Monday, August 03, 2009

Science in SF at the WorldCon

The next big event on the summer convention schedule is the 67th World Science Fiction Convention - Anticipation - to be held in Montreal on August 6-10. Amidst the author readings, writing workshops, filk singing, costume crafting, there will be panels on many SF and fantasy topics, including science in SF.

The Master of Ceremonies is former biologist and SF author Julie E. Czerneda. Not surprisingly, Czerneda's novels have a strong bioscience basis. She is also the author of the non-fiction No Limits: Developing Scientific Literacy Using Science Fiction, which has suggestions for teaching science with SF, and runs the SciFiZone at ScienceNews for Kids, among other educational endeavors. Czerneda will be giving the keynote at the free Science Fiction in the Classroom workshop on Thursday August 6th.

I've listed below some of the panels I think sound interesting and have a strong "science in SF" component from the scheduled convention programming (pdf). If I was attending the con, I'd have a hard time deciding which panels to attend!


12:30 1hr 30min: "Bio-Ethics"
Alison Sinclair, Judy T. Lazar, Laura Anne Gilman, Russell Blackford, Tomoko Masuda
Medical experiments, drug companies, cloning, insurance, bookies and you.

14:00 1hr 30min: "What is Consciousness?"
Pat Cadigan, Kim Binsted, Peter Watts
Studies of complex chemical systems, AI, neuroscience and MRI are beginning to find answers to this question. What are the results and what do they mean for our sense of self?

16:00 1hr "First Contact: Worldbuilding"
Julie E. Czerneda, Charles K. Bradley, Nina Munteanu, Eoin Colfer
Worldbuilding workshop: we'll discuss and create alien worlds and cultures.


10:00 1hr: "How to Effectively Talk about Science to Non-Scientists and Why it Matters"
Chad R. Orzel
Presenting one's ideas is ever more crucial for scientists. If we don't do it well, you can be certain someone else will do it badly.

10:00 1hr "In Space Everyone Can Hear"
Chris Becker, David Stephenson, Jeanne M. Mealy, John Douglass, Christopher D. Carson
No they can't, unless it's a really neat special effects explosion. Is it possible to do hard SF on screen (big or small), or is a certain amount of dumbing down inevitable?

10:00 1hr "Is Science Used Differently in French-language SF?"
Eric Picholle, Jean-Louis Trudel, Michele Laframboise, Laurent Genefort
SF in English often prefers technology to science, but how does SF in French handle science?

10:00 1hr "Just how does Creationist Science Work?"
Edward James, Jay Lake, Leigh Ann, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Paul Chafe, Rev. Randy Smith
What stories are told in creationist science to explain things like fossils, dinosaurs, astronomy, geology and genetics?

10:00 1hr [Teen Programming] "First Contact: Extraterrestrial Life"
Charles K. Bradley, Geoff Hart
We'll discuss possible alien worlds, and the beings that might live there.

14:00 1hr 30min: "The Future of Gender"
Cheryl Morgan, Jason Bourget, Jeanne Cavelos, Veronica Hollinger
From contraceptives to computers, is technology undermining traditional gender roles andif so where is this taking us?

14:00 1hr 30min: "Getting it Right: Environmental Issues in Science Fiction or Fantasy"
Bob Sojka, Jason Tuell, Kristin Norwood, Nina Munteanu, Mike Gallaher
These panelists want to explain about using correct environmental details in science fiction (and fantasy): weather, green buildings; green processes and, yes, linoleum

15:00 1hr [Teen Programming]: "First Contact: Create and Design Aliens"
Carl Fink, Jane Carnall, Judy T. Lazar, Jean-Pierre Guillet, Dana MacDermott, Diane Kelly
A workshop conceptualizing other beings: What sort of biology are aliens likely to have? What might they look like? What personalities/behaviors? How will this affect our communications?

15:30 1hr 30min: "Are We Conscious and Does it Matter?"
Daryl Gregory, James Morrow, Kathryn Cramer, Peter Watts
What do we mean by consciousness? Has it become as much of a distraction as wondering whether there is a heaven? Would we act any differently if we didn’t think we were conscious? How important is the concept to fantasy and science fiction?

15:30 1hr 30min: "Anatomy for Writers, Heroes and Tavern Brawlers"
Darlene Marshall, Jetse de Vries, Sean McMullen, Kristen Britain
Author, karate instructor, fencer and first aid officer Sean McMullen provides a tour of how the human body can and cannot be damaged. Want to know where a hero can be punched without any effect? Worried about his vascular dilation? Curious about the real-life version of Mr Spock’s nerve pinch? Not sure whether a really long sword fight is three hours or seven seconds? Wondering why readers are laughing because your hero has microsecond reactions? Come along and find out in complete safety.

22:00 1hr: "Build a Better Astronaut"
David H. Brummel, Jeanne Cavelos, Nick Kanas, Steven Popkes, H.G. Stratmann
With rocket accidents, radiation, zero gravity, hard vacuum and long journey times is space travel just too dangerous for humans? And if so, how are we to reach the high frontier ourselves? What changes need to be made to the human body and mind to make it better suited for interplanetary and interstellar travel?


9:00 1hr: "The Goldilocks Alien"
G. David Nordley, Judy T. Lazar, Geoff Hart
Many SFnal aliens come from worlds just like ours - not too hot, not too cold, not too radioactive. Is this realistic? Can't we do better than this? What if their evolutionary pattern was different?

10:00 1hr: "The Philosophy of Science"
Chad R. Orzel (blog post on the panel), Greer Gilman, James Morrow, Jeff Warner, Richard Crownover, DD Barant
To what extent does SF explore the meaning of science for scientists and create the ideas that our culture has of science?

19:00 1hr: "Panel in the Pool"
James Bryant (G4CLF), Kat Feete, Lindsay Barbieri, Seanan McGuire, Thomas A. Easton
What would dolphins do? What side of the road would cephalopods prefer? Do they make screwdrivers for right-handed octopuses? The panel, in the deep end with lead boots, discusses aquatic intelligences.


9:00 1hr: "Cloning Dos and Don'ts"
Birgit Houston, Jeanne Cavelos, Judy T. Lazar, Kat Feete, Paolo Bacigalupi
Cloning frequently comes up in SF, but how does it work in real life? And what happens when it goes wrong?

10:00 1hr "Science for SF Writers"
Julie E. Czerneda, Alison Sinclair, David Clements, David D. Levine
Where can you get crash courses on science for science fiction writers? Is it actually useful?

10:00 1hr "Realism in Science Fiction"
Chris Howard, kyle cassidy, Pascale Raud, Joel Polowin, Tobias Buckell
A lot of near-future SF novels duck the problems we read about in the news – climate change or energy shortage – in favour of problems which look more solveable. We all know that SF shouldn’t be pure prediction, but how much of a duty does it have to be based on realistic assumptions?

21:00 1hr "Legitimizing the Woo"
Margaret Ronald, Eoin Colfer, Peter Watts
It is an ongoing tradition of science fiction to rehabilitate overtly fantasy tropes (vampires, zombies, fairies, god) by soaking them in SFnal rationales. What are the rules for hijacking a trope from one genre and reprogramming it for another? And why bother?


10:00 1hr "A Little Learning is a Dangerous Thing"
Amy Thomson, Carl Fink, Christopher Davis, Karl Schroeder
What happens when physicists try ot write biological SF; or when a writer's research goes badly wrong?

11:00 1hr "The Drake Equation and the Fermi Failure"
Ian Tregillis, Thomas Womack, Jordin Kare, Peter Watts
Recent discoveries have enhanced our estimates of the number of planetary systems in the galaxy; recent analysis suggest that the silence dominating the hydrogen band may be more an artifact of signal dissipation than evidence of an empty universe. Is there any real point in describing the frequency of technological civilizations using a 7-variable equation for which 5 of the parameters are completely unknown? Do we even know enough to *have* a reasonable debate?

12:30 1hr 30min; "Hard SF: Is it What You Do, or How You Do It?"
Amy H. Sturgis, Marc Schirmeister, Joël Champetier, Gabrielle Harbowy
Many critics – including David Hartwell – argue that hard SF is as much defined by an attitude (how you depict science in an SF story) rather than to do with detailed depiction of science. So a story, like Ted Chiang’s “Tower of Babylon” could be hard SF whilst being based in a completely imaginary scientific foundation. Is this a useful way to see things?

12:30 1hr: "Genetic Engineering Our Offspring"
Birgit Houston, John Wilson, Judy T. Lazar, Russell Blackford, Paolo Bacigalupi
Surgical modifications, perhaps with controlled re-growth. Cyborg technology. All standard SF tropes that are now just around the next corner but one. What will all these changes mean? To us as individuals? As a society? Will we try to postpone or control them? Will we succeed? Will we still be human and does it matter? And what reactions will there be from broader society?

14:00 1hr 30min: "Mundane SF vs Science"
Geoff Ryman, Henry Spencer, Karen Burnham, Mark Olson
Mundane SF aims to extrapolate from the science of today. But science doesn’t work like that. What’s happened to the paradigm shift?

And of course that's just the tip of the iceberg, programming-wise. I'm looking forward to seeing what people report back from the con. Maybe there will even be video (?)

If you are in the Montreal area, you should consider going, particularly since they are selling low-risk "taster" memberships at the door.

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  1. I can't promise much serious science in the gender panel. Jason and I are rather more on the sociological and legal side of things, and Veronica has scratched, but maybe Jeanne will have some good ideas.

    Also talking biology and gender can rapidly get you into political trouble, so it may be better to avoid most of the biology.

    But there will be reporting. I have a whole host of people signed up here, and I'm sure lots of other people will blog and tweet as well. As to video, yes! Not of panels - people tend to object to that - but I hope to do "how it was made" interviews with costumers again, and if we can find a suitable time John Picacio and I will take a look at the art show. Doubtless some author interviews too.

  2. I can't get there. I can, however, recommend that you collar Russell Blackford after a panel and chat with him (if you don't know him already). If he wonders why, by all means blame me.

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  4. Gillian:

    I had dinner with Russell and Jenny on my last night in Adelaide back in June. And I definitely want to catch up with them in Montreal to congratulate Jenny on doing such a great job as a World Fantasy Award judge.

  5. :). I'm glad you've met.

  6. Cheryl: I've subscribed to the ConReporter blog and I'm watching avidly for interesting updates.

    I agree that biology and gender is a tricky topic and I'm no fan of evo-psych on gender roles, at least as it's reported in the popular press. I think gender in SF IS an interesting topic, especially when you start looking at how gender in transhuman societies is portrayed.

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