Wednesday, May 8, 2013


That’s a mouthful of a title. Sadly, this panel didn’t quite turn out to be about that. It was still a great time, but they went waaaaay off topic.

The guests were SF writers John Scalzi and Alex Hughes, and they were mediated by a woman whose name I didn’t get, and no amount of internet searching is helping me find it. I think she was a representative of Penguin USA, but for the life of me, I can’t recall her name, and it’s not in my notes.

They were off to a good start when Scalzi admitted his distaste, at least when it comes to his own work, for dystopian futures. He much prefers to take a philosophical approach to SF. He spoke for a while on the Cartesian separation of body and mind, and about the nature of being able to download your personality to a recording, mind-blowing things like that.

At one point, the mediator introduced the idea of space fantasy verses SF. It could have been an interesting discussion, but it veered off on another course. I think they were trying to promote the idea that stuff like STAR WARS was not SF but space fantasy, which is close but distinctly different. They didn’t discuss it, or far futures, for very long.

It wasn’t long before the panel was just another SF panel. That’s not to say it wasn’t fun (SF panels usually are pretty awesome), but it was no longer specialized.

One of the big topics discussed is the use of actual science in TV shows and movies. Few know this, but Scalzi was an advisor for STARGATE SG-U. In his time on that show, he noticed something: keep your scientific explanations simple and vague. Since SF uses a lot of theoretical science, there are no definite answers. If you find a middle-ground, you should be good. You’ll then get two responses: non-SF people simply won’t care, it’ll sound good enough to them; SF people, on the other hand, will puzzle over it for a while and come up with their own explanation, which will always be better than the one you devised yourself. Brilliant, really.

The STAR TREK reboot kind of got to him. He generally liked the movie, but when Spock was describing the thing with the star exploding, Scalzi just couldn’t take it. He hates hearing the usual clichés, like reversing the polarity. “Be happy with the polarity you were born with,” he said.

He was full of good one liners, my favorite being about having enough power to explode galaxies. “Why not destroy a few galaxies? For the lulz.”

He was in a really good mood, cheerful, full of jokes and great observations. Sorry, fellow LORD OF THE RINGS fans, but he turned me on one subject: I’ve always said the books are better. While I enjoyed the movies, the books will always be the true LotR. Scalzi disagrees. He says that Tolkien was really good at creating this world with vast detail, even going so far as to write THE SILMARILLION, but he just wants to sit back and relax in this world, structure be damned. Peter Jackson had the common sense to focus all of these details and histories and everything into a story. Being a purist, I hated to admit that he was right. I’ve always miss the real ending of LotR, when the hobbits return to the Shire only to find Saruman has taken over and they have to defeat him to save their home. No one has ever put that into their adaptation except for the Mind’s Eye radio play. Well, I guess there’s a reason, but it upsets me whenever people leave it out. I have to give this one up, folks. There is no reason for that part to be in LotR. Jackson was right to cut it out. In fact, Jackson’s LotR is the best form of that story.

Scalzi made an interesting point with that last bit. Two more examples he used are JAWS and THE GODFATHER. The movies are the best versions of those particular stories. Not that the books were bad, they just weren’t as good. It’s a hard concept for us purists to get over, but I have to admit that he’s right.

As charming as Scalzi was, Hughes was nervous. She conducted herself really well, but the unfortunate thing is, I’m pretty sure no one in the room knew who she was. (I certainly didn’t. I bought her book, but I haven’t gotten to it yet.) As a result of this, no one asked her any questions. It got to the point where the mediator and Scalzi both asked the audience to offer up some questions for Hughes. I hate to say this, because I really liked Hughes, but the only question she got from the crowd was akin to a pity question, kind of like an adult condescending to a kid. It wasn’t meant to be that way, but that’s how it came off.

All in all, it was a successful outing. We all had a good time, a few laughs, and a few insights into the world of SF.

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