The Wrap Party
21-24 August 1998, Radisson Edwardian Hotel, Heathrow
J. Michael Straczynski
, Bryan Talbot,
, Peter David, John Matthews, Inge
Heyer, Dave Lally, ...
I don't go to media cons -- I prefer cons run by fans for fans, not by
pros for money. But this was a fan con, to celebrate the five year arc of
, the best SF TV show
with the GoHs including Joe Straczynski -- B5 Executive Producer, writer,
and Keeper of the Arc -- and Harlan Ellison -- B5 Conceptual Consultant,
SF writer, and controversial speaker. So I went. And I had a great time.
(Joe Straczynski was recovering from pneumonia, so was a little less
ebullient than he might have been -- but he still had some fascinating
insights.) But it was very much
There were non-B5 programme items, too. The first day was dominated by
lots of interesting NASA, Mars, and Hubble Space Telescope stuff, then the
focus moved to B5 itself.
Of gravitational lensing:
massive galaxies may appear brighter than they are.
The Radisson Edwardian Hotel is all very long, absolutely identical
corridors --- "you are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike".
Even though I had been there less than three years earlier, at
, it didn't help; I still got disoriented.
Inge Heyer: An Overview of the Mars Mission
The volcano Olympus Mons is the highest mountain on Mars, much higher
than anything on Earth. It is so big and broad that if you stood on the
top and looked down, all you would see is slope, no horizon.
Continual sandstorms can also blow small rocks around.
The two landing sites, previous Viking and recent Sojourner, have the
same composition of sand -- the sandstorms have spread the sand
All the rocks are volcanic.
Relative costs of space missions: the recent Mars mission cost $154M;
Panel: 4000 Years of Women in Science
Introductory overview based on material from the
Years of Women in Science
Some wrangling over the definition of 'science', and that it hasn't
been around for 4000 years. But most of the early examples were
mathematicians and astronomers. And when the Hypatia's philosophy was
repeated, there was much agreement that that
When someone mentioned they had read
Men are from Mars, Women are
, another audience member riposted with a recent cartoon
punchline: "and Pop-psychology from Uranus". [Which joke I
like for the additional reason that for the joke to work, you have to
, not in the newfangled way.]
Panel: The Women of Babylon 5
JMS: Someone pointed out to me that Sheridan's three wives: Anna,
Lochley, Delenn, are Worker, Warrior, Religious. That was not
JMS: writes roles to be gender-neutral if possible, then tells
casting to hire the best
who walks through the door.
Harlan Ellison: GoH talk
Anything not nailed down is mine. Anything I can pry up is not nailed
Story: holding off 4 hoods with a gun, whilst dressed in a towel.
Story: mailing the dead gopher to the publisher. [I first heard this
story 13 years ago at
, and as far as
I could tell, it was identical. Harlan claims that "I never lie,
but I exaggerate like mad". Well, impressively, the exaggeration
doesn't seem to increase with time!]
It is not my intention to fight City Hall. It is my intention to
If you can't hurt them in a game that they set up with their
rules -- change the rules.
Phil Dick was to paranoia what Disney is to diabetes.
Blooper tapes from all 5 seasons of B5 (including Londo singing
and My Shadow
with a life-size cardboard cutout).
CGI views of the
's premis (a 5 year mission to find a
cure for Earth's plague) plus some clips from the first episode. Looks
good! (Described as an "action adventure with some drama, where B5
was drama with some action adventure".)
2 Jan 2001
series did not deliver
Preview viewing of the B5 TV movie
The River of Souls
Martin Sheen and Ian McShane. It takes place on Babylon 5 several months
after the end of the Arc. It was great -- but more than that, I will not
say yet, for we were sworn to secrecy :-)
27 Feb 99
: it is now officially out on
video, so I can
review it at last
: Credible Aliens...
Intro: "Jack has very many talks -- but only one set of slides!"
There are 32 good ways to make life, that we know of.
Chemistry isn't simple; school chemistry isn't
. There are about 16 intermediate steps in turning
hydrogen and oxygen into water, and it's autocatalytic.
The oldest proteins we know are 'boiling water' proteins: there was
life almost as soon as possible.
The animal liberation lie: 14 starlings die (are
each 2 that breed; 9998 tadpoles/frogs die for each 2 that breed;
3999998 cod eggs are eaten and cod die for each 2 that breed. Most lab,
domestic and agricultural animals have better lives, and
better deaths, than in the wild.
Nearly all species go extinct without evolving into new species.
During evolution, some things have happened independently many times,
Photosynthesis: there are still 4 different kinds, and many more
have gone extinct
Fur: mice, bumble bees, plants
Flight: insects, fish, birds, bats
Horns: beetles, rhino
Trunks: elephant, giraffe. (The giraffe has long front legs for
running, and a long neck as 'a tube to drink through without
kneeling'. The giraffe has its face at the front of the tube; the
elephant has its face at the back of the tube.)
Running evolution again would give universals, but not
chordates/vertebrates from a particular ancestor
The particular fish that came out of the ocean had its airway
crossing its foodway. If a different fish species had come out, we
Also, it had its reproductive and excretory systems mixed up. If
it hadn't, we wouldn't have 'dirty' books -- we'd have different
kinds of hang-ups.
Pentadactyl limbs are particularly parochial.
Is intelligence universal or parochial?
Octopus and mantis shrimps seem very intelligent
Dolphins seem to have people inside
Is 'extelligence' (keeping some of what would otherwise have to be
telligence outside ourselves: culture, libraries, etc)
universal or parochial? That's a different matter.
Captive meerkats have invented new 'posts' (such as getting the
food from the keeper) that are appropriate for a zoo environment.
have got into our heads and given us lots of
hidden assumptions about prehistoric people.
For credible aliens, we want to know what could
happen if we ran evolution again. We want to explore the universe of
possibilities around the actual. We need to know the rules, so that we
can generate other instances.
Most animals bring themselves up. We are 'complicit'. Babies train
their mothers to pick things up by rewarding them with a smile.
The progression "1, 2, 3" is inbuilt in our culture:
Straw, wood, bricks.
1st king's son fails; 2nd nearly succeeds; 3rd succeeds.
Throwing items on "1, 2,
We learn 'cunning' and 'sly' from what the fox does in our stories.
There are different icons in different cultures. It's 'sly and cunning
is the fox',
'the fox is sly and cunning'. But animals form
a very specific part of all our cultures.
We find some animals
. We have a pathological love for
children that extends to these animals. No other animal does this.
We domesticate animals, including ourselves. Various social rituals,
especially puberty rituals, exclude some people from breeding.
What kinds of creatures do we use for aliens in our stories? In SF,
we invent particular kinds of aliens because of who
use things ready in our imagination, but that
another planet, or here if we ran evolution again.
Big cats are enormously potent symbols to us, and so crop up
everywhere as SF aliens.
Greys cannot possibly be aliens -- they are far too
anthropomorphic -- and so must be from our minds.
Mary Talbot: Aliens and 'Otherness'
This is "English Alien Centennial Year" --
War of the
is 100 years old. This features the first aliens in English
literature, probably written due to Well's fear of German invasion.
Ironically, the previous year, an alien invasion story was published in
Germany, and that story has a peaceful resolution.
Aliens classified as
Evil Adversary: plastic, or shiny, or creepy crawly monsters, or
Benevolent: divine helper; kindly big brother
Hero (usually male)
'Racial Other': such as the
bar aliens; there just to be 'different'
The B5 aliens poke holes in the god/demon stereotypes
In SF TV and films, sexual attraction crosses species boundaries. Our
male/female categories are so firmly set that the improbability is not
that apparent to us. Also, the aliens don't actually represent other
, but rather other cultures and ethnicities. These are
social constructions, not biological constructions.
The cultures of earth map on to the cultures of B5. We need to draw
on our human culture to make 'credible' alien cultures. In B5, all the
humans are 'native English speakers', whereas many aliens have 'foreign
accents' -- a way of emphasising their alienness.
What is 'ethnic'? Although they are, we wouldn't describe the Womens
Institute as an ethnic group, or fish and chips as ethnic food, or
bowler hats as ethnic headgear. A Home Counties civil disturbance would
not be described as an ethnic riot.
'Human' is used as a gradable adjective: "he smiled, and was
suddenly more human".
The humanisation of Delenn (who is then subject to racial intolerance
from fellow Minbari). When Minbari, she is full of dignity and
authority. As a human, she smiles more, has hair problems, and becomes
'bendier'. Is she just being groomed as Sheridan's mate? [I'm not
convinced by this: she might
more 'feminine' on the
outside, but she's pure unyielding steel on the inside. Just think of
the "Be somewhere else" scene from
a male Minbari became human, what changes would he undergo to become
'more human', that would reflect male stereotyping?
Morgan interviews Harlan Ellison
He has 250,000 books at his home.
Conceptual Consultant role: he was bothered by one episode, it took
him ages to figure out the problem, then he realised the bamboo wasn't
moving in the biosphere scenes. He'd read somewhere that the bamboo dies
in Biosphere 2 because it needs movement. But B5's biosphere had no
breeze, no insects, it was just a set. Joe agreed to have a wind machine
for the next scene: it made so much noise it was a disaster and they had
TV: it is arduous, demeaning, backbreaking work. They have no
loyalty, and they don't care what they fill the hours with.
"Trifles make perfection, but perfection is no trifle"
When something good happens in TV/films, it happens by chance. It is
an art form run by businessmen.
Money is what they give you if you do your job right.
The person who designs the house is the architect; the person who
builds it is the carpenter. (It should be the same relationship between
scriptwriter and director.)
Two pieces of good advice he was given about Hollywood:
"Achieving success in Hollywood is like climbing a pile of
cow shit to pluck a perfect rose -- and when you get to the top you
discover that you have lost the sense of smell."
"Keep writing the books, else you won't be taken seriously
I told a director he had "the intellect of an artichoke" --
and he repeated that to
! Only someone with the intellect
of an artichoke would do that.
be Great Art: the test is if you can't
An Englishman's Castle
(BBC drama of alternate
history Britain after Germany wins WWII [find a copy, send it to Harlan,
and earn his undying gratitude!]), the occasional episode of
Hill Street Blues
, [others]... But the medium has less
potential for greatness, because of all the random factors.
I was a clue on
. I got more calls about that than
World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award: I had won the award because
my work was so good they couldn't
give it to me, even though
they wanted to.
Story: (not) dropping the Chandelier
I will tell you
. That way I can never be blackmailed, not
by you, and not by
: ...and What They Do to Each Other
Many things needed for reproduction are the opposite of what is
needed for everyday survival. Survival means defensive mechanisms
[famous photo of porcupines being very careful here] and camouflage.
Putting food energy into a yolk is poor survival behaviour.
Classification of Tactics of Sexual Congress (as opposed to
Tactics of Assimilation: Assimilate the business of sex into
everyday life: herring lay sperm/egg cells every night, whether or
not the other sex is present.
Tactics of Separation: separate reproduction and survival
Royals: separate the feeding/breeding into different animals:
queen bee + workers; wolves (one female does all the breeding)
Alternation: breeding seasons
Terminal: breed at the end of life: mayflies; salmon
Amplexus: occurs over an extended time period, a very
dangerous time: dogs
Rapid transfer of sperm into female, who is then independent.
We cannot say what aliens will be like, only what they will not be
like: they will not have Parochials. (Cartoonist Gary Larson puts
parochials into the mouths of creatures for whom it is inappropriate.)
Sex is a Universal: it has been invented at least 20 times on Earth.
Some fungi and plants have more than two sexes. But what parts of sex
are universal, and what parts are parochial?
Warning: universals that have happened lots of times on this planet
be parochial to this planet. But they probably aren't.
Parochial: humans look after their children and anything
'baby', like cute animals. Chimpanzees
the babies during
wars -- there is nothing 'sacred' about young to them. Also -- lots
of animals eat the male!
Universal: embarrassment about genitalia, because it is
'unphysiological'. Many animals want to "do it somewhere where
I can't be seen".
Parochial: self-mutilation, like body-piercing
Universal: pornography. We have images of all sorts of things we
are 'turned-on' by, such as food, cars.
Parochial: incest. It is probably taboo in our culture, because
of the dangers of inbreeding. But gerbils, lemmings and teepee mice
(and the Egyptian Pharaohs) mostly breed brother-sister. After a few
generations the bad genes have gone, and it's a good way to stay
mostly the same.
Universal: overproduction of young, with lots being eaten before
"Put the genes for the pouch of a kangaroo into a stork -- and
get air mail!". But the genes of a kangaroo won't
stork -- they might give the same proteins, but those proteins won't do
the same thing in the different environment. The same sodium pump gene
makes 'vestigial wing' in one fly, and 'fat feet' in another.
7 blind men and elephant story:
Original: One insists its a rope, one a snake, one a leaf, one a
wall, ... Each sees only a part, and none can see the 'truth' that
it's an elephant.
Twist: Picture of a brick wall with a snake, rope etc dangling
from it, and the blind men insisting "Yep, it's an elephant all
A lot of things that we don't know, we don't know that we don't know.
These are all 'lies', or simplifications; things that don't work.
In particular, they often don't work when you try to put them together
into a bigger theory.
Bernoulli effect makes aeroplanes fly: so how do they fly upside
Rainbows because water drops are like prisms: no they're not!
Stick insects lay eggs that look like seeds. Victorian explanation: "if
you look like a plant, your eggs will look like seeds". But things
seeds! After recent Australian forest fires, they found
stick insects all over the new shoots -- but the eggs take 6 months to
hatch. They were coming out of ants nests! The ants store them
they look like seeds.
Universal: swarming: locusts. Locust strategy is amplexus, taking
about 2.5 hours. But they are fairly safe in a swarm. Frogs hide
underwater. Stick insects use camouflage (two sticks still look like
Trials of Life
: They got 13 different shots of
a tarantula wasp breeding (it lays its eggs in a spider, which acts as a
food source for the young). Not one of these shots was of a successful
breeding: one, the wasp stunned a spider but forgot to lay an egg,
another, it got eaten by a bird before it could lay its eggs, ... The
Puberty rituals, tattooing, scarring, etc, act as a form of selection
for obedience to authority: domestication of people by people.
Handicap theory: peacock: I've managed to develop
carrying this ridiculous tail. Martial artist drinking paraffin scene in