Saturday, September 2, 2000 - Chicago, Illinois The 58th World Science Fiction Convention - Chicon 2000

The 8:30 session turned out to be an impossibility yet again so I headed off to the next session. I found out that, due to rather dubious programming planning, it was cancelled and the other session I wanted to see was postponed until tomorrow (who knows when). A sign of things to come, unfortunately…

Session: Has Cyberpunk Gone the Way of the Dodo?

I wandered into this session a bit late but it was quite interesting though a bit biased since all of the authors on the panel were Cyberpunk authors (“Is Cyberpunk dead?” “NO!!”) though they admitted that the movement of authors in the Cyberpunk vein (which is hard to define: Basically a way of dealing with advances in technology in a “rough” and extremely sociological way such as having the characters treat the technology as common place) have largely been absorbed into main stream Science Fiction (or the main stream has taken on Cyberpunk aspects).

Session: On the Shoulders of Giants

An interesting discussion, talking about the influences of previous authors on the Science Fiction of today. They noted many non-Science Fiction author influences (and even the bible and Homer) on the SF of today. I think they had it right when they suggested that everyone has influences from other authors and works. “Standing on the shoulders of giants we see further”.

Session: Conversation, Gregory Benford, John G. Cramer

I really admire Gregory Benford who I have heard speak many times. He is a first class scientist (the head of a university science faculty in California) but also a great author (of Hard SF, see below). He is taking some time off from writing Science Fiction and now concentrating on the development of an idea regarding the sending of a probe to AU 200 (two hundred times the distance from the sun as the earth is). Evidently there is a pool of funds available to the first person who decides to do this (and gets the contract to build the probe). His idea is to use a probe with large carbon-fiber based sails on which beams of microwaves are bounced on (using a land-based site which, as he indicated, can be used to clean up the orbit around earth of “space junk” as well as, potentially, a weapon and, finally, as a VERY powerful microwave telescope, many orders of magnitude stronger than current such telescopes). Evidently for his design the beam would only be used on the probe for about 2-3 minutes (after achieving orbit). This amount of time would be used to accelerate the probe to sufficient velocity to get to 200 AU within the 10 year time limit required for the mission (the 10 years is defined by the career period of scientists in the field, evidently – VERY politically motivated).

The discussion was largely that with many comments from the crowd. It was also interesting to hear their comments on some of the big issues that have recently been in the news (including the “faster than light” result from recent months - largely debunked because it is not truly “faster than light” but just a way that the result is measured that gives such a value).

Session: Cryptography Panel

This panel was another interesting one with various experts in both cryptography (encryption of information, largely in Internet communications such as e-mail) and cracking such encryptions. They emphasized that the biggest problems with cryptography is not the technology, which is proven, but rather the people that use it – forgetting passwords, breaching the security they work so hard to put in place, etc. They also emphasised that “encryption is NOT security” but can be used as a tool to provide security. The discussion was actually not that technical (thankfully). An interesting comment was that if you use encryption it also makes such a communication stand out (since it is obvious that it is encrypted) and may mean that whoever is listening will take note of who you are talking to and the message itself. Perhaps the message may not have even been noticed if it had not been encrypted (despite what it contained).

After this session I met a friend (Dale) of my cousin (he was my cousin's best man) and his wife. We wandered down to the art exhibit (which I had not visited yet) and the dealer's room, just chatting (well, I largely listened, which is OK). They are really interesting people and I was surprised to hear how much they were involved with Science Fiction “fandom”. I had been trying to get together with them for the whole time the convention was on (since I knew they were around) but because I have not really been in my hotel room that often it made this quite difficult. Finally he left me a “Voodoo” message (a board lists all members and you put a pin beside whoever you want to leave a message for then place your message in a card index for them to retrieve) that he was going to be at the Cryptography panel.

Session: What Do We Mean When We Say Hard Science Fiction?

This discussion was quite confusing since I think that no one completely understands the definition of the term “hard” (a suggestion was that we use a different word, perhaps “easy”?) though generally it seemed that this term referred to a story whose main plot elements derived from scientific ideas (fictional ideas). Some authors actually suggest they are “Hard SF” authors but others disagree. It is all a matter of perspective: How do YOU see it? Though there are general consensuses that can be made for obvious cases…

Session: Humor in Writing

An enjoyable panel with four authors (one of which, who seemed to dominate the panel, was formerly a stand-up comic) who discussed what they thought made for humorous writing (SF and others) and actually how to write it. It was interesting to hear the contrasting views of what makes stories funny – some preferred irony others slapstick or even puns (though it was agreed that timing was something almost impossible to write into a story). Some particular authors and movies they mentioned I will definitely have to look up. Humour, it was said, was very difficult (VERY) to write. Writing long such novels is even more difficult (if not impossible) to do, never mind sustain the audience or the humour itself throughout which is why many authors resort to irony instead of strict humour, or, at least, space out the humourers aspects.

Of course, those books that use humour as an addition to the story are remembered and re-read more often than those are just written for humour.


I gave up (upon hearing advice) attempting to go to see the Hugos in person but decided instead to watch on the hotel televisions which they broadcast to in all three of our convention hotels (the Hugos are the SF awards of the World Science Fiction Society). It was actually quite good since I was able to get out and pick up something for dinner (Taco Hell - the place that bad tacos go when they die - if you must know). I was pleased at who won the awards - proving that quality is still very important and that those that vote really know what they are talking about (I did not vote because I felt I did not know enough about the nominees).

I gave up on the idea of going out to any parties tonight since I actually want to try getting some sleep tonight. We shall see.

⇒ Continue to Sunday, September 3, 2000 - Chicago, Illinois The 58th World Science Fiction Convention - Chicon 2000