This year the Science Fiction World Convention (the WorldCon) is in London: Loncon 3.
I am on programming again, including a reading I won’t be able to do (because I’ll still be in Iceland) and one last minute addition I will also miss because my plane arrives too late on Thursday. (A good thing, because I had some real concerns about that panel. More on that later.)
I’m excited about going to the convention and hope to see many of you there. (Out of the ten or so people who actually READ this blog, I think there are two or three who will make it. A high percentage, I know.)
What follows is my panel schedule, along with some thoughts about each.
Reading: Jack William Bell
Thursday 14:00 – 14:30, London Suite 1 (ExCeL)
Yes, I’m going to miss this. In fact I’ll be boarding a plane in Iceland right about then, tired from four days of camping and driving around and looking at geysers and stuff. So don’t go unless you want to find a quiet place to take a nap.
I’m not worried about missing this because I was thinking of cancelling it anyway. I mean, I’m currently writing a novel that I know won’t sell so I’m giving it away for free on the Intertubez. Imposter Syndrome much?
The Pleasures of a Good, Long Info-Dump
Friday 1:30 – 2:30, Capital Suite 7+12 (ExCeL) (or 11:00 – 12:00 if it didn’t get rescheduled.)
Arguably, the literature of ideas is not SF but the one emerging from the recent deluge of speculative nonfictional works. If we want to read about interesting ideas on the future of war, we don’t turn to SF with its rather pathetic, microwaved dystopic visions. We’re better off with books like John Mueller’s Capitalism, Democracy and Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery or Max van Crevald’s Art of War. These are extended info dumps, in which the traditional problems of SF – weak characterization, plot centricity etc – have been eliminated. They don’t describe probable, moral or desirable futures, but remain densely speculative in a way most modern SF simply isn’t. Is it time to get rid of fiction from science fiction and focus on what its geeky readers have always enjoyed, the ideas part — the Info dump?
This promises to be a great panel for writers and readers alike. Not because I’m on it, I’m moderating so I won’t be saying much. But because it has some real stellar talent behind the table. You won’t want to miss this.
Music as (Universal) Communication
Sunday 11:00 – 12:00, Capital Suite 5 (ExCeL)
Panellists discuss music and communication. Could it be the basis for a universal language, given its mathematical basis, centrality to most human cultures and psychology and use by many other species? Why first contact might be via music (Close Encounters). Music on space-probes…
I’m going to be the ‘balance weight’ on this one, I’m afraid. I mean, sure, you could use the mathematical underpinnings of music as a communications medium; but such is true of any self-referential numeric series. Considering we humans never use music as a way of communicating facts and figures between ourselves, where is the value in doing so with an alien species?
That said, I do think music has some value as a way of communicating emotions. Feelings. But these emotions and the external triggers for them are dependent on both sides of the conversation having the capability to feel the same things and respond to the same triggers; something I don’t think we can take as a given.
Certainly among humans ‘the responses to music are partly cultural, but I can think of cases where a song in a tradition I had never heard before ‘spoke’ to me. Even other mammals and some avian species seem to respond to music in similar ways. But the emotional baggage music carries so well may not be fungible if you don’t share the appropriate neurological structures.
And now we come to the panel I was added to at the last minute, but am glad I won’t be able to sit on for schedule reasons. I thought long and hard before agreeing and only afterwards realized the timing wouldn’t work. I’m kind of glad really, because this one has the potential of being the kind of clusterfuck the ‘Socialists in Kilts: Revolutionary Scottish SF’ panel at the San Jose WorldCon turned into. I was there for that, and reminisce about it here. Yes, it’s a true story involving China Miéville, Charles Stross, and Eric Raymond.
Hard Right (Thursday 20:00)
Hard science fiction is at its core dependent not on science, but on a world with inviolate rules. These rules can manifest as scientific realities or social constructs, but either way, these kinds of stories are often predicated on solving problems, or not, in the face of tradition. Science fiction critic Paul Kincaid has argued this idea is very similar to the worldview of conservative ideologies. While hard sf is not solely the domain of right wing authors, is there a link between the two? Is that link historical or fundamental?
So, yeah. The only thing I can do on a panel like that is be the counterweight arguing that the premise of the panel is wrong, wrong, WRONG!
Seriously. When asked to be on the panel I sent them the following response and they still wanted me there. WTF?
. . . if you are looking for someone bringing a conservative or even a ‘big L’ Libertarian viewpoint I’m not your guy. If you want someone who understands the point, but disagrees with the idea that Hard SF is fundamentally conservative, then you want me for balance. (Or if you just want someone willing to argue that Heinlein WAS NOT a political conservative; at least not as we use the term today. I can go on about that if you like.)
Politically I’m an independent with views corresponding to what is sometimes referred to as a ‘classic liberal’; in other words I’m pretty close to what ‘libertarian with a small l’ used to mean. (And sometimes still does if you hold your nose against the smell of the Koch’s when you read Reason magazine.) The last few years I have voted Democrat as a protest against the Tea Party and other extreme right groups poisoning the Republican party. I DO NOT vote Libertarian anymore; I’d rather vote for real loony toon characters like Bugs Bunny.
My political heroes are Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison; in other words a mix of democratic ideals and pragmatism in the face of human nature. I’m a firm believer that married gay couples should have closets full of assault rifles, if that is what they want. I believe in the self-organizing power of the free market, but think market capture by giant corporations is the one of the great evils of our times. (Racism being another.) I would like to see all the oligarchs taxed into obscurity and their money used to send people to school and rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. I would argue that anyone living, as I do, in a great country founded by immigrants would be advised to think very hard about the consequences before staunching the flow of talent and aspiration across our borders.
That help you decide?