September 5, 1999 - Melbourne, Victoria, Australia - THE LAST DAY

Well, here we are, finally at the end of the journey (or the beginning of the LONG trip home).

The Interstellar Precursor Probe

After debating whether or not I would go to the first panel I eventually left mother to sleep in while I walked over to the convention centre.

This first discussion was about a current proposal for exploration of interstellar space by using what is known as a 'solar sail'. A 'solar sail' is a literal sail attached to a probe which then has a power source (for example a laser) directed to it's sails from a distance location. In this case they are discussing the use of microwaves from either orbiting solar power stations or from a ground-based station. The interesting thing about this is that they only accelerate the probe for a short period of time and can achieve quite a large speed (10% the speed of light, as I recall).

In conjunction with this, they were also talking about the recent discovery of a different class of stars that do not last for a long period of time but are bright then die out. Evidently this class of stars accounts for a good portion of the 'dark matter' in the galaxy (which was posing quite a problem for scientists).

Surprisingly, perhaps, the discussion was not as technical as it might have been and was quite interesting (though no where enough time was available to do the talk justice, really).

After the first discussion, mother and I met to find something to eat for breakfast. We headed just across the street and found a small diner that was actually not bad, serving up fast-food “Chinese” and typical diner food (eggs and toast, spaghetti on toast – which seems to be common here –, etc for breakfast).

It has actually rained the last few days, though normally when we are outside at night it has stopped. The streets have been pretty wet though.

Spawncon 2 ** Humorous Science Fiction: Funny Ha Ha Or Funny Peculiar

This discussion was part of the co-conventions occurring during the WorldCon (namely, SpawnCon) which are basically local conventions that were rolled into the WorldCon to save some logistical problems that multiple conventions pose. As such this session panellists were all from Australia (and even more locally, Victoria). The discussion was very good and once more demonstrated how little I (and mother) know about some of these topics. Beyond some obvious examples of SF humour novels we knew no others so I was busy taking notes of specific books to read that the panellists recommended.

The discussion primarily focused on humorous SF novels and what made them funny (the basic types of humour). The people on the panel were all writers and read quite a few samples of humorous work including the winners in a local humorous writing contest (which, in my opinion, were not terribly good).

Genuine and Fake Jewels of Genre SF

This discussion was about the most under-rated and over-rated authors. Each panellist gave very good reasons for their choices but what did suprise me was some of their choices for over-rated authors which included Isaac Asimov which I actually, on second though, agreed with. So much has been said about the writing but it was, frankly, not terribly well constructed and the characterisation (especially, as was noted, with woman) was not terribly good.

Mother and I took notes of some of the more interesting suggestions, books (and authors) that we will look into reading.

Guest of Honour Speech: J. Michael Straczynski

JMS was once again very interesting, discussing how his series based on Babylon 5, Crusade, was cancelled due to infighting within the production company. They had basically tried to bully him into making changes that they (the 'suits' – the financial backers) wanted. Some of the changes he said they had wanted were absolutely ridiculous. He refused to back down so they cancelled his series.

It was interesting to hear that he wants to move on from Babylon 5 onto new, perhaps not better, things. He had a bit of advice: Do not let anyone tell you what to do, never compromise on your dream.

He did show a few segments from a Crusade episode in addition to the (obligatory) 'blooper reel' (this was a series of mistakes, “bloopers” made during the filming of all five seasons). I was disappointed (as I am sure a number of others in the audience) when he did not show the whole of the episode, only Act I and II (out of, I assume, IV).

The Liar's Panel

JMS was a bit late in his discussion (even though allocated 2 hours) so I arrived late into this, one of the most traditional panels. It was amusing to listen to the panellists (all in humour, of course) attacking one another and making fun of the whole process of writing books and attending conventions. Much of the discussion was a bit on the risqué side (including unique uses of Vegemite) but most of it was so good that the audience was largely in stitches. How to get published: When submitting a manuscript for consideration to a publisher 1) Do NOT include a self-addressed stamped envelope as this only encourages the publisher to return it to you. If they can't send it back they will be forced to publish it. 2) Include large denomination bills. Of the publishers currency. Unmarked currency.

After the panel I headed up for a final visit to the Dealer's Room, taking the opportunity to ensure I was on the pre-supporting list for the WorldCon in Toronto in 2003, the vote for the 2003 WorldCon site will occur next year. There is a competing bit in Cancun which is being organized by, I believe, Americans – definitely not Mexicans (at least Toronto's bid is being organized by Canadians). When talking with them we agreed that the Cancun bid is not terribly serious and that Canada will most likely get the WorldCon.

I also added my support to the bid for a convention in the UK for 2005 which will be in either Brighton or Glasgow. A number of years ago the convention was held in Glasgow (which I attended) so I would prefer to see it in Brighton (though perhaps the facilities are not as good…all factors to be considered when people attending the convention vote).

Next was a visit to the Dealer's Room where I picked up a few books I have been thinking about purchasing since I first saw them (including a few that I had heard about during the convention including one of the humour books we heard about this morning). Since it was really the last full day of the convention (and, in many ways, the last day) one of the dealers I visited had marked 25% off of his books (including one I wanted) and others were giving away sample magazines with every purchase and yet another was giving away a linen bag with every purchase (even mine of a single soft-cover book).

After I finished at the Dealer's Room I made my way into a session being attended by mother (Science Fiction Across the Media) which was once again being attended by JMS. He discussed how he had met Rod Sterling as a boy how had given him two pieces of advice after reading some of his (juvenile) work: 1) remove every third adjective (something JMS is still working on) and 2) never let them tell you what to do, be true to yourself. He also mentioned that if you do what you want to do, money will sort itself out, it always does.

For dinner we headed once again to the north side of the river after an aborted attempt to find anything to the north of the casino area. We eventually settled on a rather nice restaurant right on our street in the edge of the casino complex. It was a Chinese restaurant that served very good food and it was an enjoyable meal. We actually had a bit of chance to talk, which was quite good also though we have talked a bit during our travels.


The Masquerade is another traditional WorldCon event and this one was one of the best I had ever seen. There were not that many contestants but the support for them was very good.

Prior to the 'fashion show' (of costumes) itself the two MC (who were very good themselves – causing the audience to laugh extremely loudly quite a number of times) introduced a series of 'filk' performers (these are performers who sing songs based on SF and fantasy topics – or even other contemporary, humorous, subjects) who were very good. It was surprising to see Joe Haldeman (a very popular 'Hard SF' author who one the Hugo for best novel last year) have a session of singing (evidently he was a singer at roadside cafés) – he was also quite good.

The Masquerade also had a number of very good entries (though a few were not very good). Typically, as with any such event I have attended, a few were humorous entries but others were very serious (and very well done). The winner was actually someone we had seen in an earlier panel and who seemed to be involved in some way with the convention committee itself.

Mother actually enjoyed herself – something I had been worried about since some people might find it a bit silly. It was quite good and a very appropriate way to end our time at the convention… She indicated that she thought it was a bit inconsiderate of the convention to (in her opinion) leave the MCs “out to dry” towards the end when we were waiting for a decision from the judges (they had little, if anything to entertain the audience with, resorting at the very end to reading bits of comic writings. I don't know if I share this opinion. I know that it takes a long time to judge these types of events (as there always seems to be a large number of extremely good entries) so they (the MCs) should have been prepared for a large amount of time to “kill”.

Tomorrow is an earlier day and it is off to the airport…

⇒ Continue to Postscript - September 6, 1999 - Chek Lap Kok - Hong Kong International Airport