Nine Worlds; or What I Did On My Holiday

So a weekend with activities scheduled across 34 rooms and two hotels what did I manage to do? I went to items in seven rooms (eight if you include my Bedroom which wasn't officially on the schedule and my only activity there was sleeping and showering).

At the first draft programme I thought I'd be spending most my time in the games room. Nope. That didn't happen at all.

So, I went to Queer High Tea, The Nightingale Collaboration, Legal Recognition of Robots, Future Sex, It Is Rocket Science with Helen Keen, The Future of Technology and Society, Why Is The future So Binary, Cory Doctorow Book Launch, We Are The Media: Short Talks, Rhapsody of Blood Reading, Science Fiction Double Feature: Sexuality and Gender in SFF, BiFrost, Better History = Better Fantasy: Writing Outside The Binary, Water Dancing with Syrio Forel, Kinda Gay: LGBT Representation in Genre TV, The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets, The Pod Delusion Live!

and.... breathe...

Actually, that doesn't feel too much having written it all down... but those sessions were over an hour each with half hour gaps in between. Made for a nice relaxing schedule. I actually went to something in every slot bar one and still managed to spend time in the dealers' room...

So, the panels and talks... where to start? *looks for notebook and consults*

I've talked elsewhere about the So let's start with the roving gang of Alex's wandering around on Friday afternoon and evening. I had planned to go to the Skeptic Tracks's session on The nightingale Collaboration, an organisation which challenges homeopaths and other quacks to justify their claims through regulatory bodies such as their own professional bodies and the Advertising Standards Agency, an interesting talk, but some of the history and introduction felt all over the place... Dunno I took much away from it sadly, although the other Alexs seemed to.

We then went to the Legal Recognition of Robots talk by Lillian Edwards. This was held in the York Cinema... beautiful comfy seats and, sadly defunct, screens, microphones and cigarette lights with every chair. Lillian Edwards focussed on Robots as learning machines with embodiment which I'm still not 100% sold on. To me the control software for a robot is indistinguishable from the control software from a Twitter bot or Share Trading bot (for example), but Edwards relied on the embodiment cirteria for robots to completely dismiss (in the context of her talk) any concerns about the disembodied "intelligences". There are some vital legal issues which will need to come up - driverless cars for instance, who is responsible, who has the license?

We then wandered back to the reality of chairs slotted together and a standing room only session on "Future Sex". Meg Barker introduced us (well, me at least) to - an idea of the "normal"/"abnormal" concepts associated with sex and the desire to be on the inner, "charmed", circle of these characteristics (monogomous, vanilla, heterosexual etc.) rather than the outer circle (homosexual, kinky, out of marriage). Barker then went on to look at four "common cultural understandings about sex": that sex is vital to our identities, that our gender and our partners' gender(s) are the entirety of our sexuality, that penis-in-vagina sex is the only "real" sex and that sexual normalcy is important. It was a great talk and it may be worth looking at her or to find out more.

And that talk wasn't even an official part of the Queer Track 8-)

Finally for Friday, we went to Helen Keen's stand-up show "It Is Rocket Science" about the space race... we played the Russians! Much fun was had.

Saturday, I breakfasted, caught up with the people who brought me down and then went off to the Future of Technology and Society Panel. Most of the discussion there ended up being about privacy, what it means and what we should expect.

After that a discussion on "Why is the future so binary?". With all of time and space to play with, why do we consistently have the idea of male and female as fixed points? We looked to the past, where Ursula Le Guin's Left Hand of Darkness is still considered to be "the gender book" - and that's not without it's problems (gender binary, the defaulting to "he" for the ungendered state of the aliens encountered). It was decided that we really didn't want "the" gender book though. We wanted lots of gender books. Lots and lots. (on that front, go ... still trying to make my mind up on the with the strong gender roles but with sexuality switched so homosexuality is the norm and heterosexuality is the necessary evil/deviancy). Also, the panel has brought Stars In My Pocket Like Grains Of Sand to a more prominent position in my to-read mountain. A panel later in the day also looked at Gender and Sexuality in SFF (both panels featured author ) which was enjoyable but seems to have fewer notes: "Maureen McHugh's Mystery Child" (which I can't find on Amazon) and "Benjamin Sidjacol?"

From there, I went to the Doctorow Reading and signing and the Dealers' Room... ouch.

It must have been around now that I returned to Queer HQ early for a panel item and got chatting to people, including a Russian (IIRC) who was asking if we'd heard of Stanislaw Lem... not only one of my favourite authors, but I also happened to have a copy of his The Investigation I'd just bought in my bag... There was a short discussion of translation (I bow down and worship) and Olga (backed up by the others there) also recommended Roadside Picnic by the Brothers Strugatsky... another for the mountain...

But next in the formal programme was a couple of shorter talks by (go, go read it... rest of this is just me wittering on aimlessly - that shit is good!) and then one on Trans* representation in the Forgotten Realms RPG setting - although the speaker tried to make it positive, after listening to Hal's speech, I couldn't help but think that the Trans* characters/potentialities were not just in seats at the back of the bus, they were packed up in the trailer.

Roz Kaveney then read to us from the first two volumes of her Rhapsody in Blood series. Volume Two is out later this year... I may have a signed copy in that pile of books I posted earlier... *cue more echoing from my wallet*

Then it was evening entertainment time with the Queer Track's Cabaret and Disco - Bifrost. Featuring wonderful acts, comparing, and reading poetry, doing songs and then Lashings of Ginger Beer Time! Bloody Hell they were fun. Songs about queer representation in TV, how bloody bad the romances are in Twilight, sexual identities and a new one from their Ed Fringe Panto "Just a spoonful of bullshit keeps the populous subdued". I can't find any of that stuff on YouTube, but here, have them .

And then the Disco... with CosPlayers, things get fun. Sadly the person who came dressed as a xenomorph wasn't around for The Time Warp, but the even odder site of a Xenomorph dancing to the Game of Thrones themetune more than made up for that... And of course, when Dr Horrible is wandering around he must make full use of the Dr Horrible medley...

Sunday saw a mixture of more Queer Track and more Skepticism Track. A panel on finding the queerness in history (with a very post-colonial outlook) to better inform your writing and a panel on LGBT representation in the media (with Orphan Black and Orange is the New Black making my list of shows I need to check out, and Supernatural also cropping up). Obviously the panel discussed the problems of Bi Visibility in TV and queerbaiting and managed to justify my decision not to watch Torchwood: Miracle Day. The Skepticism Track gave us Simon Singh's first attempt at talking about his new book - The Simpsons and their Mathematical Secrets (looking forward to it already) and a Pod Delusion Live!

Oh, and I may also have taken part in a sword fighting workshop with Syrio from Game of Thrones... *whistles innocently*

So, yeah, that was a fun weekend. I've come away with a lot more whizzing round my brain on the whole sexuality and gender front but that's for me at the moment to work through... yay! 8-)

Alex
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