Boskone 43

The following will be of interest only to people who were at Boskone, or who for some reason care deeply about what I did there, so I'll put the bulk of the text below the fold.

We arrived at about 3:00 Friday afternoon, parked in the hotel garage, and discovered that the trunk of my car would no longer stay closed. Happily, that didn't turn out to be an omen for the weekend, which otherwise went very well. I had a coil of rope in the trunk, that we used to tie the trunk shut, and that held until the next Friday, when I finally got around to having somebody fix the lock.

I had exam papers to mark, so I spent a while up in the hotel room doing that (scores were a bit lower than I wanted, and much lower than the students wanted), then I wandered downstairs to catch a bit of the Space Opera panel. I wasn't really in full con-going mode yet, though, so I didn't stay for the whole thing (also, there was some sort of musical performance going on next door, that occasionally drowned out the panelists), so I poked around the Dealer's Room a bit (there seemed to be fewer new books than at past Boskones), and ran into a bunch of authors who were taking up space near the door.

After that, I went to Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald's reading, where they read selections from the forthcoming Mist and Snow, which has apparently been turned in. This is an alternate history Civil War naval fantasy, and it sounds really good. I also learned that the next Peter Crossman novel is nearly finished, which is also good news.

I went from there to the "Scotty, I Need More Bandwidth" panel, where the panelists talked about how to manage information flow in an age when people feel that they have an absolute right to contact you at any time day or night (Scalzi: "People will actually stop having sex in order to answer the phone. That's bad information management!"). There were many entertaining stories, plus one useful new concept (from Cory Doctorow, via Scalzi): "helpiness," which stands into relation to "helpfulness" as Stephen Colbert's "truthiness" does to "truthfulness." When you ask on-line "How do I do X on a Mac?" and somebody responds "If you were running Linux, it would be easy to do X," that's helpiness. It has some of the surface characteristics of useful advice, but doesn't actually help at all.

After that, I went upstairs to drop some stuff in the room, and then Kate and I went to the Tor party, which is always a highlight. I had been having stomach trouble (severe recurring heartburn), and so intended to refrain from drinking, but after finishing one round of root beers, I couldn't find another soda I wanted to drink, so I said "fuck it," and got a beer. Several beers later, my stomach felt fine, and remained that way for the rest of the weekend. Go figure. Anyway, I drank beer, and talked to lots of interesting people whose names I won't drop, and generally had a good time.

Saturday morning, I suffered a crippling attack of professionalism, and spent an hour sitting in Starbucks writing out notes for my "Weird Quantum Phenomena" talk. I know that taking a laptop into a Starbucks doesn't fool anybody into believing you're a writer, but I'm not sure what a legal pad does... I wound up with about four pages of scribbling, which was at least one too many for a half-hour talk (I figure six pages is about right for a one-hour class), but resolved to deal with that later.

Saturday morning also saw me moderating two panels, on "How Much Science Should SF Contain?" and "Is Science Fiction Necessary?" Apparently, I'm the go-to guy for open questions, or something. The "How Much Science?" panel was a little difficult to keep control of (one panelist really wanted to be the moderator), but I think it went fairly well. We successfully avoided having it become the Star Trek/ Star Wars/ Firefly Science Hate Panel, at least, and I got to most of the good points I had thought of in advance.

The panel I was really worried about was "Is Science Fiction Necessary?" because, well, that's an awfully broad topic, and seems like it could easily go horribly awry. Happily, I had excellent panelists (who get links, because they were so good): Tobias Buckell, Karl Schroeder, and Rosemary Kirstein (who gets a publisher link because I couldn't find an official website). They said smart and intersting things about augmented reality, SF authors as "early adopters," SF as a language, and various other things, and generally made me look smart by association. Also, their books are very good, so you should buy them.

I was pretty beat after that, so I got some food, and spent a while poking around looking at books (and buying The Ghost Brigades), and then stopped in on a panel about Mars exploration, featuring a couple of NASA scientists (in official NASA polo shirts) and other Mars researchers, talking about the business of planetary exploration in reality. Somehow, I missed this in the preliminary schedule, but it was fascinating stuff-- lots of inside baseball about NASA operations, and cool stories about probes that worked, probes that crashed, and probes that worked better than expected (if you want to know why the Mars rovers are still working many months after they were supposed to stop, you can blame Geoff Landis...). Also, if you'd like to see more cool space missions, write to Congress and tell them so.

After that, there were a few panels that failed to really come together in the way I would've liked, and so have been blotted from memory. Then Kate and I did our traditional dinner at Legal Sea Food with Doyle and Macdonald and Yoon Ha Lee, and came back to the hotel to find a gang of writers (Scalzi, Stross, Buckell, Schroeder, Doctorow) hanging out in the bar plotting the next SF movement ("Strict SF," which will feature closing tags at the end of every paragraph), and brewing up literary feuds. We hung out with them for a couple of hours, and occasionally even managed to get the waitress to bring drinks. This may well have been the high point of the con.

Sunday morning, I wandered out in search of drinkable tea, and wound up having breakfast with John Scalzi and Liz Gorinsky from Tor, and then went to Scalzi's reading (the first half of the first chapter of The Ghost Brigades), followed by John M. Ford reading from "The Fellowship of the Woosters," which casts Bertie (accompanied by Jeeves, of course) in the role of Aragorn. It's apparently going to be published as a chapbook in the near future, so keep an eye out for that.

After listening to Scalzi and Ford read, I went off to a panel featurng both of them talking about literary references to classic SF. I got to briefly recapitulate my argument with John over the idea of gateway SF (that link goes to a list of recommended books, which also has a link back to the actual argument), and then grabbed some food from the con suite on my way to the annual "SF as Literature?" panel.

Happily, I only had to be a panelist onb that one, and Jim Kelly did a good job of keeping things moving. There was perhaps a little too much time spent objecting to the notion of "Literature" as a term or category, but we talked up some good books (including Spin by Robert Charles Wilson, which everybody should buy, read, and nominate for awards, because it's fantastic), and raised some interesting questions. We didn't answer many questions, but then, if we had, we wouldn't be able to have the same panel again next year...

We got some lunch, then, and I spent a little while off in a corner going over my notes, and then it was time for "Weird Quantum Phenomena" (once we got a couple of white board markers, at least). I more or less went through what I outlined in my posts here (one, two), with quantum eraser experiments thrown in instead of the EPR stuff. I was surprised that twenty-odd people showed up for an abstract science talk in the next-to-last time slot of the con, but they did, and they stuck around and asked questions that pushed it from a half-hour talk to something more like an hour.

I thought it went well, and I certainly enjoyed doing it. I hope the audience liked it-- I haven't seen anyone comment on it in the various con reports I've seen on-line (I'm just vain enough to check), but then, none of those people were there. Anyway, it was fun, but exhausting.

After that, Kate drove us home while I slept, and then it was back to the usual grind. It was a good weekend, if not exactly restful. I did come back feeling kind of revitalized, though, which is sort of weird. A few years back, there was a poll done that found more people feared public speaking than death. Here I am, with a job that basically consists of public speaking for several hours a week, and I unwind by going to an SF convention, and doing extra bonus public speaking, for fun...

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I hope the audience liked it-- I haven't seen anyone comment on it in the various con reports I've seen on-line...

Ok, I'll bite. I was in the audience (I caught the second half, anyway), and I liked it.

By Bob Oldendorf (not verified) on 27 Feb 2006 #permalink

I hope the audience liked it-- I haven't seen anyone comment on it in the various con reports I've seen on-line (I'm just vain enough to check), but then, none of those people were there.

I was there, and liked it quite a bit. Even said so in my con report.