WorldCon 2016: Science fiction as epic

Disclaimer: I am not perfect and neither are my notes. If you notice anything that requires clarification or correction, please email me at melanie (dot) marttila (at) gmail (dot) com and I will fix things post-hasty.

Panellists: Frederick Turner, Walter Jon Williams, Cynthia Ward, John Kessel (moderator), Elizabeth Moon

kcpubliclibrary

The Kansas City Public Library

Quick note: What’s with the non-panel pictures? In the first day, I wasn’t sure if it would be acceptable to take pictures without first asking permission. So I’m sharing pictures from Kansas City, which hosted WorldCon this year, because I took walking tours of the city Friday, Saturday, and Sunday mornings. Panel pictures will arrive with the Friday sessions.

Joined in progress.

FT: The classic epics were the science fiction of the past. They shared common themes and fundamental elements. They were from the oral tradition (storyteller). They featured a creation myth (cosmology), a hero, a quest, kinship and kinship troubles, the interplay of nature, culture, and the supernatural, descent into and emergence from the underworld, and/or the founding of a city.

EM: The SF epic can be set in a different world. One of the features in that case would be the technological difference between our world and the other one.

JK: Does scope equal epic? Northrop Frye espoused the high mimetic (imitative) as central to the epic form. Is there no everyman in the epic?

EM: The genius has epic intellect. The protagonist must be exceptional in some way.

CW: Walter Mitty is not epic.

FT: Many heroes start out as foundlings or shepherds.

WJW: Dune is a science fiction epic. Zelazny’s Lord of Light is an SF epic.

JK: Star Wars is an SF epic, a space opera. Edith Hamilton and Joseph Campbell have both analyzed it in their work.

CW: Foundation is an epic.

FT: Epic goes to the edge of the world, or humanity, or the universe. The world has to change as a result of the story.

WJW: So Epic science fiction is about man’s place in the universe.

FT: There’s an emotional, almost musical resonance.

EM: Modern readers need humour. That’s the secret spice in the stew.

JK: Economics doesn’t seem to be a factor.

CW: Not everyone appreciates an empire. Post-colonial narratives.

FT: Mad Max is dystopian and epic.

Aud: Wilson Tucker coined the term space opera in the early 40’s. It was meant to connote second rate science fiction that focused on adventure. It’s from horse opera, which was a pejorative term for a western.

Other epics were proposed by the panel and the audience: C.J. Cherryh, Leviathan Wakes, Hyperion, Babylon 5, Sagan, Clarke, David Brin, Gene Wolf. The theme of faith and religious belief was also proposed as another feature of the epic.

And that was time.

Next week: Mythology as the basis of science fiction.

Be well until then 🙂

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WorldCon 2016: Is cyberpunk still a thing?

Disclaimer: I am not perfect and neither are my notes. If you notice anything that requires clarification or correction, please email me at melanie (dot) marttila (at) gmail (dot) com and I will fix things post-hasty.

Panellists: Cory Doctorow (moderator), Matt Jacobson, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, James Patrick Kelly, Pat Cadigan

thecoolestparkinggarageevar

Joined in progress . . .

PNH: Cyberpunk is a course correction.

MJ: I think of cyberpunk in terms of the Max Headroom tagline: fifteen minutes into the future.

CD: The first generation/layer was written by people who were not computer professionals. The second focused on current technology and near future extrapolation. The third layer is an aesthetic.

PC: The first generation of cyberpunk writers was the first to grow up with mass media (television, radio, etc.). The Vietnam War was the first to be televised. They wrote about the influence of media and extrapolated what the influence of mass media might be in the future.

CD: In the 1980’s, money had a huge influence on the political process.

PNH: An aesthetic is a number of people who have similar intuitions about the world. It’s deliberately referencial.

JPK: Bruce Stirling tried to “end” cyberpunk, but the readers weren’t listening.

MJ: A thing would be whatever catches people’s attention.

PC: Cordwainer Smith and Alfred Bester were influences on cyberpunk.

PNH: Science fiction is one big conversation.

MJ: Cyberpunk has been taken over by tech noir. Shows like Mr. Robot and Person of Interest.

JPK: Cyberpunk emerged pre-Apple. For most users, a computer is indistinguishable from magic.

CD: The whole point of Mr. Robot is to strongly distinguish technology from magic.

MJ: Pokemon Go demonstrates just how easy it is to know where anyone is, anywhere in the world.

CD: Actually, your device uses the statistics from the game to triangulate your location and reports the information to Nintendo. That’s a lot more scary.

PC: In the early days of the internet, there were the BBS’s, the bulletin board services. Genie—the conversation never ends. Now mass media is to ambient, we’ve stopped seeing it. Information (and misinformation) is ubiquitous.

PNH: Science fiction has been doing the virtual presence thing since 1929 with the fanzines.

MJ: Cyberpunk intersects with maker culture. High tech is repurposed.

CD: The liminal moment was a queer programmer, Jennings. Cyberpunk concerns itself with the frontier of self and interrelatedness.

And that was time.

Next week: science fiction as epic.

And, of course, in the meantime, I’ll be curating Tipsday and Thoughty Thursday for you.

Be well. Stay safe. Love unconditionally.

That is all.

WorldCon 2016: What’s new in medicine

Disclaimer: I am not perfect and neither are my notes. If you notice anything that requires clarification or correction, please email me at melanie (dot) marttila (at) gmail (dot) com and I will fix things post-hasty.

Panellists: Dr. Brad Aiken, H.G. Stratmann, John Strickland Jr. (moderator), Dr. David Kushner

Research into slowing down the aging process:

  • Telomeres – the caps on the end of a chromosome that include instructions for replication
  • Mitochondria – have a role in regulating the aging process

There are currently 19 different areas of research. Some focus on the mechanism and some focus on the effects and process of aging.

Metformin is a drug used to treat type II diabetes. Some studies have shown that type II diabetics live longer.

Medicine in general is helping people live longer. The oldest documented human lived to be 122 years old.

We’re thinking in terms of health span versus life span. Quality of life is more important than simply living longer.

Aging is a complex process. We don’t fully understand it yet.

NASA has contributed data from their astronauts. The relief of gravity accelerates some aspects of aging.

Space medicine focuses on a small number of subjects, astronauts. Many of the changes that result from space travel reverse once the astronaut is exposed to gravity again.

There have been changes in the eyes. Vision can be negatively affected.

Artificial organs can be printed using 3D printers/matrix machines. An artificial heart has been created this way.

In neurosurgery, they’ve 3D printed skull fragments and in ortho, they’ve printed knee replacements.

In cancer research, they’re customizing treatments and addressing immunodeficiencies by individual genetic profiles.

Genetic medicine means there is no single treatment for a disease. Each treatment is customized to each patient.

In cardiology, they’re making stents that are absorbed into the body. Xenotransplantation, transplanting a pig’s heart into a human body, continues to be pursued.

Crisper is being used to edit genes.

Defibrillators and pace makers represent mechanical human enhancement.

In cases of patients who’ve suffered strokes or brain injury, doctors and researchers are using direct electrical stimulation and fMRI to prompt the brain to “rewire” itself.

Using a combination of a robotic exoskeleton and a brain/computer interface, like the Oculus Rift, paraplegic patients have regained some muscle control. They can’t walk, but they have a much higher quality of life because they’ve been able to overcome incontinence. And they have hope because they can move their limbs, even if it’s only a little bit. [Mel’s note: I actually shared an article on this a few weeks ago on Thoughty Thursday 🙂 ]

In both cases the brain is bypassing the area of damage.

Sensory loss attributable to peripheral nerve issues is still difficult to treat.

Artificial limbs and prosthetics are continuing to improve. Many now use neural interfaces to allow the brain to control the limb.

Spinal cord repair with respect to vertebrae (3D printing again) and discs is also making progress.

viewfrommyhotel

The view from my hotel room.

And that was time.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t close enough to see who was speaking at any given time, so I haven’t identified who was saying what.

Next week: Is cyberpunk still a thing?

And, of course, Tipsday and Thoughty Thursday will be making their regularly scheduled appearances.

See you on the interwebz!