Evolution, Eastercon 1996

Matt Freestone

Of course, in retrospect the most striking feature of the Con was the food poisoning I acquired there. At the time, though, other things were occupying my mind.

After spending most of Friday drinking with fellow Phoenicians (Jon had come to the Con to sell Concatenation to Intervention, and had brought Tony and Louise along, too) and learning how to get around the labyrinth that is the Radisson Edwardian hotel at Heathrow, I began to get to grips with the Convention properly on Saturday.

There were two main points of interest that day. One was Vernor Vinge on a panel discussing the Singularity. This is a hypothesised point in the future (enthusiasts would say, "in the next few decades") at which the creation of superhuman intelligence invalidates all our current models of what the future will be like. The name derives from the use of the word in relativity theory to mean a point where the gravitational field is predicted to become infinite.

The panel speculated on possible means whereby the singularity could come about; such as human-computer interaction, or artificial intelligence. They also talked about the difference between "hard" and "soft" take-offs. (Human-computer interaction is a soft take-off. For a hard take-off, see Greg Bear's Blood Music.)

Up to this point, speculation had stayed fairly sane. I left when an audience member suggested that the Internet was already self-aware.

The other good talk that day was Bryan Talbot on his graphic novel The Tale of One Bad Rat - a story influenced by the life and work of Beatrix Potter, and which tells the story of Helen, an abuse survivor. Bryan talked about the techniques he used to make the storytelling clearer in order to make the book accessible to a more mainstream audience unused to comics' grammar. Dark Horse are reputed to have asked Bryan when Luther Arkwright was going to appear, having signed the book without really noticing what it was.

Bad Rat seems to have been received very favourably by everyone, including the Beatrix Potter Society; all except the tabloid press who, with their usual illogic, condemned it as "perverse".

Other highlights of the Con included Jack Cohen's Guest of Honour talk; learning to swim again in the hotel pool; meeting my ex-girlfriend; and going to the Zagreb in '99 Worldcon bid party. Intuition won the bid for the 1998 Eastercon - despite a last-minute, all-male bid for Testostercon. I guess I'll see whoever makes it to Intervention next year.

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