PhilCon — Saturday, November 17

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.