Thursday, October 29, 2009

VCON day 2: Hard Sci-Fi, and space vampires.

Hopefully this one will be a bit shorter, as there was only really one event on day 2 that I haven't covered in previous posts. (My next post will be revealing my halloween costume, which I wore about 80% of through VCON, including the event I'm detailing in this post.)

So, roughly a week before VCON, I was informed I was on a panel talking about "Hard Sci-fi". The topic was to be about the usage of science, how 'real' you make it in fiction, how far you can bend the science in to make a story work, and how much you can push realism in science before it turns a novel into a textbook, or a commentary on a game of chess played by 2 copies of Big Blue coated in ritalin.

(That's my phrasing, not the official wording.)

I saw it as my chance to complain about Star Trek. The panelists were all there a tad early, myself last in the door- but still early. Our moderator, Rob Sawyer, (Ahem, Robert J. Sawyer) wrote Flashforward, which was picked up as TV show. He's written for a ton of stuff, won a ton of awards, and written for other TV as well....

So yeah, he was the nobody in the room..... Seriously tho, he was a blast, and became more of a panelist with us others up front, than a ref. BUT, he was running behind, as can happen to the big names at a con.

In the meantime, those of us in the panel decided to toy with the reason we were all there, and discuss how we use and abuse science in our books. It became quickly apparent that among us 'hard sci-fi' authors, I was the softest. That's fine by me overall... softest of the hard. Uhmm... that could be phrased better...

I mentioned how I abuse "EMP" (Electromagnetic pulse) in Lifehack. Commonly in mainstream sci-fi, an EMP is used to screw up electronics, and often, we're told that you can prevent damage from an EMP by shutting off your electronics.

This is BS. Avoiding EMP damage is a fair deal trickier, and does not necessarily require powering down. But I told them all that I went with the BS, because it was needed for the story, but I also explained that there were several sci-fi 'standards' that I won't use.

Here's where I picked on Star Trek a bit. I won't do warp-speed. I'm not even attracted to space travel in general. I won't do transporters, or food replicators, solid holograms, or time travel.

"And I have to apologize in advance to any Stargate:Atlantis fans, but-"

A girl in the front row, I'd guess 14 years old or so, gasped with horror, and switched to red alert. A lady sitting next to her, either her mum or a much older sister, laughed, put her arm around the girl, and said to me, "Oh, you're in trouble now!"

I looked directly at the girl with my most sympathetic face and tone, "I'm truly sorry... but SPACE VAMPIRES??"

The audience at large giggled as the girl hunkered down to bombard me with the grumpiest pout-glare she could summon. From time to time, I found reasons to say things like..."Just because I don't USE things like time travel, doesn't mean I can't enjoy books and shows that use these ideas, there's just not my style. So many of them have been done to death, I don't feel the need to add to that. Still, sometimes on TV, I'll see something just totally ridiculous that just makes me wonder what the writer was thinking... things like...."

And here, I narrow my gaze to the girl, " SPACE VAMPIRES!" Oh, I made myself an enemy, didn't I?

Later on, the panelist at the far end of the table, (I forget his name, but he's got his master's degree in...EVERYTHING, with bachelor of arts in ... EVERYTHING ELSE... so he was the hardest of the hard sci-fi authors in the room.

Anyway, he was going on about how ridiculous the space program was to suggest going to Mars, or to even bother going to the moon. I'm not sure what celestial body he was going on about at the time, but he'd entered a slow ranting laundry list of why colonization was a stupid idea.

It was something like "There's all this radiation, the light is totally unsuitable, there's no practical way to get supplies there, there's no oxygen, there's no water,-"

"There's no starbucks," I couldn't help interrupting. I don't think he took it personally, but it got a laugh from the audience, many of whom I feel may have been getting a little tired of his rant. I was actually into what he was saying, and I wouldnt have inturrupted if I didn't think he had made the point he was trying to, but between that and other cheap jokes, I was the comedian of the lineup, for better or worse. Blame the nerves.

I asked several people I ran into the rest of the day who I knew were at the panel, "Hey, did I make a COMPLETE ass of myself in there?" I think it was Rob who replied with a chuckle "COMPLETE ass? If that was your objective, I'm sorry to say you didn't achieve it." Good good.

When I got back to the dealer room, I ran into that girl, the Stargate:Atlantis fan. She presented herself boldly before me, and pointed at me. "There IS such a thing as intergalactic space vampires!"

I would have loved to discuss it further, but I was in a rush. "I dunno! I never met any!"

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