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Unfortunately, we had to leave the convention early. I notified ConOps that I wouldn’t make my last Panel at 3PM. But, we did get to the panel on nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology Panel

Nanotechnology (11AM) Panelists: Seth Goldstein (moderator), Kevin Roche. Description: The nanotechnology revolution is no longer “coming” it is here. Nanomaterials are being manufacture and are poised to revolutionize fields from electronics to materials science to medicine. Panelists will discuss current nanotechnology, its applications and what we can expect to see in the near future, as well as longer term possibilities, and concerns about potential problems.

Again the discussion was far ranging. As I understand what was said was that the main problem with nanotechnology right now is power. How do you power something that small? There was talk of using quantum effects/spintronics for powering the units. There’s also a problem in that people talk of tiny computers but at the nano size you need to have them be self-assembling and then program them with very few instructions and they then do their thing. Questions asked about photovoltaics, solar power efficiencies, Moore’s Law (or as was explained Moore’s ‘economic’ Law as it relates more to economics than to computer processing power/hardware/software). That’s just the highlights that I remember. I’m probably not truly stating what they said but this seems to be what I remember that most of the ground work has been done and that nanotechnology and innovation is possible now but that the problems of power and movement will take a while to solve so it could be a while before more applications hit the market. (They also talked a bit about 3-D photocopiers. I found that interesting because I’ve heard about them but never seen one or the resulting ‘copy’ from one. Evidently the result is layers of polymer plastic in the shape of the object and that a matrix can be used that can later be dissolved in a solution to retain empty areas within the object — this allows for faster prototyping in some areas.)

Then since I was definitely at the start of a migraine cycle and we had a 3-4 hour drive home, we notified ConOps and headed for home. However, the convention didn’t end until 4PM (or later if you attended the gripe session). Sorry, not to be able to write up the next 3 hours of program items.

Next year, PhilCon hasn’t picked dates or signed with a hotel so they’re listing themselves as Unstuck in Space and Time. I hope they manage to find a time and place to land for 2008.

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The day stared off with me picking up my badge and finding I was allowed a guest badge for my husband. What a nice surprise. The next surprise is they had coffee for program participants. Yeah! Life and the day was looking brighter by the minute.

Panelists for Graphic Novel

The Graphic Novel (10AM) Panelists: Andrew C. Murphy (mod.) J.J. Brannon, Ray Ridenour, J. Andrew World. Description: Does it attract young readers to the written world, or wean them away from it?

This panel covered a lot of ground. Topics covered included definitions of graphic novels versus serial compilations; Art vs Words or Art and Words as a melding; Can single author/artist works get published or does it need to be a team; Manga as a subcategory of graphic novels. They covered the problems that started in the 50’s when someone noticed that the juvenile delinquents he worked with, when asked what they read, all said comics. So he posited that reading comics caused delinquent behavior — then came the Senate hearings and the start of the CPA (seal of approval) on comics. Newer comics and some Manga are not for children but for adults and parents should be aware of this (discussion of tentacle porn and Hentai). Recommended that anyone interested in comics and graphic novels should read Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud.

Panelists for Critiquing Writing Workshops

Critiquing Writing Workshops (11AM). Panelists: Dina Leacock, James Patrick Kelly (moderator), Linda Addison, Marilyn Brahen. Description: What works, what doesn’t; online vs. live gatherings and other workshop issues.

Panelists were all in face-to-face workshops — some belonging to more than one workshop. Topics covered included: need to set rules up and stick to them, have regular meeting times, that mixing novels and short stories doesn’t really work out, that novels are better critiqued if complete rather than piecemeal; some discussion of various intensive workshops and retreats. I brought up online workshops and asked about those. They mentioned OWW (Online Writers Workshop) and Critters. I mentioned the Internet Writing Workshops since I’m involved with this group.

Seth Goldstein

Programmable Matter (Noon) Seth Goldstein gave a PowerPoint presentation about Claytronics.

The presentation was fascinating. They want to have nano-sized computers that work as an ensemble to create 3D photocopying/modeling. They actually have prototypes that are 1mm across. They’re looking for ideas for development that might be achievable with 3 to 5 years. They’re also looking for the titles of SF books/stories that have similar ‘machines’.

Panelists for Victorian Age

The Victorian Age as a Setting for (Non-Victorian) Science Fiction. (1PM) Panelists: Brian Siano, Stephanie Burke, Gayle Surrette, Victoria McManus (moderator), Richard Stout. Description: Think steampunk, The Difference Engine, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, etc. What is the appeal of the late 19th century and its technology as a setting or trope for science fiction? Is it the big machines, the gentlemen adventurers with impeccable taste and manners, the sense of (now lost) horizons looming before one? Or is it just an evasion of writing about the future as it might actually be? What is this particular alternative version of the past?

This one is hard for me to comment on since I was on the panel. I learned more — adding to all the research I’d done prior to the panel. This was an era of exciting change: scientific discovery and invention (gas lamps, steam power, trains), communications (postal service, newspapers, penny dreadfuls, etc.), and social upheaval (beginning of a middle class, women’s movement). Just a lot of changes to daily life, and yet, an attitude that anything can happen, anything can be discovered or fabricated. It was also the time of Jack the Ripper, Sherlock Holmes (and the start of the mystery genre), Jules Verne, H.G. Wells. Someone on the panel said it was like a theme park world that we can now set stories in and people can relate because it was almost our modern era.

Break for lunch and to relax. Found a great pizza place — good food cheap — lots of veggies on the pizza including spinach. My vegetable phobic husband even liked it.

Mark Rogers slide show. (5PM). Panelist: Mark Rogers. Description: It has it all: pinups, zombies, Samurai Cat, the Grand Canyon, and more pinups!

Mark Rogers took us on a tour of some of his works. The panel didn’t start on time because a scheduling snafu of some sort meant that there wasn’t a slide projector present. It took about 25 minutes to get one, connect, find appropriate software and show the photos. Rogers said that a good deal of his work consists of pin-up (beautiful women, scantily clad). He had some of his southwest landscapes and some of his horror drawings (concepts for The Dead).

Panelists for Xtreme_Physics

Xtreme Physics. (5PM) Panelists: Mark Wolverton, Catherine Asaro, John Ashmead, Jay Wile (moderator), Rock Robertson. Description: Science Fiction stories often depend upon phenomena that seriously bend, if not actually break that laws of physics as we know them. Teleportation, time travel, invisibility, FTL and other SF staples have long been considered impossible yet acceptable plot devices. But the pace of scientific and technological progress is so rapid today that less and less seems “impossible”. Subatomic particles have been “teleported” and serious research is being done on materials that can bend light around an object, producing invisibility. Given our current understanding of physics what is the possibility that any of these far-out ideas could become reality?

It’s the vegetable-phobic husband here. We split up to see two different panels, so I’ve been assigned to talk about this one. Oh, by the way, it’s a pleasure to meet you all. Anyway, Catherine Asaro wasn’t originally planned to be on the panel, but since she is physicist as well as an author it was a great addition. Most of the panelists were theoreticians, with only Rock Robertson being an actual engineer. Pity most of his work was secret, which made it difficult for him to give us any concrete details. So while there was plenty of talk about what could be possible, might be possible, and should be possible, there’s very little actual machinery to point to. On the topic of nuclear fusion, it was pointed out that the ITER experiment which will be built in Europe, will produced just under half the power necessary to break even (power in = power out). The hope is that this will give them the last pieces needed to actually create a commercial fusion reactor. Of course it was also pointed out that commercial nuclear fusion was only 50 years away … fifty years ago. And it has maintained that estimate ever since. So, by 2057 we just might have commercial fusion. I’m not holding my breath. Also discussed where materials that have recently been discovered that bend microwave spectrum light, making it possible to render thing invisible at least in that slice of the spectrum. Teleportation of photons and electrons were discussed, including whether or not information had to be conserved and would quantum mechanical effects be usable at the macroscopic scale. One topic provoked what I thought was a rather funny reaction. Immediately after making statements that it’s safer for your career to never challenge paradigms and that all real breakthroughs only came when what was known was ignored, a member of the audience asked about cold fusion. The response was to universally declare it to be nonsense and not worth bothering with. Is that true? Well the current paradigm says so. And now, I return you to your regular blogger.

Then we took a slow browse through the dealers’ room (lots of books, jewelry, swords, T-shirts with witty, clever, fannish sayings). Then, we took a stroll in the Art Show to check out the works on display. I love the variety of art: dolls, masks, jewelry, pottery, fantasy art, horrific art, science fiction art, cutesy art, and all in between).

Then nothing really planned we wanted to see until later this evening.

Panelists for Talking to Aliens

Talking to Aliens (7PM). Panelists: Mark Wolverton, Lawrence M. Schoen (moderator), Judith Berman. Description: If SETI ever picks up an unmistakably intelligent alien signal, the next step is how to communicate with them. What basic symbols and concepts can we assume could be understood by any type of intelligence? How would we build up a vocabulary? Could there be beings with minds so different that communication would be impossible?

This panel was very interesting with 1 writer, 2 linguists (psycho- and cultural-), and 1 neurobiologist (if I remember the degrees correctly). They discussed the problems of communicating with no shared references. Then they separated out communication from language (a distinction that seemed to allow saying no animals had language but some had communication). Then they discussed the danger of anthropomorphizing or making assumptions with an alien race. Lots of related topics were discussed but with no concrete rules — everything would be in flux because we just don’t know enough.

Panelists for Heirs of H.P. Lovecraft

The Heirs of H.P. Lovecraft. (8PM) Panelists: C.J. Henderson, John Ashmead (moderator), Darrell Schweitzer. Description: Who is currently doing the best Lovecraft mythos stories today? How do they continue to evolve? (And do they reproduce by fission?)

The panelists talked quite a bit about Lovecraft and how many writers of his day are only known because he either wrote to them or they knew him, or he read their works. Discussed how Lovecraft would read a story and think I can do that better and then he would do it better. Some writers mentioned: Paula Volsky, Steven King, Clark Ashton Smith, and lots of other but I didn’t get them written down because I expected I’d remember and I don’t …  sorry.

Panelists for Living Dead

Return of the Living Dead. (9PM) Panelists: Jonathan Maberry, Gayle Surrette (moderator), Gary Frank, Mark E. Rogers. Description: There are numerous zombie fiction anthologies in the works, several new zombie movies being released, scores of new websites devoted to the love of zombies and even a television series. Why did the genre suddenly take on new life? Are zombies the new vampires? Is all fiction now set in the world of George Romero?

Panelists discussed what has reanimated the interest in zombies; what makes zombies scary; societal metaphors of zombies; zombies as a metaphor for loss of control and disease, paranoia, uncertainty. Lots of talk of how to survive a zombie attack and how they make the perfect enemy because they have no reason and can’t be reasoned with. Discussion of various types of zombies (from virus, from radiation, Haitian/Voodun, prion disease vectors, etc) — how they’d differ. Maberry talked about his upcoming book (Zombie CSU: The Forensics of Zombies) which sounded very interesting if you intend to write a zombie story as it compiles information he got from interviewing doctors, epidemiologists, neurologists, psychologists, and authors about zombies.

The audience was a great part of the discussion (it’s late evening and opposite the masquerade so the audience was interested and eager to discuss their views of zombies). A good time was had by all.

So, I’m exhausted and just finishing this up and posting and calling it a day.

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Wow, normally it’s about a 3 hour trip from Brandywine, MD to Philadelphia, PA. However, when you add in a pit stop for a drink and bathroom break, a stop for gas, and a quick trip to Target to replace a need appliance (razor for him) it can add to the time. But not that much. We were running about 30 minutes late and should have gotten into the hotel at 9:30PM in time for my 10PM panel. Cutting it fine but doable. But we didn’t count on the traffic jam as we exited the highway. Evidently we were right next to a sports center parking area — at least that seems like a likely explanation since as soon as we cleared that intersection traffic cleared up. Next we had a problem find the last turn for the hotel because the street wasn’t marked — so, end result: Registration had closed. Information didn’t know where the Parlor rooms were located and had been trying to find out (not their fault since the rooms are in a bit of an obscure area). So, I was about 12 minutes late for the panel.

Panel for Western Genre Themes in Science Fiction

Western Genre Themes in Science Fiction. Panelist: Gayle Surrette, C.J. Henderson, Nathan Lilly (moderator), Eric Flint, James Daniel Ross. Description: Some have said that Space Opera was influenced by horse opera for good or ill. Where and how did themes from Westerns insinuate themselves into science fiction?

The audience was small but joined in the discussion avidly. Some of the points brought up were how the concept of a frontier might be a better definer of the genre than setting (West) and that space being a frontier would also fit the theme. The loner as hero. Often the hero was someone who was an outsider. There’s a bit of anti-authority, get the job done, to the hero. There was also a lot of discussion about defining the Western by culture or social setting. There was a lot of talk of movies and TV: High Noon/Outland, Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica (original one)/Wagon Train. Lots of talk about which was better Seven Samuri or The Magnificent Seven. Off topic, sort of, looking at some films from a new angle, for example: Star Wars as a Civil War reenactment. All in all I thought it was interesting to hear all the thoughts and various connections others drew between Westerns and Space Opera.

So, now we’re calling it a night. Should be ready for tomorrow with a good nights sleep. And hurrah, the room has a coffee pot and coffee.

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PhilCon logoWell, I got my schedule for PhilCon. I’ll be on four panels this year.

    Friday (Nov. 16th) 10pm: Western Genre Themes in Science FictionSaturday (Nov. 17th) 1pm The Victorian Age as a setting for (Non-Victorian) Science FictionSaturday (Nov 17th) 9pm Return of the Living Dead (I’m moderating this one)

    Sunday (Nov 18th) 3pm Taking the Hugo Back from Harry Potter.

Looks like an interesting list of panels and I’m looking forward to being there. I just hope by Friday I can talk above a whisper (though today I am feeling a bit better). If you’re in the area check out PhilCon. Some great guests this year: Eric Flint — Principal Speaker; Sue Dawe — Artist Guest of Honor; Kevin Roche — Costuming Guest of Honor; Andrew Trembley — Costuming Guest of Honor; Voltaire — Special Music Guest.

Of course, I’ll be trying to post an overview of the con at the end of each day. If you’re at PhilCon, please stop and introduce yourself to anyone you see with the SFRevu name tags — several of us will be there.

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