Saturday, 4 April 2015

EasterCon Saturday

Saturday, and the first full day of Dysprosium 2015, the 66th British National Science Fiction. After enjoying a breakfast replete with mushrooms, the first item we attended was Liam Proven on Retro Computing.  This was billed as a repeat of the heavily oversubscribed item at LonCon, where it was a panel.  Liam apologised that he was the only one to turn up for this, and that he hadn’t really prepared, and then proceeded to wax lyrical about old hardware, languages, operating systems, and virtual machines for the next hour.  His main point: what we have today is faster improved versions of the cheap and cheerful 1980s solutions, not better versions of the then-impractical but actually much superior solutions.  We’ve gone up a blind alley.  (I blame it all on Moore's Law, myself.)

Next was a panel on Unseen London, which had a focus on underground railways, rivers, sewers, and other tunnels, some known, some forgotten.  All I can say is some people (not only on the panel) have a ridiculously deep esoteric knowledge of the most marvelous things.

Helen Pennington, plant biologist, gave a talk on How Crazy are Biologists and what do we really do?.  (Essentially, pipette clear liquids into other clear liquids.)  I learned lots of fascinating things about plants and fungi, and implementing 4 bit computers in cockroaches. After the main talk, there was a brilliant Q&A session.  For me, the best bit was how to destroy the world with super-rabies zombie children (you had to be there).

The first of the Guest of Honour sessions was from Caroline Mullen, and her life in fandom. This was a pre-prepared read talk, and was fascinating (I use that word a lot: I go to SF cons specifically to be fascinated!).  Caroline says her talk will be published at some point, which is great, as I get to read it again.  This was followed by Jim Butcher’s Guest of Honour slot, where he was interviewed by Charles Stross.  As well as his Dresden Files books, he talked about another series, Codex Alera, which he wrote as a bet: you can’t take this cliched idea, the Lost Roman Legion, and write something good with it.  Since he’s written and published six books in the series, he reckons he’s won the bet.

After a late lunch/early dinner (regular mealtimes are impossible at cons) we went along to the BSFA lecture, an annual event where a speaker from the Arts and Humanities is invited along to tell us something interesting (fascinating, even).  These are usually a highlight of the Eastercon, and this year was no exception.  Simon Trafford talked on: “Runar munt þu finna”: why sing pop in dead languages?  The dead languages tend to be either Latin (old folk, ethereal goth), often used to summon some form of spiritual otherness (with the language shrouding the lyrics’ Christian origins, or even their complete lack of meaning), or dead vernaculars (folk metal, pagan metal), often used to invoke a barbaric warlike golden age.  So it was that in 1973 Steeleye Span had the honour of recording the first Latin song to chart; Gaudete: Latin with a distinct folk accent.  One interesting point he made was that a lot of these sort of bands blend medieval with world musics, which is a dubious orientalising practice, because the other is be equated with medieval  His talk was interspersed with lots of musical clips, and much hilarity.

Next was a talk by Brenna Hassett on TrowelBlazers: Women trailblazers in archaeology, geology and palaeontology.  There are many famous male archaeologists, but they were accompanied but women whose stories we don’t know nearly so well: Margaret Murray, Gertrude Caton-Thompson, Kathleen Kenyon, Dorothy Garrod, are some of the better know, but there are many more.  Not only that, these women weren’t a few isolated anomolies: there were several women-only digs.  The TrowelBlazers project is documenting their history and contribution.

The final event of the evening was a concert.  Playing Rapunzel supported Talis Kimberley and friends.  Seanan McGuire was supposed to perform, but had a bad voice, so merely provided hilarious introductions and commentary.

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