Ad Astra

So. Ad Astra ’11, this very weekend:  their 30th anniversary, and they’re pulling out the stops. In addition to this year’s Guests of Honor (Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon), they’ve recruited a bunch of past GoHs for return engagements.

So I’d be one of those. I will be there. First public event since the Killer Strep.

More specifically, I will be on the following panels:

  • Fri 6pm : Understanding the Alien. It can be difficult to get into the mindspace of beings who are far different than human beings. What works have done this the best? How can creators make their aliens interesting and unique but still have them work for their audience? Panelists: Eric Flint, James Alan Gardner (m), Peter Watts.
  • Fri 8pm: Bad science, dubious science and handwaving. How important is it to get the science right? How often do authors fudge things? How much can you get away with? Is it different for SF than for other genres? How about between SF subgenres? Panelists: Tim Liebe, Shirley Meier, Glenn Norman, Howard Tayler, Peter Watts.
  • Sun 11am: Anachronism in SF. Science fiction is full of anachronism: empires that span the galaxy but can’t invent paint that doesn’t peel; starships that use cathode-ray tubes for computer monitors. And yet SF that takes a stab at a plausible portrayal of the far future can tend to look hokey and cartoonish. Is anachronism in SF a sign of lazy world-building and lack of imagination? Might such breaches be essential to getting contemporary audiences to believe in these futures, on a gut level? Panelists: Matthew Johnson, Tim Liebe, Derwin Mak (m), Moira Scott, Peter Watts.
  • Sun 2pm: Environmental Themes in SF. Why are ecological themes so popular and important in SF? What are some of the most interesting examples of SF based around environmental issues? Panelists: Sarah Jane Elliott, James Alan Gardner, Peter Watts.
  • Sun 3pm: “Hard-Character SF”. “Hard-character SF” (“neuropunk” and “neurogunk” have also been proposed) takes its lead from cutting-edge brain research, treating human behaviour and personality in reductionist, neurological terms. How does hard-character SF work, exactly — and is it really a legitimate movement within the genre, or just wish-fulfillment on the part of fans still looking for The Next Big Thing 20 years after cyberpunk died? Panelists: Kathryn Cramer, Karl Schroeder, Peter Watts.

I’m especially pleased with the Anachronism and Hard-Character panels, since I suggested them.  A little less pleased that they don’t seem to be running “Mundane SF: Dumb Idea, or the Dumbest Idea?”, which I did not suggest but which I would very much like to have attended.

I’m also doing a reading. Saturday 10pm, I think, although I don’t see that officially posted—

Oh shit. I just checked their (admittedly draft) “Pocket Program“; it lists me reading all by myself for a solid hour at 10am Saturday. There’s gotta be some mistake there; listening to one guy drone on for a solid hour would be an ordeal for all involved. Maybe they’re going to add some other voices. I better check.

I also better figure out what to read. I’ve been working on State of Grace but I don’t know if any of it’s going to be ready for prime time by the weekend. I’ll probably just read from Legion, some bit that hasn’t already been posted online.

Maybe I’ll do the scene with the octopus and the clitoris.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Wednesday April 06 2011at 06:04 am , filed under On the Road, public interface . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

43 Responses to “Ad Astra”

  1. With a last name that starts with W, don’t you just hate the lists of panelists being posted alphabetically? But maybe it is like multi-author scientific publications where it is an unwritten rule that the two most important authors are listed first and last.

  2. So an ocotopus and a clitoris walk into a bar …

  3. That scene made me laugh, so go for it!
    And I so wish I lived in Canada (or at least visited during this weekend)!

  4. Could someone please tell me why, in this fabulous modern age in which we live, that a SciFi convention does NOT provide streaming coverage of its panels?

    Yeah, I know it’s a little costly and it requires some setup/maintenance, but are those costs so outrageous that it makes the idea impossible? Maybe I’m just confused about the administration of it all – I wish I could attend remotely somehow.

    I would love nothing more than to attend, and poke at Peter’s exposed calf muscle with a stick, but Toronto is a little far for me to drive.

    Peter, if you’re stuck with something to read, just whip out your medical report and recite from that. Flesh Eating Bacteria are going to become the new Zombie.

  5. I’m jealous given that I’ve long wanted to have a neuropunk/gunk panel at one of the conventions here. You would have been at the top of the list of people to be on a discussion like that. Now I doubt we’d ever get to see you since it’s not likely you’d ever want to visit again, even if you could.

    We mostly get astronomers and physicists here, less so neuro types.

  6. Could someone please tell me why, in this fabulous modern age in which we live, that a SciFi convention does NOT provide streaming coverage of its panels?

    They need cross pollinating with some of the open source technical conferences. Many of those have a decent track record at getting videos on line quickly, and some of them are not bad at streaming them. Kind of shaky with the streaming, but probably good enough to try.

    I can’t remember who all streams. I’m going to Gathering. They stream. DebConf streams. CCC something (I can’t remember).

    (I speak from behind the scenes vicarious experience).

    (I guess maybe Gathering isn’t an open source technical conference, exactly)

  7. linux conf au, too.

  8. Flesh Eating Bacteria are going to become the new Zombie.

    The new steampunk treatment for preventing zombification from the resulting infection should be a mobile hyberbaric chamber.

    (holy crap, maybe I’ve had too much coffee and I should be put in to the moderation box and told to pipe down for a while).

  9. It’d be awesome if it wasn’t on the other side of the country. Maybe if they host it in BC or Saskatchewan, I’d be able to make it!

    Would it be inappropriate to say, “Break a leg” for this?

  10. Nerdy KIlljoys:Sun 11am: Anachronism in SF. Science fiction is full of anachronism: empires that span the galaxy but can’t invent paint that doesn’t peel; starships that use cathode-ray tubes for computer monitors. And yet SF that takes a stab at a plausible portrayal of the far future can tend to look hokey and cartoonish. Is anachronism in SF a sign of lazy world-building and lack of imagination?

    This irritated me a bit. I think some sci fi types wont be happy until all we’re doing is rendering flawless chrome spheres interacting with other texture-less chrome spheres on a colorless star field in utter silence.

    Plus, it should be noted all those examples given pertain specifically to portrayals of science fiction in film and television, which are depictions frozen forever in time with whatever technology is available in that era to make them with. I can’t remember the last science fiction novel I read that specifically referred to an imaging device as a CRT. In that case, the reader imagines something suitably impressive that makes sense in their own mind, if nothing more fanciful is spelled out for them. Anything looks perfectly believable in our imagination.

    But Ridley Scott didn’t have the technology to make convincing holographic displays in 1979, like they had in Minority Report. So we get old style CRTs. Not to to mention there are practical artistic decisions, like needing the viewer to be able to read the information the character is viewing, so more abstract concepts like some direct mental interface are out.

    It’s not “lazy world building”. It’s budget, technology, and efficient storytelling, unless the anachronisms are deliberate, like in BSG where they serve a practical purpose, or purely stylistic, as in something like Brazil.

    I just think that summary could have been worded a little better. What they’re really griping about are SF anachronisms in film and television portrayals which are usually there for purely practical reasons, not science fiction in general. The SF books I read have plenty of future interface concepts, and I cant remember the last sentence I read speaking of peeling paint.

    I trust you will convey my irritation to them, Peter.

  11. I’m okay with a CRT ansible. Mebe it’s the only way to quiet the spooky action at a distance philostogen humors.

  12. Scott:

    I shall pass it on — although, since I wrote the thumbnail, your gripe is actually with me.

    And I don’t entirely agree with you. 2001: A space Odyssey showed us what amounted to iPads on the Discovery, and that came out a solid decade before Alien did. Kubrick is explicitly on record as saying he figured CRTs would be an obsolete display technology by 2001, so he wanted something more advanced. He didn’t *have* anything more advanced, of course, but he faked it with 8mm back-projections.

    Then Hyams came along and did the sequel — sixteen years later — and rebuilt the sets of the same damn ship with conventional CRTs. I’m sorry, but that’s not being limited by the technology, and that’s not making an artistic decision. That’s just being fucking lazy.

    All that said, though, I have come around in a lot of other cases. I’ve learned to see Luke’s dilapidated speeder the same way I hear him speaking English: as an accessible metaphor (in this case, for whatever constitutes dilapidation/native language in a galaxy far far away). Read the rest of the thumbnail, the part you didn’t quote back at me, and you’ll see where I’m going with this.

    And BSG, for all its faults, was the pinnacle of artistic anachronism because it showed us stuff that just felt right to a conventional audience, and explicitly rationalized its appearance in a spacefaring culture. Those guys consciously knew what they were doing (as opposed to so many others, who I’m convinced just kinda went with their artistic gut sense).

    There. Now none of you have to go to the panel.

  13. There. Now none of you have to go to the panel.

    I didn’t mean to bite your head off Peter. Although, as an artist, I’m likely to have a bone to pick with anyone who tells me I can’t paint gritty, distressed textures and peeling paint. It is infinitely better to show someone something is old or worn, than to tell them. I also just really like painting scuffed up metal. There is nothing more boring in the world than featureless, pristine, antiseptic environments.

    The 2010 example is a pretty damning example, I admit. But far more of the time its not lazy, so much as it is cost effective. They could spend weeks ($$$) building some new fanged doo-dads that are likely to confuse the viewer, or just use that extra case of LCD screens they have sitting around in the prop department.

    Science fiction authors have the benefit of the reader’s infallible imagination. Film makers have to make something look right and feel right, not just sound right. From a recent conversation here on the ‘Crawl I’ll repeat, with visual depictions, if something looks wrong, then it is wrong, even if your internal reasoning is correct.

    This is why I would avoid the application of “lazy world building” in film and television. Not that a world cant be constructed poorly, but there are so many other mundane impediments to imagination and world building in that arena it’s rarely fair to cite a lack of will. Budget, time, lack of creative control, film making by committee (few people ever get to exert their entire vision), an actor is allergic to makeup, or wont wear it, etc. Now, a book on the other hand, if that comes off lazy, the author has well and truly earned it.

    Plus, while some tech may change in appearance, it’s hard to imagine it disappearing altogether. While the CRT flavor of the planar imaging device is obsolete, even in the far future, I think there will always be a use for some variation on that device. Even in a future where people interface with devices on a neural level, and holographic technology is plentiful, sometimes a planar field of some sort is going to be the most practical way to communicate information, and really, how much different can that basic concept look? I don’t care if we’re beings of pure energy and spirit by then, somewhere around there there’s going to be a goddamn push-button.

    Although, from your response is does seem indeed like the panel is chiefly concerned with media portrays of sci-fi, and not anachronisms in sci-fi as a literary genre. There are plenty there, sure, especially in older science fiction, but I think science fiction authors as a whole, even the “non-plausible” variety are much more aware of that sort of thing now a days. Usually when you see an anachronism in a modern sci fi book, it’s deliberate, like a book or a cigarette. A bottle of alcohol for old fashioned drinking. Or the characters are in a futuristic setting, but not a high tech environment.

  14. In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that that as we speak, I am painting a cover design for a futuristic science fiction board game, making liberal use of distressed paint on metal (rusty metal!!) texture. Peter’s comment made me self-conscious.

    Always with the thinking, you science fiction author types. So annoying. I hate being aware of what I’m doing. I consume a lot of perfectly good alcohol to ensure that doesn’t happen!

  15. Empires that span the galaxy but can’t invent paint that doesn’t peel.

    Priorities. Spanning empires is much more fun than coming up with paints that won’t peel.

  16. someone already said this, but i wish they would stream or film/tape these sorts of panels and then upload them to a site for the people who can’t take off to Toronto for the weekend.

    perhaps it’s an economical consideration, i.e. a fear that providing it on the internet might reduce people’s motivation to register and attend (which is silly, the buzzy fervour of attending a con can’t be replicated sitting at your laptop, home alone).

    the anachronism panel sounds like it will be a great discussion. anachronism is useful as an anchor for people to relate to if the environment is remote (future, far away). it can make a gritty atmosphere when required (people on the fringe who aren’t part of the shiny world) and it can just be plain fun–Cowboy Bebop, or if you prefer, the Whedon version, Firefly. Also, some things don’t change: I can use wi-fi on a jet while taking designer drugs, but the soles of my shoes wear out exactly the way they did 100 years ago. Besides, toilet paper is always better than the three shells.

  17. Looking forward to it. Can’t wait. I’ll be the guy with the rough hands. That is, if I can get my hands on you.

  18. idleprimate:perhaps it’s an economical consideration, i.e. a fear that providing it on the internet might reduce people’s motivation to register and attend (which is silly, the buzzy fervour of attending a con can’t be replicated sitting at your laptop, home alone).

    The irreproducibility may be perfectly true. But if people can watch streamed panels, they may never be motivated to go to their FIRST con. And thus never know what they’re missing.

  19. ultrapaint just starts chipping after the first 100.000 years, what are you gonna do…

  20. Will says that being there in person versus watching a video is “like seeing a 4×6 picture of a peach pie vs. having a slice sitting in front of you that was just taken out of the oven and it’s got a nice honkin scoope of vanilla ice cream that’s melting as you watch.”

  21. I’m not sure, by the way, it’s necessary to have to resort to the metaphorical level to justify Luke’s crappy ride, either.

    One of the persistent failings of of sci-fi visionaries, in addition to grossly underestimating how much time it would actually take for society to superficially resemble their futuristic worlds, is making the assumption that just because a technology likely exists, it is the same thing as that technology being ubiquitous.

    Just because some self-regenerating nano-paint than can change colors on command exists, doesn’t mean it’s power-sprayed over every square inch of the universe. Our world is a collage of disparate technologies. Our surroundings are not constructed entirely out of titanium steel and carbon composites. We have stain and wrinkle resistant fabrics, but we don’t wear them exclusively even though they seem to be technologically superior from a certain perspective. Some people make a point of surrounding themselves with “inferior” technology because it has a quality they enjoy. Or because they have no choice. If you have nano-paint, does it get applied to garbage haulers the same as luxury liners?

    Maybe the SW universe has perfect , texture-less materials, and indestructible paint. You could certainly assume that from watching the bland , too-perfect CG environments of the SW prequels, as opposed to the lived-in feel of the original film, with its practical effects and technology that always looked like something you could touch and feel.

    But maybe it’s just too much for some poor moisture farmers who live on a galactic backwater to be able to afford. Life on Arrakis is hard. In between the withering sandstorms, and fending off Fre….Sandpeople attacks, the cheaper old-fashioned dura-gloss just can’t cut it.

  22. William Gibson’s short story “The Gernsback Continuum” springs to mind.

    We are no longer content with SF stories

    We want SF stories that deal with stories about the cultural impact of SF

    Sort of like when they discussed “Science Fiction” in the last episode of the firefly

    Actually, now that I think about it this could be an entire sub-genre

    Deconstructionist world building? Metafictive futurism? Metapunk?

    Yes, I like that.

    This is now the metapunk thread.

  23. Please forgive me for dwelling on the topic, but unfortunately I won’t be able to go to Ad Astra, so I must torture you here with my bleating. If you like, consider it payback for (what I am now assuming it to be) your little gangrene joke.

    Ahem. Wall of text incoming.

    I figured out what it was I found slightly irritating about the sentiment behind that thumbnail. On the surface level, it’s nitpicking logic flaws in science fiction films and television, which is always good fun. I understand the CRT bit, although I think in most cases you’d be just as valid pointing out the fillings in an actor’s teeth in that open mouth shot and saying , “Gotcha! In the future they would have fixed tooth decay!” More often than not, it’s just a practical limitation of the medium that we agree to disregard in order to achieve suspension of disbelief. There are any number of mundane reasons why a CRT might be used in a science fiction portrayal of that era that have nothing to do artistic will.

    The paint-peeling bit hit close to home though, because that is almost always going to be an artistic choice of the sort that I make all the time. On that level, it can be viewed as some sci-fi literary types (present company excluded, of course) patting themselves on the back for using plausible real life scientific touchstones to textually render speculative concepts with an air of authenticity…while critiquing visual artists ( I hereby extend the scope of my micro-indignation on the behalf of set designers, FX artists, and directors too) for doing the exact same thing on a visual level.

    Yes, the counterpoint to that argument was suggested (while still referring to these incidents as “breeches” rather than an educated, well informed artistic decision), which I conveniently neglected to quote, but it was really incidental at that point. It’s the insinuation of laziness as a possibility that’s a bit grating (even though it is, in fact, sometimes a matter of laziness, but let’s move on).

    To turn that argument back around on you in my best Fox-Newsian fashion: “Hard” Science Fiction Authors Who Rely Overmuch on Plausible Science Reference: The Lazy Imagination of Fun-Vampires or Necessary Evil? It’s possible I may have exaggerated a bit. But I suspect your eye might twitch slightly at even having to defend your practices as not being “lazy”, because you know it’s anything but. You know how much effort goes into rendering those concepts realistically, and that it is anything but a lack of imagination, because you have the added burden of having to speculate how one idea might tie into a plausible established concept, rather than pure whimsy. You willingly bind yourself by certain rules.

    The same is true for artists, illustrators, and designers. We spend years learning those rules, and how to manipulate them. We know we can bend those rules, but are generally powerless to successfully break them in any sort of realistic depiction. We learn that even when rendering a fantastic concept that doesnt exist anywhere in nature, it’s still quite possible to make it look wrong. Or silly. Or unconvincing.

    We don’t speculate that it might be necessary to render a concept based on plausible real life touchstones and physical laws in order for the viewer to buy into it. We know it. It’s our job to know it. We know that the depiction of fantastic creatures and constructs must obey certain rules, must be constructed out of materials we recognize, and must be constructed out of plausible, functional anatomical landmarks found in nature. It doesn’t matter if it is an abnormally large alien creature with with extra limbs, those limbs are going to adhere to some sort of natural standard with an anatomy that actually looks functional in a way that we understand it. Giving a creature extra arms is easy. Giving it extra biceps in any fashion that doesn’t break the illusion of reality is hard.

    That set designer who gave that aging industrial space ship corridor a peeling paint job, knows that to imbue things with a sense of reality, you must build them out of the reality we know. He knows how to communicate ideas at a glance in a visual medium. He knows that having a viewer understand something instinctively, is far preferable to having to explain it. He knows the medium is not about rendering reality. It is about hijacking reality. It is about using expectation and misdirection to manufacture the illusion of reality. Even if he knew it should look like unspoiled white plastic, he wouldn’t be as good at his job if he actually made it look that way.

    As a writer, you have the most direct access to the “viewer’s” unfettered and infallible imagination as any artistic medium probably does. You coach the imagination with a few lines of text into conjuring elaborate images that will always make sense to the reader, and always be suitably impressive. By comparison, the visual artist must impose their own will upon what the viewer sees, an awkward enterprise fraught with peril. Our tools are primitive by comparison. We have to rely on smoke, mirrors, and brute force to convey ideas as efficiently as possible, to trick the viewer into seeing what we want them to see, towards whatever end.

    So we construct our images and design our concepts with as much care, deliberation, and surprisingly mechanical craftsmanship as any engineer. Or writer. So if I want to paint some goddamn rusty, paint peeling metal in my dystopian future setting, or even my utopian technocracy if for no other reason than to imbue things with more aesthetic interest than your average gynecologist office, I’m damn well going to do it, and no hoighty toighty skiffy egghead is going to…

    Oh wait, my Hot Pocket is done. I think I’m spent on droning blather and nerd rage for now, but don’t push it, Watts. I’m glad your leg doesn’t actually have gangrene, by the way.

  24. Scott:

    Actually, you have cogently argued much of what it took me years to work out on my own. I went from “Arrggh, stupid mechanical odometers in a starship!?!” to “How come the Enterprise seems hokier than the Nostromo even though it’s so much shinier?” to, well, where I am now.

    I should point out, though, that while the thumbnail certainly harped on the video breeds of SF, I’d maintain there’s also lazy thinking in the written strains as well. Granted I’ve never seen a reference to “CRT monitors”, but read Forward’s “Dragon’s Egg”: he’s got computer interfaces circa 2050 talking in ALL CAPS LIKE A SIXTIES-ERA TELETYPE. One could make a similar complaint about the 31rst century Usenet in “A Fire Upon the Deep”. And then you go all the way back to the nineteen sixties and there’s Delany, all artsy and nonhardcore: and he’s got a society with ubiquitous neural interfaces, which makes the “real scientists” look that much more myopic in contrast.

  25. I think contemporary sci fi literature is generally much better in this regard than stuff you see from the 60’s , 70,s and 80s, but it’s always hard to see the “anachronisms” in Sci Fi literature outside of the filter of the time we live in. I re-read Foundation some time back for kicks, which I hadn’t read since fourth grade, and that was fairly painful. I imagine it was the cat’s ass at the time, though, since it basically became a free for all with writers stepping over themselves to borrow from it. It’s weird how the rise of the internet has managed to “obsolete” a lot of science fiction in regard to the way they thought about computers, even as recently as the 90’s.

    You condemn the use of CRT’s in SF media portrayals, probably for the curvature of the screen and some of the primitive computer text and graphics. But the telescreen as a practical machine and storytelling device isnt going anywhere anytime soon. I’m sure in 15 years, all the flatpanel LCDs being used right now for the same purpose will look just as dated. All the new-fangled gee whiz holographic displays we see increasingly in movies now look like wretched wretched devices from a real world practical standpoint.

    I wonder how long it will be before people start snickering at the “nano-” prefix, we’re shotgun-blasting at our current sci-fi lit, the same way people do at the “atomic-” prefix from golden age sci-fi. Tiny machines are the current go-to sci-fi “magic”. That ship probably already sailed in the late 90’s, but I’m not as cutting edge as many of you here.

  26. FWIW, ScotC, that was a beautiful wall of text.

  27. Actually I think Heinlein had a point when he had settlers on a alien planet using mules. When you’re far from an industrial base of supply and every shipped gram costs a king’s ransom, or just way out on the galactic frontier on a no-account ball of sand, technology will be voluntarily the kind of stuff you can repair with an arc welder and a wrench.

  28. Recently there’s a trend of remastering old sci fi shows and polishing up not only the special effects, but the background details that have become too anachronistic, the re-release of space 1999 as space 2099 is a case in point.

  29. I’m looking forward to a fine and fiesty discussion on the so-called ‘hard character’ or neuropunk.

    I hate to see that sort of (I guess) reductionism in SF, I see too much of that in real life.

    For example, I might know someone who is fast-cycle bipolar (several, actually), and the one truly predictable thing about their affliction is that without SSRIs or comparable meds, they’ll go manic and if they’re there long, they’ll start having some or all of the errors of perception and cognition that go along with being “up” for too long. Yet the course of the episode, however predictable in general outline, is unique to the individual. Sure, we know something about the neurochemistry behind the disordered mind, but it’s not all that predictable. Alternatively, we all know that if someone drinks a 12-pack of Molsons and tries to drive a car, they’re going to wreck. But if you have a dozen people each drink a 12-pack, you might get only 1 that would even try to drive a car after drinking that much. And in the meanwhile, probably you have 4 passed-out drunks, 3 happy drunks, 3 mean drunks, and perhaps two of the sort that go batshit crazy from drinking even a single beer. But even with that level of statistical prediction, it’s not likely possible to predict which jokes exactly will be told by the happy drunks nor to whom exactly they’ll tell those jokes… nor what the listener’s reaction will be.

    I’d say it comes down to, once again, the old arguments between Determinism and Free-Will, not to mention the fact that an utterly predictable Newtonian universe is obviated by quantum effects in the extreme microscale. You’d have to anticipate some analogue of that in even the most finely-tuned models of a hard character. The genetically-engineered uber-sane genius could have some vital neuron clipped by a cosmic ray right as he’s making his super-predictably utter-genius leap of logic. And thereafter, he speaks only hyper-intelligent crap. (Hey, stop looking at me like that, eh?)

    You might breed a legion of specially-wired super-soldiers (or Jukka Sarasti as another extreme example) but how predictable are they, really? Certainly they might excel at violence as they were engineered to do. And a few of them might be ultra-competent fighters, yet somehow become Conscientious Objectors. 99.9 percent of Sarasti’s type might die horribly from the crucifix glitch, but what if a small percentage don’t? (I seem to recall this exact thing in a teaser from the Blindsight sidequel…)

    In any case, doesn’t SF quite frequently bring up the theme of individuality, of people doing the unpredictable? Don’t unpredicted responses or courses of action make the story more entertaining? Isn’t it all about the interpersonal conflict between the “static characters” and the “dynamic characters”, with the static characters doing the same thing over and over, with only the dynamic character evolving? Should a protagonist be totally predictable,or the villains? Wouldn’t too much predictability mostly kill the story as entertainment?

    Looking forward to anything coming out of that panel!

  30. Pisses me off that I can’t be at the Enviro panel on Sunday, but I have my own panel at the same time and a bloody book to shill. And you may have to drone on for an hour, but at least you get a reading. Maybe you can show off your packing foam and shop vac setup to everyone.

  31. I think the Hard Character SF panel may possibly be the best panel I’ve ever been on.

  32. “I think the Hard Character SF panel may possibly be the best panel I’ve ever been on.”

    It certainly was fun to be in the audience. Damn glad I was there.

  33. Would love to see some more believable Aliens in SF. The best I’ve ever read have been Peter’s.

  34. Those of you who enjoyed the Hard Character panel, please write up a report for the rest of us!

  35. Here is Glen Grant’s summation: “This panel (“Hard Character SF”) managed to be both intellectually stimulating and side-splitting throughout. Especially the systematic demolition of two bowls of hard candy and a slab of chocolate by the three panelists, nicely illustrating such thematically-apt concepts as operant conditioning, stimulus-response patterns, and poor impulse control. Next year: “Diabetes Wave: A New Genre?””

    I moderated, and required that panelists describe their neurological quirks as part of the intro: Karl Schroeder sees migraine auras without getting actual migraines; I bomb on the Stroop test. I forget if Peter confessed to any actual weaknesses. It was a panel that was functioning simultaneously on about 4 or 5 levels, one of which was a behaviorist shtick involving candy with me as candy dominatrix, and some other levels that were quite deep and serious; and also there were emotional subtexts in, for example, the discussion of the treatment of PTSD that gave it a very complex texture. My final line, which was mostly thrown away because it was hard to match what had gone before, was “Manifestos are a sign of weakness.”

  36. I should say that even the candy shtick had a deep subtext. It skates on the surface of off-stage conversations about tactics used by State power to break people. I enjoyed playing the fascist dispenser of candy and then went to the bar where we talked about, among many other things, my own experience of Stockholm Syndrome.

  37. I bomb on the Stroop test.

    Does that mean you have no difference in reaction time? woa, cool.

  38. No, it means I score in about the 1st percentile (or maybe it was the 3rd).

  39. What exactly is “Hard Character SF?” I haven’t heard this term until quite recently.

  40. portmanteau of ‘hard sf’ and ‘character sf’?

  41. While I loved the Hard Character sf panel, the other event that was highly entertaining, was the returning guests of honour, with Julie Czerneda and Peter. They had a great dynamic, together. Peter even did an interpretive dance while Julie gave us her bio. Now that alone, was worth the price of admission. I bought a couple of shiny, crisp, first editions of the Peter’s work, which he was good enough to sign for me (he would be left-handed). All in all, a great weekend. Where the ideas flowed as smoothly, as the beer went down.

  42. Characterization approached from a hard sf perspective. Peter defines it more narrowly than I do, which is part of why it was fun to talk about. I think the term “hard character sf” originates with David Swanger in an article in NYRSF 8 or 10 years ago.

  43. Glad to see your doing well enough for interpretive dancing. I’d have loved to have gone, but I’m stuck way down in Florida.

    I managed to read all the work you’ve posted in your backlist, and I must say it was well worth a sore neck, tired eyes, and a few headaches. My printer’s been acting up, so I opted for reading from my pc. I do have my own copy of Blindsight, though.

    Very good stuff, and I’m definitely looking forward to State of Grace.