they
were all one place with vastly different approach routes?!) and the
evening buffet had great variety. The con had a wide variety of panels,
and very little "repetition" from previous years.
Panel Book Collections - How Do You Store/Index Your
Nicholas Jackson (mod), Edward James, Susan Stepney
"I gave my books a room and then they took over the house."
When you have a massive book collection, how do you make your collection
accessible? What online or offline catalogue do you use? Access? Library
- [unsurprisingly, I took no notes during this item! Below are some
notes I made prior to the panel, and a couple of things I remember from
- at the end of 1986, we had 4120 books; as of today it's 11802, of
which about half are SF
- house design
- all doors 9" away from corner, to allow shelves behind the
- underfloor heating, so no wall space taken by radiators
- nearly 500m of shelving
currently (including CDs, DVDs, videos, magazines, archive, ...)
- dominant cost is not the book purchase price, but the storage
(house) price: divide the cost of the house by the number of books!
- initially - text file on a BBC micro, with BBC Basic formatting
- March 1984: STARBASE: the first ROM-based database on BBC micro
- July 1985: AcornSoft's VIEWSTORE
- 100k floppys too small! -- March 1987: Bought a 28MB hard drive -
- that's ~ £1600 in today's money -- today you can get a
250GB external drive for ~£60 : that's 9000 times bigger
for 1/25 the price - or a quarter of a million times
- next upgraded to Acorn Archimedes
- Oct 1993, went to Windows, and Access -- also allowed proper
cross-referencing of short stories
- VB to produce formatted text output, then custom Smalltalk/V
app to convert into HTML for website
- Booklist still on paper - waiting for "perfect"
handheld device - still waiting!
- others use Library
Thing -- including scanning in covers where necessary
- allows remote access for when buying
- shelving: alphabetical, acquisition order, his'n'hers, ...
Panel Alien Archeology
Deirdre Counihan, Lee Harris, Pepper (mod), Sharon Reamer, Rob
What will our panel of 'experts' make of the various items they are
presented with? Is it a Denebian ritual object, or simply a salt shaker?
- a kind of "call my bluff" with alien artefacts (which
looked surprisingly like everyday household objects!)
- a coprolite that hasn't fossilised yet
- a desiccated weapon that in water grows to engulf its victim
- earwax from a large sea creature
- silver mesh hair clasp
- a very fine specimen -- usually larger
- it's a copy!
- a tiny-alien spacecraft
- rodent-like alien's sword and shield -- but the shield is full of
- three of its legs are missing -- it's a small house robot
- yellow hair curler
- birth control device
- disposable lamp from a mining planet
- food processor
- space station for tiny-aliens
- stick with spinner and string
- portal to a place of the dead
- food cutter
- toy version of the 500 x larger perpetual motion needle
- mind-reading device
- it actually extracts the thoughts
- swimming robot with gripper
- rectal thermometer
- purple garter
- creature from the rings of Saturn
- it's been irradiated, that's why it's purple
- rodent-alien badge of office
- multidimensional alien, blushing
- the female of the rodent-alien species
- alien tree-pen, with its own ink supply
- organic seismometer
- blue elastic strap
- primitive tractor beam
- universal garbage disposal
- prototype stretchable motorway for traffic calming
- small hotel shampoo bottle
- distilled pheromones
- distilled essence of panspermia
- soul of a Perusian monk
Panel Utopia - How the Concept Has Developed in Philosophy
Elizabeth Counihan, Edward James, Nik Whitehead (mod), Iain M. Banks,
The idea of utopia - the ideal civilisation - dates back thousands of
years and has become a staple of modern SF. Has anyone managed to write a
truly utopian society, or does utopia for some automatically mean dystopia
- Utopia -- Thomas
More -- a British concept
- derived from the Greek "not-place", and also a pun on
Eutopia, or "good-place"
- More used as a satire to show the corruption of Tudor England
- usually used satirically, not to design an ideal society
- later More became a part of that society and contributed to the
misery in every way he could!
- Edward Bellamy -- Looking
Backward, 2000-1887 -- a genuine attempt?
- fans created clubs to put it into action
- great book, some silly things, a deeply annoying character who
- practical utopia -- what we can do with current tech -- versus
absolute ideal, can't get there, no finishing point
- The Culture is a "practical"
- we might need genetic engineering to cure our xenophobia
- utopias for part of the population?
- the "Hampstead novel"?
- the people would make it into a dystopia -- loads of money, but
miserable as sin! -- making problems because they always want more
- people in utopias think they have the rational answer, so
everyone else is irrational, or a threat
- exclude others, or lock them away
- isolation: Himalayan village, island
- William Morris -- News
from Nowhere -- have to destroy the society that was there
before -- all that's left is the House of Commons, a big building to
store the manure
- utopias have no friction, no excitement -- boring -- don't want to
- The Culture -- write "around the edges"
- a utopia is a great place to live, but rubbish to write about
- may you live in interesting times
- may you come to the attention of people in high places
- may the gods notice you
- Aldous Huxley -- Brave
New World -- a great dystopia
- my USan students in the 70s thought it was a utopia!
- you can satisfy the needs of virtually everyone if you assume deeply
- Kim Stanley Robinson --
utopian ideas -- nuts and bolts approach -- shows his working
- society can be improved, not necessarily achieve perfection
- More initially thought it a state of perfection, but later
thought of as a journey, continual improvement, with no end
- utopia in heaven -- continually worshipping God -- and that's
supposed to be fun!
- Blue Mars -- utopia as a constitution -- Mars is a blank
slate -- easier morally -- don't have to destroy society
- American utopias are glossy -- British ones have pubs!
- American: libertarian, frontier, individual freedom -- British: "cosy"
- early American utopias were quite happy to be socialist
- Paul McAuley -- The Quiet
War -- a recent attempt -- quite libertarian -- free from the
drag of Old Earth
- Arthur C Clarke, Ken McLeod, John Barnes, Sherri Tepper, Ursula Le
- there was a state when
would have 12 stories of different dystopias, sometimes two in the same
- writing is about conflict, dramatic tension -- so, dystopias
- some dystopias are more optimistic, showing people struggling on,
small victories -- in utopia, what's left to achieve? the only way
to go is down -- no chance of transcendence
- Joanna Russ -- The
Female Man -- can have fun on Whileaway!
- Samuel Delany -- Triton
-- most can find fulfilment -- huge range of choices/freedoms
- only need one individual to destabilise a utopia?
- no, has to be robust -- people would fight for it
- can have small utopias -- hundreds in the US -- average lifespan of
18 months -- some Polish aristocrats set one up, but had a row about the
washing up on day one!
- in Thomas More's Utopia, every household had two slaves
- can develop in technological terms
- an awful lot of utopias take a step back, are anti-tech -- modern
Green utopias, "at one" with Nature -- based on a lie --
also requires killing billions
- Blood Music is at one
Panel BSFA Survey of British SF Writers - the Conclusions
John Jarrold, Claire Brialey, Caroline Mullan, David Hebblethwaite,
Niall Harrison (mod).
Over eighty British writers were asked questions
such as, 'How British do you think your work is?', 'How is it received
elsewhere?', and 'Do you consider your work to be SF or fantasy, and if so
why?' A panel of readers discuss the results
- there is a "sense of confidence" now, a change over the
last 20 years
- fantasy is much broader than 20 years ago
- in the '89 survey, authors felt bound into a place, that they had no
choice. The '09 survey, they felt confident they could write from a
wider sphere of choice -- could do what they wanted -- although the
feeling is that only space opera makes money!
- the '89 survey has 44 responses -- and I've read 35 off them -- the
'09 survey has 84 responses from 148 asked -- and I've read 37 of them
-- there are 9 overlaps -- enormous growth of the field
- in '89, a feeling that the genre is a prison -- in '09, much less so
- it's no longer possible to read everything in the genre published
in a year -- it's no longer even possible to get an overview
of all the subgenres -- have become a specialist reader
- the 10,000 books I read in my youth -- I wore out most genres (war,
crime, romance, ...) in about 200 books, then nothing new was said -- SF
was the only genre that could still surprise after 3000 books --
those other genres would wear out as quickly today?
- Charlie Stross,
Richard Morgan, move around a
fair bit in the genre -- not easy in mainstream
- Smiths, Waterstones perceive SF and fantasy as two completely
separate genres -- Waterstones even now have separate "Urban
- Paranormal Romance / Dark Romance / Dark Fantasy / Horror / ...
- publishers publish books they love and that they think
will make money -- bookshops just in it for the money -- far fewer
people working in bookshops who love books today
- as a reader, I'm not interested in who the publisher/bookshop is
-- I'm more guided by "intelligent conversation" on blogs
than scanning bookshelves
- appreciate a strong sense of place -- and respond to a place that I
know -- but I'm also looking for something genuinely novel and where I
don't know if it's a real place or not
- Bruce Sterling -- Holy
Fire -- travel around Europe - less successful than Distraction
-- works better "in his own place"
- when I encounter London in fiction, I respond because it's where
I live, but I also respond to places like
Jon Courtenay Grimwood's Bay
- Ken MacLeod's stuff in
- Learning the
World -- some thought the ageing human was the hero --
others know the the aliens are!
- you publish the author, not the book -- "word of mouth" is
- once you've written a "big one", can't go back and
write little ones any more
- John Brunner and his Big
Four (Stand on Zanzibar, The Jagged Orbit, The
Sheep Look Up, The Shockwave Rider) -- couldn't then
retreat into something else
- 20 years is a v short timespan in the History of Story
- '89 writers think writing SF has a value in itself -- '09
writers seem to have lost that
- '89 feeling of ghetto -- '09 anger that "SF" is still a
term of abuse
- Harry Potter,
Dr Who -- the popular end, it's how
many come to the genre -- entry level SF
- China Mieville,
Iain M Banks, ... -- not
entry level -- Masters level?
- Radio 4 series "I've Never Seen
Star Wars" --
episode on "I've Never Read Terry
Pratchett" -- he's not entry level either -- some can't
read it cold
- also writers entry level -- writing from knowledge of
the genre, or not
- Do you need to have read The
Count of Monte Cristo to "get"
Gwyneth Jones' The Spirit?
- no -- if you know the context, it's all obvious!
- a novel has to work on its own basis -- but it can
have additional levels
- SF: "See the World, plus something else"
- Samuel Delany taught us
about poststructuralism and Seeing the World, by writing stories --
after reading, we looked up and saw the world differently
- in SF, it is possible for a book to do this without being a "great"
- "SF makes me go wow! and makes me think"
- next generation readers, brought up reading
Le Guin, Manga, the Koran -- will
you recognise them?
Panel Arthur and Merlin - Modern Interpretations
Liz Williams, Kari Sperring (mod), Nickey Barnard, Edward James, Raven
How do modern versions of the Arthurian stories compare with earlier
ones? Books, films and TV have all created new strands to the legends. Is
this a bad thing, or simply the natural progression of folklore?
- no, he didn't exist, and, no, I can't prove that from the mediaeval
- legendarily, he'd not dead -- Arthur is sleeping -- he might
- Arthur belongs to all of us -- roots so deep
- but he spends his whole time fighting the Saxons -- he's not one
- I'm a Celt!
- how did he become an English hero?
- Henry II had an insecure throne, was French -- Arthur was a
useful ally --
of Monmouth (1100's)
- has everything except cats! horses, dogs, boars, women, ...
- he kills a huge cat early on!
- it's depressing -- a story of failure -- not at all
uplifting/inspiring -- everyone dies
modern TV Merlin -- reinterpreted as a "buddy cop"
- early teens -- but has a darkness giving it depth, because of the
disaster they're hurtling towards
did those feet in ancient time...?" -- no, they didn't!
- Merlin is quite peripheral in the Arthur legend
- Mary Stewart's
influential series -- a more potent force
- BBC TV "Merlin of the Crystal Cave" with Robert
Powell [as Ambrosius]
- Merlin is entirely benevolent, with added magic
- The Mists of Avalon
-- appalling travesty! -- myth of the Celtic Woman -- problem is, it
requires them to lose!
- the legend keeps reinventing
- in the Odyssey/Arthur/... women represented as strong figures in the
context of what was allowed at the time
- 20th century reimagining makes them evil, or weak, or ...
- Excalibur (film) -- the women were great!
- every generation should have its reinterpretation
- but the new BBC TV series strips everything good/deep ... it's
Arthur-lite, Twilight, so PC it's ridiculous
it's a reinterpretation of their early life -- hinting at horrible
things to come -- pulls you in -- "don't do it!"
- the fact that it's in a Victorian castle is neither here nor
there -- they didn't have tomatoes either! [a
common problem, it seems]
- the legend is enormous -- loads of bits there are no
- the TV series is at least playing with it
- there are versions where Guinivere defends Britain while Arthur
is off fighting the Romans -- why do we cling to some bits but not
- it's all that Tennyson's fault!
- T.H. White -- The Once and
Future King -- Philip Reeve -- Here Lies Arthur --
these are both great Merlin stories
- everyone knows Arthur is going to fail and it will all end badly --
isn't that the British culture?
- the glorious death -- it's a good ending -- although not so
popular now, often too PC nowadays
- why do Americans like it?
- desperate desire to belong/have roots
- if you grow up in the Appalachians, you're told from birth that
your heritage is English/Irish/Scots
- I'm mostly Welsh, but when I lived in Dublin, I felt more English
than I've ever done, even though I loved being in Dublin
- if you're ever in Dublin, ask a taxi driver what they tell
- in the 14th century there was Lancelot's close relationship with
- in Camelot 3000 Tristan and Isolde are both women
- Merlin was quite a sinister figure until The Sword in the Stone
made him funny
- tendency in legends -- sinister figures become "nice"
- Merlin/Morgan Le Fey are more flexible than Lancelot -- who's
there to be "the best knight"
is the perfect knight, son of a Lady and a King -- in the
(American) First Knight film, he's a peasant
- we seem to be talking as if the right way to do it is like Malory --
castles, knights, class system of the 14th-15th century -- but really
from 5th century -- very different
- First Knight is the worst interpretation
- no, the TV Merlin!
- no -- Peter David's Sir
Apropos of Nothing/Knight Life -- the Lady in the Lake in
- Irish legends are harder for the modern mind to understand -- a
three-party romance is easy to get
- I love those who take the Arthurian legends and blend them into
- Susan Cooper
- George RR Martin -- Dying
of the Light -- is the best
- an American Football team is sent back into the past, and become
Arthur and the Knights of the round Table
- Victorian anthropologist reworkings -- popular but not scholarly
- rediscovered in 60s -- more fluid society -- reworking
- Marion Zimmer Bradley redid
this -- knew what she was doing
- later, it became "fact"
- some historians become so enamoured, they lose their
Sutcliffe -- a novelist who does an excellent reconstructions
- there's the excellent and very accurate Monty Python and the Holy
- Grail usually left out, to avoid offending religious types -- the
Grail frightens people
- very weird B5 season 3
episode "A Late Delivery from Avalon"
- Merlin is an alien in Stargate
SG-1, several season 9 and 10 episodes
- Dr Who "Battlefield"
[with strong hints that Brigadier Bambera is Guinivere!]
Panel Disability and Villains
Pat Reynolds, PinkDormouse, Paul F Cockburn, Heather (mod), Roger
Octon, Al Davison.
Dr. Strangelove, Travis, Richard III. Why are villains so often
portrayed as as having a disability? Are these fictional stereotypes a
thing of the past? Do disabled actors have more choice of role in the
- AD: born with spina bifida -- father was blamed, for not having
enough faith in God -- suffered exorcisms up to the age of 4
- have to add something to men to make them evil -- a grotesque
or a disability -- idea of evil woman is so abhorrent, it's enough on
- nowadays, lazy option to use disability -- showing all disabled as
perfect good people is just the same problem
can show physical disability easily -- books can also easily(ish) show
- James Bond villains, Davros, etc -- have an impairment, but
are not disabled -- they can do what they want! Someone is disabled
is they are in a wheelchair and there are steps in the way -- Daleks can
- in films -- disabled always shown able to get better
- Beauty and the Beast -- Beast only acceptable when not
the Beast any more
- when Batgirl became Oracle in a wheelchair -- got put behind a desk
- AD: had a story in which she could fight/abseil, etc, using
specialised wheelchairs -- all things I've done in a wheelchair --
but the editors wanted her drawn with shapely legs, not atrophied
- Wild Wild West -- seemed like they had a disabled villain
just so they could tell distasteful wheelchair jokes
- so easy to equate sight with vision -- all sight problems are being
completely blind (not just reduced), but with some form of "vision"
instead as compensation
- Daredevil film
-- the idea he has magical sight in the rain -- blind people are
screwed in the rain -- they can't hear anything!
- associating impairment disability with the "other"
- a lot of people don't know anyone disabled
- also all this PC may stop people getting involved
- some think disabled people are fragile (so hesitate to
help them up if they've fallen, ...)
- some won't employ you because you are "ill" so they
can't get insurance
- Extras episode -- laughing at the able bodied characters
inability to cope with the disabled character, not laughing at
the disabled character
- "Does he take sugar?"
- a guide dog walker asked directions -- people replied to the dog!
- having a guide dog can be an icebreaker
- impairments that disable you in the Mesolithic are not the same as
those that disable you today (or in other places) -- so could have
fiction examining a futuristic society by what is disabling in that
- sexy disabled heroes -- Miles
- was Deanna Troi disabled as an empath in a society of telepaths?
- TV series based on Tanya Huff's
Blood series -- detective with a form of blindness -- done really well
-- lots of research
- My Left Foot -- boycotted it -- wouldn't allow anyone
disabled to audition
- Gattaca --
genetically flawed versus genetically perfect but disabled
- what about waxing/waning (eg, ME) or "invisible"
- Monk -- OCD -- we laugh, but it isn't funny
Panel It's Sh*t But We Like It - Crap TV and Film
Tony Lee, David L Clements, Steve Rogerson (mod), Fiona Scarlett, John
The regular confessional for those cheesy things you know you shouldn't
like... (Buck Rogers, anyone?)
- Chuck ... stone him!
- Battlestar Galactica
... hang him!
- made for TV movie - Island City -- post-apocalyptic, nearly
all had elixir of youth drug -- regressed to Neanderthals -- small
high-tech cities breeding out the problems -- excellent tat!
- The Champions, Joe 90, Space 1999 -- are
lurking in my hindbrain
-- a lot more interesting than just blowing up spaceships -- even if it
did introduce the idea of "hereditary sterility"!
- Speed Racer --- dreadful live action "cartoon" film
-- quite enjoyed it the 2nd time
- Battlestar Galactica
-- is it shittier than the original?
- the original -- remember the Ice Planet episode with the Abba
- what about Galactica 1980? -- Noooooooooo!
- recent BBC TV Day of the Triffids
- how does making one plant sterile spread spores to the others?
- Dr Who? Sometimes?
- Sylvester McCoy -- no, some of the Ace episodes were great
- why the Bertie Bassett costume?
Blake's 7 episode "Killer" used a Michelin Man-like
- Star Maidens
Orion -- German answer to Star Trek -- surely inspired
some of Galaxy Quest
- Lost in Space -- the giant carrot episode! ["The
Great Vegetable Rebellion"]
- first season of Lexx was
good -- got rubbish later
- Bonekickers was awful but compelling -- kept wanting to see
if it could get worse! what piece of history will they dance on the
grave of this time?
- Demons -- unbearable -- appalling -- nothing original at all
- Primaeval -- at least it's original shit -- bonkers shit!
- Blake's 7 season 4
- Highlander 2 was shit -- Highlander: The Source was
worse -- pathetic
- Highlander -- insane elevator pitch: "sword fights
in New York, with explosions" --- but done with gusto
- Flash Gordon -- drinking game elevates it from shit to a
- Golan Globus films -- don't watch them sober!
- Lifeforce -- based on Space Vampires by Colin
Wilson -- the queen vampire wanders London naked -- glories in the
destruction of London -- death and destruction in St Paul's
- Land of the Giants -- Time Tunnel
- scenes in a London Underground station -- An American Werewolf in
London -- Split Second -- Death Line
- Legend of the Seeker -- I gave up after 6 episodes -- it gets
- Prince of Darkness -- John Carpenter -- superb! Lovecraftian!
- Lesbian Vampire Killers -- just shit
- Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter -- the part where he converts
atheists using kung fu -- "If I'm not back in 5 minutes, call the
- Cleopatra 2525 --
absolutely crap, but I love it! -- real WTF TV
- Glen Larson
- The A-Team -- The Man From Atlantis -- The
Fantastic Journey -- with Roddy McDowell As Usual
- Godzilla [1998 film] -- it would have been better if it had
been filmed in Japanese then badly dubbed
- Seaquest DSV -- they had a dolphin on board! -- ITV showed
the seasons out of order
- the new Knight Rider -- worst I've seen -- I could not stop
- Space Precinct
- Invasion: Earth -- they
could tell it was going badly wrong -- producer called in Stephen Baxter
-- got better for one episode, then dived again
- V -- "sweet and sour ants, anyone?" -- the new one
is not shit enough to be good
- Star Wars 1-3 --
and Star Wars 4-6 are not as good as we remember
- Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
- Battle Beyond the Stars
- Alien Nation -- movie was good -- TV series was shit
- Starcrash -- with David Hasselhoff
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer
-- the movie
- True Blood
- Twilight -- no, the panel is "shit, but we like
- Harry Potter
- Moonbase 3 -- doing it wrong for the right reasons -- trying
to make it hard SF -- it's boring!
- Terrahawks -- Zelda scared the crap out of me as a kid
- Defying Gravity -- timelag, what timelag? -- people writing
it couldn't find the plot with two hands and a flashlight -- Heroes
in Space -- so sloooooow
- B5 -- how did he also produce The
Legend of the Rangers? [not as bad as the dire Crusade]
- Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone -- good, or
- Transformers: 1 good, 2 shit
- Star Trek: Enterprise
- Seven Days was good!
- 2012 -- disaster porn! -- most improbable set of
circumstances ever -- Independence Day
x 20 million!
- Dragon Wars [D-War] -- helicopters fighting dragons!
- the key ingredients: really really pretty people, and explosions
Panel Living Forever - Is it a Good Thing?
Mike Cobley (mod), Julian Headlong, Paul McAuley, Martin McGrath.
Many SF writers, e.g. Moon, Morgan, Heinlein, Banks, have speculated
about rejuvenation or other possibilities for extending life for 100 years
or even longer. Scientists and others discuss whether it can be done, and
whether it would be ethical/desirable if it could be done.
- Gilgamesh, because of Enkidu
- Orpheus -- lived forever as a head
- Journey the the West -- Monkey King -- Garden of Immortal
- Tree of immortality in Garden of Eden
- but we are not interested in the immortality of the past -- we want
- the traditional Easter story of the character who dies and rises
again -- Dr Who
living you are killing something else -- by living forever you shut down
even more possibilities
- in ancient myths, immortality is often a curse
- Sisyphus, Prometheus, Loki, ...
- is there a difference between wanting to live forever, and not
wanting to die?
- what do you have to be like to pursue this relentlessly -- and
what will you be like if you achieve it?
- don't count yourself immortal until you've been through the Big
Crunch ... many times
- strong longevity -- immortality
- strongly godlike -- Q
- weakly godlike -- Jack
of Shadows, ...And
Call Me Conrad, demons/vampires/strong nanotech
- regeneration -- including transporter accidents
- personality transfer
- breed for longevity
- works for fruit flies
- Greg Benford trying it with nematodes
- he's an identical twin -- he knows clones are
- if you find someone breeding elephants for longevity,
you've probably found an immortal
- extend telomere groups
- using nanoengineering -- or, as we used to call it, "chemistry"
- just in time medical advances -- forever
- immortality drugs
- get an interesting cancer --
Lacks -- HeLa cells -- currently weighs about 60,000 lbs
- lie about your age!
- go slooooow
- there are lichens in Antarctica with cells that divide every
- but what are you going to do with it?
- in the East, wisdom and age are equated -- in the West, cult of
- what is the driver for continuous innovation?
- fashion (US cars) v falling to bits (UK cars)
- is this relentless change good?
- the East brings you a Toyota that lasts forever
- until you accelerate into a wall!
- I don't agree that you can't innovate after a certain age
- but serious problem if true
- investment in building up an hypothesis
- it's tough being the giant whose shoulders are stood on
- but some inertia useful -- stops science hareing off in every
direction -- self-correcting
- always unforeseen consequences
- lots of SF on immortality are cautionary tales
- Lord of Light --
personality transfer -- need a body to transfer into
- downloading is the only non-murderous personality transfer
- but do you have any effect on the real world?
- who maintains the computers?
- there might be lots of options, but no one answer -- then
- Betamax immortality sucks!
- Open Source Linux immortality!
- physical immortality -- either we stop breeding, or there's massive
- would we become v cautious, v long term in our planning?
- non-immortals of no consequence?
- ungrateful children!
- would anyone offered it turn it down?
- some people would turn anything down!
- I wouldn't -- I'm nosey -- I want to know what happens next
- memory capacity limits?
- if it's not available to all, how do we select?
- I only want immortality if I can retire at 65 -- I don't want to be
doing 9-to-5 the day before the Big Crunch
- 20 years on, 20 years off?
- pensions rely on most of the rest working -- who are they?
- legions of robot slaves
- uplifted monkeys
- what happens when they want to download?
- it's monkeys all the way down!
- what about all your stuff? -- become a curator of your own
- hmmm ... need some kind of box that's bigger on the inside...
- I plan on extracting energy from the ergosphere of a spinning
- would we keep putting things off?
- keep retraining? new careers?
- killing an immortal? so many more (infinite!) potential years gone
Dr Ben Goldacre is a medical doctor and journalist, best known for
his 'Bad Science' column. He campaigns against biased research, fraudulent
claims (from both makers of nutritional supplements and the pharmaceutical
industry) and poor media reporting of scientific research.
- "I think you'll find it's a bit more complicated than that
Oliver Morton George Hay Memorial Lecture
Geoengineering - the use of technology to cool the planet - is often
taken as an alternative to the more conventional approaches to global
warming: emitting fewer greenhouse gases and adapting to the changing
climate. Framing geoengineering this way allows advocates to sell it as a
quick fix, and opponents to see it as a dangerous, possibly disastrous,
distraction. Oliver Morton will be arguing that this way of thinking is a
blind alley. "We are not dealing with either/or, but with both/and.
It is time to explore geoengineering's potential not as an alternative to
other approaches, but as a tool to improve their chances of success."
Steve Kilbane Swordplay for Writers
Steve Kilbane explains how to describe realistic fights using
rapiers, longswords, and other weapons.
- the culture defines who fights when (common ... rare) and where,
which then constrains the style (duel ... brawl), and the form of the
- duel is regulated, eg to first blow, sword not designed to kill
-- may be restricted in eg length -- taxed?
- brawl -- free for all -- use anything to hand
- military -- trained/drilled -- mass produced -- style v simple
- knight/noble -- part of their upbringing/culture
- civilian -- individual style, more detailed -- get what you pay
- mounted -- mind your horse, not theirs -- curved swords (sabres)
- pommel fastens handle onto blade -- acts as a balance
- two handed sword: second hand on the pommel
- cut and thrust -- two main styles -- affect the style of sword
- cut -- sword balances for falling -- move in nice big circles --
use its energy -- swing can attack a lot of opponents at once
- thrust comes straight at you -- no swinging -- can't block: push
it out of the way
- thrust that connects more dangerous than cut -- will kill, but
- sidesword -> rapier -> smallsword
- mainly thrusting
- rapier -- mainly civilian weapon -- if you wear it, willing to
use it, eg willing to respond to challenges
- smallsword -- no edge, short, easier to control point
- foil originally training sword for smallsword
- sidesword -> back/broadsword
- basket to cover/protect hand -- difficult to swap hands!
- Donald McBane, The Expert Swordsman's Companion, or the True Art
of Self Defence, 1728
- mismatched weapons/styles
- less predictable -- blade can do things you don't expect
- can exploit it, if you train for it
- changes how each sword is used
- first lessons are in basics, building up
- training swords -- wooden -- padding
- drill v instinct -- fencing is not a natural action
- second sword in other hand -- can forget how to use first sword!
-- different context
MD Lachlan Bartitsu: Victorian Self-Defence with Overcoat, Wig
Sherlock Holmes' martial art - called Baritsu by Doyle but Bartitsu
in reality. The first line of defence is to look the ruffian in the eye
and say 'do you know who I am?' The second is to utterly annihilate him!
- violent crime in Victorian period different from today
- throwing nitric acid in faces
- making a comeback -- squeezy bottle of ammonia -- lower
sentence than knife crime
- garrotting -- towel or cloth, not piano wire
- bare knuckle boxing -- can't hit as hard as with padded glove -- v
difficult to hit hard with bare hand
- modern bare hand tends to use open hand
-- 1898 self-defence -- brings a fighting style back from Japan --
-- "combines the best of styles" -- plus a load of European
styles -- based on strength -- most street-fights don't last long
- Metropolitan Police get better, and violence decreases in the late
for all also helps
- four ranges of fighting
- kicking distance
- grappling -- short work
- ground work -- on the floor -- bad idea in a street
fight! -- his mate will kick your head in
- disturb equilibrium of opponent -- keep him off balance -- subject
joints to strain they are anatomically/mechanically unable to resist
umbrella -- helps compensate for lack of strength/weight/skill --
it's a bayonet
Nicholas Jackson Non-Euclidean Geometry
'The geometry of the place was all wrong' - A mathematical talk on
spaces unlike our own, taking in Lovecraft, Lobachevsky and Escher along
Panel Big Biology - What Are the Biggest Biological Tropes
Paul McAuley, Michael Owen, Sharon Reamer (mod), Gary Stratmann,
What biological ideas are being explored in current SF? Are there any
important themes that are being overlooked?
- big question: does life occur anywhere else?
- hard to define life -- ah, but what about viruses, micro-RNAs, ...
- and what about other kinds of life? here, elsewhere
- extreme cases are difficult
- "biologically-based" life probably follows patterns
- carbon-based, limited number of possible ways of making long
chain complex molecules
- Drake's equation -- getting a better handle on the value of some of
- eg, Earth -- looking for evidence of prior/other origins
work in risk management -- we try not to make up numbers and
multiply them together!
- Europa and Enceladus have liquid water -- hydrothermal vent
- even Charon may have liquid water!
- solar system much more dynamic than we thought
- Sagan -- Mars is old, Earth is us, Venus has clouds -- theory of
dinosaurs on Venus because: "can't see what's going on -- so it's
- we have good theories, but could be wrong -- there may be things
needed for creation of life we haven't even thought of yet
- arsenic based? so not immediately devoured by main life
- extremophiles, archeobacteria -- a lot more complicated than it
used to be!
- South Africa goldmine bacteria -- use radioactivity as power
source -- don't need rest of biosphere
- "our kind of life" can do pretty much anything
-- can exploit virtually any energy source, without a rich
- universe is old -- chances it happened long ago...
- but how do we get to know about it?
- when is ALife life?
- has been important to us to believe we are special -- still like
to say humans are intelligent, nothing else is -- but it's all
gradations, no step change
AI solves a problem, it becomes a "trick" -- if we did a
whole artificial mind, would it be a "trick"?
- not just processing power/memory
- fMRI shows everyone's brain is slightly different
- [just like modern computers, with their varying hardware,
applications, drivers, patches, fonts, ... how much further to
- our intelligence is embodied -- may be a requirement?
- also learning, development, growth needed?
- The Quiet War --
colonies of nanomachines -- "monads" -- are they alive?
- biology is a lot more complicated than we thought
- we're simpler -- fewer genes than we thought
- complexity of our genome is less than that of all out gut
bacteria -- "2nd genome"
everything is far more complicated than we thought
- viruses in our genome
- one gene -- one protein -- one function -- completely wrong
- so old SFnal ideas of genetic engineering don't work
- except for some v simple things, like firefly genes for
- Carl Zimmer -- Microcosm
-- bacteria book
- E.coli -- can drive evolution is the lab -- in a year,
get a new genome that never before existed
- bacteria "species" hard to define -- they swap genes
[horizontal transfer], engineer themselves -- fabulously complicated
- it's difficult to explain "complicated" to people who don't
have the background -- one reason for rise of creationism is the simple
answer -- even if there is a god, "I think you'll find it's
a bit more complicated than that
- mitochondria/chloroplasts were originally separate organisms --
originally a crazy, fringe idea, now established
our next evolutionary step?
- GE rather than slower "natural" evolutionary pressure
- we have evolved quickly -- ability to digest milk is recent --
not all have it
- only recently -- more people in cities than not -- a real driver
- one species of ants lives "naturally" in small
colonies: 20 workers plus queen -- but in a city, there are
millions linked, many queens -- "urban lifestyle"
- tendency to think of evolution as something "big", giving
new species -- but small changes are also evolution
- resistance to diseases
- incremental changes
are changing, but we probably don't notice most of it
- technology dependence -- mobile phones!
- octopus -- can we judge how really intelligent it is, because it's so
different -- they are tool users (coconuts)
- difference between intelligence (hard to define) and sentience
(self-awareness -- easier to establish -- eg, mirror test)
- silicon-based, gas clouds, ...?
- silicon is "similar" to carbon, but as far as we know
currently, can't get long enough chains -- but can get Si nearly
as complicated as RNA-world
- silicon life doesn't need to be hard and rock-like -- think
breast implants! (and some carbon is hard -- think diamonds!)
- dolphins are not as intelligent as a 5 year old -- based on idea they
behave like humans -- they behave like dolphins!
Alastair Reynolds GoH
Into the Great Wide Open: Science Fiction and the Modern Cosmos.
- our changing knowledge of the solar system has changed the stories we
write in it
Jonathan Cowie Exobiology 1.02
Jonathan Cowie is an environmental scientist who was for 15 years
with the Institute of Biology and now works in (bio)science
communications. He has had a lifelong interest in SF and a curiosity about
the possibility of alien life. His original probability of alien life talk
has been given at over a dozen conventions (and also to biologists at a
couple of universities). This talk very quickly recaps part 1 and then
goes on to new material in part 2.
- during a short hiatus to get an OHP and slide projector working,
showed some alien globes.
- climate change -- looking at how an earth-like planet (ours) changes
over geological time
- Jack Cohen -- like a
fire-hose -- powerful but hard to direct --
Ian Stewart takes the
fire-hose and directs it
observatory was built in order to observe the Martian canals
- some claim that seasonal methane on Mars indicates life
- methane is short-lived -- what's replenishing it, seasonally
- on earth, northern hemisphere land dominated -- see a seasonal
CO2 fluctuation -- southern hemisphere sea-dominated
- Andromeda galaxy -- naked eye smudge -- that's only the central core
-- the photos from Hubble etc cover 3 degrees (the moon is half a
degree) -- largest visible astronomical object
often finds similar solutions to problems
-- vertebrates, octopus, ...
- wings -- insects, birds, bats, flying fish, sycamore seeds, ...
- Butcher's-broom - Ruscus hypoglossum -- those aren't
leaves, they are flattened stems -- which is why flowers grow out
from the middle
- pentadactyl limb -- evolved only once -- but diversified
- is DNA/RNA specific or generic?
- cartoon: "the message from space asked us to stop sending any
more messages into space"
- exo-life -- we may not know much about it, but we'll recognise it
when we see it -- but we'll get wrong what it is
- if life on earth is represented by the length of your arm, the 6000
years of recorded human history is a couple of microns -- can scrape it
off your fingernail
- Brandon Carter and W. H. McCrea,
Principle and its Implications for Biological Evolution. Phil
Trans Roy Soc A 310:347-363 1983
- Alan Bond, "On the improbability of intelligent
- Gerry Webb: "the Fermi paradox is acute -- they would
have had time to walk here by now!"
- [Hmm, let's see. Walking at 4mph, 8 hours a day, that's ~ 50
km/day. Doing that for 15 billion years (~ the age of the universe)
= 3x10^17 metres = 10 parsecs. Our Milky Way galaxy is about 30 kpc
across. Maybe not.]
- Martin Rees -- Our Final
Century -- technological civilisation is unsustainable
- Hitler is biology's best friend -- the Natural History Museum had a "progression
of life" with "Man" at the top of the building -- got
bombed off and never replaced
- how might evolution have been speeded up?
- metabolic rate -- need good energy source -- need visible light
from a star?
- chloroplasts bring 6-7 photon events together
Panel Not The Clarke Awards
Tony Cullen, Ruth O'Reilly, Graham Sleight, Claire Brialey (mod)
Our irascible panel of ex-judges and critics offer their usual
forthright take on this year's shortlist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award
- The shortlist for the Arthur C Clarke 2010 award is
- Retribution Falls
- it's enjoyable, but doesn't have a huge amount to it
- doesn't stand up to the others
- "Firefly as steampunk" -- can map the
- well done, readable, great fun
- a certain level of misogyny -- all the women are
- not SF per se -- a fantasy/adventure world
- Dave Langford's report on the first Clarke ceremony -- Bob Shaw v
- always been a tension between the literary and the SFnal, and the
perception that the literary is more highly valued
- now it gets more difficult
- Far North
- McCarthy's The Road, but with cold
- post-apocalyptic world -- really, really cold
- interesting things about community, society, how it falls apart,
how difficult to reconstruct
- operating in a tradition were there are lots of other books --
not convinced it adds as much to the tradition as it thinks
- original compared to anything I've read in the last few years --
a slow apocalypse, seen from the edges
- writing is v limpid, v clear, v powerful
- I don't know if this is an "about" story, or if that
- strong characters, setting, pace
- ending is not classical SF -- refuses easy ending
- it's about society and the people
- one step ahead of environmental crisis -- not that making the
story -- the event has happened, looking after that
- Yellow Blue Tibia
- this is another Adam Roberts novel -- it's his best, an
- a bunch of SF writers are asked to concoct a plot to keep the
USSR united -- then things start happening as if the plot really
happened ... tricksy
- he's writing novels about SF by using SF -- as usual
- the metastory can get in the way of the story
- the story kept moving -- was interesting to me -- v satisfying
- I felt the setting worked well -- although I know there's been
- significant 1980s events woven in to the plot -- is that terribly
clever, of slightly glib? undecided
- Galileo's Dream
- primarily set in Galileo's time -- follows his life from
inventing the telescope onwards -- he's taken forwards in time to
the moons of Jupiter
- v interesting detail in the historical stuff, but didn't work
-- long, slow, and the main character didn't engage me enough
- parts in the future were better, but left me feeling
something was hanging -- dissatisfied
- another book about the thing KSR has been worrying about for
years -- what does science do in society and in our lives?
- has all the things good and bad about KSR
- dutiful -- getting it right -- but telling you everything --
feel like I'm in a classroom
- what Galileo is doing in the future is not as sensible as it
- terrific historical novel -- future bits break the flow
- well worth reading, but not a winner
- when you find yourself wishing you were reading the other branch,
no matter which one you are reading, something's wrong
- stands in his body of work, but maybe not alone
- it felt slow to read
- I know KSR can do better than this
- this is not a novel where KSR is having fun!
- EM Forster said a novel is a prose fiction of some length with
something wrong with it -- let's talk about the remaining two
- reworking of The Count of Monte Cristo with a female
- works up to two-thirds of the way through -- but then get to the
revenge part, goes limp
- any SF doing tCoMC has competition -- The
Stars My Destination
- no one is arguing for it!
- debates happen around the books one feels more passionate
- the book that wins often doesn't excite these extremes
- winning books are ones around which consensus can be formed
- would be traditional to throw it out, because it's the most
- the main character pulls me in, but changes two-thirds of the way
- The City and the City
- never told exactly where it takes place -- about two cities
co-existing in the same space -- portals link them -- there's a
killing in one, but it has roots in the other -- so movement back
- superb concept -- how urban life works -- how we see what we want
to see -- not seeing other people, other cultures
- execution doesn't do it justice -- maybe would look better as a
- detective plot set up in the "normal" way, but didn't
deliver on any exciting developments
- Mieville fond of using a particular form, and then not showing
you bits of it
- in Scar, a crucial fight happens off stage and is
reported -- also no climax
- every book since Scar has been a disappointment!
- I think this should be the winner!
- the detective story moves he plot, it doesn't drive it
- the only SFnal thing is the Breach Police -- the rest is two
communities ignoring each other so that they don't kill each other
- ambitious, insightful, entrancing
- but after you finish reading, realise there are a lot of
things not what they first seem
- collection of incredibly interesting elements sun together --
make you think -- but maybe they don't quite fit together
- is it SF?
- I actually don't care! felt as if it was SF in the way it is
presented, way it uses its setting
- do SF and Fantasy exist in the same way as the City and the
City, and what exists to enforce the separation?
- discussions demonstrate the effect of contingency on the Award --
personal dynamics, hangovers, whether something should not win,
- testament to the shortlist this year -- agree any one of five could
be the winner!
- were Mieville to win, he'd be the first to win three times -- finest
writer in the genre at the moment -- danger of concentrating on his
flaws, he writes so well
- want the Mieville to win, but think Spirit will
- if you're going to do tCoMC, have a big break point --
difficult to do well
- what else could/should have been on the shortlist?
- loved Ursula Le Guin's Lavinia
-- but it's not SF -- so what?
- Paul McAuley's Gardens
of the Sun -- but it's a sequel
- Litt's Journey into Space -- like it, but flawed
- put off by long weird sex scenes done in an unhelpfully weird
- Stephen Baxter's Ark -- v different from Flood --
but a sequel
- The City and the City, Ark, Yellow Blue Tibia,
Lavinia are on the BSFA shortlist [The City and the City
- there are several v good books not yet published in the UK --
- how is tCoMC/Spirit changed by making the main
- she's more vulnerable -- raped at one point -- feel what she goes
through more than the male character in tCoMC because of
- in Yellow Blue Tibia -- female character problematic --
others are caricatures, exaggerated, weird -- her portrayal as fat made
me wonder if I was reading the rest of the book in the wrong tone --
many fat jokes, figure of fun, not a character
- jokes are a comment on the main character's perception
- it's about falling in love with things you initially find odd
- most of the humour is Terry and June British sitcom
- it's the script of a Marx brothers movie
- Shostakovich -- taking dance and turning it into something savage
- how did we get from Terry and June to Shostakovich?
- The Award process now announces all submissions (which is
not a longlist) before the shortlist
- stops "why not shortlisted" if wasn't submitted!
- transparency is good
- "has done better", "it's the best he's done"
- how much does knowing "has done better" affect the
- naturally comparing to other books by same author, as well as
others in the field, but trying to compare to others on shortlist
- danger of "consolation prize"?
- year The Sparrow
won -- the discussion took five minutes!
- the second reading (the judges do) does change the perception of the
- in a panel of n people on "the best 20 books of the last
20 years" -- the only book we all picked was
Ian McDonald's River of Gods
-- which was beaten to the Clarke Award by Iron
Council that year
- I'm going to read The City and the City again -- I think it
will re-read the best -- Robinson and Roberts will probably suffer
[The City and the City won the ACC Award]
Anthony Webster Fusion Power and the Joint European Torus.
Anthony Webster, our guest speaker from JET, talks about the physics
of fusion. Can you say 'magnetohydrodynamics'...
- the US uses 6-7 times the energy to produce food as it provides
- the "Optimum Population Trust" calculates the UK can
- although it has peaked at 5-6M on 3 separate occasions
- currently > 60M
- alternative energy sources are low density, fluctuate over time
- need "geological scale" facilities -- mountains,
forests, oceans, ...
- 1 gram of D+T has ~ 10^7 times the energy of 1 gram of coal
- efficiency measure = pressure x escape time
- need nT t > 4.8 atmosphere-seconds to produce energy faster
than it leaks out
- currently at about 1
- value is increasing like Moore's law, like particle accelerator
- make it hotter (increase T), bigger (increase n, t)
- magnetic field keeps toroidal plasma stable
- use current to heat it -- high energy neutral particles + EM
- like an electric fire + cappuccino machine + microwave oven!
- D + T -> He + n
- most of the energy comes out in the neutron -- catch in a thick
steel "blanket" and extract energy (as heat, then to
- has potential to make blanket radioactive
- but some materials are safe -- "reduced activation
steels" -- radioactive for 50-100 years (not the 100s of
thousands of years of fission products)
- 20 MW/m^3 deposited in blanket
- every atom displaced from the lattice about 10 x per year --
brittle/degrade -- can develop better materials
- D -- deuterium -- from seawater
- T -- tritium -- half life of ~ 12.5 years -- "breed" T
from Li, using n from fusion (need to multiply up the n)
- ITER -- 410 MW -- 10 times more out than in
- coal power station 1-1.5 GW
- large wind turbine 1MW
- 25 years from ITER to prototype power plant
- why has it always been 30 years to fusion?
- funding! -- if you don't do the work, nothing will happen!
- ITER due to complete 2018-2020
- another 5 years to full operation
- uses ~ 1kg of fuel per day -- so makes ~ 1 kg He
- less material per unit volume than in air
- can't have "pocket fusion" reactors
- needs to be big so the heat doesn't escape too fast, and needs a
big blanket to trap the neutrons
- but not too big, then gets too hot -- materials challenges
- optimum size probably 4-5 GW thermal -> 1-1.5 GW electricity
-- so similar to a coal station
- He a finite resource -- needed to cool superconducting magnets
- Li is not a problem -- uses very little fuel -- cost is negligible
compared to the machine -- would be cost effective to extract it from
Panel Stainless Steel Rats and Rogues - Why Do We Love Them?
Henry Gee, Anne KG Murphy (mod), Farah Mendlesohn
From Robin Hood to Han Solo, via Slippery Jim diGriz and countless
others, we will always have a place in our hearts for the lovable rogue.
Why are characters with a code of honour but a complete disrespect for the
law so enchanting?
- very convoluted crimes
- Malcolm Reynolds -- stealing a
payroll -- "it's not your money, you'll still get paid" --
still cares for the people, somewhat -- although still ruthless
- some are darker -- some are "childlike" -- Blake's 7
Avon v Vila -- Servalan?
- we love the SSR, but he's v
forgettable - Angelina is much more ruthless -- until they restrain
her/mess with her, so she never leads again
- reminds me of Spike
- women as villains' sidekicks
- James T Kirk in the new ST movie
-- subverts authority -- rogues come up with solutions other more
organised ones can't
- no, he's just a spoiled brat -- arrogant
- counterpointing Spock learning emotions with Kirk becoming
disciplined by Star Fleet
Engineers -- gallery of lovable rogues taken to planets and told
to solve things -- their unruliness being exploited
- Indiana Jones -- unruliness locked up until it needs to be exploited
- Deathworld -- a gambler who's
tamed -- a woman who bosses him about
- I never met Harry Harrison's wife -- but I'm curious
- Ivanhoe -- reckless
courageous wildboy, disobeying King Richard, being shaped by
- not always a woman -- sometimes a servant/Jeeves figure
- subversion of authority -- Lazarus
Long, Beowulf Shaeffer,
Louis Wu -- my way is easier,
quicker, more fun
- to be roguish from a position of authority is a bit oppressive
- police fiction -- misfit, maverick, problems
- tolerated by superiors, because they solve crimes
- how much is the rogue an extension of the Trickster? -- Loki, Coyote
- wiliness of the weak -- Miles
- Witches of Eastwick -- rogue not devil, because the women
can hold their own -- real challenge, not completely in control
- darker rogues not so powerless/vulnerable -- so not as likable?
- Odysseus -- oldest rogue in literature? -- has power, but not
against the gods
- Jacob -- tricks Esau out of his blessing
- David -- Jewish story is all about trickery, coping with being
little -- Muslim story all about power of God
- Sufi teaching tales
- Scheherazade -- all about trickery -- both stories and meta-story
Gaiman -- Anansi Boys -- all about importance of
trickery -- about being weak and clever
- Puss in Boots
- Tricksters are not the same as rogues
- How to Train Your Dragon -- the book, not the
- in the book -- weedy Viking, always getting into trouble,
uses trickery to get out of trouble
- little boy coping with powerlessness -- not a rogue
- taking another's form = Trickster, not rogue
- the rogue kicks you in the teeth, and you say "thank you"
- leaves women pregnant -- but they still love him
- rogues are sublimely confident
- Monkey -- primary motive is being lazy
- laziness is a great driver of intelligence
- Heinlein's "The Boy Who Was Too Lazy To Fail"
Postal -- Moist von Lipwig is a Rogue -- the Pirate is a Bad
- often hard to figure out the distinction -- but Moist doesn't
want to be like that
- Pirates of the Caribbean
-- Jack Sparrow -- plays with the question, is he a Rogue or a Bad Man
-- cocks things up, but excels himself to recover
- Robin Hood
- fantasy attack on a bad society -- that they prey on the rich is
- Cutthroat Island -- rogue part taken by a woman -- is that
why it doesn't work for many? -- the woman is usually the
strong/sensible one -- dynamic is different
- Xena -- if she'd had
a male sidekick, would it have worked? -- or would it have
looked like a reprimand?
- BSG -- Starbuck
- original series, completely a rogue, male, flirtatious
- new series -- more of a rebel, lost the roguishness
- a rogue, you laugh with, rather than at -- harder
to do with a woman?
- B7's Dayna could have been a rogue -- harder in the 70s
- Fanny Hill -- a rogue with humour
- Moll Flanders -- described as a rogue -- but actually she's a
woman trying to survive, in a world where 10% of the men
- Trickster is amoral -- doesn't fit when society stabilises
transgress ridiculous rules but not important ones
- Dennis the Menace (UK, not US, version)
- in the 50s he was a teenager, ~13
- in the 60s he was ~10
- now he's nearly a toddler -- less violent
- original one would have an ASBO today!
- Beryl the Peril
- Addams Family -- Wednesday
- Long Kiss Goodnight -- v roguish character
- forgotten who she is -- then re-emerges --clearly expressed
- what about real life rogues?
- we react with indignation! we don't like them in reality (mostly)
- Bill Clinton? -- typical trick: fess up!
- Stainless Steel Rat -- what I do is illegal but not immoral, a fine
point on which to base a philosophy
- Peter Rabbit
- Telzy / Trigger / Nile Etland -- any James
Schmitz protagonist -- all work outside the system
- post-panel discussions
Penelope -- sidekick Parker an even bigger rogue, and male
- Bergerac -- Ice Maiden (Philippa Vale)
- Marc DuQuesne in the Skylark
series -- has his own morality
- rogue is moral, Trickster amoral, villain immoral
- hence Servalan was not a rogue
Panel Fantasy and SF - Differing Attitudes to YA and Adult
Terry Edge, Sabine Furlong (mod), Elizabeth Counihan
Many books targeted at children and young adults are fantasy or SF,
and this is considered as the mainstream. So why is it less acceptable for
adults to like SF and fantasy?
- attitudes to SF and Fantasy -- YA/children's fiction -- it's all
- sign in shop: "If you like Harry
Potter, you'll love Anne
McCaffrey" -- don't see the connection
- this is fantasy -- it has dragons -- it's much the same thing!
- JK claims she was into the third book before she realised it was
- Terry Pratchett: wizards, flying, brooms -- weren't there some
- a lot of authors of SF/Fantasy get pushed into YA
- can only write imaginative fiction for children because adults
only want Hampstead dons bonking
- Rowling's books are fantasy in the same way Star
Wars is SF
- Rowling's are boarding school with fantasy trappings
- Star Wars is fantasy with SF trappings
- Enid Blyton used to fill the mass market, but she was sidelined
- JK instinctively filled that gap
- first 3 are highly edited -- fast read -- later ones, after
success, fatter, more detail -- could be edited, though
- I like YA -- mostly focus on a story, "a bit of a yarn" --
can't do an Umberto Eco
- linear story, clarity, lack of pretension
- dealing with a serious story
- authors don't thrash out their personal angst (eg Anne Rice)
- Heinlein's juveniles, like Have
Space Suit Will Travel, are better written than the
- learned how to write from YA writers -- used to be a constraint on
length -- get a lot into a small space
- allowed to be v imaginative
- don't get so clever they disappear up their own fundament!
- all the adult steamy sex scenes get in the way of the plot
- how can publishers say "adults don't want to read fantasy"
when Terry Pratchett goes
straight to number one
- Twilight -- they probably didn't realise it was going to
- next gen probably haven't read all the vampire books yet
- Harry Potter also published with "adult" covers -- and they
were more expensive!
- kids who had never read before had their parents queuing
- all word of mouth
- but the other stuff pushed with it doesn't work -- word of
mouth will kill it
- Ladybird Book of Computers -- used on an army training course
-- wanted a plain cover -- publishers refused
- children's encyclopedias are a good source
- LoTR was "acceptable"
because written by a university professor
- class issue -- literary fiction, upper middle class, "proper"
fiction -- SF&F, working class -- unless it makes you a lot of
- but surely the whole tradition is middle class --
- popular fantasy is working class!
- I'd say it's the other way round -- everyone in this room have
higher degrees, are middle class (not representative?) -- whereas
crime fiction is the lowest of the low
- perception and reality don't always match
- regional accents perceived to be lower class, irrespective of
- forms much of the new "family" TV pre-watershed
- Dr Who, Merlin, Robin Hood, ...
- no sex, but quite a lot of horror of "what's behind the
- when Philip Pullman won the
Whitbread, had to be taken seriously
- Mark Lawson, radio series on US fiction, didn't mention SF until the
- challenging writing
- literary -- the writing itself -- new styles, forms
- SF -- making you think -- your small life in this big
- okay behind the Iron Curtain -- it was the only way to tell the story
you wanted to tell
- cultural stigma in the media doesn't translate to the book-buying
- people into SF are a bit braver -- will immerse in a new world --
with literary fiction can keep more of an emotional distance
- is it a problem that adult SF is not v accessible unless you have
read a lot?
- mainstream can only access though YA
- huge split between TV/media SF and "hard core literary"
- split is between literary/commercial, not mainstream/SF
- is there a difference between adult/YA?
- marketing! -- Ben Jeaps book written as adult, marketed as YA
- age of protagonist
- technically, YA is for 13-18, no adult protagonist -- but younger
kids read it
- about sensibility -- about a stage in people's lives -- not
having a clue what to do with their life
Panel Language and Dialect in Writing
Iain M. Banks, Ken MacLeod, Gary Couzens, Jude Roberts, Cheryl Morgan
Use of language can be a very effective way of creating an
atmosphere. Writers use languages and dialects, both real (eg. Glaswegian)
and constructed, phonetics (eg. Feersum Endjinn), and archaic or invented
words. Does using language in these ways make the reader's experience more
immersive, or does it serve as a bar to understanding? How interdependent
are language and culture?
- JR: I'm doing a PhD on the Culture,
and am painfully aware that Iain is writing faster than I am!
- Feersum Endjinn -- not
everything is in dialect -- when I'm writing and everything goes okay, I
get a bit bored -- want to mix things up -- wanted to make a relatively
short read longer! -- also a feeling of alienness/strangeness
- for a small nation, Scotland has an awful lot of dialects -- even
some I don't get -- in a bar near Aberdeen, heard a couple of old
guys talking talking a strange Scandinavian language ... after a
while (a few pints), realised they were talking English --
- The New Testament in Scots -- a different dialect for the
- Appendix of spuria (not used) -- temptation on the mountain,
the Devil is in standard English!
- Feersum Endjinn is phonetic rather than dialect -- "I
always heard it in Cockney"
- I never try to pronounce names, I use the "shape" of the
word to recognise it
- Clute tries to pronounce every word
- Feersum Endjinn -- I wasn't hearing it in my head, I was
seeing it on the page
- does writing come after speech?
- IMB : yes, I write in sentences, I don't talk in sentences -- Ken
MacLeod talks in sentences -- he has this weird thing, he thinks
before he speaks -- what's that about?
- when speech recognition software conquers Scotland, it will be really
- Clockwork Orange -- Russian-influenced street slang -- takes
a while to get used to it
- if I can read it out loud and get into the rhythm, it's fine
- bounced off Midnight Robber until I heard Nalo Hopkinson
reading it out loud, then got the feel of it
- a case for audio books, to get a feel?
- KMcL : I was startled to hear The
Highway Men read -- it's not a dialect but a Highland accent
-- the style is as if they are translating Gaelic to English in
their heads -- it was read by someone with an English accent -- a
bizarre listening experience for me
- use dialect to show a difference?
- aliens all seem to speak standard English
- use of Mummerset
to indicate a yokel
- mangling the language is enormous fun! -- have to be careful
- Culture novels have been translated into English from the
- if you do it right, can get alienness -- language opens a window
onto thought processes
- use typeface to indicate language/accent
- how hard can you ask your readers to work?
- Radio Plays on BBC translated for other languages
- often use particular dialects, based on current social
significance -- probably lost on US audiences?
- Newton's Wake --
some characters speak in Scots -- superficially inconsistent because
main viewpoint character thinks in Scots whenever she gets agitated
- looking back, I wouldn't do it again
- editor of French translation -- there is no French equivalent of
class dialects, only area dialects
- English -- everyone has an excuse to despise everyone when they
open their mouths
francaise has a homogenising effect
- US regions much bigger -- Texas is the size of France -- can't
distinguish north and south Texas
- US class isn't as strongly related to dialect
- in the UK we pick up flags from accents in US imports -- are we
- US often uses Spanish/Latino slang
- in Tudor English (Shakespeare), everyone had regional
accents, didn't signify class -- word choice, etc, did
- Clute claims he can tell to within six months when an SF
novel was written (not published) -- dates faster than use of dialect
- I've learned a lot about the 1960s from reading Stand
- we're now in the year it was set, learn nothing about now,
but a lot about the late 1960s
- Jar Jar Binks --
offensive use of dialect
Panel Novels, a Product of Their Time
Caroline Mullan, Graham Sleight, Jetse de Vries, Ellen Datlow (mod)
Each novel is a story for its time. Many excellent SF stories are of
no interest at all to the next generation, while others seem to stay
perennially popular. Technology, science, social attitudes and even
writing styles change over time. Which factors are most likely to make an
old book popular or unpopular with new readers? What should new novels
- not true of only SF, but of all fiction
- "of its time" depends on where you start -- as a child,
everything is contemporary, contemporaneous -- forcing children to read
predigested pap written in the last 5 years is a disservice
Miles' Doctor Who review -- I disagreed with almost every word,
but it does give you xenophilia -- realise there are other
cultural frames, and they are not therefore bad
- missed a lot reading PKD when
young, but still lots of cool stuff -- saturated with markers of
time and space (60s Berkley)
- classics of the past are filtered down as children's classics
- Dickens -- hated
it in junior high, couldn't relate to it at all -- SF I could!
- some historical assumptions are "comfortable" now -- eg
surveillance state -- some less so --
Kipling's treatment of
race/women is difficult to read
- Justine Larbalestier -- The Battle of the Sexes in Science
Fiction -- letters in Astounding 1938/9 -- including
Asimov -- saying "remove all these women authors, they're
diluting the SFness"
- New Wave, Cyberpunk, ... SF catching up with the present -- might
need a wave of SF to catch up with minorities/women
- SF picked on the wrong story "when we go into space"
instead of "information"
- xenophilia -- encounter with the alien -- not other planets, but
- Stand on Zanzibar --
set in 2010, written in late 60s
- John Brunner accumulated sacks of cuttings, wrote a book about
the worries of his own time -- overpopulation/urban riots/colonial
relations/spread of technology/marijuana
- very much a book of its time
- green roof on an Indonesian airport -- one line throwaway
- can also read it as a commentary on now
- Jack Finney -- Invasion
of the Body Snatchers -- 1954
- got filmed a couple of times
- set in a cute California town -- narrator is the doctor
- alien takeover by replication
- taken as a parable of Communism at the time
- can also read that it's about community -- and how you think
you know people, but find out that you don't
- enough commonalities that it can speak to us now
- 1970s edition updated for second film
- place names, cars updated
- smoking references removed! -- surprisingly early
- in children's books revisions -- now nobody smokes, nobody
makes rude remarks about race, and all currency is decimal
- River of Gods -- a modern response to Stand on Zanzibar
- how much will it resonate in 50 years?
- probably a lot
- a lot of what is still read now from 120-150 years ago is fantasy --
Dracula, The Man Who Was Thursday, ...
- even when the tech/science in SF become outdated, can still be a
- continual conversation with itself about the future
- lots of SF responds not to the world, but the world as filtered
through earlier SF
- the conversation becomes about the conversation, not
- fiction inevitably assumes things are easier than they turn out to be
- secondary/tertiary tools, and their consequences/response
- space rockets -> weapons -> control -> Arpanet -> the
- climate change -- huge, complex -- difficult to embed in a story
- systems understanding beginning to come into the
- literature shows us life from the underside -- but we already
- SF focusses, explains -- makes it easier to see what's being said
or what it's about
- as we grow older, we have to decide what to grow, what to discard --
personally, and as a culture
- present day SF stands in relation to past SF wearing Ben
Goldacre's T-shirt "I think you'll find it's a bit more
complicated than that
- as will the future to us!
- Greg Egan -- Diaspora
-- a huge numbers of adventures about every single kind of communication
failure known to man
- even if we can't solve a problem now, because we don't have the
tools, we don't debar our grandchildren from trying
- need to understand interaction at multiple levels of a system
- scientist needs to know a lot in depth -- "everything about
- engineer needs a broader view, necessarily less depth -- "nothing
- Newton didn't believe his attempts to discover the age of the Earth
through biblical analysis to be any different from his work on optics,
etc -- his work led to Usher -- which tried to block geology