Sunday, 17 August 2014

Loncon 3 : Sunday

Sunday started out well with Dr Jenny Rohn’s great talk on antibiotic resistance in Revenge of the bugs: how bacteria have re-emerged as a serious threat to our existence.  Bacteria have been shaping our evolution by slaughtering the weak for as long as we can tell.  In the 20th century we began to fight back with antibiotics, but the bugs are out-evolving them, at an accelerating rate.  Not only that, but we’ve stopped making new antibiotics, because it’s just not financially viable: the low hanging fruit is gone, and the financial incentives are wrong.  It’s a health catastrophe on a par with climate change.  What to do?  Write to your MP demanding action!  And don’t take antibiotics for a cold.

Next was Authors Accept, Encourage, and Create Fan Works Too, a panel about fanfic.  All the panel indulged to some degree; some had learned their craft that way.  Despite some people looking down on fanfic, they pointed out that screenwriters, for example, are all playing in someone else’s sandbox.  If you do work for hire, there are restrictions: don’t kill off a major character, no explicit sex, no crossovers; so for a fan writer, why would you bother? Some authors send cease and desist letters under the mistaken impression they need to do so to protect their copyright (they don’t) or their trademark (they could authorise instead).

Next was a history panel, Seeing the Future, Knowing the Past.  Real history is messy, full of contingency, short bloodlines, and instability, so why does fantasy insist on prophesy and “rightful heirs”?  And all this “last in the long line of kings”, like Aragorn.  In reality, you are either everyone’s ancestor, or no-one’s; nearly everyone is a descendant of Genghis Khan, and he died only about 800 years ago.  However, it is a function of fiction to put order onto messiness and chaos; it provides a controlled environment where we can get answers (although this is a relatively recent trend in literature).  Also, fantasy likes grand overarching narratives.  In reality, prophesies do exist, but are often written in retrospect.  People blame Tolkien, but he didn’t do this kind of thing: he was a “messy” writer, with lots happening. Quote of the panel: “I don’t blame Tolkien; I blame Terry Brooks!”

The Secrecy in Science panel discussed to pros and cons of keeping experimental data secret until it has been fully analysed, and published by the scientists who have spent most of their career on the specific project.  NASA releases all its data immediately; ESA is more restrictive. There was also some discussion on the move to publishing the results of all drug trials, not just the successful ones, and the use of Open Access.

Lablit (laboratory literature) discussed a wide range of stories featuring scientists going about their research, as part of a contemporary story, not science fiction.

Botanical Conquistadors was an interesting panel.  The moderator asked the rest of the panel a sequence of questions designed to get them to incrementally design a terraforming strategy.  The structure worked really well, leading to musings on giant evolved tardigrades, planet-covering HeLa cells, and Japanese knotweed as a mulch.  We also learnt interesting facts about terraforming, such as the need for nitrogen, and how mosquitoes are a key species as food for birds.

We finished off the day attending the Hugo Ceremony.

And so to bed.

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