September 2, 1999 - Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

The first day of the convention here on the other side of the world. It looks to be a bit smaller than previous year's conventions in the US, but perhaps this is a good thing.

The first thing we did was to go over to the Convention Centre, which is attached directly to the hotel, to register. They had set up the rather modest registration desk in the main foyer of the centre which was not yet crowded so we were quickly registered.

The Centra Hotel - The Convention was held in the adjacent Convention Centre

We started the day by trying a breakfast in the basement of our hotel in a wonderful café they have. It was a buffet with your choice of a continental or hot breakfast. Though rather expensive, I tried to take advantage of it and eat a fair amount so that I would not have to worry so much about grabbing a lunch at a later time.

Aussiecon Three: 57th World Science Fiction Convention - The Newcomer's Guide to WorldCon

I agreed with mother that I would accompany her to the first discussion to get her started and this was the best one really for her to see first. It discussed the various events and the tricks of how to get around and survive. A lot of it was pretty basic, with maps of the various areas where the events are to be held, but others things about advice on how to prepare for each day was a bit more difficult to immediately fathom.

The two people that presented the panel were very good and humorous.

SF And Education

Despite deciding to only go to the panels that we wanted to go to, we ended up both also attending this panel which discussed the use of SF in teaching children how to read or, as the point was made, want to read. The discussion focused mainly on the primary-level reading levels but was quite interesting as there was both an author and a teacher on the panel. Responding to a comment about perhaps teacher's should be directing children to “better” SF instead of perhaps “lesser” SF (like that which comes from television: Star Trek, Star Wars, etc), the response was that anything is better than nothing (and perhaps they would choose to move on to more mature SF at a later date as they came to understand and get more enthusiastic about the genre).

Another interesting point to come out of the discussion was the idea that authors must write for the US market despite being in Australia since the US market does most of the publishing and, if it does well, it returns to Australia. Because of this, authors must keep in mind the sensitivities of those publishers, including ensuring that there are two heroes: one male, one female – never two of the same sex. There must be little violence and no references at all (direct or indirect) to sex. Much of this is understandable but some of the other requirements that there be no pointy sticks (since there was an incident in the papers where a kid had hit a stick against a fence and it had damaged another's eye) where not so obvious. They also cannot have references to witchcraft in the title (though it seems to be acceptable in the content).

Tips For Beginners

I attended this panel which discussed how to get started at writing and get published. The majority of the panel were authors but there was also an agent. It was made clear the first priority was to actually write and then submit, submit, submit (and, as also suggested, get rejected, rejected, rejected – but keep submitting). At first, they continued, write for the love of it until you actually start getting paid for it, then take it a bit more seriously and continue from there.

They had a number of titbits of advice but one quote from Stephen King was along the lines of: A lot of time selling your first novel is a matter of being in the right place at the right time but since it is impossible to determine where and when this will be the trick is to be in the right place and wait for the time to arrive.

Another interesting bit of advice on how to get published is to watch for notices about an editor leaving a company then send your manuscript to the company addressed to that same editor and have a cover letter indicating something like 'Dear (FIRST NAME): I have made the changes you have requested and hope you enjoy this revised version.'. Rather deceitful.

Not All Dubs Are Evil, Not All Subs Are Good

This was a discussion about the use of subtitles versus the use of dubbing (where you hear the voice over top of the original dialogue) on foreign films (specifically, with regards to Japanese Animation: Anime). I was surprised to hear how acceptable dubbing was by many of the panel (who were all fans of Anime), indicating that some of the dubbing is better than the subtitles in terms of content and quality. The reason I am surprised is that the story that I have heard is that it is better to be able to hear the original soundtrack unaltered with little words across the bottom of the screen (hopefully not blocking the picture at all). They made some interesting points relating to the fact that in a dubbing it is very difficult to match some of the subtleties of the dialogue (or even keep up with it – if there is a lot of it) including background dialogue (which may add to the plot) and that they sometimes change the literal translation of the movie to match the market in which it is being seen – it might not make sense to people to watch a movie full of references to Japanese culture which they might not be aware and so, therefore, would not understand.

At the end of the discussion they mentioned that the groups that they volunteer for, which are Anime societies, tend to air movies that are sub-titled because the members are more 'purist' Anime viewers (or even movies in their original language completely, leaving most viewers in the dark as to what is going on…).

I took a brief break from the program to browse through the dealer room which was much smaller than I have seen for quite some time with only a few tables. Some of the books were interesting to me, though I have not YET spent any money there. They do tend to have limited editions and signed versions that I do not have access to which I might want to avail myself of…I passed by the Internet Lounge which seems now to be an ever-present fixture at the World Science Fiction Convention now, giving many members the chance to catch up with people from home or do a bit of research while attending the convention. There were a great number of people there so I did not have a chance to sit down and have a (free) go myself…

Impromptu Space Opera

For the next panel I was going to attend a discussion on “Loose Cannons” which was discussing about who (or what) makes the decisions as to what is “good” or “bad” in SF but since there was only one panellist (which made the view somewhat biased) I decided, at the last moment, to go to a somewhat sillier “Impromptu Space Opera”. This was where the audience is supposed to suggest various ideas for a “Space Opera” and a short story develops, using all the clichés in the book. The cartoons that were being drawn by the two artists present (on white boards) were more interesting than the somewhat disjointed (as one might expect) story. The audience participation seemed to be a bit low as the whole concept did not seem to be adequately described.

Though tempted to leave early I gave it a bit of a chance but was not satisfied when the 45 minutes were over.

Are We The Last Generation of Mortals: Eternal Life in Science, Religion and SF

The next panel was somewhat better than the previous, focusing on the idea of immortality, in general. The funny thing was that all the ideas being discussed are now beyond the realm of SF and now in the area of science fact since the longevity treatments are now available. They suggested that there are three ways of achieving immortality (or longER life): genetic adjustment, replacement by computer (“uploading” oneself into a computer) or continuous chemical treatment (something like that). It was surprising how many people in the audience were of the opinion that they would live forever OR at least live for several hundred years. What with the breakthroughs in technology perhaps this is not so surprising…

The one comment that was made about 'computer replacement' was that if you put the contents of your consciousness into the computer, what do you do with your current consciousness since you are creating a new one in the computer? Destroy your current consciousness? A response to this was that you could use a system that replaces various cells as they deteriorate with mechanical (chemical/computer) parts so that in essence you end up with a machine OVER TIME as opposed to immediately. An interesting thought, perhaps.

I am not really all that interested in living forever though I do want to make my time on this earth actually make a difference. I suppose I want to be remembered (though, perhaps, many would suggest, I am hard to forget – no matter how hard you try!).

SF Across The Media

The next panel was to actually have had J. Michael Straczynski (the creator and director of Babylon 5 – a critically acclaimed SF show that only recently ended it's five year story – intentionally, as he planned) but his plane was delayed coming from Los Angeles (supposedly he is to be here tomorrow morning but we shall see). The discussion basically focused on what the studios generate for SF and what is actually good SF. The agreement was that the studios could care less about what the show is about as long as they get the “right” people watching it (and enough of those people). They did discuss about what made a good show good (and which ones were good) and which ones were commercially accepted but not critically very good (a lot more of the later than the former). It was a good discussion and very amusing in places (one of the speakers is quite funny).

We took a break from the convention and went in search of food. After last night's rather expensive dinner on the south bank of the river we headed in the opposite direction – towards the north into the commercial center of the city. We did not find a lot that actually served food and that was open though we did eventually come across a Chinese take-away that was open (and, coincidently, we had been told about earlier in the day) so we grabbed a few things and just sat inside and reviewed various events of the day.

After our small dinner, we continued around the area, eventually crossing to the south side of the river again before returning to the hotel. All along the south bank there are a series of tall rectangular obelisks that have water trickling down them, as fountains. We found out tonight that every hour in the evening they have a series of gas jets that sprout from their tops and periodically shoot flames 30-40 feet into the air. Quite impressive as there are quite a few of these obelisks along the river and they are coordinated so that when one shoots up, the others follow, or they all do it at once, etc.

We continued along the river walk past the various shops and the casino before once again crossing the river to return to the convention.

Opening Ceremonies

These ceremonies were quite brief with a comment about the opening (Welcome, essentially), introductions to the guests of honour (with apologies about J. Michael Straczynski not being there yet), and a small discussion on security issues (where to get help, etc) before adjourning. Very brief.

Fan Guest of Honour Speech: Bruce Gillespie

This speech was quite long and focused on a discussion of the history of SF fandom in Australia. This went on for quite some time and was generally quite interesting if not all the names being completely unfamiliar to us. It was interesting though to see all of the politics playing themselves across these fan clubs where people would not talk to other people – Sydney not talking or associating with Melbourne, etc. Sad to see but seemingly present in all endeavours involving more than one person.

Thog's Masterclass: Dave Langford

This was not something I had wanted to attend, initially, until we had been told about it earlier this morning during the orientation session. This was put on by a person that writes a regular newsletter (distributed by both physical letter and by e-mail over the Internet) that includes quotes from various novels (taken, he freely admits, out of context) that are completely ridiculous. Some of the quotes were quite obscene but most were unbelievably funny. He strung this all together quite eloquently and humorously, titling the different types of quotes and explaining perhaps the more obscure (or setting them up so that they could be easier to understand).

This was a well-spent hour and left us laughing as we ended our day at the convention.

We returned to the hotel room but I knew that there were a few Anime movies that were to be played at this time so I briefly returned to the convention and sat down, watching about an hour of this before finally returning to the room – midnight, not bad for the first day!

⇒ Continue to September 3, 1999 - Melbourne, Victoria, Australia