Thursday, August 11, 2005


Last week saw the 2005 Worldcon held in Glasgow, Scotland. About 4,000 people half with American accents. As such things go it was pretty well organised with a lot of varied programming, of which I attended the science/politics bits (see under), virtually all of which went to time tho' some items were to small to let in all the potential audience (a small crowded hall always gives a better atmosphere than a big empty one).

Masquerade was a bit of a disappointment. Glasgow cons used to be very well known for swordfights. Various boys & girls would come on & do an enthusiastic & spectacular display of clanging swords from Marion Zimmer Bradley or John Norman. Fortunately our noble political leaders have produced the Health & Safety Executive to keep everybody safe. Ah well.

The Hugos went to time even with the presence of an alternate universe Frenchman
to represent the founder Victor Hugo. Winners were:

• Best Novel: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke Two other awards were also presented during the Worldcon ceremony:• John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (not a Hugo Award): Elizabeth Bear.• Special Interaction Committee Award (not a Hugo Award): David Pringle.

Items I attended included a panel (Thurs) on how the rest of the world (well actually the English speaking world) is following the lead of Hugo voters by adopting proportional representation, slightly weakened by the fact that there are lots of other proportional systems which were not discussed.

Friday had a panel on whether space would inevitably be the scene of military conflict in which the general opinion was No because space is so really big that resources are virtually infinite (a fair point but I think optomistic). On Saturday there was a panel on Europe in which it turned out, by show of hands, the audience was overwhelmingly europhile.

Sunday had an interesting panel on comics involving a discussion on censorship. You can show demons destroying cities but you can't have the heroine kiss the teenage hero afterwards & Robocop can only use a stun gun! One creator said he thought comics were going to die (kids play computers) tho' graphic novels would survive (I think this is pessimistic but has a point).

Sunday's biggie was on a panel by people described as "rocket scientists" though they explained they were actually rocket engineers - rocket scientists are the ones who see what happens when you put fuels together, or even when you store them for a while. In answer to a question "when can we get transport to orbit at $100/LB or $10/LB or $1/LB" the answer was anytime we want it enough to pay for the development at ANY of these prices. These guys are the experts & if they say that then you can bank it. That is the sort of price that makes space as cheap as Australia.

3 downsides (1) Antarctica is a more similar environment & it hasn't been developed, tho' this may be politics as much as anything (2) the first X-prize has been badly designed - Rutan's Spaceship One is not a route to orbit - it would have been better to have given a prize to the first reusable ship of any size "putting a baseball bat in orbit" & then scaling up (but then there is no limit to the possibility of X-Prizes) (3) Government regulation: US rules on technology transfer don't have much effect on information (these guys all talk to each other) but does on hardware & selling a sub-orbital for intercontinental executive travel would reclassify it as a aircraft & add a zero to the cost.

As regards space elevators currently they are 50 years away but in 10 years may be only 25, in which case in 2020 starting engineering on them will probably look like a good investment".

Or to quote the media whenever something new happens "it isn't just science fiction any longer"

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