The Big Adventure

Day Five

Today was our big day, as both Neil and Naomi were presenting their papers. The morning session in which Neil’s paper was appearing was the longest one of the conference, and focused on Alternate and Future Histories. Among the 6 papers delivered was one on Cordwainer Smith’s Instrumentality, presented by his official biographer, Alan Elms, and two complementary papers on William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that Neil’s paper, however, was the highlight of this session – although not necessarily for its academic content! Neil discussed temporal parochialism and Jasper Fforde (who writes about an alternative socialist Wales), and managed to inject a great deal of humour into his presentation. This was received very well, and Neil got the biggest laugh of the entire conference when he threw away his dog collar to prove that he could be just as cool and stylish as Jon Courtenay Grimwood or China Mieville.

On a more serious note, many of the conference attendees were interested to hear about Fforde’s use of his website to constantly update and add elements to his novels – an innovation that tied in well with the ‘SF beyond literature’ session that took place in the afternoon.

The session was rounded off by an extremely interesting panel discussion on predicting the future. As well as Neil and Alan Elms, the panel included Gregory Benford, Greg Bear, Kathryn Cramer and Eric Rabkin. There was some heated debate as several of the panellists agreed that extrapolating from existing trends (in politics and climate change, for example) enabled some limited prediction to be made, but disagreed strongly over whether a small group of individuals has any power to influence that future.

As mentioned earlier, the afternoon session was dedicated to SF beyond literature. Eric Rabkin gave an extremely interesting multi-media presentation on how SF identifies and sets cultural trends. Naomi was up next, delivering a paper on CASE’s community based work, and how we believe that SF can be used to help reverse the declining interest in science. This was the most practically-oriented paper of the conference, and Naomi was approached by several people keen to discuss CASE’s work. This included Gregory Benford, who has previously used SF to teach physics. Greg expressed an interest in visiting the University of Glamorgan the next time he is in the UK.

This was followed by a discussion on how new technologies may change the way SF is written, presented by Brooks Landon (the author of ‘Science Fiction after 1900’, a book that Neil heartily recommends!). Finally, Marleen Barr presented an extremely entertaining paper (was not meant to be taken too seriously) which argued that the Bush family operates as a Borg collective, and that Bush’s brain (yes, he has a brain) has been transplanted into Condoleeza Rice. The conference went out with a bang with a final panel on gadgetry in SF, which included an astonishing presentation using a concrete breezeblock, a computer generated human and a coolie hat. You had to be there really…

Day Six

With the conference over, Neil and Naomi took this day as an opportunity to rest and recuperate. A little bit of shopping was followed by a trip to see Sin City – not out in the UK until 6 June. This was a visually unique film, an almost literal translation of a comic book to the cinema screen. There were strong performances, particularly from Mickey Rourke and an extremely scary Elijah Wood. It’s not a film for the faint-hearted though, being one of the most violent films I’ve seen for a long time. Recommended for those with strong stomachs.

One comment


    May 9, 2005

    I trust you didnt tell any of these authors that you have a hard time stopping students from reading their books…

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