September 4, 1999 - Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Another morning of attempting to grab as much sleep as possible. I crawled out of bed in the morning to get to my first talk at 10 PM in the morning. The handy thing about staying in the convention hotel is that you are REALLY close to the area where the panels are held so you can sleep later…

Time Travel, Time Scapes and Timescape: A Symposium

This symposium was very interesting and discussed the use of Time Travel in Science Fiction and, really, the practical problems (if it were possible – though even the realistic possibility of time travel was discussed). Some of the discussion was a bit beyond me, talking about specific relativistic problems related to time travel.

From Babylon 5 to Red Dwarf: The Use of Humour in SF Shows

This was an interesting discussion that was generally quite good though told nothing new to any watcher of the various series mentioned. What was interesting was that J. Michael Straczynski (JMS) discussed a bit about the importance of humour in SF for character development.

Guest of Honour Speech: Greg Benford

Dr. Benford (a favourite author of mine) chose to discuss the idea of “Deep Time” where the idea of communicating with the far future (12,000 years and up to half a billion years and with, potentially, non-human lifeforms). He took two specific applications of these thoughts which he has been paid to investigate: the warning marker for an underground nuclear waste disposal site in Arizona/New Mexico and the small plaque on the outside of the Saturn Cassini project.

The nuclear waste site design is currently suspected to be a large (1 km square) map of the earth made of basalt with large spikes pointing out of the map at waste site locations on the map (with the Arizona site being specially noted), surrounded by a series of what looks like a bunch of (large) lightening bolts pointing away, and a few 'kiosks' that contained a (simple) warning message engraved into granite (using a laser so that cracks would not form in the granite during carving – deeper below is buried a 'King Tut' chamber containing much more detail about warning). The whole goal is to keep people in the future from digging deep into the area. Another thing they suggested was to have pictures of faces with extreme disgust on them (denoting that it was a bad thing).

The Cassini plaque ended up being a series of symbols, one side containing a series of pictures denoting the solar system (along with scale information) and the date/time it was placed on the space probe (Cassini). The reverse side contains a stereo picture of a few people standing on a beach (to denote various races and ages).

The problem that was primarily discussed was with how to communicate with people (or others) in the future who may not speak the same language (though Dr Benford did acknowledge that they assumed that however was to encounter these messages could see) and to use symbols that could be easily understood. A very interesting problem.

Genetic Engineering: Of Gods and Monsters

This discussion was quite interesting and focused on the positive uses of genetic technology to potentially remove the defects before birth (such as Cystic Fibrosis). They did not really talk a lot about the ethical issues involved in the whole idea (Should we do this? What should we do?…). An interesting comment about the potential abuse of genetic engineering is with the Monsanto company which has created corn seed that grows plants that contains sterile seeds so you have to keep purchasing their seed. There is no benefit for this feature other than to make money. Very scary.

Sleeping In Light (B5)

I sneaked into the airing of the last episode of Babylon 5: Sleeping in the Light which JMS was showing for a large number of people. It is a very moving episode and very well done (it was nominated for a Hugo award – more about that later). It was interesting to hear him say, after the episode, that the episode always gets him emotionally. He did go into a bit of detail about how the episode was filmed and what the actors thought of it (they were also very touched). I never had noticed before that when the station is shut down (prior to demolition) JMS actually appears in the episode as a tech who pulls the switch on the station (there is also a scene where a Hugo award the show won also appears on someone's desk).

Postmodern Approaches to SF

This discussion I have to admit seemed to go well above my head. The problem I think was that there was never any precise definition of what post-modernism (never mind modernism to be post from). The only thing that seemed to be agreed was that in the future post-modernism [literature] would be Science Fiction/Fantasy. Post-modernism looks at modernism from a distance, simplifying it. The questions from the audience were very literate and intelligent (though unintelligible for me - - I think I have a bit of reading to do – one of the panellist had put out one of his post-modern books on a table for anyone to take FREE, so, of course, I grabbed one).

I met mother back at the hotel room and we dumped our backpacks (which we carry around the convention to fill with things as we get them) and then set out to find something to eat for dinner. We ended up in the mall attached to the casino that is directly to the south of us on the river. We grabbed something to eat in the food court which had a rather good fast-food Japanese restaurant where we had some sushi and a few other very authentic dishes (not exactly cheep but quite good – cheaper, of course, than last night).

Hugo Awards

The Hugo is the World Science Fiction Convention's award ceremony and is taken very serious by the people in the Science Fiction field. For many it is a good way to boost your career if you can boast at having a Hugo. It is recognition by the fans of your efforts. Awards are given in many different areas including various fan-related areas (such as fanzine – that is, a magazine written, unprofessionally perhaps, by fans – art and writing), main stream written Science Fiction (including magazine short stories and novels) and the media (best video presentation).

The ceremony was quite good – the presenters were very humour (in many cases) and the winners kept their comments relatively brief and interesting. Many of the people that had won were not here in Australia to claim their prizes so had other people pick them up for them. I was disappointed to hear, when Connie Willis (one of my favourite authors) won for To Say Nothing of the Dog (a time travel story), she was not in Australia since she had come down with a minor case of pneumonia.

Tomorrow…Last day…

⇒ Continue to September 5, 1999 - Melbourne, Victoria, Australia - THE LAST DAY