Ad Astra and the Battle of Agincourt

You know those dreams where suddenly you’re back in high school and it’s finals week and it’s just dawned on you that you never went to any of your classes? I just had one of those. Except I was awake.

It was actually my first high-school appearance since a disastrous encounter with a bunch of bovine cheerleaders at one of those “alternative” schools, back around the turn of the century. (That actually turned out okay in the long run; the student who’d coaxed me into appearing eventually grew up, got his own PhD, and now provides me with free drugs.) This week’s iteration turned out somewhat better; for one thing, the science teacher who’d recommended me for the gig (and who, as it turns out, is a regular here on the ‘crawl) brought me a bag of homemade cookies to mellow me out before I started.

Agincourt students did this. I was still reading Star Trek books when I was their age.

Agincourt students did this. I was still reading Star Trek books when I was their age.

I gotta admit, there was some apprehension up front. I’m not bad at public speaking— even won the occasional award for it, in both scientific and popular arenas— but high school crowds are something different. And these guys had the potential to be an especially hard crowd. Agincourt Collegiate is the only secondary educational institution I know of with a functional space program for Lego People, and science/engineering isn’t even their star program. Plus I was talking to a mixed audience of science and creative writing students; target one demographic, you risk losing the other.

Honestly, I think they wrote this off as a hoax. Like the moon landing.Maybe they're right.

Honestly, I think they wrote him off as a hoax. Like the moon landing.
Maybe they’re right.

As it turned out I needn’t have worried. The pictures of Banana the cat, and of me picking maggots out of the giant hole in my leg, seemed to go over well with both groups. (The slide showing details of US Patent #6,356,440 B1 didn’t provoke quite so many gasps of amazement, but I think they appreciated it in context.) I’m not entirely sure they believed the bit about Reagan. Based on their expressions I think at least some of them regard him as a myth. I can’t say I blame them; looking back, anyone who believed that there was no race problem in Ammurrica, that trees caused air pollution, and that eighties-era technology was up for the task of building a geosynchronous network of orbital lasers, particle-beam cannons, and autonomous battle computers was obviously way too sane, too down-to-earth, to have succeeded in US politics.

Anyway, I got out of it alive, and relieved, and actually pretty pleased with the reaction (apparently I was “inspiring” to several in the audience). And now I have to delve into a couple of other myths even less plausible than the Legend of the Gipper. Now, I must turn my attention to Ad Astra, the local con (if by “local” you mean way-the-hell-up-in-fucking-Richmond-Hill) that I’ll be attending this weekend. It’s vaguely possible I might finally get to meet Tom Doherty, the guy behind Tor Books and one of this year’s GoH’s (although it’s more likely I’ll just end up drinking with Sandra Kasturi and Brett Savory, two of the other GoHs and the BUG’s publishers).

Of course, there’s also the possibility the whole thing’s just another cruel hoax— I note that two days before ignition, I’m still not listed on the panelist page. But they’ve told me, at any rate, that I will in fact be sitting on panels. And they’ve told me that said panels will look like this:

  • April 29, 9-10 pm: Cropsey Slender Man and the Angels of Mons: the Roots of Religion and Folklore – Newmarket

Fantasy and even SF have been influenced by folklore and legend, and the processes that generate monsters and heroes have not stopped. From Cargo Cults to wartime angels, from Urban Legends manifesting as reality to Internet creations inspiring killers, we look at the ongoing processes of mythmaking and how they might inspire and influence contemporary writers. Alisse Lee Goldenburg, JD Deluzio, Peter Watts.

  • April 30, 10-11 am: Bio-Technology and Transhumanism – Newmarket

Vernor Vinge wrote about the technological singularity: “Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended.” The Transhuman debate is alive and well with lively discussion on techno-utopia, life-extension, super-intelligence, immortality, and virtual bodies. Recent films such as Lucy, Transcendence, Elysium, Ex Machina and others touch on the debate. Ray Kurzweil extols a Transhumanist future of immortals free of disease—perhaps even of biology. And what about those who may be left behind? Join the debate. Will you be a MOSH? Nina Munteanu, Peter Watts

  • April 30, 1-2pm: Modern Anxieties and Post-Apocalyptic LandscapesMarkham A

Zombies. Outbreaks. Warfare. Environmental cataclysm. Sometimes all of the above. In recent years, post-apocalypses have become all the rage. But why? Why are we so interested as a culture in exploring the end of Western civilization in the 21st century? How do the post-apocalypses we create reflect real fears and anxieties in our own time? In this panel, we’ll explore the link between post-apocalyptic fiction and worlds and modern events. Alyx Dellamonica, Catherine Asaro, Naomi Foyle, Peter Watts, Stephen Kotowych.

  • May 1, 11am-12pm: The Rise of Environmental FictionRichmond B

The rise of environmental fiction, both in literature and film, has spawned several sub-genres such as climate fiction, eco-thrillers, eco-mystery, eco-punk, and eco-romance. Is eco-fiction part of science fiction? In Barbara Kingsolver’s 2012 novel Flight Behavior, climate change plays a major role in a story about people’s beliefs and actions. Environmental catastrophe plays a major role in Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam and Ian McEwan’s Solar. Is eco-fiction simply a new fad or does it reflect a cultural awakening to current environmental issues? What role does eco-fiction play in storytelling and defining ourselves. Who are its readers and why? Should eco-fiction educate? How can an eco-fiction writer prevent it from becoming polemic? Douglas Smith, Hayden Trenholm, Nina Munteanu, Peter Watts.

So, great. Now I have to figure out what the hell a MOSH is.  Some kind of pit, if memory serves…

But first, I have to decide what Jethro Tull shirt to wear to the Who concert tonight.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Wednesday April 27 2016at 07:04 am , filed under On the Road, public interface . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

15 Responses to “Ad Astra and the Battle of Agincourt”

  1. Moon Orbiting Super Human? Meta Orwellian Stalinist Hog? Mostly Omnivorous System Heifer?

  2. Kolbex: Ray Kurzweil extols a Transhumanist future of immortals free of disease

    Make sure you ask Kurzweil for details of his diet and supplement program for eternal life.

    (As relayed by the Heil:)

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2467514/Ray-Kurzweil-shares-plans-immortality.html

  3. I might be tempted by the biotech panel.

    I got an RFID implant for fun. Only thing I do with it right now is store contact information. If someone with an android phone has NFC turned on, they can scan my hand to import my contact details. It’s a little silly since I could in principle just wear a ring with the same chip. but, I also like piercings and tattoos, and this is a bit like that. I got the implant from Amal of DangerousThings at Penguicon, and his company is working on something with 2FA, partnering with another company, and this is not ready for customers yet, and involves a more complicated procedure.

    I like jwz’s review of Jurassic World:

    I’m sorry, without people with feathers, there’s no way I can take this movie seriously.

    more approachable things:

    film displays on your skin? https://www.newscientist.com/article/2084540-turn-your-skin-into-a-screen-with-a-super-thin-digital-display/

    digital tattoos, for people who don’t want to implant RFIDs http://vivalnk.com/

    And we should understanding our cognitive architectures in preparation for getting cognitive prosthesis (implants, smart phones, behavioral training). The soldier in Upgraded gets training to tweak her pre conscious reactions. Project Implicit uses an IAT task to show that we have unconscious biases that work against what we think we think. Reaction times in an IAT are slower when matching up positive words with pictures of people who don’t match the stereotype of the word. Wiring up someone for combat maybe would need tweaking to offset that type of stuff. They’d want good pattern matching ability, but they’d need to tweak part of it not to work right.

    …or, the bio panel could get really tedious. A panel format can really suck. I hope it goes well!

    updating: if the topic goes in to present to near future and lawmaking and medical implants, consider the topics here by Karen Sandler of the Software Freedom Conservancy, “Freedom in My Heart and Everywhere: Lessons from a Cyborg Lawyer”
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DcHFQ53iykg

  4. MOSH: Mostly Original Substrate Human, from “Singularity Hypotheses: A Scientific and Philosophical Assessment.”

  5. Morphed Octopus Super Hybrid! or: meh, only some human.

  6. You can’t just mention “a disastrous encounter with a bunch of bovine cheerleaders at one of those ‘alternative’ schools” without a proper explanation.

  7. Where’s Richmond B? I can deliver more cookies for the pones…

  8. mantissa128: MOSH: Mostly Original Substrate Human, from “Singularity Hypotheses: A Scientific and Philosophical Assessment.”

    Thank you. Gives me somewhere to start, anyway.

    Kyle Mac:
    You can’t just mention “a disastrous encounter with a bunch of bovine cheerleaders at one of those ‘alternative’ schools” without a proper explanation.

    Get used to disapointment.

    Robert:
    Where’s Richmond B?

    I’m guessing it’s where all the other rooms are— way out in the boons. It’s gonna take me an hour just to drive to the place…

    Robert: I can deliver more cookies for the pones…

    They’d appreciate that, especially since they didn’t actually get any of the first batch. In fact, I think even Caitlin only got one or two. Honestly, most of them had been snarfed by the time I got off the bus.

    They were really good.

  9. If I leave a package at the font desk, do you think someone would deliver it?

    (I’m not going to Ad Astra — way too much work this weekend and conventions aren’t really my thing — but as I live in Richmond Hill I might be able to swing by and leave you a package.)

    How many dozen would you need so some reached home? And would the pones rather have cinnamon-raison or chocolate chip?

  10. I didn’t know the hotel even had a font desk, although now that I think of it it makes perfect sense for a literary convention. Maybe I’ll pick up a kilo of helvetica on my way home…

    Still, I don’t think they’d deliver it. They might hold it, in the event that I came by and asked. (Don’t give it to the con registration people— I don’t trust those guys.)

    Chocolate chip, for sure. Micropone especially likes chocolate chip. But as to how many dozen it would take to ensure that some made it all the way back home— I really couldn’t say. I’m pretty good at the one-handed snarf.

    I’d say twenty dozen, just to be safe. But I’m outta there at noon tomorrow, so I doubt you’ll have time.

  11. Hevetica’s boring. Expand your typographic horizons a bit… :-)

    How about 2-3 dozen chocolate chip cookies, delivered (if I can manage to get in) to your panel room? Getting to the hotel is easy (about 10-15 minutes drive) — it will be getting to the right location inside the hotel that I’m not certain about, as I have no idea how they restrict casual visitors from wandering around.

    I was going to seal them inside a cardboard box, well-taped against casual pilferers, but in this day and age that would probably trigger a bomb scare and evacuation.

    In the event that I can’t get in should I leave them with the hotel staff at their front desk? And how should I let you know they’re there? (I have a cell phone, but not a smart phone, so messaging you is out. I could phone, or ask the hotel to email you.)

  12. Front desk is great. Don’t worry about any kind of official confirmation; I’ll take it on faith, and just drop by the front desk on my way out.

    You might want to describe me to them, height-wise and suchlike. I can see some doofus at Ad Astra reading this and then showing up at the desk claiming to be me, as a means of scoring some easy cookies.

    And thank you. Again. This is awesome.

  13. Sounds good. The oven’s warming as I write…

  14. I left a package for you with the nice young lady at the hotel reception desk.

    I trust some of the contents will make it home for your family to enjoy :-)

  15. I’m surprised the desk staff even gave me the package. That picture’s, like, ten years old now.

    The cookies all made it home, though. I left the box in the kitchen while I went off to return the zip car. By the time I returned the pones had ripped it open and were hunched over the cavity stuffing cookies into their mouths like walkers gorging themselves on fresh entrails.

    I’m guessing they liked ’em.