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Boskone 49!

February 23rd, 2012 No comments

I’m not sure how I’ve lived in Boston for seven years and had never been to Boskone before this year. Maybe the frequent laments from the fan community that this con ain’t what it used to be kept me away. I shouldn’t have listened. Boskone still attracts some people you really want to hear sharing their ideas, as evidenced by the day of panels I went to on Saturday, February 18.

The Highest Frontier (cover)

The Highest Frontier (J. Slonczewski), a Luna-as-Ark novel

First up was Occupy Luna with Vince Docherty, Allen M. Steele, Ian Randal Strock, and Alexander Jablokov. The panel topic was how to create a progressive, non-coercive society on Luna. I had high hopes for this one, and while it was a really interesting panel, it didn’t generate a lot of discussion of the central topic. It touched a little on anarchocapitalist/libertarian versus anarchosyndicalist/anarchocommunist ideas about what a Lunar society could look like (Lunar offshore banks vs. energy collectives, for example). But the discussion got bogged down in correcting misconceptions (mostly voiced by the audience) about the technical details of founding a Lunar colony.

As someone who’s spent a lot of time learning about this, I found the discussion of topics like why doming Lunar cities wouldn’t work to be kind of a snore. I’d like to see a discussion like this again — maybe with the moderator working more to keep it on political topics.

I did catch one interesting book mention: Joan Slonczewski’s The Highest Frontier (right), a post-climate change Luna-as-ark novel. (Slonczewski was on a panel about climate change later in the day; read on).

The next panel was The Year in Astronomy & Physics with Mark L. Olson, Jeff Hecht, and Guy Consolmagno. Topics ranged from FTL neutrinos (debunked two days later!) to the recent banquet of exoplanet data we’ve been getting from the Kepler and other sources.

The data on exoplanets we’re not getting disrupts current models of planet formation. The long-held model of how Earth’s solar system formed from a stellar accretion disc explains why we have small terrestrial planets and metals close to the sun, with gas/ice giants, silicates, and water ice farther out. Finding exoplanetary systems that look nothing like this has called that model into question. At the same time, it offers tantalizing possible explanations of  things like why Mars is so small and why Uranus and Neptune have unusual orbits. Astronomers are only in the first stages of puzzling out what it all means, though.

Brother Astronomer, by Guy Consolmagno (cover)

Brother Astronomer, by Guy Consolmagno

My favorite person on this panel was Guy Consolmagno, curator of meteors at the Vatican observatory, so later in the day, I went to his solo talk, Discarded Images: Astronomical Ideas That Were Almost Correct. Wow. If you ever get a chance to see this guy talk, jump at it. He’s a font of knowledge, from stories of bartering with shadowy European collectors for access to their privately held meteorites, to tracing the winding path to a heliocentric view of the solar system. He’s also a Jesuit, and by the end, I wanted to go up and wish him Good Apert to see if he got the joke.

Next up was How Not to Produce an E-Book with Stephen Segal, Neil Clarke, and Teresa Nielsen Hayden. This panel was mostly a technical download, and while I could have learned a lot of this stuff if I got off my butt and googled it, it was good hearing opinions on the various technologies out there from people who’ve been doing it successfully.

I’ll post what I learned on this panel next week. Clarke in particular had a lot of good info to share.

Under the Moons of Mars (cover), edited by John Joseph Adams

Under the Moons of Mars, edited by John Joseph Adams

After lunch, I hit up John Joseph Adams’ reading from the new Under the Moons of Mars anthology. I’m a sucker for this one; I loved the John Carter stories and went back to them when I was working on Mars for Eclipse Phase. This antho will definitely be on my to-get list (it’s got a Peter Beagle story!), although unfortunately it wasn’t on sale at the con.

Adams chose to read the story Three Deaths by David Barr Kirtley. It’s a tale told from the perspective of a green Martian who loses a fight to John Carter, and it’s pitch-perfect.

After that was the panel Environmental Rearguarding: What to Do After It’s Too Late, with Alexander Jablokov moderating, Jorin T. Kare, Jeff Hecht, Tom Easton, and Joan Slonczewski. The topic was great: how do we adapt, and even profit, if climate change gets completely out of control? Unfortunately, both the panel and audience seemed more interested in talking about ways of stopping climate change. Hey, I love the progressivism of sci-fi, too — but I wanted to hear more about evil profiteering! Jablokov kept trying to steer the panel back that way, but it didn’t take. Oh well. I learned some interesting stuff from the engineer on the panel about proposals for seeding clouds with various albedo-raising substances (some of the proposals were crazy — pipeline to the clouds, anyone?).

The audience for this panel tripped one of my pet peeves. Please, don’t be that person who sits in the front row and tries to have a dialog with the panel. It’s just rude, both to the panelists, and to the rest of the audience. I don’t care how knowledgeable you are. And if you’re a panelist, don’t enable this behavior. You might think you’re being nice, but you’re not doing anyone any favors.

I finished off with Creating Worlds for Online Gaming, with Brianna Spacekat Wu moderating, Melinda Snodgrass, Walter H. Hunt, Timothy P. Szczesuil, and Margaret Ronald. I’d meant to avoid gaming panels (especially a month before PAX), but the panel I was originally going to had really loud filk right next door. (A pox upon filk — and also upon anime credit music singalongs, which seem to be the younger generation’s equivalent). Although I picked up a lot of interesting information about the gaming biz, my favorite part of this panel might have been Hunt, a voice actor, discussing how he had one recording session that was nothing but him grunting thirty different ways to simulate the character getting beaten on in combat.

Beyond panels, the con had a decent-sized huckster room, where I somehow managed to contain my book addiction long enough to make it to the door.

So I’m not sure why rumors of this con’s demise still circulate. It might be smaller than it once was, but I won’t be missing it next year.

 

Game concept: Three Little Pigs

February 15th, 2012 No comments

This is a storybook combined with a structural engineering game for kids. It could be a tablet app, or it could (once prices come down) be a physical game with location-aware pieces and an AR overlay to represent characters.

The player is given three types of blocks: straw, sticks, bricks. The blocks are aware of their location relative to one another. On each level, the player has to build a house for the piglet out of one of the materials. They have a limited number of blocks with which to shape a house.

When they’re done building, the wolf appears and tries to blow down the house. Certain shapes will resist the wolf’s breath; others will be blown over. Parental controls decide how graphical the latter outcome is. ;)

This idea got fired off while I was taking Latitude Research’s Future of Storytelling survey, and it was too fun not to post.

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