Panel Rundown: Computing Science Fiction

Place: Orycon 2006
Friday, 3 PM
Panelists: L. Pierce Ludke, Frank Hayes, David W. Goldman (Michael Ehart scheduled, couldn’t make it)
Moderator: Me

[Enough time has elapsed that my memory is starting to get shaky. Correct me if you catch a technical inaccuracy. I might correct some if this from listening to the recording of it later. ]

This was my first panel of the convention, and this one caused a slight panic attack. When I checked in and got my guest packet a little after noon, I found out to my surprise that I was moderating this particular panel in 3 hours. I had received an email with all my programming and the moderators were supposed to be in bold but that formatting was lost in the copy I got. As I got acclimated to the con, I was thinking on this topic and about an hour before the panel I made some serious notes about issues, topics and writers we could bring up. I approach these very similar to the way I approach my interviews, which in both cases are being steward of a conversation. In the interview its me and another person or two, in the panel it is me, all the other panelists and all the people in the room.

We had opening statements and then discussed the history of computer in science fiction, from the days before its invention through the era up to the mini-computer. I asked at one point how intimately intertwined the visions of the malevolent computer taking control of us all (“Etaoin Shrdlu”, “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream”) were with the anxieties of the cold war and the fear that we were losing control of our specifically human aspects. Frank brought up “A Logic Named Joe” which coincidentally is a piece I’ve been wanting to talk about in my podcast since I heard it on Spaceship Radio a few months back. Pierce brought up “Nine Billion Names of God”, David brought up Asimovian AI, and as we also got a mix of communications mixed in, I brought up my favorite story on the topic, Damon Knight’s “I See You.”

As the panel went on, we brought things forward in the literature up to the cyberpunks and talked about their particular relationship to technology. Neal Stephenson and William Gibson and Bruce Sterling were of course mentioned. I asked about who in the room used Second Life and floated the idea (that I don’t necessarily agree with) that it is a proto-manifestation of Stephenson’s Metaverse. I mentioned my relationship with cheap technology (Uplifting although I never used that term) and how I find the most important idea in the whole cyberpunk canon Gibson’s “The street finds its own uses for things.” As an example, I shot the panel and audience with my CVS camcorder.

As we closed out, I posited Charles Stross as the natural heir to this kind of situation, and floated some of his ideas from Accellerando as evidence.

Bottom Line: Fun panel, fun topic. I worried that Pierce didn’t speak enough and tried to explicitly bring her in a little more often. It was stressful because I wasn’t prepared to moderate until 5 minutes before, but it all went well. I liked this mix of people. Frank’s heavily sardonic and sarcastic manner provided the bass notes in this band. Turned out way better than I was expecting.

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Dave Slusher is a blogger, podcaster, computer programmer, author, science fiction fan and father.